Ghosts on the Beach

The air is crisp, a welcome relief from summer’s humidity. It’s a long walk, and Mr. Wilson leads the way. He knows where we are going, and seldom veers off course. He senses long before I do whether we’re taking the long way or not.

My other dogs come and go. Zimba, the biggest of them all, half-wolf, half-Alaskan malamute, is as regal as a prince. Lakota, the husky, keeps her half-blue, half-brown eyes focused on whatever distracts her — people, a car, a bunny or her favorite, a squirrel. She runs ahead so fast my eyes can barely keep up. Shannon, my Irish Setter, with her golden red hair as soft as a cat’s, stays beside me always. She would take a bullet for me.

Mr. Wilson is oblivious of the others as we make our way to the beach. He’s just happy to be alive, happy to be with me, and glad to be outside. He enjoys sleeping most of the day on his velvet chair, or on the bed. But say the magic word “walk,” and nothing else matters.

I taught Mr. Wilson to walk on the leash without pulling, and he trots on until the slack tightens. The second he feels pressure on his neck he stops and sits until I catch up, and we do it all over again.

I smell low tide long before the water peeks between the homes that line the shore. So can the dogs. The pavement under our feet is sturdy and makes walking easy. We leave no evidence of our passing as we make our way to the water’s edge. The sand that waits will give, leaving marks of our journey behind us as we travel the water line.

At the bottom of a steep drop, easy to travel thanks to some wooden steps buried in the sand by some soul long gone, is Warwick’s Gaspee Point. Mr. Wilson and I take our time navigating the tricky decline; the others are long gone, already exploring.

Shannon swims, Zimba and Lakota race along the water’s edge, then suddenly stop, turn around and come back to us. Shannon shakes her velvety hair and the five of us walk together along the shore. There are crabs in the sand, stranded by the tide, oyster shells, clams galore, seaweed, bugs and random sticks, perfectly sized for a game of fetch. I lean over and pick one up; it’s heavier that I thought, waterlogged. I throw it into the ocean and watch it float.

The walk to and from the beach is far longer than the actual time spent there, unless I stop and sit on a log where last night some neighborhood kids built a fire. But I keep on trucking, Mr. Wilson by my side. He never asks to go off of the leash. He’s content to stay next to me. The six feet that the nylon cord gives him is enough.

We have rounded the point, and a shorter span of beach waits. It’s an invigorating walk, and it’s good to feel the salty wind as it brushes my skin, and the sun as it warms my back. There’s a break in the vegetation that protects the dunes, and we walk toward it, knowing that this is the way back to the road that will take us home.

Mr. Wilson stays with me as we leave the beach. I look back at our footsteps, a man and a dog, side by side, two feet and four paws, over and over again. I don’t have to call the others. They never leave me. Neither will Mr. Wilson, even after his time on earth is through.


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