Many months later Dimitri returned to the Beach House. We easily fell back into our ritual of martinis at five, supper at eight and walks on the beach at midnight.
The Beach House is glass. It stands on a bluff overlooking the ocean.
We have never spoken of his absence.
I looked inside the steamer trunk this morning. There is still room.
Thirty years have passed. I am Savanna and I am still here. Dimitri is still here. It is a sunny day and I am standing on the sand facing our beach house. I am holding a card Dimitri gave me this morning. I have received a card from him every day since our first day together. He has always given me a card of love, on beautiful paper. I think I have memorized every word on every card he has given me.
I have kept all these cards in Dimitri’s antique steamer trunk. It had been his father’s. The leather straps are now worn and the weathered wood and locks attest to its history. With a tray that can be lifted out, its depth and height make it the perfect storage place for these precious papers.
Dimitri still has the card I left on the bar for him all those years ago. I had written that I promised I would always stay at the beach house. I promised I would never leave. That I would wait for him to return …
We’re in our seventies now. On warmer nights Dimitri and I still walk together, although earlier, and not as far down the beach anymore, since midnight walks can be a bit chilly. Dimitri has insisted on these walks ever since our very first one.
Today, I wear the white chiffon caftan and gold sandals. I remember my second day with Dimitri, when he bought them for me. He has always bought me classic designs, so I’ve been able to wear them year-after-year. This white caftan and the turquoise lamé gown, his gift to me for my literary launch party, have always been my favorites.
I am proud that I have retained my slender figure. I honor Dimitri by frequently wearing the turquoise lamé when we entertain his media friends here at the beach house. That first party seems so far away now, yet I recall it as if it were only last night.
Often, I walk alone on the beach in the morning so I can think about the story I’m writing for the magazine. Long ago, Dimitri had introduced me to his media and television friends. I remember how excited Sheldon was about my memoir, but he was even more certain about producing my novella as a movie of the week. He has produced much of my work, which along with my memoir, is in reruns on the cable stations he owns.
It is almost noon now and I head back to the beach house. I’m anxious to tell Dimitri about my story idea. I’m sure he will be proud that it originates from something he once told me:
‘I always want to give you sun-drenched mornings and blue sky days.’ I have never forgotten those words.
I approach the beach house and I can see Dimitri through the glass wall. He is sitting at the table, writing. Dimitri looks up when he sees me crest the bluff. He always loves to watch me when I come back from a walk. ‘Your silver-gray hair still shines and your beautiful green eyes are as bright as when I first looked into them.’
When I recall his words, I smile. He is still involved in several productions. When we entertain, if possible, he brings me a bright, yellow hibiscus, just like he did that long-ago night of my party. He still insists on placing it in my hair after I am dressed.
Dimitri is even more handsome now than he was thirty years ago. His black hair has turned white and is a distinguished complement to his rugged face, tanned from years of living here on the beach. I see him push back the chair, head for the door, slide it open.
On the terrace, he waits for me. There, like we have done every afternoon, we will enjoy a light lunch of tapas and wine while we talk; then we’ll dance in silence and read each other’s eyes.
The soft loving that has been the hallmark of many afternoons will follow. Then, like he’s done all these years, Dimitri will leave while I sleep. He will return with flowers and wake me gently in time for our dinner on the terrace. Or if we are entertaining, he will have the special flower for my hair, or a corsage to place at the waistband of my dress to complement it.
Our parties start earlier now. Dimitri prefers this so we will be able to walk on the beach afterwards if the weather is good. I look up at the partly cloudy sky and know that tonight will be a nice night for our walk.
I enter the beach house and go directly out to the terrace. I have always loved the way Dimitri designed this house in a star-point configuration. When we dine out here, we watch the sun set and the moon rise while we enjoy our dinner.
“How far do you want to walk tonight?” I ask him when he takes me in his arms and looks deep into my eyes.
“As far as we can.” His reply is not unlike another time when I asked him something and his answer was tinged with an unfamiliar darkness.
During lunch, Dimitri tells me about Sheldon’s new idea. He wants to produce Dimitri’s architectural designs as a program on the educational network channel he owns. Dimitri is proud, but does not want to dwell on himself. Instead, he asks me to tell him my new story idea. When I finish he stops, turns to me and says, “Oh yes, those sun-drenched mornings. I had that thought from the moment I saw you.”
I tell him I can’t believe that thirty years ago I gave up everything and everyone I knew to be with him. I tell him I remember how desperately I was searching then for something to fill my heart and mind and there he was. I tell him I have never had any regrets. Even when I was left alone - the beach house my only refuge in the loneliness of his absence.
We talk a little more, then realize we must get ready. Sheldon is again bringing his media colleagues to finalize Dimitri’s program.
“Please wear that striking red dress,” Dimitri murmurs to me. “The one with the gold chain belt. You are ravishing in it, and I want to watch you smile and hear your lilting laughter. That dress complements you in so many beautiful ways. I also wish to place the gold bracelet around your ankle. You are my beautiful Savannah.” He pulls me to him, squeezes me hard and kisses me for a long moment. I am flushed when we separate. In spite of the heat from Dimitri’s kiss, I feel a familiar chill go through me.
The party with Sheldon and his media colleagues starts at four o’clock this afternoon, and within half an hour is in full swing. Dimitri is still being introduced to people who will collaborate with him and Sheldon on the program production.
I am out on the terrace and I watch. I can see through the glass to the media room from this angle. Dimitri is so handsome. He is wearing a red silk jacquard smoking jacket. The black collar sets off his wavy white hair. Like he always does, he wears the gold chain necklace I gave him for our tenth year together. We never felt the need to marry. During my launch party all those years ago, I heard Dimitri tell someone, ‘We are terrifyingly happy.’ From that moment on, we never spoke of how we came to be.
He smiles while he shakes hands, and then shows his usual finesse when he saunters around the bar and pours wine for the guests. I can see my framed note still on the corner of the bar-the note I left there for him thirty years ago; the promises I made.
I am interrupted by Logan, a regular guest at these parties. He asks me about what I’m wearing. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a party in anything but that gorgeous turquoise gown, Savannah. Why the change to red tonight?”
I am at a loss to answer him, since I don’t wish to share Dimitri’s request. I attempt a response that will satisfy Logan, but will not prompt him to pursue the question.
“I simply thought it was time for a change.” He shrugs and moves back into the main room where he joins another group.
Half an hour later, Dimitri finds me in conversation with one of the producers. He comes and places his arm around my waist. I look up into Dimitri’s eyes and there again, I see darkness. I wonder at this. Minutes ago he was smiling; from out on the terrace I heard him laugh, and now his eyes tell another story. I remember the last time I saw that darkness. Even though it was years ago, I cannot bear the memory of that night when I had returned to the beach house alone. I smile up at Dimitri, excuse myself and go to the bar, where Ridge has taken over as bartender.
“A martini please, Ridge” I say.
“Sure thing, Savannah. Hey, what’s with the red dress tonight?”
I am annoyed at yet another question about my dress. Again, I attempt a reply that will quell the inquiry. “I found it in a shop and loved it right away.”
Ridge realizes he should not force the issue; I take my drink, smile and return to the large group at the front of the house.
The party lasts another hour. I feel Dimitri watch me move among the directors and producers. Several times I look at him and smile. He smiles at me and nods, letting me know how pleased he is.
It is eight o’clock when the guests begin to disperse. I feel my heart beat faster in anticipation of our imminent walk. I feel something different will happen on our walk tonight, and I am excited and a bit afraid. Then I look at Dimitri. He shakes hands with everyone in such a confident and assured way, I know I should not fear anything with him by my side.
The remaining media people stay a while longer then leave in a group. Sheldon says his usual goodnight to Dimitri and me, and the party comes to an end at nine o’clock.
When we return from our walk, Dimitri continues to tell me why he didn’t want me to wear the turquoise lamé tonight.
“Red is for the heart, my Savannah. My heart is always full of you and your beauty still haunts me. Tonight, I craved to see you glow in red and you did. You lit up every room you were in. You are still so exquisite, and I wanted everyone to see my beautiful Savannah. You did not mind wearing it, did you?” he asks.
“Of course not, Dimitri. I love to please you.” I smile at him, fold my shawl and return it to the bureau drawer. I wonder what I had been afraid of.
I sit on the vanity stool and Dimitri slowly removes my sandals and caresses my feet. Then he removes the gold anklet. I stand and remove his smoking jacket and gold necklace. Soft loving follows.
Darkness surrounds the beach house.
Two weeks have passed since the evening with Sheldon. Dimitri and I are on the terrace enjoying a light breakfast of toast, French coffee, and our usual berries and cream. Dimitri works intently on the notes from Sheldon’s program. He crosses out lines, inserts new ones and even writes new script. I watch him for a bit, then return to work on my magazine article. The deadline is fast approaching, and I am having difficulty placing the words ‘sun-drenched mornings.’ I get up, walk to the terrace railing, look out over the ocean and hope for inspiration.
After a few moments, as if by magic, the clouds begin to move back to the horizon and the wispy billows allow the sun to shine through and cast a golden glow on the sand. I return to the table and Dimitri looks up, surprised that I had been gone.
“I needed inspiration,” I tell him in answer to his quizzical look.
“Did you find it?” he asks.
“I did. The moment the sun shone through the clouds and shed its golden light on the sand, I knew what to write.”
“Ah, a sun-drenched morning. Glad I could give you another one.” Dimitri smiles. I kiss him, and he goes back into the beach house to call Sheldon.
“I want to walk to the pier later,” Dimitri says when he comes out onto the terrace. I have been sitting at the table all morning and well into the early afternoon. When the words I had been searching for came, they poured out of me, and I lost all sense of time.
“That’s farther than we walk now,” I answer, again puzzled by Dimitri’s request.
“I know my love, but suddenly I have the urge to see the pier again. I want to be sure the sailboat is docked securely.” He says this as if it is a normal occurrence.
Again I wonder, but say nothing. I have not been to the pier since that horrible night years ago, and I have never wanted to relive that memory. If Dimitri had walked there alone, I had not known about it. I don’t tell him, but once again I feel a foreboding shudder.
During dinner, we talk of Dimitri’s new program and how it will be distributed. He is nonchalant about the project; he has always been an unassuming man, and has never really wanted to be in the limelight. We talk of my story and, as I had thought, Dimitri is very pleased that I am using the words he once said to me.
When we finish dinner, Dimitri picks up his program script and continues to edit. I get up and remove the plates. Then I bend down and kiss him on the top of his head. Dimitri reaches up and gently touches my cheek.
“I’ll get ready now,” I tell him.
“I’ll be ready in a bit,” he answers. I take the plates into the house.
I finish dressing, comb my hair and add a touch of red lipstick. The night is still warm so I know I will only need a light shawl. I go out on the terrace to wait for Dimitri. When I look out onto the ocean, again I can‘t shake my uneasiness. I ignore it, push it to the back of my mind. Dimitri appears. He wears his usual blue shirt. I catch my breath when I see him. It is as if this is our first walk.
“All these years you have had so many blue shirts, but you are handsomest in the one you wear now.” I kiss him.
“And you are still so beautiful, my Savannah.” He takes my hand.
“Come, let’s walk.”
Those words spark the memory of when he said them to me that awful night - when - in an instant, he was gone.
We walk along the beach. Dimitri is pensive, his expression intense. I am aware that he holds my hand tighter than usual. Another few minutes and I see the pier. After a few more steps, I notice something else. The log I sat on that night long ago has been swallowed by the ocean and is gone forever.
Dimitri does not seem aware of my observation. Then, there it is - the rock. Dimitri also does not notice that I jolt to a stop when I see it. The shape is slightly different, due to erosion from the waves. But I can still ‘see’ us on that rock. We had sat there a long time, while Dimitri had told me how that first party would help me. Then I had dozed on his shoulder.
At the pier, I begin to tremble with the memory. Dimitri’s steps quicken. He starts to climb the steps. I begin to shake. I grab his arm and pull him back.
“I won’t let you leave me again!” I shout to be heard over the roar of the waves.
He stops and pulls me to him. “Don‘t worry, my love. It’s all right. I promise I will not leave you this time.”
He caresses my head, but something inside me is still quaking. I walk up the steps with him and we proceed out onto the pier. I see the sailboat. That awful night so many years ago, I had only seen the masthead of the mainsail through the fog and could not remember if Dimitri had ever mentioned having a sailboat. That was the last I saw of him until many months later when he returned to the beach house.
He helps me onto the boat, and gently guides me down onto the seat.
“I won’t be long, my Savannah.” He smiles at me, then disappears below deck to do whatever he needs to do there.
I wait. I feel the boat starting to rock. I cannot stop shaking. Dimitri’s words -‘this time’- echo in my head.
Dimitri comes topside just at the moment I begin to feel chilly. He pulls me up from the seat. The boat rocks harder when my balance falters. Dimitri catches me, holds me tightly and leads me off the boat.
“Step carefully, my love,” he says. I gingerly lift my foot and place it back onto the solid wood of the pier.
“One more moment, my Savannah. I must be sure the ties are secure. Please stand here.”
Dimitri releases my hand and turns back to the sailboat. I hold onto the pier railing to steady myself. It still feels like I am rocking. I know the sensation will pass in a moment, so I watch Dimitri retie the boat to the pier then check his knots and do a final tug on the ropes.
He looks over at me and smiles, then looks back at the boat one more time. I know he is pleased and feels confident all is now secure. He comes to me.
“I’m glad you came with me, my Savannah,” he says. I link my arm through his while we walk back down the pier and onto the beach.
“I’m a bit tired. Let’s sit on that rock, shall we?” Dimitri points to the rock I saw earlier.
“Remember when we sat on this very rock that night so long ago?” I ask him.
“Of course I remember, my Savannah. I remember everything about our life together.” Dimitri’s voice is soft now, almost a raspy whisper. We walk the few feet to the rock and sit down. We do not speak.
Minutes pass while the waves roll in and out. So many thoughts are tumbling through my mind. I am taken back thirty years ago to the night I thought Dimitri would return to me from that sailboat and we would laugh together. He did not come that night. He did not come back to the beach house for a long time.
My reverie is interrupted when Dimitri says, “Come, my beautiful Savannah. Let us walk slowly back. I want to savor all the stars and see them reflect in your eyes.”
“And I want to see the moonlight cast a glow on your face,” I say to him.
Dimitri stands and reaches his hand out to help me up from the rock. One soft kiss, a long look into each other’s eyes, and I revel in the relief that, this night, we walk back to the beach house together.
One week later, I awake earlier than usual from my afternoon nap to see that the sun has relinquished its glow. Now a breeze - a breeze thick with rain - rattles against the glass walls of the beach house. Dimitri is in town like always. Before he left, he told me that tonight we will commemorate our first walk. We had been so busy with Dimitri’s production and my writing, we had completely missed celebrating the day we had originally met.
This morning, like every morning, Dimitri gave me a card. He wishes me to wear the turquoise lamé gown, and had gone into town for flowers that will include a yellow hibiscus. Dimitri goes to the florist I had met on one of my walks while he was gone.
I see that it is late afternoon. Dimitri wishes to begin our walk at four o’clock. I go to the closet, take out my gown and the gold sandals, like the ones I had worn that night so long ago. The drizzle has stopped now and the sand is damp.
I hear Dimitri come in. I am dressed, and have just put on my sandals. When he enters our bedroom I am reading today’s card once more.
“You look as beautiful as you did that night of our first walk, my Savannah,” he says, coming toward me. He is holding the single yellow hibiscus.
“How lovely,” I say as he gently takes my face in one hand and with the other slips the flower’s stem across the top of my ear. He kisses me below my earlobe.
“My Savannah, my love,” he whispers.
“I am ready, Dimitri. Let me just place this card in the trunk with all the others.” I lift the lid, place the card gently, then close the steamer trunk.
Dimitri takes my arm in his. “Let us go then,” he says, and we walk through the house and out onto the beach.
The sky is gray now and I squeeze Dimitri’s arm. I am suddenly gripped by an unexplained fear that is different than anything I’ve felt before. This fear is palpable and seems to have no rational explanation.
We walk along the beach for about twenty minutes. Dimitri turns to me and says he must go back to the beach house; he forgot something he wants to give me. I tell him I will continue to walk slowly on to our favorite spot. Dimitri kisses me then turns and starts back.
I walk for another ten minutes. At this time of year, the weather at the beach can change in an instant, and now, out of nowhere, gale force winds kick up. The waves rise, sand blows around, the hibiscus is ripped from my hair. I decide I must return, so I head back to the beach house. It is difficult to push myself against the powerful wind that howls in my ears and the rain that pelts my face.
When I reach the bluff, I am windblown and my beautiful dress is in shreds. I think I am seeing things, since I cannot believe the beach house has crashed to the ground. I try to hurry while I call Dimitri‘s name. No answer.
The sand on the bluff is hard now. My sandaled feet catch with each step and it is difficult to move quickly. I move closer, then squint when I see the steamer trunk lying on its side in the middle of the shattered glass and rubble.
“Dimitri! Dimitri! Where are you?!” I scream his name while I climb up the bluff.
I see the thousands of cards strewn all over the shards of glass; I scream in unimaginable anguish. I wipe my hand across my soaked face. It is hard to distinguish my tears from the raindrops. The next moment, I see it.
One lone card lies in the middle of the tray, which has been torn from the trunk and is resting there as if nothing had happened. I am fatigued from the wind, the rain, and the strain of walking in the hard sand. I bend down and pick up the card.
“NO! NO!” I scream when I see it is the card Dimitri gave me this morning. Trembling, I am still calling Dimitri. He does not answer.
I clutch the card in my hand and fall to my knees, tearing my gown even more. I cannot control my weeping.
“Dimitri!” I scream into the air. “You promised you would not leave me this time! Dimitri! Please! Keep your promise! Come to me! I am here waiting for you! Please, Dimitri! Don’t leave me alone again!”
I lay my head in the sand and weep for what seems like eternity.
Finally, twilight falls. I am very cold. When I force myself up from the sand, I realize that Dimitri is buried beneath the beach house. I recall when he had told me the house was his architectural dream, and he had not shared it with anyone until I came. Perhaps I should find solace in this memory, but I cannot bear it.
I get up, turn, and walk down the bluff to the beach. Once again I am alone. Dimitri will never come again. He is gone. Gone forever. I turn and look back at the beach house, now in a heap of glass; all the cards are blowing in the wind. It looks like a funnel cloud.
Moments later twilight turns to darkness and I am left with one final question:
Was it always just a house of cards?
Dimitri is gone. The beach house is gone. Gone from the bluff overlooking the ocean.
There is no solace. Shards of glass are all that remain. The beautiful turquoise gown Dimitri brought me that afternoon thirty years ago is ruined. The yellow hibiscus is gone from my hair.
I want to be gone. All I have left of Dimitri is the card he gave me this morning.
I am nothing without him. The thousands of cards he had given me have been ripped from the jagged pieces of glass and are blowing in the wind. It is over. It is done. I know what I must do.
The waves are high now, twilight has given way to darkness and the water looks black.
I take my sandals in one hand and Dimitri’s final card in the other, and I walk into the ocean.
The last sound I hear is Dimitri’s voice floating on the waves …
‘My beautiful Savannah. I hope I always gave you sun-drenched mornings and blue sky days.’
Karen writes stories, poetry and memoir. Her story, "Beach House," is published in the July 2012 issue of the Sand Hill Review, “Graveside Angel” appears in Carry the Light, the 2013 Anthology of the San Mateo County Fair. Her story, “Resurrection” is also published in Fault Zone: Shift, 2014. A dual member of South Bay Writers, Karen’s stories and poems appear regularly in their Writers Talk Newsletter. She facilitates a mixed genre critique group twice a month. Contact her at: Sew1Machin@aol.com