Many thanks to the author Anthony Maulucci, for sharing with us his short story about a man who finds his muse in the sleepy Rhode Island town of Watch Hill.
If you are intrigued and want to read more, please follow the link to purchase his book, Anxious Love from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003Y8XQF6
Anxious Love Book Blurb
When love grows anxious,/happiness leaves . . ./your peace of mind departs,/and your lover flees.” Anthony Maulucci’s fifth work of fiction is a collection of twelve new stories about the lives of people who struggle with the demons of desire, disappointment, love, and loneliness. A dying American artist asks his wife to dedicate her life to his legacy, a young woman falls in love with her female mentor, two children create a fantasy world in a public park, a science fiction writer finds and loses his muse on a deserted beach, a middle-aged woman is unwilling to become her aging husband’s caretaker, a computer specialist’s videos of his wife become an internet phenomenon and have a disturbing effect on their marriage — each of the main characters in these contemporary tales must find the strength to survive in a complex and confusing world.
THE WAVES AT WATCH HILL
A short story by Anthony Maulucci
From the moment he drove around the curve that brought the whole span of the Watch Hill marina into view, Glenn Cambria was a happy man in a very heightened state of mind. Relaxed but focused. At ease but aware of the delicious pleasure of his senses. Excited by the precious personal freedom he was about to enjoy. He was going to spend several hours indulging himself in his greatest passion. He was going to write, but not at the kitchen table of the dreary apartment where he lived alone, no, he was going to work in joyous solitude accompanied only by the sound of the waves. Glenn Cambria believed this was the perfect environment to spin the story of his science fiction novel, within the sound of the waves, surrounded by inspiring views of the sea, views that were in fact suggestive of the imaginary planet where his cautionary tale was set.
Glenn opened the hatchback of his Subaru and paused to gauge the wind chill factor on this late April day. It was always ten degrees cooler by the shore, so he had brought along a sweater and a windbreaker. He decided to wear both, just in case, thinking he could always remove one or both of them later. It was a mostly sunny day, but a huge bank of clouds was drifting along slowly northwestward and the temperature would drop considerably if it blocked the sun. He grasped his green backpack loaded with his manuscript, blanket, and various other items, hooked the strap of the bulky vinyl lunch kit on his forefinger, and brought the door down. He heard the click of the locking mechanism but checked it anyway.
Then he stepped onto the sidewalk along the marina. Glenn was delighted by the sight of the emptiness of Bay Street. The small town of Watch Hill, Rhode Island had become increasingly popular for summer outings at the beach, and, at the height of the season, Bay Street was always lined with cars on both sides. A small gazebo was only a few steps away and he went inside, sat down facing the marina, and began collecting his thoughts for the day’s writing.
Glenn Cambria had rarely varied this Tuesday routine. Tuesday was his elected day off from his work as a civil engineer. To get this free time, he had to work late every other day of the week. He could have made up the time on Saturday, but Saturdays were for his two young boys. He didn’t especially mind working late during the week. Since his divorce three years ago, he hadn’t had a regular girlfriend and dreaded spending the long evenings alone in his one-bedroom apartment when he was too drained from a day of painstaking calculations at the computer to work at his novel-in-progress.
He stopped reading his notes and thought about how to begin his story. What would his first sentence be? The novel had been taking shape in his mind for the last six months and he’d spent the past four weeks coming to the beach at Watch Hill where he wrote for at least three hours but all he had to show for it so far was a loose plot outline, rough sketches of the main characters, and a complex description of the capital city of Z—- , the superpower country of K—-, his imaginary planet, as well as a highly detailed inventory of their military technology. He had also written a timeline of the major events in their history and a treatise on their culture giving sociological reasons for the elite group of killers who belonged to a club that was allowed to hunt down and murder its members.
All of these details had been carefully worked out but his creative juices had always dried up when it came to the actual writing of the story. So Glenn sat there in the gazebo, the high spirits of a few moments ago draining away as he struggled to come up with the book’s opening sentence.
He had been vaguely aware of the figure of a woman strolling along on the other side of Bay Street. She had paused every so often to look into the windows of an empty shop. Now why was she doing that? Glenn wondered. Was she thinking about renting one of them and opening a new store for the season? If so, she’d better hurry because the hordes of tourists would begin invading the little town at the end of next month, on Memorial Day weekend, as predictably as migrating geese.
The woman was casting occasional glances in his direction and moving closer. For the moment, they were the only two people on the entire stretch of Bay Street. Glenn noticed she was wearing a black leather jacket, red turtle neck sweater and jeans. He thought she looked slender and attractive but realized that at this distance it was hard to be sure. However, he could see that her legs were long and she moved with supple grace.
But time was passing and the work was not getting done, so with a concentrated effort Glenn focused all of his attention on his book. The pages were grouped together in separate folders labeled Plot, Characters, History, Technology, and so forth, and each category had different colored paper for easy identification. He removed the folder marked Characters, placed it on top of the pile, and opened it. He found the sketch for Theara, the central character’s lover, and started reading it over. Perhaps he should describe her differently . . . The female characters in his book were problematic — he didn’t think he understood them well enough. His ex-wife had always told him that he hadn’t a clue about women and maybe she was right, although she almost always said that in the heat of an argument. Since the divorce, he had become extremely wary of women in general, even at times outright distrustful, though he knew it wasn’t fair to have that attitude towards all of them. He acknowledged that he needed women, but the crucial question was, in what sort of way did he need them? As lovers or as companions? What would suit him best at this juncture of his life, he thought, were brief sexual encounters with several or a platonic companionship with just two or three. He believed that a full-blown relationship with a long-term commitment should be the last thing on his agenda. His life was complicated enough and a serious romantic involvement would only interfere with his writing schedule while producing other, more dubious, results. Nevertheless, he had, on occasion, browsed through the postings of “Women Seeking Men” in the classified ad sections of the local newspapers and various internet dating services, and, although he had been tempted, he had yet to contact anyone . . .
“Excuse me . . .”
Glenn looked up and saw the woman in the black leather jacket standing at the bottom of the gazebo steps. Now he could see her clearly: She was in her twenties, attractive, with light reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. He had to ask her to repeat her question and she did so in a friendly manner.
“You want to rent a store?” Glenn repeated to get his bearings. “I wouldn’t know anything about that. There’s a real estate agent’s office right over there, at least there used to be. Why don’t you ask them?”
“I already tried them. They’re closed.”
“Huh. Well, did you see anyone inside one of those stores?”
“Yes, but they looked busy and I didn’t want to bother them.” She glanced down at his pile of papers. “I guess you’re busy too. Sorry . . .”
And she was gone.
Glenn was relieved. He could get back to his writing. Still, she was attractive and he was mildly intrigued. What kind of store did she want to open? he wondered. Probably a clothes boutique, guessing from the way she was dressed. It would be a simple thing to call after her — she was only about twenty feet away. No, he must get back to work. He went on reading his notes. It was a great pleasure for him to marvel over the fruits of his own imagination. Would a casual conversation with a woman, albeit a young and attractive one, be equal to the delicious joy of bringing to life a rich new world, a future society with highly advanced scientific discoveries and technological capabilities? Probably not. He went on reading, but a few moments later he couldn’t resist the need to see where the young woman had gone. Not that far — there she was, sitting on a stone bench near the semi-circle of rhododendron bushes gazing out at the water, leaning back on both outstretched arms, her jacket open to reveal the red sweater pulled tight over a full bosom. Her position struck him as an open invitation to approach. He could easily go over to her and begin a casual conversation by asking her what kind of store she wanted to open . . .
But his story! He had come here to write not to make new friends. It was already going on eleven o’clock and he’d done nothing but read over his notes. He would never finish the book at this rate. Finish? He would never get started. He needed an opening sentence . . . and so, how to begin?
He had decided not to use his laptop for two reasons: 1) He spent the bulk of his workday staring at a computer screen, and 2) In his one and only college creative writing class, the professor, who was a professional novelist, had told him to write his first draft in longhand because it was more subjective. Glenn placed a clean new pad of yellow paper on his lap, took out his special pen, and wrote, “The planet K—- was located in the M—- galaxy a billion light years from Earth” then stopped abruptly. That didn’t seem right. Too stiff, too dry, not at all subjective. He squinted up at the sky towards the place where the planet K—- might have been. Almost involuntarily, he then turned his head to the spot where the woman was sitting. She was gone. He swiveled his head around as far as he could in that direction without capsizing the papers on his lap. She was nowhere in sight. Just as well, Glenn thought, giving A shrug with one shoulder. No doubt she’s gone off in search of a real estate agent . . . strange that I didn’t hear a car start up. Must get back to work. He tried to think of another sentence but his mind was blank. Perhaps if I walk to the beach I’ll think of something on the way . . .
Returning the pen to his pocket, he replaced the folders in his backpack, stood up and climbed down from the gazebo. Then, looking out along Bay Street but seeing no sign of the young woman, he repeated “Just as well.” As he walked along the low concrete wall, he glanced at the yachts moored to the docks and wondered once again, as he always did, what it would be like to own one of them and spend the summer sailing down the eastern seaboard to the Bahamas, just his good friend, himself, and a crew of beautiful young women. He saw the swans too, the pair that was always there whenever he came to visit. They cocked their heads and glided by in the opposite direction. Didn’t their legs go numb in the cold water? Perhaps they kept them warm by constant motion. Could he use that idea in his book? Maybe there were creatures or droids of some kind who had to keep moving in order to stay alive, like sharks. Then a sentence took shape in his mind: “On the planet K—- in the country known as Z—-, the Moorlocks” (he would have to find a different name for them since that one came from H.G. Wells) “the — Whatevers — stayed alive by keeping in continual motion.” Not bad, he thought, not half bad. He smiled and felt the writing energy beginning to surge up in him. If I keep walking, a second sentence might come to me. If only I could walk and write at the same time . . . Maybe I should get one of those tiny recorders . . . No, too weird . . . People would think I was nuts . . . But who would see me here?
At the Yacht Club, Glenn saw a few cars parked out in front. He always wondered what it was like inside. He turned left and walked across their private lot. A few luxury cars were parked there, including a vintage silver Rolls Royce. He passed more empty shops, turned right, and came to the place where an old carousel stood, the oldest in New England he recalled. Bay Street curved here, and went up a hill. Glenn crossed the street and continued walking. About halfway up he turned around, as he always did, to take in the magnificent panoramic view of the crescent-shaped beach that made an arc around the bay. The waves on that side of Watch Hill were very tame and not at all to his liking. He much preferred the ocean side, which was where he was headed now.
At the top of the hill he took the stony path that led downwards to the beach. Already he could hear the booming sound of the waves and felt, as he always did and had since childhood, the excited anticipation of discovery, as if he were the first and only man to find the ocean. He stepped out from the pebbled path into the soft, deep sand of the beach and stood looking with awe at the massive and shimmering Atlantic. Any attempt to imagine its tidal forces, its huge moving expanse from continent to continent, and all the secrets and variegated life forms it contained only confounded the human mind. God alone could hold it in his power. Glenn could not find words to express the way it made him feel: majestic, overpowering, glorious, mysterious — the words that came to mind when he thought of the sea in the abstract always seemed lame when he was standing before it. And it was the same for the waves. All he could do was marvel at their hypnotic power. The curl of a breaking wave was at least as beautiful, and perhaps more so, than the curve of a woman’s hip. Their sound especially, to Glenn’s ears, was more intoxicating than wine and more moving than music. In fact, their rolling line was like the repeating lines of music in a Bach fugue, Glenn thought, delighted by his analogy, as he sat down on a rock, the one he always used, to remove his sneakers and socks.
There was a huge log, an old piece of driftwood too large for anyone to remove, where he usually sat to write and Glenn went straight to it. Like Bay Street, the beach on a Tuesday morning at this time of year was mostly deserted, and there was no one to be seen other than the distant figure of someone walking a dog. Glenn closed his eyes and leaned back against the log. He filled his lungs with the salty sea air and his senses came alive. After a few moments of this mindless pleasure, a spark ignited in his mind and he remembered the opening sentence for his book and, taking out his pen and yellow pad, he wrote it down and read it over several times as the breeze ruffled the pages. Needed some polish, perhaps, but he liked it. He read it over once more and waited for the next sentence to come to him. Instead he heard the sound of the waves, and then, “Hello there!” A female voice was calling to him from somewhere on the beach. He turned his head to look behind him and beheld the young woman in the black leather jacket about five yards away and coming directly towards him. She had a blanket draped over her shoulders like a shawl and it was flapping in the breeze.
Glenn was annoyed. It was impossible to ignore her. She seemed determined to come over and engage him in conversation, or was planning to spread her blanket out close enough to make him feel obligated to speak with her. He sat there, pen poised over the pad, blinking and squinting up towards the sun as the figure of the young woman approached him and came into clearer focus. He returned her greeting with a half-hearted smile as she came around the end of the log.
“What a cool spot,” she exclaimed, standing still and looking around to take it all in.
“Yes, it is,” Glenn said flatly.
The young woman frisked him a glance. “I’m sorry, am I disturbing you?”
“I’m writing,” Glenn intoned, looking down at the yellow page. “This is my writing time.”
“Oh, are you a writer? What are you writing?”
Her persistence was annoying, but he gauged her enthusiasm to be genuine, and found her warmth hard to resist. Most of his friends and family took little interest in his writing and here was a total stranger, an attractive young woman at that . . . not beautiful perhaps, but good looking, sexy, and very much alive.
“Well, I’m working on a novel . . .”
“Isn’t that interesting! I love literature.”
Glenn smiled with self-irony. “Well, it’s not exactly literature. What do you do?”
She laughed. “Not much at the moment. I’m thinking of opening a bookstore here for the summer. It’s the perfect place. And if it does okay, then I could move it to Providence in the fall. I was an English major at Brown.”
There was an awkward pause while Glenn listened to the sound of the waves and thought of a tactful way to ask her to leave.
“Wow, the only other person on the beach turns out to be a writer. That’s wild . . . and you’re writing a novel. Amazing.”
Glenn’s tepid response came a beat late, and he started shuffling through his papers in a preoccupied manner. It was obvious that he wanted to get on with his work. The young woman perceived this immediately, apologized for intruding, and walked away. For an instant, Glenn regretted not inviting her to sit down, but he was also relieved that he wouldn’t have to waste his precious writing time talking about his book instead of writing it.
The young woman left but she didn’t go far. She spread her blanket out and removed her leather jacket. Her behavior struck Glenn as rather impulsive, or maybe spontaneous was the word he wanted as it had more positive connotations. In any case, she had removed her running shoes and socks and was walking towards the water. Will she wade in? Glenn wondered. The water must be ice cold. At the hard sand, the young woman bent over and rolled up the legs of her jeans. Then she straightened up and put one foot into the water. She withdrew it at once, paused, and walked back in to meet a wave that came half-way up her calves.
Must get on with my book, Glenn told himself. Even without looking at his watch he knew it had to be past noon by the position of the sun. The huge bank of clouds was drawing closer to it. He read his opening sentence once more and stared down along the empty stretch of sand towards the rocks and the lighthouse as he tried to think of another. Then it came to him: “They (the Whatevers) lived primarily in the desert regions and were highly adapted to their environment. Because of this need to maintain continual motion of a minimum velocity, their legs were both tensile and attenuated, and they were the fastest runners on the planet . . .”
He broke off there and raised his eyes from the page. This woman has become a bothersome distraction, he thought. There she was, walking up the beach towards her blanket. Her jeans were wet to the thighs. They made eye contact and she smiled. When she had reached her blanket she looked over at him again and cried out, “The water’s freezing.”
“Why did you go in?” he shouted back to her.
She shrugged. “Because it felt good . . . ?”
She said something else and laughed, but Glenn only caught the word “cold.” Conversation was difficult at this range because of the waves. The wind had picked up a bit and tiny gusts attacked the sound of the human voice.
Glenn had a new idea. He wrote a few more sentences and then came to a halt. It just wasn’t flowing. Writing the notes had been so much easier. They hadn’t come out in fits and starts but rather in a great torrent of words that made him feel as if a powerful life force were surging through him. Writing the notes in the planning stage of his book was nearly as good as the lovemaking he and his ex-wife had enjoyed when they were first going out and better than what sex had been reduced to in the last several years of their failing marriage.
The young woman had put on her jacket and was lying down. Glenn was beginning to feel hungry. He put his manuscript papers away and opened his lunch kit. It was filled with a turkey sandwich, cheese and crackers, fruit, cookies, a bar of chocolate, and a large thermos of coffee. Being at the shore always gave him a bigger than usual appetite — something to do with the fresh salt-sea air, he reasoned — even in the hottest days of summer, but especially when it was a bit chilly, like it was now. He placed the sandwich on the log, set the thermos upright between his legs and unscrewed the top. The aroma of hot coffee was delicious and made his appetite even sharper. He glanced up and caught sight of the young woman looking over at him. Quickly, she averted her eyes. Had she smelled the wafting aroma of the coffee? Glenn wondered.
“Would you like some coffee?” he shouted.
The young woman turned her head, peeling back the strands of hair blown across her eyes by the wind. “What’s that?”
“Coffee . . . ?” Glenn called back, gesturing with the thermos cup.
She came over and sat on the log. Glenn enjoyed watching her agile movements. He poured coffee into the thermos cup and handed it to her. She took it but hesitated before drinking any. “What about you?”
“That’s okay. We’ll take turns.”
Thanking him, she took a sip. “This is really good,” she remarked.
“Everything tastes better by the sea. Would you like half a sandwich? It’s turkey.”
“I really shouldn’t be eating your lunch.”
“Don’t worry. I always bring enough for two.”
“In case you meet someone . . .?”
“No . . . in case I get hungry.”
She laughed. “I see. Okay then. I’m starved.”
“It’s the salt-sea air.” He unwrapped the sandwich and gave her half. “I hope you like pumpernickel bread.”
“Love it. It’s one of my favorites.”
They ate in silence, passing the thermos cup back and forth, and when they were done eating everything in the lunch kit, there was a kind of bond between them. Glenn could not simply ask her to leave, although he did want to get back to his writing. “Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked as a way of suggesting that she might leave him alone to write.
“Okay, and you can tell me more about your book,” she replied. She cautioned him, however, that she wasn’t all that crazy about science fiction and had read hardly anything except Frank Herbert’s Dune books, which she had enjoyed. She preferred fantasy stories and mythology, and confided in him that she thought The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake was a neglected masterpiece . Glenn watched her face as she spoke. It was a face that inspired trust: heart-shaped with skin that seemed very smooth — he wanted to stroke it very gently with his fingertips; her lips were pink and inviting — he had a strong desire to kiss them and wondered if she wanted the same thing. If he understood women of his own age very little, then perhaps he understood women who were ten years younger even less. Or maybe the difference was, after all, only negligible.
As they walked, Glenn discoursed about his novel, explaining in detail the history, culture, and technology of the country of Z—- on the planet K—-. There was sincere interest in her eyes, and Glenn was flattered. He was surprised at how easy it was to talk to her. All the writing he had done so far made it possible for him to speak in polished sentences, in an organized and logical fashion, and she seemed to be impressed by what he had accomplished.
By the time they got back to their little encampment by the log, the bank of clouds had been covering the sun for some time, the wind had kicked up, and the temperature had dropped about ten degrees. The young woman was shivering. She put on her leather jacket and wrapped herself in her blanket, but she was still cold. “It’s these wet pants,” she said. “I need to dry them out. Do you think you could start a fire?”
“Not out here in the open,” said Glenn, “but maybe back there in the dunes.”
In an area of the small dunes, tall grass and reeds that were situated behind them, they found a sheltered spot where they wouldn’t be seen by anyone who might be walking on the beach. They put their stuff down and went back out onto the beach to gather whatever bits of dry wood they could find. Surprisingly, they were able to pick up quite a bit, enough to get a respectable fire going. Ten minutes later, the young woman’s wet jeans were stretched out on a makeshift line and she and Glenn were nestled together between their blankets.
As she rubbed her legs together to warm them up, Glenn felt her smooth cold skin against his feet. Was it by accident or design that she had touched him? He caressed her face with the backs of his bent fingers. She did not respond, and he withdrew his hand. He was too unsure of himself to take advantage of this opportunity, so he tried hard not think about the fact that she hadn’t any pants on. He had always thought that a woman who put herself in this type of situation was either very naive or very brazen. She seemed to be neither, and he was a little mystified.
“Tell me more about your book.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about the characters. You haven’t said much about the people in your story.”
Glenn started telling her what little he had written about the central character and his lover. She listened attentively with a natural curiosity and asked perceptive questions about aspects of his story that he hadn’t thought of. She wanted to know more about the main characters. This was where her curiosity was most sharply focused. Who were these people? What were their personal histories? How did they meet? What were their emotions? What did they want most out of life? And so on. Glenn looked at her in amazement. She seemed to know more about his story than he did, his real story, the one he was longing to write but hadn’t quite discovered until this moment. Then, with an eerie feeling of having known her before, with a weird sensation of having been brought together by destiny or some magnetic force that defied any rational explanation, he thought, “She’s my muse,” and felt an electric prickle on the back of his neck.
The strange new feeling passed, and, lulled by the sound of the waves and the warmth of their bodies beneath the blanket, Glenn fell asleep. When he woke up about half an hour later, the young woman was gone. Just as well, he thought, just as well. Now I can get back to my book. He felt only a slight pang of disappointment. Had he really wanted to make love to a total stranger and then never see her again? What would he have gained from that other than gratified desire? No, she hadn‘t given him the pleasure of her body, but what she had given him was perhaps better. She had provided him with a new way of looking at his story. She had become a part of his book, and would be a part of it forever.
Glenn sat up, pulled out his yellow pad, tore off the page he had already written and threw it towards the smoldering fire. In a state of feverish excitement, he began writing a new opening for his novel. The words flowed out in a torrent, and he did not hear the sound of the waves, he did not hear the sound of the waves, he did not hear the sound of the waves . . .
Copyright 2005 by Anthony S. Maulucci
Want to learn more about the author? Here is his January 2016 interview.