An Attempt at Reclamation

A short story where an encounter reignites a feeling long lost… 

by: Erica Lee Smith

The air was strangely still. Cold. Everything seemed so quiet as Rust walked past his gram’s house down to the beach, where he struggled a little through the soft sand. He despised his brother for guilting him into doing this. Did Landon really think he’d be able to get any sort of result? 

Rust stopped when he saw her, he was far enough away that she hadn’t heard him and kept walking toward the water. He buried his hands in the pockets of his Carhartt jacket. She had on a pair of what looked like bike shorts and a sports bra and she walked straight down to the water and right in. 

He stood and watched. She swam out. He started to walk to his left, toward the public beach. He did not want her to think he was some weirdo, staring at her, even though that’s exactly what he was doing, but not for that reason. Though, it was kind of unbelievable what he’d just seen, wasn’t it? This person had just walked right into those glacial waters, in what amounted to basically underwear? 

Rust shivered. He walked down the beach to a rock he could sit on. So as not to make her feel weird, he looked out at the horizon and found himself, as he had been lately, trying to call forth his ancestors. This was ridiculous, he knew, and why he kept it strictly to himself, though he also knew in other cultures — cultures that he did not know about but could possibly be interested in finding out more about, if not for the fact that his life was what it was — this was a common practice. At least, he thought it was. 

He ran Calison’s now. It was owned by the family but he was the one there day to day, making sure things were operating smoothly. A task that had become harder and harder lately, even though Calison’s had been in a position to more easily pivot to take-out and delivery-only than some other eateries had. There was the PPP loan and Rust was proud that they hadn’t had to let anyone go, they hadn’t lost a single employee, many of them long-term, not just college kids for the summer, like so many of the other fried seafood places around. 

Calison’s was open year-round, too, also unlike all those aforementioned places. Which was a pain in the ass. Rust tried not to think about what a life with an off-season might look like, actual dedicated time to pursue interests, spend time with his family. Maybe his wife wouldn’t feel like such a stranger these days, a roommate, at best, he could not recall the last time they’d had sex, and also speaking of family maybe if he was around a little more, a little more of a presence at home as opposed to at Calison’s, maybe his one and only son would not be having all these issues at the moment, like being confused about his gender or whatever the problem was. It was all hard to keep track of.

Rust had too much on his mind as it was, and though things had sort of returned to normal, it was undeniable that the customers were harder than ever to deal with. When had people become such assholes? That he was the owner no longer held the weight it once did. Sure, there were people who still got a kick out of knowing him, but most customers could not have cared less. They hoisted their entitlement and indignation on him like he was a first-year dishwasher.  

There was no breeze, which seemed surreal, and there were no other people around. He could see a few colorful dots down by the water, but they were barely discernible and by his estimation, walking in the opposite direction. What must it be like to be a person who could take a leisurely walk on the beach? 

And things were hard, even with the loan, even though they did fairly well with take-out and delivery, housing was a problem. A major problem. Not for him, but several of Calison’s workers had been struggling to find permanent, year-round, affordable housing. It stressed Rust out, so he could only imagine how stressful it was for his employees. Although this situation with Gram’s house was fixing to be something of his own housing crisis, and he wished he could defuse it, or, if that was not possible, simply avoid it altogether. 

But that was not going to happen. Landon would be ruthless. He had been distracted lately, he had been sick, Rust knew that he had it, despite Landon’s refusal to acknowledge it, to wear a mask, or take any other measure of precaution. How many people had he gotten sick? All the while saying it was a hoax, it wasn’t a thing. Liberal propaganda bullshit. 

Rust’s wife was a fair-minded, reasonable person. It was one of the things he appreciated about her most. And so when his gram died and the house was left to Griff — and Griff alone — Mia had understood the gesture to be what it was: Griff had suffered the incurable, the all-consuming. He had lost his daughter, who Gram had been very fond of, and also, Griff had always been her favorite. 

This was a fact that had never bothered Rust as a kid, because Griff was his favorite too. Landon was always a jerk — punching too hard, being deliberately rough — and Ashlyn had just always looked down on him. His gram was nice to everyone so Landon and Ashlyn had nothing to complain about, as far as Rust could understand, but neither had ever asked his opinion about a damn thing. 

Had it ever been this still at the bay? He couldn’t recall. He had come to the beach so little, he could not even begin to wager a guess as to how many years it had been since he had gone swimming. Unlike Landon, he had never utilized Gram’s house as his own beachfront playground, letting select friends have a free vacation at the place for a week at a time in the summer. 

For years now that was how it had been. Landon and Liz had also understood Gram’s gesture to be what it was (at least Rust assumed they had), and, also, they were able to use the house as often as they wanted. Griff gave them keys, said as much.  

But now he had gone and done what he did, and left the house to that girl. Landon, and Liz, probably, were furious, but distracted, sick, weak, not able to fully focus. Things were different now and Rust wondered if it would be possible to convey this to the girl, Flume. Flume Strand. Rust knew her. She had worked at the Heavy Pour for a long time, she was Maren Strand’s daughter, and Rust knew at least eight, maybe more, friends who had been with her. Maren, that was, he didn’t really know anything about Flume and, since his days of hanging late at the Heavy Pour were long past, he hadn’t thought of her in a long time. 

Except now she was the owner of his gram’s oceanfront house. Griff had left it to her. He had, at some point recently, revised his will, or created the will to begin with. Rust did not have a will. Was this something he was supposed to do? Did Landon have a will? But what, Rust wondered, was his brother thinking when he left this person their family home? 

Perhaps this was it, he thought, as he watched the woman — she was really a woman, not a girl — emerge from the water on this chilly mid-November afternoon. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking anything, his older brother who had always been so careful, deliberate, in everything that he did. 

Rust got up and started towards the woman. Slowly, so as not to be threatening, though he knew, with his bulk, the severe look on his face (from exhaustion), could be intimidating. 

He didn’t want to be like this, was the thing. That’s what he was trying to wrangle out of the ancestors, how to stop living like he was. How could he make himself step away when he felt he could not? Hadn’t his ancestors — who had been ship captains and shore whalemen — made their living in the grueling and often dangerous way that they did? Had they cried about not having a vacation? The thing was, right now, Rust wouldn’t have any idea where to go or what to do on this vacation. Collie would probably refuse to go. Or take a vow of silence the entire time. 

Rust raised a hand. The woman, Flume, who he had talked with a few times at the Pour, had wrapped herself in a towel. She looked right at him, her wet hair shining like ink. 

“Hi there,” he said, a slight scratch in his throat. He coughed once to clear it. “Hey. I’m Rust Joy.” He glanced back at the house. “This was my gram’s house.” 

The look on her face tightened but she shifted her shoulders underneath the towel and stood her ground. The waves were barely ripples, the sound was so pleasing, like nothing he’d ever heard before. He turned and gazed at the water, a magnificent looking glass reflecting the cold, clear blue sky.  

She followed his gaze. “It’s very calm today.” 

“You got that right.” He looked at her. “And cold?” 

“Pretty cold.” 

“So…I gotta ask, then…Why do it?” It was hard for him to imagine the situation that would get hm into that water right now. In fact, he couldn’t imagine any scenario in which he stripped down to his underwear and jumped in, as she had. 

She looked upward, shifted in the sand. Her brow furrowed and then she made eye contact and said, “Because afterward, you feel so good. Nothing can make you feel that way, except for this.” 

Then she started shivering and he found himself aroused, mortifyingly aroused, though also in shock because it had been so long with him and Mia that he had thought he’d simply lost the ability. That part of him just didn’t work anymore. 

Except it did.

His cock throbbed against his jeans, which, thankfully, were the thicker, fleece-lined denim, and his boxer briefs kept it reined in, but holy shit, that was all he really wanted, now wasn’t it, to feel so good. It had been so long. 

But not with this person, who, though she was of age, was definitely much too young for him and also, she seemed so aloof or irritated the few times he’d seen her around. Though could he blame her? The Pour still had its regulars but it was also often infiltrated by out of town assholes and Rust was sure that Flume had her share of stories. 

And now she was also the owner of this house. 

But also now, he was getting a massive boner, which was actually quite exciting. But he had to get out of there. He had to get home, and somehow convince Mia to fall into his arms. 

“I know why you’re here,” Flume said, right as he opened his mouth to say goodbye. “Your brother is a little more straightforward than you are. But, here’s the thing. If anything happens to me, which I know would be the easy fix to your problem, the house will be going to my gay husband, Jude Perry. And he’ll be throwing gay sex parties here every night during the summer and at choice times throughout the off-season. He knows gays from all over the world, drag queens, sex workers, he’ll have like fetish night parties, and I bet you would not believe some of the shit that—”

“I’m going to have to stop you right there,” Rust said, holding up his hands like he wanted to patty cake. His face was bright red he was certain of it and an almost unbearable sensation was threading its way up his spine but overshadowing all of that was the fact that his dick did still indeed work and he needed to get home at once to celebrate with Mia. “I just wanted to say that…I do like to walk down here sometimes.” This was a lie. But maybe he would start doing something like that. He and Mia, taking sunset walks before going home to fuck each other senseless. Yes! “But if you don’t want me to, then…I’ll respect that. Okay, bye!” He turned and jogged back to the car. With each step he feared he would fall. That he would lose the erection. The soft sand was trying to swallow him. He took a step and his foot would sink down, way down, but he kept going, kept pushing forward, and now he was barely aware of his gram’s house, just a familiar, a comfortable, presence as he moved past it, back into the 4Runner, to head home and try to reclaim his life. 


Erica Lee Smith was born on one peninsula (Korea) and raised on another (Cape Cod). She is a freelance writer and has work published in Taproot, Cape Cod Times, Literary Mama, and several anthologies. An avid mountain biker, open water swimmer, and knitter, she also facilitates writing workshops for BIPOC teens.

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