The rising sun, a red ball set in a hard grey sky, painted the tips of the ocean waves all the way to the water’s edge. Everything it touched looked bright and hot. Even the crystalline sand shimmered and glowed like a bed of smoldering coals.
A wind from the east blew up from the beach and carried the grit and sea-smell inland. It ruffled and filled the voile curtains at the edges of my French doors and bent inward the saw grass that grew thick at the foot of my terrace. A breeze on a beach was always welcome, but one from the east, with the red light of dawn burning on the horizon, carried a portent.
I leaned against the terrace railing and watched thunderheads form at the edge of the sea just above the horizon, billowing high into the sky, majestic and foreboding. I was sipping my coffee and studying the gathering storm when I heard my front door close. I turned my head only halfway to listen. It might be the wind, I thought, but then I heard soft footsteps approaching. I’d been expecting the visit. He’d phoned and said he had news, the dénouement, he called it. He came up beside me and stood there in the full force of the wind staring out across the ocean vista and expansive sky. I didn’t turn toward him. It wasn’t necessary. The familiarity of his presence did not require it. Don and I’d been close friends for almost twenty-five years.
“Rick loved his pickup truck.” Don began in a matter-of-fact cadence. “You know he didn’t need a pickup truck. He wasn’t in construction. He wasn’t what you’d call a very handyman or a do-it-yourself kind of guy. Those things were not his forté, and in his case, better off left to the professionals.” He chuckled. I smiled. “He was a teacher. He’d always wanted to be a teacher and in the end, that’s what he was. I learned he was a good teacher, imaginative, amusing, held in high regard by his colleagues, well liked by both parents and students. He was a good teacher, a good teacher who loved his pickup truck.”
“In fact, he loved his pickup truck so much that he decided there was no better place to die than on the front seat. I don’t know how he reached that conclusion. I don’t know what went through his mind. I don’t know how he put the logic together to arrive at that place, but he did. I don’t know the why either, but it took some planning. He removed the exhaust manifold and used a vacuum cleaner hose. It pumped the fumes right into the cab. I guess you could say I underestimated his handyman skills.” Don paused and shook his head, puzzled. “He must have read some books, don’t you think?” I turned and saw him smile at the thought; then Don pulled out a chair and sat down at my terrace table.
I would have preferred to take the news standing full in the wind, but after a last glance at the ocean and the endless white caps, I turned away, pulled out a chair and joined him. I wanted to get away from it, yet I needed to face the end head on.
There were no answers I could give Don. The answers he sought had died with Rick. I could only offer him solace and share the grief. It was my grief too. Together, we’d lost a friend, or perhaps he’d lost us. It wasn’t an accident or disease that took him. He’d left by choice like a friend who waves goodbye from a parting car, with no thought of tomorrow, only the journey and the road just ahead.
Written by: James Shaffer
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll