And so, after spending the weekend with her childhood friend, and as she kept company with her in the garage, Meg smoked her fifth cigarette of the morning and Jackie paced the smoked filled space, listening to Meg pull hard on the butt. They’d been together for three entire days at Meg’s beach house. What a happy respite from the grey, noisy city.
Jackie felt closed in, as the recyclables, the newspapers piled high, left little room to walk –
“I’m going to make this into a studio!” Meg said.
“Oh, nice. Good idea!”
And that’s the moment when it was decided that the garage would become a studio and Jackie would leave the overpriced city of Boston to live with her childhood friend.
Retirement sounded like a dirty word, and neither thought of themselves as old, elderly or close to any of that. This idea was part of a new plan; not retirement. It would be shared living space, and sunshine, at least for most of the year, and companionship.
Jackie had just scaled down her teaching schedule at a few local colleges and Meg took a package deal out of corporate America.
Who knew that when they became friends in the fifties, living in triple deckers in a neighborhood of Boston, Brighton, they’d grow old and remain comfortable enough to live together? Who knew, those cherub children would be able to have a talk on how to share their daily lives, in a beach community.
Jackie thought she’d got the better part of the bargain; she paid less and had a new, open concept studio separate, from the main house. Her studio extended to a full-house length deck, opening up with sliders and letting in the light. The studio included a cathedral ceiling and a sleep loft; with sturdy stairs for access. It suited her.
The cottage was two-bedrooms and a traditional Cape Cod style with weathered shingles and a muted blue-gray trim, shutters and door to match. Much of the trim was chipped, the shutters worn and uneven. The yard had patches of crab grass, the usual for the Cape, with sand, not dirt mainly.
Weeks passed and the daily rhythyme satisfied both friends. Privacy and space was readily a part of their routine.
Jackie preferred afternoons in the library. She’d always preferred being with books, in the stacks and browsing the new collections and the classics. The smell of books, the handling of pages – some stained and most clean and crisp. The hours passed and she read her favorite, old thrillers and mysteries, preferring to re-read familiar writers rather than waste precious time with ‘cozies’.
Meg had her own interests, playing golf most days and usually up and out early to get in a round with the Ladies’ League or other member foursomes. She enjoyed walking and being able to play competitively against the other ladies and herself. Leaving corporate world was not as easy as she had hoped. Meg was successful and had the energy and ability to move up, but her personal life was pretty much a mess. Since she was young, her life choices with relationships had been disasterous. Meg knew that her challenge was and had always been personal relationships and staying ‘nice’ or at least ‘civil’ to keep people in her life. She’d had time to stay with one fellow executive and have a daughter, but the marriage was short-lived and her daughter resented that she had been brought up by nannies, hardly seeing her mother. Her daughter, Olivia, was a bitter, sharp-tongued young woman and after graduate school, she stayed on the west coast, preferring distance and a cushion of being geographically unavailable to her mother. Meg knew only bits of her daughter’s life and despite reaching out through social media and calling, their strained relationship didn’t seem to be something that would be warming up anytime soon. Meg, only recently, thought about how she failed her daughter and herself. Her successes cost her dearly in her life. Meg thought about Jacqueline O’Reilly, her friend from the day – the days of living in a five-room apartment, in a triple decker in Brighton’s busy section, just off Oak Square. The street had families that included stay-at-home moms and plenty of kids. Fond memories of the times, the friends, the laughing and freedom of childhood. Jackie and Meg had similar memories of that time. This was the major bond between them.
Jackie enjoyed stopping for coffee before heading home and sat at the same bistro-cafe outside table, sipping a Café Americano. As the weeks passed, the regulars nodded at her and she to them.
Her face in a book, sipping coffee and the sunshine warm but not full force, as it was usually later in the day, Jackie slept in to make up for late nights and late starts.
At first, she’d drive her old black Saab to the library and café. Her’s was a turbo – she drove fast; very fast and the pick-up of this car was delightful. One of her guilty pleasures. It began to feel ridiculous to drive and park twice each day, and so she popped over to the local police station to see if she could buy an abandoned bike. Or better still, maybe the cops would give her one.
At the Cape, this wasn’t as crazy as it sounded-rentals during summer months brought in thousands of tourists. The Saturday to Saturday – in and out of families, couples, and groups of young people was enough chaos to have bikes left at the beach, on Main Street or the side of the road. Jackie walked up Main Street to the Police Station.
A bit of a flashback as she entered the Station, after-all she’d practiced law for twenty years, criminal defense litigation. Last time she’d practiced was fifteen years earlier in Boston and that had turned out quite dramatically ending her career practicing law. She shook off the negativity and approached the front desk; the lobby shabby and linoleum floors cruddy and yellowed, despite any attempt to wash it clean. Horrible place! Jackie was flashing back and really had to use deep breathing to shake it off. Wow, who knew she’d still be affected by all that, so many years later. She’s looking for a fucking bike, down the Cape. Ahhh, the days of profanity and spending most waking hours with criminals, cops and in Courts.
“Hi, Officer. Wondering if there’s any possibility to get a bike that’s been left from the day-trippers or renters?”
“What? Why would you think we’re giving away bikes?” the Desk Sergeant said, his head still down looking at papers. When he looked up, Jackie saw ‘attractive, fifties or so cop, like so many she’d worked with over the years. She really didn’t like cops; they lied and were rough with her clients and sometimes with her. “Oh my God, why can’t I shake all this?” she thought.
He was now staring at her, annoyed and the question of free bikes- repeated.
“Oh yah, in the day, when I lived on Nantucket one summer, the cops would give away bikes that had been left around the island. I got a sweet one.”
“You’re kidding, right!” Now, he smiled, or maybe smirked. “They have a sale for abandoned cars and yup, bikes, too. You missed it by a week.”
Felt like a volley – her turn, she guessed. “Apologies, Officer. Thought I’d give it a try.”
Now, the smile became a loud laugh, more of a chortle. “Hey, don’t worry about it. Come ‘on, I’ll show you the leftovers and you can take one. It’s better than us storing it for the winter months or trashing it. Help yourself.”
He called out for coverage at the front desk and came around to open the half-gate and allow Jackie in. Surprising. “He seemed like an okay guy”, she thought. Jackie went around and followed him to the side door and out of the building.
On the side of the brick, traditional Police Station, there was a shed and bikes leaning on the side, locked with a chain. He pulled out a few to stand them up in front of her. None were high enough and the tires were too wide.
“Hmmm…. wait, I think there’s a couple in the shed.”
He was tall and the term for this guy would be ‘rugged’ with a calm and easy overtone.
Jackie looked at the bike he was holding sideways for her once over and said, “Yes, I think this one will be perfect. Great!”
“Okay, then, let me get something to brush it off a bit and off you go.” He was smiling and she totally had to smile broadly right back. There was a rag, on the ground near the shed and he leaned over to grab it and he brushed off the bike with it.
“Do I have to fill in a form or anything, Sargeant?”
“Nope. Just take it. See you around town.”
“Thank you. Thanks so much; it’ll be put to good use. I’m Jacqueline- Jackie.”
“Okay, then – Jackie. Here you go. Enjoy!” And, in a New York minute, he was off and opening the side door of the Police Station, to go back in. He didn’t turn around, and she stood holding up that blue bike, with its small bike-basket firmly attached to the front handlebars.
“Wow, that was anticlimactic.” She thought. She looped one leg over and saw that it was actually a boy’s bike with the bar high. Smiling, she settled herself, a bit on the bike and started pushing forward to ride that ‘sucker’. She pedaled back to the house, smiling to herself and most definitely, out of breath.
Meg was on the deck having wine and on her I-Phone, posting photos and browsing as she liked to do on all the social platforms. She had her head down, a bit of a serious expression, not quite a scowl. That was one thing that Jackie didn’t appreciate about her friend; that inability to see the good, to appreciate the positive. Meg was gloomy, much of the time. “Maybe she misses the action of the corporate world and the rush of making major decisions and giving orders to her underlings.”
“All that was gone, and no family members around to enjoy. What a bummer for her.”
Jackie snapped back to present and called out again, so as not to startle her. “Hey, you- I got a bike today. Guess, I’m a legit Cape-Codder.”
Meg looked at her quizzically and said, “What? Can you pedal a bike? You’re crazy! Just drive.”
And this is where things got rough and not easy. Biking, allowed Jackie to see more, to slow down and actually notice neighbors, people in the town and what was going on. She did notice and saw the good, bad and ugly. The ugly started on one of those cool days, when she was sipping her Americano and skimming the latest book. She didn’t see the old guy, who’s schedule coincided with hers at the café. She asked Flo, the owner of the place and was met with ‘What old guy?’ “You know, the guy with the high waisted khakis and torn, very worn blue shirt who sits across from me every day since forever. That guy.”
Flo’s response was that she is busy running the place and never noticed. “Okay, then…” Jackie thought she’d ask the two thirty-something girls that came in with toddlers and chatted it up until it was time to pick up their preschoolers. How’d Jackie know all that? She was observant and listened well, even if from a distance. She’d always been curious.
Maybe he was visiting someone. Odd, though, that Flo didn’t admit knowing him or at least seeing him.
Jackie had ‘nodded’ to the guy more than once when he acknowledged her. They had a few general conversations about the weather and the tourists bogging down everything. That’s it.
There wasn’t anything, in particular, just a sense that he wasn’t there as he should be. She let it go. Another few days came and went, he didn’t return.
Jackie liked to eat out and even if it was on the cheap, it was her preference. Not so, Meg, who preferred to save a dollar and cook at home. They irritated one another on this score.
Sometimes, Meg cooked for herself without asking Jackie to join her. Awkward, she went to eat alone and in town. Off she went to eat at a cheap-eats joint on Main Street, deciding to ride her bike. It was all ordinary, and yet, she thought about her former life, her high energy, confusing and multi-tasking life in the city. Sighing was it relief she felt or regret to be in a beach community. A beach lifestyle – one that was simple and extraordinary in its ordinariness. Her all too active mind, flipped back and forth undecided and going in circles.
Stay in the present, she reminded herself, not too gently. She ordered and was back into the routine. She had her favorite, fish & chips, an iced coffee and watched the people walking by. Content.
An old duffer walked by and she was glad to see him, the missing fellow from the café. She watched with a ready smile for him. As he got closer, a lady joined him. Fine, didn’t know he had a lady friend. Closer still, she saw that his pants were at the proper place easily at his hip and the shirt was new, looked like a Macy’s special. Not him. Not the blue, shirt from LL Bean or J Crew and not wearing those khakis high up on his ample waist. She thought about him and wondered why Flo denied noticing him. Her curiosity peaked now about the lack of acknowledgement of the guy more than his being missing. She’d ask again tomorrow at the café for him, this time ask a waitress or other regulars.
Jackie had picked up the knack of biking and she flew around town; much like her driving fast and hard, the biking was a similar challenge. The guy was missing and no one seemed to know anything about him; the waitress and rest had no idea. Jackie decided, impromptu to make a run over to the police station. She fast walked up the stairs and the Sergeant, who’d helped her with the bike was at the front desk.
“So, how’d that bike work out for ya?”
“Fine, thanks. I’m okay around town on it.”
“I’m here about something else and not sure if you can do anything; but I have coffee same time same place and have seen this old fellow at the cafe all summer long for months, and now he’s gone. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that no one seems to know anything about him when I’ve asked and no one seems to know who I’m talking about.”
“Well, people come and go around here. Maybe they just didn’t notice him.”
“I have a bad feeling about this and that something may have happened.”
“There’s really not much we can do. Do you have his name? His address? I can send someone over for a check.”
“Nope. No name. No address. Now, I feel foolish.”
“That’s okay. If you get any information on him, come back and we’ll check on him.”
“I just came by because I have such a strong feeling that something’s wrong. Well, thanks anyways.”
“Feeling foolish and thinking that it was just one more example of getting old.” She thought. Jackie headed home. A bit gloomier than ever, she went directly into her studio and made a fresh pot of coffee, munching on some half stale gummy cookies. “Yuck.”
Time is a funny thing, sometimes moving speedily along and waiting on no one; other times just slowly, impatiently moving at a snail’s pace with little to no changes. “Argghh..frustrating.”
Meg, in the meantime, played golf and kept up with a busy schedule of mahjong and going out to the movies with friends she’d made over the years. She stopped asking Jackie to join in, as the answer had been in the negative for many months. Meg wondered if this arrangement was the best idea, despite the bit of income made on rent, there was no real companionship; not as she’d hoped. Meg thought about her inability to sustain any relationship; she’d been married briefly, she’d been a not so great mother, and now her oldest friend and she had planned well, but it wasn’t quite the reality that they discussed.
Jackie drank more coffee and read, comfortably sitting on the denim blue couch, curled up on one end and very content.
Meg smoked on the deck, crossed arms and tugged while watching the gray-blue skies turn dark blue-black. The yard was private and manicured, pretty well. She should be content, but watched too much cable news and too much political commentary to really feel relaxed. It was all so stressful; the world going to hell with the Administration unable to make any decisions about public policy. Arggghhh…she had enough and thought so every day and every night. She missed work. She missed being in charge. She missed her daughter.
The following week, as Jackie moved indoors at the cafe and the air chilled, front page news was that a body was found under the docks by Main Street, near the boat pilings. The chatter was that the body was found close to the Ferry mooring. There was no mention if the person was male or female and there was no identifiers beyond that. Jackie had a slight hair-raising sensation on her arms and thought about her old gentleman friend, her inquiry at the cafe and police station. It must be him.
That afternoon, a knock on her door and she answered to find the police and the Sargeant asking for her time to clear up a few things. “Oh my God,” she thought, “The police may be think I have something to do with this missing guy, dead body thing.”
She let the Sarg into the main room, and he looked around appreciatively at the wood details and open cathedral space. “Hmm..this place is unassuming on the exterior. Nice.”
“How are you, Miss? We’re here to see if you can clear up anything on our investigation.” “Yes.” “You probably figure out the body found is of an elderly guy and fits the description that you gave us. Do you remember when you last say him?”
“No, I can’t pinpoint the time, but I do take books out of the library and can check on when I read, David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” I was re-reading that book and we had a brief conversation about books being made into films, so I know he was alive when I was reading that book.” I can check and think about where I was with my reading and let you know, later today. Would that be alright?”
He was staring at me, totally amazed that books were the measure of when and where for his timeline. “Yeah, sure. That’ll be fine. Just call the station when you have a better sense of when. Here’s my card and my cell number is on the back.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry to hear that he’s been found dead. I am very sorry that my sense of him was that something was very wrong. He was a mild, kind’a guy, not that I really knew him.”
“Yeah, fine. Whatever you think of that you can provide will help.”
“Of course. …Investigation? Do you mean it’s a murder investigation?”
“No. For now, it’s a suspicious death case. Just let us know, when you’ve figured out when you last saw him and anything else that may be helpful.”
“Fine.” She moved towards the front entryway and he left, with notepad and pen, in hand. His head slightly bent forward, some kind of motion of respect. But for her, or for the man found dead on the moorings at the docks. She didn’t know.
Unbelievable. Again, cops and cruisers – blue lights and investigations. Oh. My God, thought it was behind me in the past and just gone, baby gone. Her mind raced and it was a mix of excitement and dread. She’d left that world and wanted so much to be back to ‘civilian’ to an innocent of the dark, violent side of life. She felt the pull of being dragged back. Was it time to return to that dark side of life and society? She hoped not, but she was ready to meet to it all, whatever might be, head on and with a renewed energy of ‘can do’ ‘will do’ and not afraid of anything.