Not long after our first encounter I spotted her about a block down the beach from my house, wading out into the water with a rake and a bucket. Crabs, I thought. It’s an easy was to catch crabs if you’re without a boat and/or pots. Yet there was something odd about the whole scene. I snatched the binoculars from the basket on the deck table and quickly discovered what was troubling me.
She was in the same clothes she’d worn the first time we’d run into each other; the billowy long white pants, tank top, old slip on sneakers. Now the pants appeared to drag her down as they became soaked up to her thighs. She seemed to struggle while putting one foot in front of the other, sternly concentrating on the sandy bottom. I wondered why she hadn’t put on shorts or a bathing suit if she’d planned to wade so far into the bay.
It wasn’t long before she had a crab in her rake, pinchers snapping as it struggled to get free. The bucket was under the teeth of the rake in a second as she shook the crustacean off. Then she turned towards shore, dragging the now heavy fabric of her pants with every step. Suddenly, she fell forward and slipped under the water, a ring of white fabric and golden hair swirling around the person now vanished from sight.
In a snap, I jumped up and flew down my steps and onto the beach running in her direction. As I approached, she popped straight up out of the water, one arm extended, the crab in her hand lifted as far above her head as she could reach. She gasped for air and staggered to her feet once again. All I could think of was how badly she must have wanted that crab.
“Hey,” I called. “Would you like some help?” She looked so flustered that I waded out before she had a chance to answer.
“I don’t want to lose the rake,” she was searching the ground under the water. “And the bucket,” she pointed, “It’s floating away.”
I grabbed the bucket as the current carried it towards me and brought it to her, placing it under the struggling crab. “Here, drop it in.”
She released the crab into the bucket and at the same time said, “Oh, good. Here it is.” She placed a foot onto the teeth of the rake causing the handle to rise slowly up out of the water.
“Here; why don’t you give me that stuff so you can get yourself to shore. Those pants must weigh a ton.”
She tugged on the fabric of the pant legs as she struggled forward, grabbing my arm for support then plopped down on the first available log, pants now gathering sand as they dragged across the beach. Without a word she began wringing them out with hands belonging to a much older woman than I’d originally thought. On close inspection, I realized Cammie was not a young woman after all. Yes, she was stunning, but dripping wet fresh out of the bay, revealed a lot. Cammie was probably in her sixties.
“I’m Mary Ann Hayes,” I set the bucket with the frantically clawing crab next to her and leaned the rake across the log. “I live down there,” I pointed to my house, “In the brown one with the white trim.”
She looked up and nodded in the direction I was pointing, sighed deeply and offered a hesitant smile. “I’m Cammie. Cammie Orton.”
I’d heard the name Orton before and looked up at the old house on the hill surrounded by trees. I hadn’t seen anyone there in a long time, yet it was quite hidden behind dense foliage so my not seeing anyone didn’t really mean much.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you. Are you visiting for a while or are you living here now?”
“Just visiting. The cabin belongs to my uncle. He and his family may be out to join me one of these days although they actually don’t use it much.”
“I rarely see anyone there,” I commented while making myself comfortable on the log. Cammie avoided eye contact and continued ringing out the fabric of her pants.
“I fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw lights on in there or any other sign of life for that matter. It’s nice you’re using it though. Houses are happier when someone lives in them.”
She stopped and stared at me for a moment then slowly nodded. “Yes, you are absolutely right. Houses shouldn’t be left alone for too long. They fall apart.” She looked down at her pant legs and shook the sand from the bottoms. “My uncle should use it more,” she murmured.
The crab was noisily clawing away at the bucket. “Well, you sure wanted that crab,” I joked. She was on her feet in an instant. I had the distinct feeling she didn’t want to strike up any kind of friendship.
“Thank you for your help,” she said with a nod in my direction. Although she’d regained her composure, there was something in those dark eyes that was hard to read. Was it a spark of nervousness, fear, or was it just aloofness?
“It was nice to meet you, Mary Ann.” She picked up the bucket and rake. “I’m going up now and get into some dry clothes.”
“Oh, of course. Well, It was nice to meet you too. Have a good day,” I said as she headed for the path that would lead her up the hill to the cabin. Cammie did not look back or say another word. It was pointedly the end of any little get-to-know-you chat I was imagining.
I watched her climb the path, pants dragging in the dirt, bucket swinging from one arm and the rake over a shoulder. I couldn’t get a grip on it, but something was wrong with this whole picture. In a moment, she was no longer visible so I walked the beach home, unable to get the crazy encounter out of my head.
That evening, I waited for the sun to set and dusk to settle in. All I needed to do was go down the few steps we had to the beach, walk out about fifteen feet, and look up on the hill. If there were any lights on in the Orton cabin, I would see them even through the foliage. They would shine through the trees. I threw on a sweatshirt and went out. As I turned to look up the hill, goose bumps prickled my arms. I don’t know why I expected it, but sure enough, there were no lights at all. I stood staring up at the barely visible cabin on the hill when it hit me. Hadn’t I heard that Dale Orton passed away a few years back?
To Be Continued