A biting wind blustered across the pebbled and loosely packed path—causing Bartley to shiver under his wool coat. Folding the collar up, he braced as a particularly strong gust threatened to take his feet out from under him. After a brief recovery of balance, he resumed walking briskly against the cold, neither looking west toward the riotous green-gray sea, nor east toward the lush green hills that towered above him—but straight ahead as many do who have a goal in sight.
The sun had been up for some hours, but the grey haze that blanketed the heavens dispersed its piercing rays and created an ambiance that seemed to be from nowhere, and yet everywhere, casting a muted light evenly across the landscape. Bartley found the overcast sky oddly cathartic—in the sort of way that a joyful person finds the sunny day invigorating, or a raging storm feels like home to an angry man. He had been away from home for some time, living out of the pack on his back, doing business wherever the company had sent him. Now, at last, he was coming home.
He used to work in a small store, an establishment run by his father-in-law, located in the same town where he had spent his youth. Years of repeating the same tasks had begun to wear on him, however, and wondering if he had misspent the best years of his life—he dreamed of what might have been. Soon thereafter a bank opened an office down the street and advertised a position for a man of ‘business sense’ to travel up and down the western seaboard (all for good pay of course), reclaiming properties in which the residents had defaulted on their loans. Now, a job described as such does not sound very heartwarming or appealing to most, but Bartley was determined to live out his ‘missed years of adventure’ as he described them, and telling his wife and children goodbye, began trekking down the rocky coast.
The job was great at first, lots of days on the road followed by nights at a local pub or inn. Working with his fellow evictors, Bartley would spend a day or two in a region, making the rounds for the bank on various households; however, evicting people is not a pleasant business, and soon he found the faces of the poor families he saw day after day staring back at him from his glass of ale in the evenings. At the start he had begun each morning spryly, wondering what new place, conversation, or town lay around the next bend, but now he dreaded the rising of the sun—for each new day brought fresh grief to his conscience. While he had once only briefly replied to the letters of his wife and children, giving them barely a thought, he now looked forward to the evening hour to see if a labeled envelope awaited him upon the completion of his daily rigor.
Bartley tucked his hands more deeply into his coat pockets—clenching cold fingers into fists. Watery eyes scanned the rocks in front of him and upon seeing a small dirt detour down to the beach, he turned aside to eat his lunch. Sandpipers darted on nimble legs through the vestiges of waves as Bartley walked along the shoreline. The birds’ feet left trails in the coarse sand, like snapshots of the progress of each little life, until a wave would come rolling across the beach and mask over the tracks as if nothing had disturbed that shore before. “If only life were that simple,” murmured Bartley to himself, thinking about his own footsteps during the preceding months—footprints he would much like to have expunged. Footprints right back to the door of his house with his wife and children waving him away as he disappeared into the dark night. Sometimes forgetfulness is a blessing, but there on the beach, as the sandpipers darted to and fro amidst the foamy water, he knew that he had to remember where he came from to know where he was going.