He descended the staircase and crossed the beach to set up his chair a few dozen feet from where we were sitting, setting his gaze on the surf. He set the bag -- filled, as it turned out, with a several longneck bottles of beer and a couple packs of smokes -- next to the chair, popped open a beer, then settled into his chair to watch high tide roll in. And that was pretty much his drill for the next two hours, as he slowly drained his few beers, occasionally chasing those sips with repeated drags on the cigarettes he kept chain-smoking.
I noticed him arrive on the beach like I noticed anyone else who did -- making a mental note, but only casually, adding him to that informal roster of beachgoers set up nearby that I referred back to when I grew bored with crosswords or reading and resorted to people-watching. But I gradually noticed that this guy was just different -- he simply sat and stared at the ocean, slowly drank his beer, and smoked heavily. He didn't talk to, or interact with anyone, nor anyone with him. He didn't seem upset, or sad, or happy, or anything -- he simply stared at the water.
Finally, he put all of his empty beer bottles in his duffel bag, dumped his small tin ashtray into a sealed plastic bag and stowed that, and then from the bottom of his duffel, he pulled a single rose with a small ribbon tied to it, along with an envelope, and set it on the sand on the other side of his chair. He stood, folded up his chair, zipped his duffel bag, and with one quick glance back at the ocean and down again to the envelope, he arose and grabbed his belongings, then turned and ascended the staircase over the dune and left.
My wife and I exchanged glances after he disappeared over the dune. Needless to say, we were intensely curious about who that rose was for, and what the envelope accompanying it contained. But not so curious that we felt the need to invade the privacy of the poor guy who just left those items (or that of the intended recipient) to find out. So we went back to our people-watching, and reading, and crosswords and watched beachgoers around us also closely observing the status of that left-behind envelope and rose throughout the afternoon.
Around 4 p.m., when folks around us began departing the beach, a particularly obnoxious woman from New Jersey (we knew this, because she loudly announced it several times earlier in the week) stopped at the spot where the card and rose lay on the sand near our spot, stooped down and blatantly opened the envelope (containing a card), read the card with raised eyebrows, stuffed the card back in the envelope while looking furtively around her, then shoved it back under the rose, and went lumbering on her way. "Wonder what it said?" I asked my wife.
My assumption was that the card and rose were for someone who would soon be by to pick up the items, but nobody ever showed up. Soon after Ms. New Jersey tore open the envelope to satisfy her own curiosity, my wife and I also packed up to leave the beach for the day. Doing a last-minute search around our site for items to take back to the beach house, I thought to myself, "What the hell?" and then walked over to where the rose and card lay on the beach. I followed Ms. New Jersey's actions and opened the card inside the envelope, no longer able to stand the suspense.
The card was a very simple and nondescript "Thinking of You" themed affair, with a generic spray of flowers painted on the front. The inside of the card had no pre-printed greeting, but did have this message, written in a surprisingly neat cursive script, included: "Celia, I hope you have found what you've been looking for -- I miss you very much and love you even more." And that was it -- no name for whom it was from, and no indication as to whether or not it was the man who left it, or possibly someone else. I also placed the card back in the envelope and put it back under the rose.
I walked back to where my wife stood (she was giving me a particuarly evil eye for opening the envelope) and told her what it said. We both gathered up our load and walked back to the beach house in utter silence, likely mulling over the same questions in each of our minds -- who was Celia? Did she die or was she still alive and simply moved on from the person who wrote the card to her? Was the gentleman who left the card also the one who wrote it? Should we be on the lookout for Celia on the beach? Or was that just wishful thinking?
That's pretty much where this REAL version of the story ends -- the card and flower were missing from the beach when we went back the next day, perhaps victims of theft, or the changing tides, or even Celia herself. The man who left the card and rose never returned to that spot on the beach, at least not during that week that we visited. What is the real story between Celia and, presumably, the mystery man who left her the card and rose?