Inside the little cottage on Ocean Drive, Catherine West-Cedar awoke and tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. “Forty years.” she thought as she rubbed her hands over her face in the attempt to iron out the wrinkles and fallen jaw line. She rose to the knowledge she had just entered the next generation. Fear and anticipation curled around and through her stomach. She sighed, then threw the covers off her body in a grand sweep of her long arm and sat up in the bed. This was finally the day. She smiled her private, secret grin as she walked to her closet, got out a robe, covered her long naked body and reached deep into the back corner, behind the clothes, under the quilt, into the deepest recess, her private hiding place.
On the morning of her sixtieth birthday, Catherine took the ball out of its hiding place and whispered “Westie” to herself. The old thing had acquired a bit of mildew, grown quite hard and smelled very musty in the forty years it had lain in one or other of her closets, always in the darkest corner.
Catherine had moved around a bit in the forty years since the ball had been placed in her hands. Her school-teaching years both in the midwest and on the east coast had kept her focused and busy. Teaching had been her lifeline. It had sustained through the long wait. She hadn’t had time to reflect too much about her personal life, but the ball and the promise it held was always in the back of her closet as well as her mind. The promise directed her life.
On this southern New Jersey island, Brigantine, encroached by the world of fame, fortune and despair that is Atlantic City, Catherine had found a haven by the sea for her early retirement. The smaller Ocean Drive house on Brigantine Island was what she considered her heaven on earth. She expected to get some peace here and time to do the things teaching had never allowed. She expected to take some painting classes and perhaps a little sculpture. After she had accepted the more than adequate severance package the move had seemed just right.
She carefully placed the ancient pigskin on her robe-covered lap. She gently put a finger on the ball and let it trace the outline of the seams and cord that still managed to hold it together. As she reflected, one small tear ran down her cheek and onto the dirty surface creating a crooked line down the side of the ball. Memories bounced back and made fresh wounds where she thought they had scarred over years ago. Love had been rich in its youth, its innocence, its passion and its pain.
Laughter was always a part of that pain. The short guttural giggle that accompanied the tear eventually erupted into laughter. A few more tears ran down the still fleshy pink cheeks. Oh, what fun it had been. Football with the guys, good as any one of them. Lover to the man in charge, the big handsome quarterback who paid attention only to her. The pain of loss that followed and then, the promise.
Catherine gathered up her birthday celebration treasure and walked out through the French doors onto the deck. She squinted into the rising sun and perused the long yellow beach just beyond the dunes. She wished she could throw this football all the way out to the ocean and then run after it like fury on those long legs which now hurt a bit with every step. She would run till the wind blew her hair into her face and the air refused to go down into her lungs. She would run with the ball until she fell laughing onto the sand and wait for her best beau to come and haul her up and away. She would run faster than Herman, faster than Bill. The men on the team. The friends of her Zachary. She could feel it in her being, the wishing was so strong and then she laughed at herself as the ball left her hand and went flying a few yards beyond her deck. It fell with a thick thud onto the moist morning sand. Catherine went after it snickering at the comedy of her years trying to get that ball out to sea and the memory of the day it would have gone just where she wanted when a voice behind her broke into her fun.