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Without A Trace



A willowy man pinched his coat tighter against the salt wind that made his eyes sting. He sidestepped the itchy, brown algae sea foam, leaving deep footprints in the wet sand. The song repeated behind his eyes, the one he learned in Crete that reflected where he had been, but not where he was headed. 

The pearly sky had changed quickly, swapping bland blues for swirling promises of intemperance. Promises that would be broken, but it mirrored the way he felt. The clacking of teeth, the rage, the popping, achy joints, the loneliness he drank into submission. Sons of beach scum, they made him miserable with their incessant celebrations, as ridiculous as carrot juice or brimstone. He took another swig from the bottle, warmed in his breast pocket, his magic wand, the kindly hand that passed over his forehead and soothed his shattered heart. It protected him from the headache of the holiday season—the way walking the shoreline shielded him from anyone who might still be looking for him. 

He sat to rest, not minding the wind making a mess of his thinning hair. He concentrated on the razor-straight horizon line and reflected that this was an illusion, like a lot of things that looked perfect from a distance. His family, for example. Upstanding and all that. He saw them through a different prism, those things he had survived and couldn’t talk about because no one wanted to know about it. They wouldn’t cop to any of it ever. Major gaslighting there. What a waste, the agony of those holiday meals, the sheer scale of that wall of bullshit they made him climb every year—every one but this year. 

He flicked the cigarette onto his giant empty ashtray and watched the gulls attacking what seemed to be terns. He got up and kept going towards the next town. There was no one on the beach, and it made him happy that the only people he passed were unfriendly, considering it was Christmas Eve. The sun never came out again after the clouds rolled in, and now the grays were turning bluer, a thin wash of midnight blue setting off the diamond points across the far off houses. The street lights nearer by were turning on. Must have walked at least six miles by now because the buildings were becoming industrial. Soon he’d have to climb over the headlands and scale a fence here or there. Then he’d come to the in-between stretch unclaimed for development. It had no personality, no human touch, but you couldn’t call it abandoned because no one had ever been there to leave it behind. Now he heard a ringing in his ears and his thoughts turned to what his wife had said before she’d left him. One of the meaner things she’d said. Every thought he tried to form made a fractal of that same insult, and it spiraled inward, like a boring device.

He had to stop and literally shake his head a few times. Yawning seemed to help until he looked across the beach. A sudden feeling of disorientation hit him when he saw no recognizable landmarks. The further he walked, the stronger the sensation of being lost. Walking turned to running. It felt good to fill his lungs with sea air and feel strength coursing through his muscles and sinews. The sand was a friendly challenger, daring him to go another fifty meters, then fifty more. He saw a shooting star and laughed. Peace inundated his entire being, and he felt not just whole, but one with his surroundings. His thoughts connected to every sound and sight, every occurrence around him. Nothing seemed wrong, not even his not knowing where he was. He had forgotten what was troubling him so grievously only an hour before. Hope was flowing like a precious golden liquid, spilling over and inside him, filling every space and crevasse.

There was a string of beach bars and restaurants coming up on his right. He sat again on a low concrete wall that set the sand apart from the higher concrete path. It was the beginning of a new boardwalk, but he could swear he’d never seen it before. Someone asked him for directions to a club he’d never heard of. His phone rang, and he saw a name light up the screen, which he didn’t recognize, “Joanna Pons”. Rather than taking the call, he let it go to voice so he could listen to the message: “Massimo, hi…just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and tell you we’re going out for drinks tonight around six if you want to join us. It’s impromptu, I know, but…Okay, send me a text if you’re coming. Hope you will… See you soon, Muah!”

  He pulled out his flask and took another shot. When he returned it to his pocket, he searched for his wallet, which was in the other breast pocket. The woman in the message sounded as if they knew each other, but her voice was unfamiliar. He stared at the photo ID, which affirmed that he was in fact, Massimo Della Bruni. Nothing could have perplexed him more. Who was Massimo Della Bruni? It was as though he’d picked the wallet up off the ground. If this was not his true identity, then, who was he? 

The panicky sensation of having lost control of everything descended on him, and the unknown surroundings amplified this a hundred times. The restaurants looked new, as if they had sprung up overnight. A group of carolers appeared out of nowhere and launched into God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen. That it was Christmas Eve was the only thing he had not forgotten. If he had a family he was oblivious as to who they were. The only thing he could do was meet “Massimo’s” friends. He pulled out his phone and texted for the address.

It was a pub several streets away, full of people and light and energy. Scanning the room for the most likely group, he chose a likely table of five. A woman looked up. 

“Massimo!” Her eyes brimmed with some unaccountable glee.

The others did not react with the same cheery warmth. They knew more about him than he did, he realized. How to explain his sudden misfortune when he didn’t know if he wanted to hear what they knew about him? 

“Um ...hello. Listen, I’ll be back, okay?” He turned around and with firm strides, walked out of the pub, her last words to him just within earshot.

“Wait, Massimo…It was his word against yours.”

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