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Dining Alone
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Rose had her mid-day meal wrapped in a cotton scarf woven in a gray and white pattern of checks. She carried it with her each morning across the rocky beach, eyes open for small shells or interesting bits of driftwood that she could use in one of her compositions for the tourists. She remembered the beaches of her childhood, where it was prohibited to remove such flotsam (what she thought of now as treasure), but the hotel owners here actually encouraged its collection; the tourists often complained that it scraped their bare feet.

She sat at the small table on the patio overlooking a rough sea. Not the Pacific! More like Homer’s Wine Dark Sea, something that justified the phrase “body of water,” an entity with a will to take under those foolish enough to tempt it, get close. No long, rolling, ribbons of wave; no smooth-sailing pelicans in triangular formation; no miles of beach on which to build sandcastles to protest far-away wars. Just this rock-strewn cove, these waves that chopped and sliced and flayed, these barnacles that clung to rocks as to the hull of a sunken ship.

She liked it here, dining alone on salty bread and cheese and sweet sections of orange grown in volcanic soil. Finished with her small meal, she wrapped the remains back up in the scarf and dabbed the last drops of orange juice off her fingers. She didn’t want to muck up the keys of the machine provided in a corner of the lounge for visitors’ use. In the past this had been a place for people to retreat, to leave the concerns of home behind, or at least to leave them in a corner of the mind where they might behave for a week or a little more. But late last year tourist requests for connectivity had become overwhelming and the management had installed the little desktop and the surprisingly fast connection that served them whatever they needed from the “world.”

Rose had already corralled the messes from this week’s departed guests, the coffee grounds and cigarette wrappers (the guests were European) and condoms discreetly wrapped in tissue, to spare the plumbing. She was on her break before dusting, wiping, and folding the laundry load she’d started earlier after stripping the beds. What could it hurt to fire up the little machine once more and do her search?

Expectations low, spirits high, she told herself, as she had each time since the groundskeeper had shown her how to “go online” and enter search terms. Expectations low, spirits…. But look! There was a hit, an exact hit on the name she hadn’t seen in years: Jennifer Cooke. On something called a podcast. And she still could spare a few minutes. She clicked on the link and, staring out to the violent water, began to listen.

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