by Melissa J. Soumis
Ike stamped one foot down into the mud. His footprint was wide with large gaps between the toes. Edith slid her right foot out of her muddied Keds and gently pressed it down right next to Ike’s footprint. Hers was shorter and slimmer, with no gaps between her toes. Ike took Edith’s hand and held it to his chest. His heart was beating more slowly everyday.
They walked slowly up the beach towards the cove. Sometimes Ike pointed to driftwood that was molded into an odd shape by the waves. Edith would pick it up and let it drop into the deep pockets of her white, billowing pants. Ike loved collecting driftwood. Edith learned this about him more than fifty five years earlier, when they met.
"Are we having leftovers for dinner?" Ike anticipated. He gripped Edith’s arm a little tighter as he struggled to step around a rusty, washed up coffee can. Edith stopped him and kicked the can out of the way. Red rust dotted the clean tip of her shoe.
"I’ll reheat the beans," Edith commented. "And cook up some toast and eggs."
They shuffled along a little farther, until Ike had to stop. Edith helped him kneel and finally sit on the sand. Edith reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of Wheat Thins. She held some to Ike’s mouth and he stuck out his tongue. He chewed the crackers slowly, letting them get soft and mold to the roof of his mouth.
Edith closed her eyes to give them a rest. She wondered where life had gone. Yesterday, she was a Catholic school girl, a high school graduate, Ike’s bride, bearing twin daughters, and working at St. Anne’s Hospital. Now she was feeding Ike soggy crackers, soaking her dentures, and clinging to a support bar in the bathtub.
They both knew it would be impossible to walk the entire way to the cove. Three weeks earlier it had been a struggle. Now it was impossible. Edith pushed herself up. It took three tries. It took longer for Ike. Edith tried several positions to help him up, only to have a toned, male jogger with a shirt tucked into the back of his pants, stop to help.
Edith and Ike turned their backs to the cove and waddled along until they reached their footprints. One half of Ike’s had been washed away by the ocean. Edith’s remained intact. The sight of the demolished footprint discouraged him.
"It is too bad," Ike said. "For once I got it right and now it is gone."
They stood above their work for a few minutes, catching their breath. Edith put her hand to Ike’s chest again. His heart fluttered irregularly, like a leaf falling from a tree.
That night Edith cooked the leftovers and even made some tapioca pudding for desert. Ike gushed that it was the most delicious plate of beans he had ever tasted. They watched television after dinner—The Jeffersons and Matlock.
In bed, Ike reached for Edith’s hand. It was soft and warm compared to his, much smaller too. He loved the way her hand folded so perfectly into his, like the hand painted Russian dolls displayed on the dresser, one inside of the other.
"I wish my footprint would have stayed," Ike whispered. "But I guess the ocean decided it was his time to go."
I am a recent graduate of Northern Michigan University and have been published in 'The Rag' of Cincinnati. Contact Melissa.