The battered leather sandals were tossed carelessly by the door near a sprinkling of beach sand, two pennies, a ticket stub, and a rubber band on the faded linoleum floor.
She could not look at them. She grabbed the flattened beer box and roll of packing tape. She didn’t want to do it, but it was time. The squeal of the tape was jarring and echoed in the mostly empty cabin.
She reached into the closet and pulled out four wrinkled button down shirts. These she folded and placed in a black plastic garbage bag. She took a deep breath and found the pile of t-shirts on the shelf above the dangling, naked hangers. She rolled them, an old habit from her backpacking days, and tossed them in the bag. The two pairs of faded jeans that were thrown over the rod, she grabbed by the frayed cuffs, flipping them into small folded rectangles before bending down to bag them. The grey hooded sweatshirt with the bleach stain on the left sleeve followed the jeans and t-shirts. She felt the tears starting to fall, but she ignored the wetness on her cheeks.
She moved to the table near the small kitchen area. The red hardback dictionary and blue paperback thesaurus were stacked neatly in the corner. Six steno notebooks, pages full of blue ink chicken scratch sprawled over the rest of the table. A batch of eight similar notebooks, still wrapped in their tight plastic, had fallen off the round-edged table. A box of cheap blue ballpoint pens spilled out on the nearby chair. The typewriter, the one he had owned since his first day of college, was plugged in, but the black plastic case covered the keyboard. She turned her back to the table and sighed, tears still falling. A collection of post cards were taped on the wall above the table. She tucked the books, notebooks, and pens into the beer box. With nimble fingers, standing on her tiptoes, she slowly pulled the post cards off the wall. The bright images she ignored, but she saw her own handwriting, his mother’s, and a few scribbles that she knew, but could not place. The post cards were shoved into the pages of the dictionary.
She ignored the kitchen, as the few plates, bowls, cups, and pans on the open shelf above the sink belonged to the cabin. She opened up a couple of drawers mindlessly, but they were empty. A clean dish rag and towel hung dry and crinkly on a makeshift clothesline between the sink and cupboard. She folded and stuffed them in the drawer by the sink, taking down the line and slipping the string in her hip pocket. The bright red handle of the pocket knife on the counter caught her eye. She grasped it in the palm of her hand, making a fist. She felt she was holding onto air, but her grip weakened and she dropped the closed knife on the floor. The clatter startled her. She rested her forehead on the wall, the rough hewn wood making tiny dents in her skin. The tears had stopped, but her face felt wet. She bent down to pick up the knife and walked over to the open beer box. She paused, but tucked the knife into the back pocket of her faded army green khakis.
She walked back to the closet. A tiny blue wooden two-drawer dresser was tucked in the corner. She opened the bottom drawer to find more t-shirts which she rolled and added to the clothes in the trash bag. The top drawer had five pairs of grey gym socks that she threw into the plastic bag. Four pairs of plaid boxers were spread out in the bottom of the drawer. She pulled them out, shaking and refolding them, when a black and white photograph fell to the floor. She bent over, scooping up the boxers in her left arm and the picture face down in her right hand. She slapped the picture down on the table without looking at it. She tossed the clean boxers into her open blue wheelie suitcase. She remembered the knife in her pocket. She tucked it loosely inside the mix of her wrinkled clothes and his boxers. She would need to check her suitcase when she flew, but she still had two days left.
Kitchen done. Closet done. Desk done. She walked out to the back porch where a small dry rack sat in the sun. The sheets she had washed that morning were dry. She snapped the pale blue cotton into sharp edges, taking the pile inside and dropped them into the plastic bag. She walked back out to the porch and folded up the dry rack. She brought it inside and leaned it against the wall by the front door. She tied up the plastic bag and tucked it against the dry rack.
She taped up the beer box with the dictionary and notebooks, slapping a shipping label from her pocket onto the box. She looked around the room for a marker and realized the pens were in the sealed up carton. She went to her bag and scrambled for the pen from the hotel she had tossed in yesterday. She found it, the lid already chewed and bitten into oblivion. She wrote out the names and address of his parents, long ago memorized, biting her lip as she filled in the zip code.
She took a deep breath and bit down harder on her lip. She stepped into the flip flops by her suitcase and walked outside to the beach. She took a few steps and kicked off the flip flops, throwing them back to the door. She could not believe that this is where she was, where they had visited numerous times. Now she was alone. She walked a few steps on the beach, her feet dipping in and out of the water, the waves lapping at her ankles. She ran a few yards, but felt unsteady, so she settled for walking on the beautiful shore. She could not believe that her life, while it looked like a beach post card, had changed so drastically in five and a half days. Five and a half days. Really? She counted back the nights to when she had gotten the phone call at two in the morning, waking her from a deep sleep.
He had flown out to the beach rental a few days early. He was writing and running and kayaking. She had stayed home to help a friend pack up for a move and to work a couple of days before flying to join him. They had looked forward to a carefree month with time for reading, resting, and unwinding. They would camp and play and dream. He was finishing his third book. She was painting, trying something new, cheered on by his enthusiasm and his belief that she could do anything.
It was gone. That moment. She would never be carefree again. She turned abruptly back to the cabin. She loaded up the plastic bag and dry rack into the back of the borrowed station wagon to take to the thrift store. She put the box in the front seat to deliver to the post office. She would run those errands today.
She walked back to the table, picking up the black and white photo, still face down. The leather sandals stood by the door, she still hadn’t looked at them, stepping around them and averting her eyes each time she entered the doorway. She walked around the vacant cabin, empty but swelling with memories. She was done and packed. She zipped up her suitcase and grabbed her bag, tossing them into the front passenger seat. The typewriter case she placed gently in the back seat. She grabbed the flip flops off the ground and hurled them into the rear of the wagon.
She had four pairs of boxers, a pocket knife, and a black and white photo of the two of them. She would give the typewriter to his brother. This is what was left of their dream life. He had been swimming and had drowned. He had worked summers in college as a beach patrol lifeguard in this area. It was he who had properly introduced her to the ocean, this spot, this place he loved so well. He knew the waters and every spot along the shore for miles. She did not know if she would ever understand how it had happened. She slammed the doors of the car and walked back up to the cabin. She locked the door, knowing this was the last time, and tucked the key under the mat for the landlord to retrieve later that evening.
She climbed in the station wagon and drove barefoot. Where she would go, after the errands were completed, she did not know. She would not be coming back here. Inside the cabin, near the door, like a dog waiting for its owner, sat the pair of sandals with a sprinkling of beach sand, two pennies, a ticket stub, and a rubber band on the faded linoleum floor.