4-4-2022 /Week 3
With each step she took the sounds of the street began to fade. Palm trees and lush foliage lured Della down the winding trail. Sea shells crushed under her feet as a small lizard darted to safety. A bush rustled and Della’s eyes searched the edge of the path hoping to avoid any more scaly creatures. She had forgotten to wear her air-pods so she was keenly aware of her surroundings. It had been a long time since Della had exercised outdoors, and decades since she’d walked the Boca island path.
City life, where noise was constant and people were always on the move was what Della preferred and loved the most.
As Della settled into a comfortable pace a familiar repugnant odor overwhelmed her. “Oh great, it figures!” Della said with disgust, when she realized what was causing the smell. The sulfurous, rotten, and decaying stench had wafted onto the island almost 3 weeks ago. The culprit, Karenia Brevis, otherwise known as Red Tide, was a dreaded phenomena for both tourists and locals alike. Not only could Red Tide bring horrible smells but it often produced piles of dead fish scattered along the beach, a dry cough and watery-itchy eyes. Red Tide could easily ruin a well planned vacation or put a halt to the downtown crowds who came to shop and eat. Luckily, this time the Red Tide wasn’t too harsh on the wildlife and it seemed to finally be retreating, especially toward downtown and near the south end of the island. Nothing good ever came from the Red Tide. For Della, the smell was just another reminder of the day she left the island.
As Della’s thoughts shifted toward dark memories she was interrupted by a woman walking at a quick pace toward her. Smiling and waving her hand the woman looked thrilled to see Della.
“Oh great, who the heck is this,” thought Della. “Is she coming for me?”
Della started to turn around and head the other direction but stopped when she heard her name called, “Della, Della!” the happy woman shouted. As the woman got closer Della recognized who it was. It was Marianne, Marianne Nichols.
“Oh geez, Della whispered under her breath. “She hasn’t changed a lick! How does that even happen?”
Even after giving birth to 5 kids, Marianne was as curvy and lean as a teenager. Blonde hair framed her inviting face and her pretty smile could start a conversation with anyone. Marianne never had to work at being beautiful or nice, she just was.
“Della Russell! I can’t believe it’s really you! I heard you were in town.”
“You look great girl!” Marianne continued, as she wrapped her arms tightly around Della.
The hug was too long and too tight for Della’s comfort, but for Marianne this was very normal. She had always been a big hugger, no matter if she knew you well or not. At one time Della and Marianne were best friends who spent endless hours at the beach, rode bikes all over town, and shared the ups and downs of their high school years. Twenty years, that’s how long it had been since Della and Marianne had last spoken.
Jealousy then guilt stirred inside of Della, she wished Marianne did not look so good. It was obvious to Della that Marianne had not lost her beauty or charm.
Della knew she was the one who had changed, and not for the better. How she viewed the world and how she interacted with others was different now too.
Della ran her hands over her straggly ponytail then sucked in her stomach and wished she wouldn’t have devoured the cinnamon sprinkled doughnut and large latte earlier that morning. Once proud of her fit athletic physique, Della now considered herself a little pudgy and a lot out of shape. Near her temples and by her ears whitish-gray strands could be found sticking out among her natural black hair. Della regretted her choice to leave New York without looking better.
Chit chat was not on Della’s agenda and she especially did not want to talk to Marianne. Since there was no escape Della blurted out the obvious, “You’re the one that looks amazing!” As she heard the words Della realized Marianne still had her beat. She was stunned that she was still competing. Hadn’t she moved on from silly comparisons. Della blamed the island and the town for her negative thoughts. Heartache and loneliness are what Della remembered most about Boca.
Marianne and Gene who who were high school sweethearts had been married 15 years, which was no surprise to Della. A popular couple, they were both smart, and good looking. Gene had gone on to become the pastor of a local christian church. Even though Della was not into that kind of thing she was sure Marianne filled her role well as a pastor’s wife. Della wondered if their lives were as grand as she imagined. She knew too well that life was not always as it appeared.
“We have to grab a coffee and catch up,” Marianne suggested, “I’ve heard about some of your cases. It must be exciting living in New York and representing famous clients.”
A surge of pride rose inside of Della, “Oh it’s not always great,” she said, trying to sound humble. Deep down Della was glad Marianne knew about her professional success. She wondered if Marianne knew about her failures too.
Even though Della had accomplished many things, life had not turned out as she had dreamed. Yes, she had become a successful divorce attorney, was expecting to make Partner in the firm soon, and often represented interesting high profile clients. She lived in an upscale urban neighborhood with restaurants, bars, and the culture she always loved and wanted. Yet Della never found the time to enjoy any of these things. Before her divorce she worked hard during the week but the weekends she tried to reserve for her husband Daniel. The first few years of their marriage Della was quite successful at balancing work and married life, but as the years progressed more often than not Della was called in to put out a fire which typically involved an unreasonable client. And as usual Daniel was the one left on the back burner. His resentment eventually turned to roaming eyes and finally an affair he could not surrender.
Two years had passed since Daniel walked out of Della’s life. There was no meeting of minds, no marriage counseling, or even the option of a separation. Daniel left quickly and never looked back. For Della, it was devastating, humiliating and hard to accept. She had always recommended her clients seek counseling or a trial separation before signing on the dotted line. Della often wondered how some of her clients could not have seen a divorce coming, now she understood.
Since her divorce Della had devoted every waking hour to her work. Her habits were taking a toll on her health, her looks and her relationships. Fun was no longer part of her vocabulary.
“It’s great seeing you Marianne. I’ve got to get to a meeting at my mothers old shop. I’m sure you heard about Mrs. Walker, the sweet lady who took over my mothers business? She passed away a few weeks ago.”
“Oh yes, it was so unexpected. Gene and I went to her celebration of life at St. Andrews. Her sister and the church did a lovely job with the ceremony. Mrs. Walker was always so vibrant and full of life. She’ll be missed that’s for sure. I hope the shop will stay open, it’s so needed on the island,” replied Marianne.
“I’m not sure what the plans are for the shop,” Della said as she shook her head. “My parents attorney wanted to meet to go through some items that belonged to my mother,” Della continued, as she turned to head back to town.
“Well if you need anything while your here let me know. Hope to see you soon,” Marianne said as she too continued on her way.
The funeral for Mrs. Walker was 2 weeks ago. Della had not heard about her death until she received a phone call from John Evans, an Attorney on the island, who asked her to meet in person as soon as possible. Mrs. Walker was 75 when she suffered the severe stroke that quickly ended her life.
Twenty years ago Mrs Walker stepped in to keep the interior design shop open after the horrible tragedy that took the shop owners life. Della’s mother, Francine, was the shop owner. Della not only lost her mother that day but also her father, Peter.
Della headed back toward Tarpon Ave where she had rented a small yellow cottage that was nestled peacefully among several towering banyan trees. Spread gracefully along the ground were the banyan roots, which then swooped vertically up and down to join other limbs that were intertwined this way and that, all in an effort to support the large heavy old trees.
“These trees are truly amazing,”Della thought, as she entered through the white fenced gate belonging to the cottage.
“I forgot how beautiful they were,” she whispered to herself.”
She climbed the wooden steps that lead to the large front porch. Two white wicker chairs, several potted plants, and a small yellow coffee table were positioned to the right of the steps . On the left was a bright blue wooden swing that hung from the porch ceiling and a small metal table tucked in the corner. A squirrel ran along the thick porch rail stopping for just a few seconds, as if wondering who the new guest might be.
Once inside the cottage Della headed to the bathroom, stripped off her clothes, stepped into the shower, and turned the faucet lever to warm. Della leaned to the right so the stream of cold water would not hit her. When the water was comfortably warm she positioned herself directly under the rain shower head. The sweat and sand were quickly washed away, but the dread hung on, reminding Della of the meeting that was soon to take place.
“Did he really ask me here to sign off on my mothers things or is there more to it? Della wondered.
She had asked that the boxes be shipped to her home but the attorney had insisted she sign off on the items in person. Being an attorney herself, Della thought this request seemed odd and deliberate.
“And why were the boxes just now brought to my attention?” Della said out loud.
Della dried off, applied lotion to her body and slipped on a simple cotton dress. She threw on a light cream sweater that was draped over a bedside chair and then headed out the front door.
Near the end of October the humidity dropped, the days became cooler, and the pesky mosquitoes began to retreat. Layering your clothes and being prepared for a sudden temperature change served one well. It was also the time of year when the wind brought in the foul smell of rotted seaweed and algae blooms. There was no autumn or fall on the island but the unpleasant scent was a reminder that summer had ended and the days would now be shorter.
The winter snowbirds arrived and the store doors stayed open longer to accommodate the new shoppers. Della always loved the hustle and bustle that the returning people brought to the island. She loved seeing the familiar faces and she loved the dogs that often accompanied them. However, life was different now and Della expected only difficulty from the island.
The meeting was only a few blocks away so she hopped on a bike that was included with the cottage rental. She had not ridden a bike in years and at first she found herself unsteady. The only bike Della was familiar with was the kind strapped to the floor and required no balance. To be honest she had not even ridden a spin bike in over a year and she knew her figure could attest to that.
As Della rolled past the downtown shops a smile washed over her face, she remembered her first island bike. The powder blue bike had a brown wicker basket that hung from the front handle bars, a black and white gingham patterned seat, and wheels that were silver chrome. For a 10 year old girl like Della, the bike was the best birthday surprise her parents could have ever given her. The bike opened up a world of freedom and adventure. She could roam the island on her own terms and on her own time. The only thing Della had to do was check in at home by 5:30 so she wouldn’t be late for dinner.
A lump that had been building in Della’s throat broke loose and tears began to fall. She had suppressed so many memories, even the good ones, for fear the bad would resurface. The bike, the smells, the island itself would not let the past be still. Della wondered if being here now, at the age of 40, she would be able to absorb the bad with the good and maybe find peace with her life and the island.
Leaving the Island in October of 1997 was a decision Della made quickly while under a lot of stress and much grief. She wanted to escape the painful reality of her life. A life where the two people who loved her the most were no longer alive. The years that followed were chaotic and unpredictable, but eventually Della turned her life around. She earned a law degree, got married and for several years life seemed to be pretty normal. However, she never thought that the love of her life would fall in love with someone else. This is one of many things she could not have imagined. For the first time she wondered if leaving the island so many years ago had been the right choice.
Della rounded the corner and there it was, sandwiched between a drug store and a children’s boutique, her mothers most favorite place. “Russell Interiors” was still displayed above the red and white striped awning but the pale yellow exterior had been painted over with a sea-foam green. The windows were trimmed in white and the red front door had eight window panes that allowed a sneak peak into the shop. Black metal window boxes filled with colorful petunias added yet another layer of charm.
Della wedged her front tire into the metal bike rack and whispered to herself, ”breathe Della, breathe.”
1997 was the last time Della had been in her mother’s shop. She walked in the front door and for a moment was frozen in a daze. Sadness and joy overwhelmed her.
“Good afternoon Ms. Russell,” her parents’ attorney said, as he reached to shake Della’s hand.
Hello Mr. Evans, It’s been a long time. “
To be continued….