"Where are you living now?"
"Wichita," she replied, a quivering resonance in her voice.
"Are you still a pirate?"
"When chance deals those cards into my hand."
Years ago they had both lived on the ocean, or as he called it, "Against the ocean." Time, and the momentum of dry waves, had taken each of them away from that ocean.
"Still swimming against the tide?" she asked.
It was a question that, in the present moment, he had no idea how to answer. He did not try to answer. Instead he leaned against the railing and managed to form half a grin.
"What happened to you?" she asked, not knowing whether she wanted this question answered at all.
Knowing this, he avoided answering this question as well.
For several minutes they looked out over the railing and pretended the other was not there, even though neither had been able to ignore the other at any other point in time, even when they were thousands of miles apart.
"How did we get here?"
"In my car," she said with a laugh.
"Sometimes there are simple answers to simple questions."
He had come for his father's funeral. The old man had been buried that afternoon and now the son was wandering out amongst the pine trees looking for some sense of solace.
There had only been a handful of attendees at the funeral. This didn't surprise the son, as his father had spent the last few decades of his life hardening himself with bitterness, fulfilling hatred in his heart and driving away the friends who had stood by him throughout his life, in good times and in bad.
When death came, the old man was little more than a solo act, although some friends and relatives managed to appear at his final curtain call. Some just wanted to make certain he really was dead.
The son kept walking through the pines until he came upon a clearing. He looked up at the moon and wondered if he would take a path in life that would make him like his father or if those paths would diverge.
The son was restless. He sat down amongst the pine trees and sighed. Then he closed his eyes and imaged his entire life in an instant. The peace and quiet of these woods was perfect. His mind was at ease.
And then he heard the laughter.
"Stop laughing at me."
"I'm sorry." He wasn't.
"Who the hell built this bridge out here in the woods anyway?"
The bridge belonged to the railing they had both been leaning over for the past hour or two. A small trickle of a creek flowed under it, the kind of creek someone could jump over if they only had one leg. There was nothing else around that would justify the bridge's existence. Nothing except the two people now standing on it who were struggling to find something that justified why they were there.
She laughed. He liked the sound of her laugh. He liked the sound of it quite a little bit.
"How soon do you need to get back to Wichita?" he asked.
"Monday morning. Then again, as long as I call my boss and talk dirty to him on the phone I can probably take next week off with pay."
"I see. Sweet deal."
"Not really. He's always trying to convince me to sleep with him or move in with him or marry him or some such shit."
"Kind of guy who has a lot of money and thinks that money solves everyone's problems but his own?"
"You could probably say that."
"I just did."
The son opened his eyes and searched for the source of the laughter that interrupted his quest for peace of mind. It was somewhere in the distance, but it continued, hauntingly, switching back and forth relentlessly between male and female laughter. What kind of people could find reason for such obnoxious laughter at a time like this? Did they not realize he had just buried his father?
He put his head down, closed his eyes and tried to find the quiet once again. For a few moments it was with him, but then he heard the voices, the laughter, the mocking laughter that taunted him from a distance.
He could take it no longer. Something needed to be done. The circumstances of the son demanded respect and laughter ran against the current of respect. This was no time for such behavior. It needed to end.
"I'm not going to sleep with you tonight, you know."
"Who said I wanted you to?"
They both paused. They both wondered if it mattered who had made the first statement and who had offered the response. They both decided it did not matter.
"We've come too far..."
"Too far from the ocean. We could have been pirates together, fighting against the tide and--"
"Because I live in Wichita now and that is about as far from the ocean as you can get, on this continent anyway."
"Are you happy there?"
"Not really." She was surprised at not having to pause to decide whether or not to be honest. With him she never really had to. With him honesty was dangerous. With him any other road was impossible.
"Why don't you come back to the beach with me?"
"The beach? You're living up in some mountain commune or something. You're almost as far away from the ocean as I am these days."
"It's a monastery."
"So, you're a monk now?"
"No, I'm a pirate. They hide pirates at monasteries. Didn't you know that."
She laughed again. It felt good to laugh. It had been too long.
"Maybe I should go," he told her.
"Why? Stay for a while. Pull up a chair."
He looked around. As he suspected, there wasn't a chair. "No chair."
She laughed again. "Sit anywhere. Just don't go quite yet."
"Are there going to be fireworks or something?"
Something was bound to happen, they both imagined. Something always did whenever the two of them came together in the same place and the same time.
He held up his index finger and told her to wait. Then he turned and walked to the far end of the bridge. Shaking her head, she walked to the other end of the bridge and together they both started walking towards the middle.
"Why?" she laughed. "You always make me do the stupidiest things--"
There was a snake in a garden. It did not matter where the garden was. The snake had motivations towards ends only the snake could understand. The snake did not like the garden. The snake found the garden to be confining. It had not always been so. The garden was changing. And now the snake needed to change as well.
At first she thought the sound was that of the fireworks he had suggested. She wouldn't have put it past him to mention them casually while planning for them all along. It took her a moment to realize the sound did not come from fireworks.
He fell forward into her arms and looked up her. His eyes shined brightly as he said, "Let's go back to... the beach... I have a ship there..."
He died in her arms with those words, killed by a bullet that struck him in the back.
She went back to Wichita.
The ocean would always be there. She would never see it again, or so she liked to believe.
It would find her in its own time.