Ralph shut his car door and started down the gravel path. Despite not having been here for five or six months, he still knew the location like the back of his hand. At times, when his own reflection seemed at most an awful parody of himself, he knew this area better than his hand. It's nothing much. A small beach area, a dock or two. There was nothing to discern it from any other beach. Yet Ralph noticed the slightest change. Not consciously, but the smallest overturned rock would trigger a nagging feeling in the back of his mind, reminding him of yet another thing he cannot control.
He didn't spare much time for observations, walking immediately towards the dock. After wiping down the old wood with his sleeve, he gingerly sat down.
Twenty years, he thought. Those two words repeating in his head. Twenty years, twenty years, twenty years. An anniversary of sorts.
If he attempted, he could probably remember the exact hour he first stepped foot on this dock. It wasn't something he need to mark on the calendar, it was something he knew.
Twenty years ago the boat brought him and the other boys here. They were dirty, their pale skin caked in mud and grief creeping behind them. They were still in shock then and would be for weeks to come. The implications of their actions on that island didn't hit immediately, but when it did, it hit with crippling force. Some went mad-madder than they already were-, some spent their lives repenting, some tried to bottle it up. None completely moved on.
Ralph thought he did, at one time. He had grown into a handsome man. He found a lovely wife and they had two children. Twins, to be exact, two identical young boys with eyes full of wonder. Even now, at their young age, he knew they were special. Their bond was extraordinary and left no room for anyone else. Their mother had found her niche, skirting along the outside, waiting patiently for those few moments they let her in. Ralph couldn't find his own place amongst them and that led to their downfall.
He tried to bond with them, no one can say he didn't try. But while he tried to play ball or build cars with them, they were more interested in singing or playing dress up. Even when the boys became the subject of schoolboy ridicule, his defense wasn't needed. The younger joined the drama club and the older spent his time beating up the other kids.
That moment, when his little boys came home-one with a script, the other with a black eye-he knew he wasn't needed anymore. After another outburst at his wife, he left. They had no need for him anymore. Just another thing he failed to control.
The light glinted off a shell resting at the bottom of the clear water. His mind forgot about the twins and flashed to an island. Memories of a shell, a pig, a broken body being taken to sea… He shook his head rapidly and tried to focus on the horizon.
It astounded him sometimes, how clearly he could remember. Twenty years ago he was taken home, but the wounds were still fresh. He took a grain of salt with everything said to him, using them later to add to the injuries that never healed as he thought of everything that was done.
His wife tried to get him to see somebody, back when they still loved each other, but he couldn't do it. He refused to burden another with his confessions. His own fear of being arrested and taken to jail overpowered any need to get it off his chest.
Ralph sighed loudly and shivered slightly against the breeze. He tried his best to keep his head clear and he succeeded for awhile. Suddenly, the snap of a twig startled him. A sense of dread settled over him, but he didn't dare look back.
"Hello," the stranger said simply. Ralph could tell it was a male but couldn't place the voice. He didn't respond.
"Beautiful view, ain't it? Enough to make a fellow forget all his problems, if only for a little while."
Silence greeted the stranger once again.
"You alive, mate?"
"I have no family," Ralph finally said. It wasn't a greeting, but the stranger seemed pleased nonetheless.
"Well that's nonsense," the man replied. "We're all family."
"They didn't need me. End of story. They didn't need me, so I left," he choked on his words. "I left."
"You always have family," the stranger repeated. "We are all god's children."
Ralph chuckled darkly under his breath. "Right. God's children."
"I went through a rough patch before, believe it or not. I wanted to give up," he continued joyfully, undeterred by Ralph's bitter response. "I was so angry, so scared."
The man paused and for a moment, Ralph thought he had left. A few minutes passed in silence and Ralph began to relax. His calm mood was broken once again.
"I became a savage," the stranger mutter quietly. The word repeated in Ralph's mind. Savage, savage, savage.
It's a strange thing, how a word can strike fear in a man's heart. Those two syllables simultaneously wiped his mind and filled it with gruesome images. Taking deep, heavy breaths, he briefly wondered if the stranger had noticed his reaction at all.
"I was lost, confused, tired. Much like you, I'd imagine."
Ralph intended to get angry, to tell this man he didn't know him or his life. But that word still flashed in his mind and tied his tongue. He only manage to stutter, "You… You don't know… I…"
The stranger seemed to notice a problem and turned towards Ralph. He saw a flash of red hair out of the corner of his eye.
"You quite alright?"
Ralph nodded in response and the man accepted that at face value.
"You can't give up. You must fight on. Even if you've lost everything you thought you had. You always have love and you always have god."
Ralph lapsed back into silence once again.
"I became a pastor," the man stated. Ralph bit back the urge to make a sarcastic remark. "I was so lost, but god found me. Now I've dedicated my life to him. It's the least I can do."
Ralph wondered for the first time what this man's point was and why he was telling him these things.
"It's the only way I can pay for the things I've done. You see-"
"Why are you telling me this?" Ralph interrupted.
"I… what?" The man seemed startled at the response he got. "No- no reason I guess. I just wanted to help a guy out. I- Well… No reason."
Ralph finally glanced back at the pastor, but his back was turned to him and he couldn't catch a glimpse of his face.
"Well, thanks. I've enjoyed our delightful conversation, but I must be off now," Ralph said sarcastically.
"Just remember, you are loved. Always. You are not alone." The man heard Ralph get up and start walking back towards his car. "Goodbye…"
The slamming of a car door and the roar of the engine as Ralph pulled away signified the end of the conversation. The man stood up and looked out onto the horizon, squinting against the sun's bright light. He pulled out an old pocket watch that was scratched around the edges, and rubbed his finger across the small letter J that was etched onto it's smooth surface. Opening the watch, he examined the time and date briefly and snapped it closed again. He place the watch back into his pocket and muttered, "Twenty years…"