On the Dunes
"On the Dunes" by Dave Ryan
Used with his permission
As the storm clouds move closer, I am given pause to reflect upon another storm that struck my island. I say “my” island. I don’t really own it, you understand, but I do live there; in fact, I grew up there. I played there, went to school there, toughed out the bitterly cold winters there, and dreamed about the day when the old family house would be mine. Both the house and my dream came to an end in that earlier storm. All that’s left, now, is a reminder of where once it stood.
Oh, I still live on the island, in another house, this one farther inland, although one can never get far enough inland on an island. Given the forecasts that repeatedly come over the radio, it seems likely that I will lose this house, too. My household is now in storage on the mainland. I’ve just put the last of my treasures on the back seat of my car. It is time to leave. The wind is whipping up. The waves are crashing so loudly against the shore that I can hear them even here, a mile away.
Traffic is moving at a snail’s pace over the causeway leading from the island. To while away the time, I listen to the radio. No, not to the endless weather forecasts, each one more ominous than the last. Now, I listen to an oldie-goldies station. Sammy Davis, Jr. is singing a hit from the early 1960s, What Kind of Fool am I? He asks himself what kind of fool he is for thinking only of himself.
What kind of fool am I? Have I been thinking only of myself? Am I being foolish to think I can maintain a normal life, living on an island where storms hit regularly? Should I build my next house on the mainland? Could I be happy living on the mainland, where life is rushed, where no one knows his next-door neighbors, where going to the market means battling crowds in a mega mart, where going to church means staring at the backs of the heads of several thousand other members?
Whoever wrote “I’m just a small-town girl” must have been writing about me. I like villages, not towns and definitely not cities. I like to sit in a window seat, while I read or write, and gaze out, over the dunes, as the sea gulls soar above, cawing as though to alert their friends to a school of fish down below. I like to ride my bicycle to town and fill my basket with whatever fresh vegetables Mr. Owens has that day and with one of Mrs. Little’s hot peach cobblers. I like to sit out on the terrace with Lydia and Marcie and hear about how they fear their little ones will be in prison by the time they are twelve. They won’t, of course, but mothers worry about their children. If the storm is as bad as the forecasters predict, will Mr. Owens and Mrs. Little return to the island? Will Lydia and Marcie?
Pow! What was that noise? Thump-thump-thump. Something’s wrong with my front, right tire. Oh, heavens! I can barely keep control of the car! If I put on brakes, it only gets worse! The car keeps trying to veer off the road! Keep your senses about you. That’s right. Just a little braking… Now, let off. Let the edge of the road help you slow down. That’s it. That’s it. Now. Pull on off, onto the shoulder. Got it!
I get out of the car and walk around to see what happened. Good grief! What happened to my tire? Can a tire really do that?
“That was some blowout you had, lady,” a voice says as a man walks up to me.
I see that he’s about forty with graying hair, brown eyes, and a bit of extra weight around the middle. My guess is that he drives a truck. In fact, I know he does. He delivers gasoline to the island’s service station. What is his name? I can’t remember, and he doesn’t have one of those thingies on his shirt that tells his name. He does have a wedding ring on his left ring finger – thank goodness! That means he’s probably okay.
“Hi! I’m Joe with Petrol Jobbers. Say, you’re the lady with the purple irses growing around your picket fence, right?”
I have to smile. “Yes. I have purple irises growing around my fence. I’m Emily.”
“Do you have a spare tire, Emily?”
I can’t help but think, Of course, I have a spare tire! Aloud I say, “Yes. In the trunk." I think to myself, …if I can get to it with everything else that’s in the trunk.
I unlock the trunk to reveal the half-dozen fruit-and-vegetable boxes that Mr. Owens gave me for moving my household treasures. I’m glad they are wrapped so that Joe can’t see that I have a weakness for Waterford crystal. Why am I worried? Why should I care whether Joe knows about my Waterford crystal? I like it, so I collect it.
Joe changes the tire for me in seemingly record time. I have to wonder just how many tires he has changed in his lifetime. Dozens, I’ll bet. Soon, he’s on his way with a wave of his now-greasy hand. He won’t let me pay him for his time and trouble. That is very good of him, since I haven’t been to the ATM for cash, yet.
I continue on my way and soon turn off the highway and make my way along the county road toward Nancy’s house. Soon, I’m moving up, into the hills. As I enter a village, I see a cottage sitting off the roadway. A for-sale sign stands in the front yard. On a hunch, I stop and walk around the cottage.
Iris Cottage, it is called. It is painted the palest shade of green, and large, purple irises grow in beds across the front. A white swing hangs on the front porch, leading me to wonder whether someone lives there. But, no. There are no curtains in the windows, and when I look inside, I see that the rooms are empty. As I walk around the cottage, I see a broad, wonderful view of a meadow, where cattle graze. I like what I see. Could I possibly afford it?
I enter the village, where a man wearing a white grocer’s apron is placing boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables on display. Just down the road, Joe is filling the underground tanks at the service station. I pass the church, which surely couldn’t hold more than a hundred people, not even on Easter Sunday. And, then, I see Mrs. Little placing pies in a shop window. I stop in to buy one – after all, I need to take something to Nancy and her family – and learn that Mrs. Little’s sister owns the shop. I learn that, if the storm is as bad as the forecasters think it will be, she will stay and help her sister.
Maybe it’s time to move inland? I won’t know until after the storm, but if it is, I will have a place to go.
Copyright (c) 2013, Virginia Tolles. All rights reserved.
This story was inspired by Dave Ryan's photograph.