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High Water Mark

Tranquility Has Its Downside

By Jack ScrantonPublished about a year ago Updated 6 months ago 4 min read

Janet sipped her coffee and stared at the ocean from the screened in porch, losing herself in the rhythmic sound of the waves and the metronomic movement of water as it ebbed and flowed. She envisioned the white foam edge, each time defining a new set of random curves, leaving their shape in the sand, over and over, until at last the waves had advanced as far as they could and the shapes began to recede, as if a sequence of snapshots in a cycle that never ended.

Far down the beach, small in the distance, her husband Ronald and their Golden Retriever Sandy blended with low-flying gulls to form small imperfections in the otherwise seamless sheet of sky, sea and sand. Ronald's walks always covered the same distance, took him to the same destination in the same amount of time. She glanced at her watch. They'd be back in twenty-two minutes. Then, she would sauté a large shallot with which she would scramble five eggs; she'd toast four slices of whole grain bread and liberally butter them, halve two oranges, pour two more cups of coffee and the two of them would sit on the porch and continue watching the waves as they ate their breakfast with Sandy stretched out between their chairs, ever alert for disruptions in the daily routine. There were never any disruptions. The days were perfect in their simplicity, effortless in their predictability, soothing in their unerring patterns that suggested a world of order, structure and purpose.

She wanted to scream. If breaking something might have helped, she'd have broken everything within reach, then gone out and brought new things back and broken them as well. Could there be any worse sentence than a life of boredom?

Now Janet stood, felt a tidal surge rising within, impulses scarcely acknowledged, never followed. She looked around the tidy little bungalow, focused a moment on each knick-knack and curio, then at the artwork on the walls by artists she'd never remember; to the bookshelf with its carefully curated collection striking a healthy balance between classics, and works by contemporary, important writers. And in that moment, she realized that there wasn't a single thing she wanted to keep, and walked out the front door, carrying her purse and nothing else.

The train station was a few blocks away. Just about the time Ronald would be wandering through the cottage, calling her name, wondering where she'd got off to, Janet came to the ice-cream stand where she and Ronald would stop after a long, Saturday afternoon bike ride. As she passed the marque for the theater where they watched the latest movies on Friday nights, she envisioned Ronald opening the front door, looking up and down the road, then walking back through the living room, then the bedroom, the bathroom, making certain he hadn't misplaced her somewhere. Up ahead, the steeple from the church they attended every Sunday loomed over the smaller buildings like a guard tower, and she sensed the first pangs of fear rippling through him, the uncertainty at facing an unexpected variation in the calm, placid surface of his life.

And now it was Janet who panicked, realizing the last thing she wanted was to encounter anyone who knew her, who might impede her escape, who might force her to explain herself. How could she possibly? There was no explanation, no logic, no plan. Fortunately the station was empty. She slid a twenty dollar bill through the window for a ticket into the city, and walked out to the waiting train.

She took a seat and looked out the window, saw the familiar town going through its familiar routines, for once doing so without her participation.

Now Ronald would be thinking of people to call. Still not certain if he should be patient or frightened.

Janet faced the uncertainty of her own violated routines, asked herself what she was doing, told herself to go back, there was time. Nothing was irreversible.

She still sat in her seat, contemplating her options, when the train began to move. Out the window, familiar buildings and streets segued into generic woodlands. Later, other buildings and streets passed, none of them familiar. The unknown, the risk, the potential for failure sent an adrenalin rush through her. She looked ahead to what was coming next but saw only an empty page. There were no repeating patterns now. No cycles. No high water mark.

Janet closed her eyes. And she smiled.

Short Story

About the Creator

Jack Scranton

Writer, image retoucher, musician/composer, 3D artist. Despite modest success in all those fields, Photoshop paid the bills.

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