The pebbles crunched and shifted beneath her feet as she walked steadily to her bench by the shore. She knew it wasn't "her" bench, but she thought of it that way anyhow. It's where she sat a few hours everyday, watching the glassy surface of the water, the reflection of the enormous fluffy clouds moving slowly across the blue sky. She liked the quiet, though this spot didn't feel empty the way some quiet places do. Sitting on her bench, beneath the open sky and ivory clouds, nothing but the water before her, she felt full of hope and wonder.
Sometimes, like today, she'd bring a sandwich wrapped in brown paper. Not that food was necessary here, but it brought her comfort and reminded her of a life long ago. How long, she didn't know. Time wasn't necessary here either, but she didn't miss that as much. She could hardly remember anymore what it felt like to not have enough of it. Constantly checking the clock or the calendar, anxiety over getting through her daily list of to-do's, of sitting in traffic worried she wouldn't make it to her destination on time. Of watching her children grow, equally excited to see who they would turn out to be as much as she wished time would slow so she could soak in the giggles, and cuddles of their youth. No, she didn't miss the confusing emotions of time.
She unfolded the brown waxy paper and sighed with pleasure as she looked down at her treat. White porous bread encasing layers of rippling lettuce, red onion, thick cut ham, mayonnaise and mustard. She picked up a triangle of sandwich and brought it to her nose, inhaling the delicious scents of fresh bread and spice of the mustard before taking a bite. She chewed happily, her foot gently bobbing as she scanned the horizon.
She remembered the disappointment at finding out food wasn't necessary here. Food had brought her so much joy. She loved the preparation. Finding the best ingredients, announcing proudly as she unpacked her groceries that she'd found one thing or another on sale, she'd cradle it gently before putting the prized item away in the refrigerator or cabinet, knowing that she'd later transform it into something delicious for her family. She hadn't been an easy child, she didn't excel in school, or athletics. She hadn't been the perfect wife or even mother, even though she'd always tried. She hadn't had a career to boast of, nothing more than a series of jobs throughout her life actually. It was only cooking that she'd felt exceptional and without flaw.
She'd made mistakes, of course. Learning to cook was a process. But one that she'd taken to naturally, and with passion. Food had played a major role, maybe even more so than she'd realized at the time, in bridging any distance between her and those she loved. Her children's birthdays were busy with baking delicious cakes, and making their favorite meals. Holidays were always hosted at her house because the family had proclaimed her "the best cook". The hours of sweating, basting, seasoning, dishes piling in the sink, even the dreaded clean up, had all been worth it as she sat around the table and watched forkfuls of her meal disappearing into happy mouths. Eyes closing slowly as they chewed, then swallowed and exclaimed "Oh my God, it's so good". Her shortcomings didn't exist in that moment and her heart felt full.
Her mother had greeted her here when she'd arrived, and after their long tearful embrace, she'd filled her in on how it works. When she brought up food and saw her disappointment she'd laughed at her. A sound she hadn't been sure she'd ever hear again, and she cried. Her mother wiped her tears and said "Oh mija. You can still cook and even eat here. You just don't NEED to." She'd mistook her daughters tears as being over the loss of food and she didn't correct her. Instead she pulled her in and closed her eyes. Her mother's short, curly hair tickling her damp cheeks as she breathed in her scent, happy to have her back.
She wasn't sure how long ago that had been, when her mother met her here on this very beach. In terms of time the way she'd known it before, it could have been a week or it could have been twenty years. There was no way to know. In death, the unknown doesn't bring the fear it once had though. You become very comfortable in what you do know, and that is enough. She wondered if it could have been the same in life. If she had accepted what she did know, and not spent so much time worried about what she didn't, would she have been happier? Maybe. But that wasn't how her journey had been meant to be. It had all happened exactly how it was intended, and in that regard, she had lived perfectly.
She finished the half of her sandwich and wrapped the other half back up and set it beside her on the bench. A cool breeze blew a few tendrils of her curly hair across her face and she reached up and wiped it away. Feeling the thick, soft hair between her fingers. She'd lost so much of it before she'd arrived here. Something she'd been self-conscious of for a long time. She'd had thick, dark, curly hair all her life. One of the few things that had ever made her feel beautiful. When it had started to lose its shine and density, the curls hanging limply, she'd cried. She wasn't sure how she looked now, she hadn't seen a mirror since she'd arrived. Maybe they didn't exist here, or maybe she just wasn't that interested in her appearance. She just knew how she felt. She looked down at the skin on her arm, smooth, soft, and golden. But it wasn't her skin or even the thick curls that made her feel beautiful. Here, everything was beautiful and just as it should be.
She sighed again and looked up at the horizon. No ships today, bringing in new arrivals. Her father sometimes came and sat with her, holding her hand as they watched the infinite sea and rolling clouds. He would listen as she told him about the girls and how big they'd gotten. He'd laugh as she marveled at their personalities and how different the two were from each other. Both so special and unique. He'd smile knowingly at the love she felt for her children. The squeeze of his hand when she told him how much she had wished he could have known them. He'd died when they were babies and the loss had been a void she never was able to fill throughout the rest of her life. His strength, his fire, the safety she'd felt in simply knowing no matter what she could call him and he'd be there. It wasn't until after he was gone that she'd realized how small and vulnerable she felt without him. She hoped her children didn't feel that way now without her.
"Mija," he said to her. "Your girls are happy and thriving. Living life the way they were meant to. When they arrive here, they will fall into your arms and tell you as much. You'll see, mija. You'll see."
She came here every day, watching the horizon for the ship that would bring them in someday, knowing he was right. Life was perfect, death was equally so. But love, especially for her children, didn't exist in terms of life and death. It was infinite. Bigger than the sky above her or the never ending water in front of her. It had no beginning and no end. It didn't care about time, or flaws, or image. It only existed. And so she waited for her girls. So she can embrace them when they set foot on this pebbled shore, breathe each other in and weep tears of joy at their reunion. She will tell them about how it works here, then she'd cook a meal for them and let them tell her about life and all it had brought for them. Then watch the relief flood through them as they realized they are free from regret, and stress, and hurt. She will watch their eyes lose focus as they embrace the concept that everything had been perfect and happened the way it had all been meant to. They will see the purpose behind what they'd considered their mistakes, they will find forgiveness where they thought it were impossible, they will experience true understanding of all things, and for the first time they will feel completely at peace. As she had.
She unwrapped the other half of her sandwich and bit into it happily as the clouds drifted sleepily across the sky, keeping her eyes on the horizon.