What kind of man lives near the ocean and can’t swim?

He flinched uncontrollably at the thought, the flash of memory. He’d watched her drown, stood very nearly where he was standing now and watched her drown. He’d considered going in, but how would it have helped? He’d stood back, panicked, frozen still, as others filed into the water. A man, a stranger, had carried her lifeless body back to the shore and tried CPR, frantic, yelling. Then, he stopped abruptly, defeated. His eyes scoured the onlookers until they met Walt’s, he shook his head and turned away. Alice’s cold body resting beneath his trembling palms.

Walt had always meant to thank him, whomever he was, for his efforts, and tell him it wasn’t his fault. He never did, though, he just stood there silently. First, on the beach, then, at the funeral. Words, they’d flooded his head and died on his lips.

He just stood there.

Now, eighteen years later, he was on the beach, bare feet in the sand. It was cold, strange for this time of year, but appropriate. He’d been cold for all these long years.

Without thinking, Walt slipped the ring off. He ran a finger over the engraving – forever. He sighed and stared out at the water. Forever. Such naivete. Such innocence. Who could grasp forever?

He heard the plunk; it drew him back. Walt eyed the thin, gold band between his feet, just beneath the surface of the water. It looked distant. Too distant. He considered leaving it. The thought of a random beachcomber plucking the prize from the sand and pondering the simple inscription flashed through his head. It seemed an intrusion, a violation of his privacy. He reached for it, but the ocean stretched out, pushing its cold, white foam over his feet and robbed him once again.

It’s too heavy, he thought, plunging his fingers into the sand, groping desperately, blindly, but he was wrong.

Forty years he’d worn that ring. Now, it was gone. Of course, so was Alice. She’d been gone almost half those years. Hard to believe eighteen years could feel so long, the passing of each lonely day, yet, he could still see her beside him like it was yesterday.

The white foam rushed over him again, past his ankles this time, but it quickly pulled away. He took a step toward the water. You didn’t have to swim to sift through the sand, did you?

He took another step. Could he find it before he drowned? It seemed doubtful.

Walt stared at the line on the horizon where the cold, grey sky met the abyss that now had him by the ankles. It looked like forever to him.