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The Sound of Heartbeats
When Savannah Smith crossed over the Port Island Bridge, sun setting behind her, it wasn’t to fall in love, not this time. Still her heart sped up, like always, when she traveled the tall curve connecting the island to the rest of the world. She wanted to go slow and remember.
“Feels like I can reach right up and touch Heaven,” something Savannah remembered her grandmother saying whenever they reached the top of the bridge, all of creation spreading out below. It was as though seconds rather than years passed since those days of riding with her grandmother, windows down and sun shining.
Other memories stirred too. She and a boy she used to know also crossed this bridge, as children, stopping to look over into the dark water. Sometimes throwing pennies as far as they could, they would make wishes.
With penny in hand, her toll for a make-believe bridge tender, grantor of wishes, she waited until the last possible second; all the while thinking the gusty wind might bring it back to her or worse to the car behind. Then, she pitched it, making her wish, a wish not as selfish as those she made when she and the boy threw pennies from the bridge.
Sometimes, she and Nicholas would tell the other what they wished; and sometimes they would keep their wishes to themselves. Like their pennies, those wishes had long since disappeared.
The bridge didn’t seem so tall anymore, the winding stretch of concrete and steel rose far above the world below, offering up a spectacular view that for a heartbeat seemed endless.
As late as it was, plenty of sunshine remained in the evening sky. Cloudless, a blanket of the softest blue spread itself in every direction and lay seamlessly on a sea of emerald. Rays of light danced their happy dance for those sunning themselves. Savannah could already feel the sand gathering between the toes of her bare feet and the warm ocean waves that danced in the distance.
As Savannah reached the end of the bridge, she was greeted by a traffic light. The light was new; everything else on the island looked unchanged: the beach road, service station, church, and the grocery store. It was like driving into a photograph.
Savannah would only be here a few weeks, long enough to put her grandmother’s house on the market and then say goodbye to the island of her childhood memories.
Her grandmother’s house wouldn’t be hard to sell. Someone would buy it for the land. Too old fashioned, the house her grandmother loved so much, porch complete with rockers and swing, would be replaced by something modern.
Painted white, the sweet old home glowed in the evening sunlight as Savannah pulled into the driveway and parked under the live oaks she climbed as a child.
Three weeks in Port Island, with only memories to keep her company, was beginning to seem like a long time, even before Savannah pushed open the door of the lonely house.
“Closure,” her friend and roommate Cindy said at dinner the night before. Cindy stayed behind to teach summer school, when Savannah waved goodbye leaving Asheville that morning and pretending to be excited.
The grass neatly trimmed and her grandmother’s azaleas with lingering blooms, looked just as she remembered, as did the gardenias, camellias, and the hydrangeas, puffs of lavender and pink, a perfect backdrop for her grandmother’s roses. From their thorny stems, bursting with color, roses of crimson and scarlet reached for the late afternoon sunshine.
Inside the house was just as Savannah remembered too, minus her grandmother. She prepared herself for this before making her way from room to room past watchful eyes in picture frames.
In the kitchen, her grandmother’s apron hung like a memory on the knob of the broom closet. Savannah brushed away the first tear she cried in a long time, as through the kitchen window she watched tall grass dancing on the dunes. She could hear the hum of the old refrigerator which guarded the doorway leading to the side porch. In her grandmother’s bedroom, an ancient clock radio filled the air with soft music, the kind Savannah remembered the two of them dancing to, her and her grandmother. She wondered if her grandmother ever danced when she was not there to take her hand and be swirled around.
“McBroom is not much of a dance partner,” her grandmother told her once when she asked. Savannah supposed not, seeing the old broom leaning against the wall by the kitchen door.
Everything in the house worked: lights, water; everything but the air conditioner. It only clicked when Savannah switched it on, no cool air. It clicked again when she tried it a second time.
After a raspy voiced repairman told her he would get there as soon as possible, Savannah put away her phone and went about opening the windows, upstairs and down.
“Lord, doesn’t that breeze feel good?” her grandmother would always say when the two of them took their places on the front porch. Now alone, Savannah sat watching curtains dance in the windows, like ghosts. In the late evening sunshine, a soft breeze was sweeping in from the ocean, across the dunes, and dressing itself in the fragrances of her grandmother’s lilacs and gardenias, and her roses.
With the gentle breeze, came memories of those yesterdays and all the peas she shelled, beans she snapped, and corn she shucked sitting beside her grandmother in the porch swing.
The swing, hanging empty for so long, welcomed her like an old friend, creaking out a little hello as she began to push herself, barefooted, against the time smoothed floorboards of the porch.
In the distance the ocean rolling, called out as a lone egret spread its wings on its way across the evening sky. Lightning bugs, glowing little winged creatures, began dancing in the cool dusk air to the sound of cicadas.
Memories of stories her grandmother told her played themselves out as Savannah sipped iced tea, store bought, and not as good as her grandmother’s.