“Ocean Road,”

Fiction by Kathleen Ormond

The drive along the Southern State Parkway was terrifying, as Emma pictured the accident in her mind over and over again and jumped as a car roared past her going at least 90.

She inched her way through the hamlets of Amityville, Bay Shore, and Patchogue, where the road narrowed to two lanes, and past the small-town farming communities of the Hamptons, a welcome sight after the bustle and noise of Manhattan.

She stopped at a grocery in Bridgehampton for a few supplies, the same store where her mother always shopped, and drove south on Ocean Road.
Emma took a deep breath as she slowed to turn into the driveway. She stopped the car halfway from the road and stared at the house, empty and lifeless. The gray wood shingles seemed darker than she remembered, which made the white trim of the windows and doors stand out in contrast.

She had never been to the house alone, without her family, and a feeling of dread fell over her like a weight. She parked the car in front of the garage and held the key tightly in her hand as she walked to the side door, set down the groceries, and opened the door.

There was the musty smell of a house closed up for months at a time. She opened a window above the kitchen sink and went to the living room, where she pulled back the curtains, opened the blinds, and let the afternoon sun stream in through the large double-hung windows.

She took a deep breath and looked around the room. She picked up a seashell from a bowl on the coffee table and rubbed it between her fingers as she remembered walks on the beach with her mother. She gently placed the shell back in the bowl and opened the French doors to the screened porch on the back of the house, her favorite room. It was furnished in age-old white wicker with green and white cushions and a collection of blue and white pottery flowerpots. She had whiled away many evenings on that porch, curled up in a chair with a good book.

She realized she had always taken the house for granted and suddenly felt an appreciation for the charm within those walls. It was an old house, inherited by her mother from her parents upon their deaths, and had been in the family for years. It sat on a large private lot, and the beach was less than a mile down the road. Her mother always referred to it as her country home, as she liked the parochial reference to the Hamptons.

It had good bones, with a central entry, a study off the side of the living room, symmetrical living and dining rooms, and three bedrooms upstairs, two on the front of the house with single dormers. Most everything in the house was original: the bead board ceiling in the kitchen, the pine floors, and the fireplace mantle. Every room was painted white, which gave a crisp bright coastal look that somehow looked relatively clean through the dust build-up.

Emma had so many happy memories in this house. She smiled as she thought about family picnics, her father grilling burgers, her mother’s deviled eggs, and Eric insisting on the last piece of dessert, whatever it was.

The silence in the house was deafening, and Emma turned on some music just for the noise. She went to the kitchen to put the groceries away and froze as she stared into the cabinet. There were two jars of her father’s favorite blueberry preserves from a local farm market, the almond-flavored coffee creamer her mother adored, a bottle of the spicy hot sauce Eric always added to scrambled eggs, and a few cans of soup. She closed the doors, grabbed an apple and a jacket, and headed for a walk on the beach.

The beach was deserted in the wake of a storm, but she continued as fierce bolts of lightning flashed across the sky and roars of earth-rumbling thunder shook the ground beneath her with a menacing force. She lifted her face into the storm and closed her eyes as rain pelted her skin so hard it hurt. As the winds whipped she stood firm and raised her voice. “Why did they have to die?” She squinted at the whirling clouds and questioned her faithfulness. Was the tragic loss of her family some preordained destiny? Were their deaths mandated or unintended, the result of a moment of reckless judgment? What if it hadn’t rained that day, what if they were 30 minutes later, would they still be alive? She walked aimlessly along the churning surf, unafraid and numb to the danger of the storm.

She returned to the house chilled and drenched to the bone. She dropped her shoes by the back door and hosed the sand from her feet, a ritual insisted upon by her mother. She changed into dry clothes and heard a knock at the door.  
“Hello? Alice? It’s Virginia.” Emma peered out the window and saw a neighbor she recognized.

“Emma, it’s nice to see you. I was out for a walk after the rain and saw the car in the driveway. Is your mother here?”

Tears welled up in Emma’s eyes and she began to cry.

“What is it, dear? Come sit down,” Virginia said.

She led Emma to the kitchen table and pulled out a chair. Emma wiped the tears from her face and looked at Virginia as she told her about what had happened to her parents and brother. “They are gone.”

Virginia had tears in her eyes and reached for Emma’s hand. Emma looked down. “I know it’s crazy but I wish they would come through the door, all smiles and everything would be back to normal.”

“I am so sorry, my dear, what a tragic loss for you.” Emma reached for two tissues as they each regained their composure.

“I hate it when people ask if there’s anything they can do. Of course there is nothing I can do to ease your pain; it is a process only you can endure, but I can be a good friend and a good listener.”

Emma squeezed her hand. “Thank you, Virginia. That is exactly what I need now.”

Virginia handed a glass of water to her.

“Will you be okay here by yourself?”

Emma nodded. “I just need some time alone.”

“I understand.” Virginia stood. “I have a blueberry pie still warm from the oven. Are you interested?”

“Not today, thank you, but I will take you up on that offer another time.” Virginia wrote her number on a piece of paper and handed it to Emma. “Call me anytime, day or night, if you need anything dear.” She kissed Emma on the cheek as she left.

Emma took her glass of water to the porch and curled up in one of the wicker chairs. She thought about Virginia, a kind, gentle woman who knew just what to say without prying or offering advice. She lived down the road and had been friends with Emma’s mother for years. She was in her 70s with gray hair, bright blue eyes, a thin build, and a vitality about her that was inspiring. It was nice to know she was nearby.

Kathleen Ormond, a retired executive assistant who lives in Sarasota, Florida, is the author of “The Toss of a Coin,” a runner-up in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year contest. This story is an excerpt from her newest novel, “Ocean Road.”