Looking for Roger
The beach stretched out as a vast plain. The water’s edge pulled back as it reached to meet the horizon, leaving behind a network of tidal pools and a sandy canvas of textures and patterns, rippled and ridged by the movements of the waves. Dotted with gritty shells and remnants of seaweed.
Each morning was different. Some exalted the dawn with an azure, cloudless sky. Others hid the sun behind a thick blanket of clouds and left the sky a muted shade of gray. With or without sunshine, the setting held an irresistible attraction. The air filled with the tangy scent of salt water and the soothing sound of waves that crashed against the shore. The sand shifted and changed beneath walkers’ feet; tiny crabs would scurry out of sight in the shallows. In the distance, seagulls would cry out as they soared over the sea in search of their next meal. Enthusiastic swimmers braved the cool elements. Fitness fanatics exercised. The entire landscape appeared alive and breathing as the day began.
For the regulars that walked each morning, it offered a moment of tranquility and reflection. A time to pause and take in the beauty of their surroundings. Neighbors would stroll, chattering as their trusted, four-legged companions frolicked in the open expanse. There was a beauty to it all, a quietness that was calming in its way.
Nevertheless, this appeared lost on one regular walker who came each morning with his dog, Roger. For him, it seemed a chore. The dog, eager to be released, couldn’t help but pull on the leash. He’d sprint free along the waterfront, only stopping long enough to bark at the breakers and plow into the waves with his outstretched legs and sleek body, jumping and snapping at the foaming crests as they broke on the shoreline. Roger would sneeze and cough as the saltwater penetrated his nostrils. The dog didn’t seem to mind, though. It appeared it was all part of his game. He’d retreat onto the softer sand, dark coat wet and glistening before he returned to try again.
“Roger!” the man called. “Roger! Heel. Heel!”
It was futile. Roger, filled with excitement to where he couldn’t help but bound away, embraced the freedom of the wide-open space, oblivious to calls behind him. His owner was too senior to run after the dog.
With the umbrella he always brought with him, just in case, the man meandered along in the direction Roger had headed. Keeping an eye on his dog, he would trudge through the clumped surface using his brolly as a walking stick. Yet, he knew it wouldn’t be long before he caught up with an exhausted Roger, who would lie panting on the sand, waiting. When his companion got close enough, Roger–as innocent as could be–would wag his tail and creep to heel at his master’s feet.
“You’re a naughty boy,” The man would scold. “One of these days…” As he mumbled to the dog, no one ever heard what would happen ‘one of these days.’
Each morning was the same. Other regulars on the beach would smile as they watched the pair go through their daily routine, aware of the dog’s name because they heard it so often. The man’s name, however, remained unknown. He was referred to as ‘the man.’
Once reunited, the pair would stroll back as the damp sand clung to man and beast alike. The waves continued to roll in, creating a soothing soundtrack to their trek. Roger would wag his tail as he greeted anyone who came close enough to be sniffed or licked. No one seemed to mind except the man whose face remained stern, his arms rigid, and his voice kept low.
“Roger, don’t… Oh, what am I going to do with you?”
“He’s okay,” the accosted beachcomber would say.
“No. He’s been told…”
The man would frown at Roger, who wagged his tail and panted with exhilaration, looking pleased with himself. Some days, after being reunited and as if to punish a tiring Roger, they’d keep going further along the coast to the rock pools. But the distance seemed to get more and more difficult. When one or the other had walked as far as they could, they’d turn and head back, stopping briefly near the bench seat while the man clipped the leash onto Roger’s collar before they headed to their car.
Many regulars couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen or heard the man and his dog on the beach after dawn. This was their daily routine for years. So, it surprised them once they realized the pair hadn’t been spotted for over a week. All began to wonder why and questioned each other. Some worried the man might be ill. Others speculated Roger became too much for the older man. He wasn’t young, they’d say.
One day, the man returned. However, instead of going for a walk, he arrived with his umbrella and an old tartan folding chair. He made his way to the nearby bench and scoured the coastline in both directions. What he was looking for, no one knew. Satisfied with his search, he would sit in the unfolded seat and open the covering above his head, regardless of the weather.
The man didn’t walk. He would sit and look in all directions. While it seemed a nice calm start to the day, the frown on his wrinkled face suggested he was anything but relaxed.
Regulars were full of curiosity. They’d whisper to each other as they watched. What was he doing? Where was Roger? Should someone ask him? The man had never been a great conversationalist, so many were reluctant to approach him. With Roger nowhere to be seen, curiosity got the better of them.
One stepped forward and asked, “Hey…no Roger?”
“Not yet,” the man continued to scan the vicinity.
The regular glanced around. Not knowing what they were searching for, he saw nothing unusual. He did, however, note the old man used the word ‘yet.’
“Are you expecting him?” the dubious regular asked.
“I don’t know.” The man sighed and turned to look in the opposite direction.
The answer piqued the regular’s interest more.
“Where–where is he?” The regular turned around as if he were expecting Roger to appear, animated as he ran from the water, sneezing and coughing.
The man hesitated before replying with a hint of sadness in his voice. “He ran away.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the regular. “Here? At the beach?”
“Yes,” replied the man. “We came for a walk a little later than normal the other day, and he ran off, as he does, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“Oh!” A wave of pity washed over the regular as he watched the man’s weathered face crinkle.
“I told him. ‘One of these days,’ I’d say to him. ‘One of these days, the waves will drag you in, and you won’t have me to get you out.'”
“Is that what happened?” The regular asked.
“I don’t know.” The man’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat before continuing, “I thought maybe if I sat here and waited, Roger would see my umbrella and return. But who knows? Stupid dog. I told him.”
“I’m sorry,” the regular said again, saddened for the man. “I’ll keep my eyes open for him.”
“Right you are,” he said and dismissed the regular.
The man turned to scour the dunes, the water’s edge, and the horizon as the regular moved to pass on the news to others.
Forty-five minutes the man sat and searched, the time it would typically take man and dog to complete their daily habit. When the period was up, he groaned and mumbled as he raised himself and prepared to leave. He would lower the umbrella and fold the chair before he took one last look along the coastline and tramped through the dry sand to return home. As he passed the regular, he would muffle, more to himself than anyone else, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”
The man’s eyes were downcast as he walked; it was some time before he noticed a familiar figure sitting by the car. He paused for a moment and took in the sight of his friend. As he recognized Roger, he felt a sense of peace settle over him. The clouds broke, and the sun peeked through, again transforming the scene. The sand seemed to come to life, and the water shimmered in the sunlight as he continued to lumber towards his vehicle. Bathed in a warm, golden glow, the grayness of recent days lifted.
With a deep breath, the man approached his best friend. “You’re a naughty boy,” he scolded with a wry smile.
Roger, head bowed, looked at his master in submission. All the while, his tail tapped as he watched and waited for his owner.
“Where have you been, hey?” the man asked as he scratched behind the dog’s ear. “Are you ready to go home?” He searched for the car keys.
The dog wagged his tail in response.
“Come on,” he said, opening the door. The dog jumped into the back seat, and the man got into the front. He started the engine and rolled down the windows to let in the fresh sea breeze. As they drove away from the beach, the man glanced over at his furry companion, who was panting with contentment as his tongue lolled out of his mouth.
Mottled clouds dotted the sky as the horizon glowed with the orange ascending sun, casting a warm glow over everything it touched. Still on the beach, regulars watched from a distance as the man and his dog drove away. With querying looks, they questioned the expression on the man’s face. Had he been smiling? No one was sure, as it was not something any could remember seeing before.
It was a good day.