by Edward Palumbo of Warwick
The bayside Oakland Beach may be considered “modest” when compared to some of Rhode Island’s larger, oceanside, sandy shores. However, it remains a very pleasant escape, when the weather is agreeable. Some ninety yards south of the clam shack lies the main beach: the large beach, if you will. That is where I found myself, out for some exercise, trudging through the sand and doing my best version of beachcombing. The grounds were surprisingly well populated, given that it was late September, and, while certainly a clement, early evening, the weather was not what one may have called balmy. A dozen kids played on the swings and the slides, and a like number of adults sat watching them. Perhaps twenty folks roamed the shore, no one being brave enough to wade into the chilly surf.
A large, oval island of grass separates the main beach from a smaller, lesser used portion of the seashore. That island is bisected by an asphalt path. I made my way along that path, happy to see visitors dining at the picnic tables, or simply relaxing after work or play. A slight chill found me, and it announced that summer was about to depart, and far too soon. I reached the small beach in what seemed like two minutes, and I began strolling on the upper half of the shore, where the footing was firm.
I came upon a stack of stones about three feet high. The structure was neatly balanced and composed of eight or nine gray units. The capstone was mostly round, but it had one flat face that looked upon Greenwich Bay. The flat part of the capstone was adorned with a red handprint.
It was almost certainly fresh blood that created the crimson image, or so the speculative fiction author in me argued. The logician in me countered that the source was red paint. Whatever the origin of the image, I was left pondering as to its meaning. Was it a command to halt? Or could it just be someone saying “Hi”?
I left the monument behind; and traveled about twenty feet, before nearly stepping on a small piece of white paper that was folded into four sections. I opened it and read the note:
Get into the boat. You won’t be disappointed.
It was an interesting message, but there was no boat, not on shore, anyway, or even one docked within shouting distance. Something made me turn back to the west, and I saw it, an old, wooden rowboat. The craft was tiny, and it was painted blue. The coating was faded and cracked. The boat lay nestled against the massive seawall, and it was no surprise that I missed it, when crossing onto the beach. I approached the vessel carefully. Perhaps, I thought it might spring at me, but it did not. I wouldn’t say the rowboat was fully beached, more like eighty percent on the sand. The gentle waves lapped at its bow. I climbed aboard, in keeping with the directions of the note, but I was sure I would be going nowhere, as there were no oars onboard. I became bored after just a minute or two, but as I moved to exit the craft, the boat shifted beneath me. And then, as if by magic, I was traveling on the bay.
The gently rocking boat, as coupled with the darkening sky, put me in a state of near-hypnosis. I was only brought back to reality by the realization that water was filling the boat.
The dark liquid sloshed against the inner walls of the craft. But it was not water at all. It was blood, my blood. The floorboards of the boat had become as if teeth, and they chewed on my lower legs, fiercely, relentlessly. Before I fainted, I managed to pull myself over the side of the rowboat and into the water. That is all I remember of that day.
Shark attack. That’s what they said at the hospital, perhaps even a great white. Right, maybe a twenty-footer, I said to myself. How could a twenty-foot shark find its way into Greenwich Bay, which is about nineteen feet across? But, I jest, Greenwich Bay is much wider than that, and many large sharks have been spotted off Rhode Island Beaches, but none of same, to my knowledge, off Oakland Beach. Whatever the truth, my legs were gone beneath the knee. It was a long road back. The rehabilitation was far more than I could endure, and yet, I endured it. My medical insurance was as good as advertised, and I was walking on prosthetic legs, and rather adeptly, by the following Easter.
A mid-May day, and a warm one, found me back at Oakland Beach for the first time since the incident. I walked the upper shore, of the small beach, sinking somewhat into the sand, as I moved, but I was more agile that I might have believed upon arrival. The stack of stones had been disassembled, but I found all the “pieces” and I built the monument anew. It wasn’t the first time I had created such a work of art. I reached into my pocket for the folded piece of white paper I would find there. I checked the spelling on my note. It was fine. I tossed the paper onto the sand. The small beach was little populated, and I doubt anyone took notice of my actions.
It was just after 7 pm, and that meant dusk was not far off.
I cast a glance at the seawall, and there, the rowboat waited. It did not look any better for the wear. I found a place of rest on a grassy knoll, from which, I watched the spot where I had dropped the note. An old couple came plodding along, arm in arm, but they took no notice of the folded paper, or of me, for that matter, as they moved down the beach in the direction of the marina. A few minutes passed, before a girl, no more than ten, came screaming across the beach, kicking up sand, as if in fear for her life. A boy trailed her, an angry friend, or brother, I surmised. He got closer, before the girl stopped dead in her tracks. She made an instant U-turn, and the boy lost his footing and fell face-first into the sand. The girl escaped the way she came, laughing all the way. The boy trailed behind, once on his feet.
Ten minutes passed without any action, and then came two more, potential customers, a guy and a gal, in their twenties, both clad in denim shorts and t-shirts. They walked the upper beach and passed right by the note, but then, the woman turned. She picked up the folded paper and read my words. I couldn’t hear what she said to her male companion, but she motioned to the rowboat, and away they went. I felt phantom tingles in my legs, as the couple climbed aboard the blue boat. In a few moments they were on the bay. I felt not a moment of guilt. Boats gotta eat, too.