Just as the four friends, putting down their cups of tea and coffee, were lifting their pens and crossing the threshold into the country where their stories come from, the sound of a gun shot came from down the hall, and they all looked up like startled deer, eyes wide, brains whirring, before they realized it was just the sound of someone banging the heavy brass knocker upon the door. The American woman, (the others were an Irish man, a Dutch man, and a Scottish woman), went to open it, and found before her the towering figure of the homeless man some called a filthy bum, and others called The Saint. His grey beard hung long from his wrinkled face, which was like leather tanned by the elements, and his blue eyes shone out of their deep sockets like gems buried in the sand. His body looked like a starving man, but his smile dispelled any worry about his well-being, as if he, alone in the whole village, knew the secret to happiness.
The woman started to say, wait while I get my purse, thinking he was looking for a handout, but he shook his head and said, no, reached into the heavily soiled pouch he always carried on one shoulder, and handed her a bottle. He smiled again, dipped his head in a subtle bow, and walked off down the footpath toward the beach. It was an empty bottle of wine, bearing the label Cambiaso Sauterne, the kind her father had bought by the case. The small family winery in California near their home had gone out of business shortly after he'd died. Inside the bottle, with its darkened cork sticking out, was what looked like a long cigar, but upon closer inspection turned out to be a scroll of paper, brown with age. She called after The Saint to ask where he had gotten it, just as he turned into the alley leading to the small plaza lined with ancient Spanish houses, and was gone.
Returning to her friends, she saw the kitchen table where they'd been sitting was now empty. No people, no tea cups, no notebooks, no pens. She heard the telephone ring and thought, "Oh, they're letting me know where they've gone, to come meet them, probably at Dante's cafe," but she couldn't find the phone. As she frantically lifted pillows from the couch with her left hand, the wine bottle slipped from her right hand and shattered on the tile floor. She stumbled and cut her hand on the broken glass while the phone kept ringing, and seeing her blood pouring out of the palm of her hand, thought of the scene in the movie, The Andalusian Dog, and woke up. It was her alarm ringing. She looked down at her hand, but it wasn't bleeding. Catching her breath as if she'd been running, she hit the button on top of her alarm clock, and fell back onto her pillow. The scroll. She wanted to read what was written on it. Closing her eyes, she tried to return to the place where she'd dropped the bottle, but couldn't find her way.
It was Thursday morning, and she had half an hour to get to the house where they met to write. Pulling on a summer dress, she grabbed her notebook and rode her bicycle down to the beach, not knowing why, as she arrived, everything turned blurry. She didn't realize she was crying until she saw him, standing alone with his dirty cuffs rolled up, his bare feet in the surf, his arms spread wide and his head thrown back, breathing in the sea breezes like a man emptying his glass of the finest wine. Maybe this is what he eats, she thought. The nectar of God's universal presence.
Leaning her bike against a palm tree, she approached him, waiting for the moment when she would not be disturbing his ecstatic meditation. He turned to her and pointed to the sea. Small dark triangles rose and fell at a distance, that might be shadows of waves, or dolphins' fins, she couldn't tell. She started to speak to him, but he put his finger to his lips, and pointed again. From the waves exploded a school of dolphins, leaping into the air in syncopated arcs, the water flying off their backs flashing in the sunlight before they dove under the surface again. Turning to marvel at this sight with The Saint, she found he'd disappeared. She was alone on the beach.
Someone touched her shoulder, and she heard a familiar voice. Her heart skipped. It was her father's, who had died when she was a teenager. She turned, and there he was, his eyes filled with love, his big hands taking her shoulders and pulling her to his chest. Wrapped in her father's arms, tight as a scroll, she felt something inside her drop like a stone, like the sorrow she'd been carrying in her heart all these years, and she felt all her cells drinking in the message, I'm always here. Just then a fire engine's siren cut through the morning air, but she saw no fire engine. Her father, the beach, the dolphins were gone. She had only hit the snooze button on her clock the first time. She sat up. It was time to get dressed and go to her writing group.