The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Writers' Showcase

Beach Walk
by Teresa Gauthier

There was no warning sign posted on the newly updated ellipticals at my fitness center. In retrospect, I would probably have ignored it. The software on the new machines had a virtual reality feature that allowed me to do hikes in different parts of the world. One week, I did a hike in Colorado, and the elevation and resistance changed with the terrain. I was very surprised by the realism of the trip. I imagined that I was actually on that rocky path, looking over the edge into the valley, thousands of feet below. I only wished the programmers could have included the sounds and sensations of the woods. I would have loved to hear bird songs and the rustling of the pine trees and to feel the caress of a gentle breeze.

The hikes were variable times ranging from 19 to about 45 minutes. I monitored my heart rate with the hand grips and once I got my rhythm, the time passed quickly.

I was finding some good escape in my workouts. It was an opportunity to forget the nagging thoughts that swirled inside my head about Martin. He hiked for real every day in his part of the world, and I took a little pleasure in knowing that I could do my own hikes, virtually, alone, and successfully in my own corner.

We had been dating for several months and things had changed recently. In the beginning, we had a wonderful connection and we spent a lot of time marveling at things we had in common. We both loved nature and the outdoors, we both had been educators in our jobs, we each had children and we seemed to share the same family values and a common faith. We laughed a lot and I thought he must have a great sense of humor. We seemed very compatible. When I think back on those early days, I can see that while we laughed, it was mostly me using my comic side to amuse him.

Lately, the relationship had become strained. After a couple of months he started sending me text messages like, “I like your hair the way it is. Don’t cut it” and “Why would you say ‘my friend’ and not tell me the name. That sounds like you are hiding something” and “You didn’t send hugs and kisses in your last text. Should I stop sending them to you as well”. These messages and the others were irritating and a little ridiculous, but I didn’t see at the time, any obvious patterns. I rationalized that it was partly due to our great distance from each other. But, in hindsight, these were the first small cracks in our relationship.

The crack widened while I was on a short trip to New Orleans visiting a girlfriend and her husband. It was a whirlwind trip as we visited old haunts and looked for vestiges of my life when I lived there so long ago. We went to Audubon Park, saw a raucous play at Tulane, spent a day at the zoo, rode the street car, and went to the newly opened WWII museum. Between all the activities and the amazing restaurants where we ate, I didn’t have much time to update Martin. I sent short messages and pictures, fully intending to enthrall him with my escapades when I got back home. The day I arrived home though, before I could contact him, he sent me a curt text message, “Too bad you couldn’t find the time to talk with me”.

I was taken aback by this text and I called and asked what he was thinking. He initially said that he was worried because New Orleans was not safe, especially for a single woman. I reassured him that I had never been at risk and I had never been alone. That’s when he said, “I bet you were never alone. Lots of old friends down there, right? ”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, maybe you have an old friend that you are still in contact with.”

“An old friend?”

“Yeah, someone you still know.”

“Well, I was visiting Susan and Doug. They are friends. Did you mean something else?”

“I know you dated when you lived there.”

“So you are thinking I might have an old boyfriend?”

“It is possible.”

“Really? What would make you think that?

“Claire, you didn’t communicate with me and tell me who all your friends were. You were very vague about your plans. I still don’t know what you were doing with your time. Remember trust and communication are two of the pillars of a strong relationship.”

“So Martin, you are saying you don’t trust me.” I felt my voice rising and my ire increasing as his jealous innuendo sunk in. I was incensed and I could hardly think. I was incredulous.

I knew I had never given him any reason to think that I had an old boyfriend in New Orleans or elsewhere. I hadn’t lived there for over 30 years and when I did live there, I was dating the man I would later marry.

In fact, I hadn’t had any dates in 35 years until 18 months ago. Five years after my husband had passed away was the first time that I felt like I was ready to date again.

I had dated just a few times before I connected with Martin. We texted online through the dating app before chatting on the phone. He drove 5 hours to meet me and we instantly liked each other. I remember being a little wary initially because he had been divorced 3 times. But he explained the circumstances and I accepted his explanation.

We kept it casual the first couple of times we met, but after about 2 months we became more serious and exclusive. When I committed to being exclusive, I meant it and I had no reason to believe he would think otherwise. Now after hearing his thoughts, I felt like I needed to defend my behavior. I was stunned and hurt. I felt angry and I told him that I needed to end the conversation.

Shortly after we disconnected, he sent me a message, “Call me back.”

I ignored his text for two days. Finally, I replied to him and told him that I needed time to think. I was beginning to see that his messages and his behavior were controlling and manipulative. This did not feel like the type of relationship I wanted. I sought counsel from my closest friend and she agreed. She voiced concerns that she had been feeling for some time. She knew that up until now, I hadn’t been ready to hear anything negative about this relationship.

So these daily workouts that I had discovered were an opportunity for my troubled mind to think and at the same time, not think. I felt refreshed after these workouts and my thoughts were clearer and more objective. Although I was beginning to see the relationship in a new light that was looking dim, rather than bright, I felt torn. I was ambivalent. I wondered if I was exaggerating and being too negative. I wondered if I was being unfair.

I knew that I needed to make a decision about our relationship. On this particular day, I chose the 45-minute Marino Beach walk. The shore was quite flat so the elliptical slope setting was low, but the resistance was strong enough to simulate walking on sand. I tried to lower the resistance and was puzzled because I couldn’t adjust it. I shrugged, curious. The scenery of the rugged coast was breathtaking. I was walking towards distant mountains and the sun was high. Amazingly, I could hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, rhythmic and soothing. This was already feeling like a different experience.

I relaxed into the walk, forgetting all my worries. The sky was blue and the fluffy clouds seemed to be drifting by. The sun was beating down on me and I chuckled to myself, thinking that if I wasn’t careful I would get a sunburn. I felt invigorated. There were a few people on the beach but as I approached them, they disappeared, as in all the former programs. There was an elevated lifeguard chair but it was empty. I was alone. The tide was low and the beach was wide, with white sand and tiny shells. There seemed to be some beach houses in the distance, but nothing close to the walking area.

The resistance of the machine became harder as the walk progressed and my heart rate increased. My calves were straining, as I pressed down on the paddles. I was able to maintain a steady pace, but it became increasingly difficult. I noticed that I had been slogging for 25 minutes.

I became aware of the screech of seagulls and realized that this must be part of the workout program. Then I felt something gritty and irritating in my shoes. “Huh”, I thought as I looked down at the foot paddles. I stopped and stared. My feet were sinking in sand; the foot paddles from the elliptical were gone. I found myself on the beach, hot and sweaty. I was panting with the effort and I felt, rather than knew, that my heart was racing as there were no longer any hand grips. The information screen was gone and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. From my watch, I estimated that I had 15 minutes left in the program.

The waves lapped against my shoes and I retreated up the beach. I kept on walking, marveling at the reality of this program that made me feel like I really was trudging on the sand. I wasn’t worried yet, just surprised and a little perplexed. My senses felt heightened.

I noticed that the clouds had changed; the fluffy whites had now turned gray and looked thunderous. The breeze was stronger and the waves were now reaching for my ankles. My shoes were getting wet. I moved still farther up the beach and I suddenly noticed how much narrower the strip of sand had become. Unbelievably, the tide seemed to be coming in, and fast. I tried to pick up my pace but the sand was wet and I kept sinking.

There were now 10 minutes remaining. With growing recognition and terror, I realized that I needed to finish the program if it still was a program before the tide came in. The waves were crashing and if they came much closer they would knock me down. The breeze had become a wind, and I was bent into it, straining to pull my left, then my right foot up out of the sand, up and out, up and out.
Five minutes to go and the remaining beach was now just a strip. I could see the end of the beach but somehow it never seemed to get closer. My heart had never beat as hard, and sweat was dripping down my face and neck. I panted, fighting off panic. I paused momentarily to catch my breath. I repeated to myself, “It’s okay. I can make it ” over and over. There were four more minutes. I couldn’t allow myself to think about what would happen when the time was up.

I struggled on, looking ahead at the distant cliffs, afraid to look down at the water that now encircled my calves with each wave surge, seeming to want to drag me down. My shoes were soaked and I could taste the salt water spray. Two minutes now and it seemed like forever. The sand beneath me gave way as the waves created a well. Waves were crashing, pushing me, forcing me into the sea. I struggled to stay upright.

Twenty seconds and no end in sight. The sky was black and my glasses were so misty now that I could not see. Suddenly the beach gave way as a heavy wave grabbed my legs and pulled me down. I felt myself falling into the swirling waters, churning helplessly, arms flailing, reaching for what I hoped was up.

My hands made contact with a wood floater above my head and I grabbed it, hauling myself up. Suddenly I found myself grasping the hand grips of the elliptical as my feet thudded down on the foot paddles. Hair was dripping in my eyes. The screen in front of me read, “Program ended. Begin cool down”.

Shaking and feeling tearful, I sighed with relief. I continued to walk on the elliptical letting my heart rate ease. I glanced around at the other people on other machines. No one was paying attention to me or seemed to have noticed my distress. I shook my head in disbelief. My clothes were surprisingly dry and my glasses were clean. I thought, “I must have had a dream. How odd”. I was perturbed and yet I felt strangely exhilarated. I was quite exhausted and I felt like I had fought a battle but at the same time, I felt like I had won an Olympic gold medal. I had never experienced anything like this before. Was it a “wake dream” or had I just had some weird out-of-body experience? Was the universe trying to tell me something? I kept thinking, “What was the reason?”

Sweating from the exertion of the exercise, I toweled off. After a long cooldown, I stopped walking, feeling puzzled, but calm. At the same time, I felt a little giddy and I wanted to shout out, “I made it! I made it!”

My legs felt very wobbly and my running shoes squeaked as I got off the elliptical. I suspected I would be very sore later. Eager to get out into the fresh air, I walked down the stairs and headed out the door, shoes squeaking through the lobby. I felt eyes on me and I heard one of the staff at the front desk mutter, “What the heck, better call janitorial…”. I looked behind me at a puddle of water.
When I got to my car, I took a long sip from my water bottle. Then I took my shoes off, removed my wet socks, and brushed away the sand that was stuck between my toes. I rubbed my still-damp curls. The reason was now clear. I drove slowly home.


My email to Martin was as kind as I could make it. I told him that we had come to the end of our program. I wished him well. Then I closed my eyes. I envisioned myself back on the elliptical choosing that beach walk, pushing the paddles up and down, with force to simulate strolling along a wide beach. This time the waves wouldn’t threaten me, grab me, or try to drown me. I released my breath with a sigh as I closed the lid on my laptop.

Beach Walk by Teresa Gauthier
Copyright October, 2023- All Rights Reserved