It began as a tickle a month ago, an irritating dryness in Janine’s throat. Today, the coughing wracked her chest, forcing her to set down the armload of debris she’d exhumed from the bay—a picture frame, a child’s sand pail, a trophy—until she could draw a breath. A seagull pecked at the trophy, then flew away, disinterested.
Around front, Daniel pounded the For Rent sign into sea grass yellowed from the saltwater assault. The sun ricocheted off the rock driveway. She would miss the satisfying crunch of car tires on it.
Janine shielded her eyes. “Isn’t it too soon?”
“You’ve been coughing for weeks. Go see the doctor.”
“I meant renting this place. So soon after the storm.”
“It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Daniel slammed the hammer into the signpost.
He’d left her no choice.
As soon as the town deemed it safe, they returned to Sea Rose, excising sheetrock to a foot above the water line, ripping up sodden floorboards. The process laid bare the cottage’s bones, spongy with green velvet growth.
Their salvaged belongings on sawhorses, they attacked the foundation next, soaking raw beams with enough bleach to brighten a month’s worth of hospital linens. The remediation pitted Janine’s sweatshirt with white dots where the spray blanched the color. Her throat scorched behind her paper mask, she recalled the grandiose ideas they had when they first bought Sea Rose: an entire back wall of windows to invite the bay inside, a deck off their bedroom for savoring the sunsets.
But nature had her own designs. They soured on those plans, on each other. Janine’s work tied her to the city more than expected. Abandoned at Sea Rose, Daniel sulked. She surprised him once on a weeknight, gutted to discover he filled her absences with more than pickup basketball games.
They agreed to sell in November. But in October, their bay rose to meet the ocean in a catastrophic handshake. They’d never sell in this aftermath, but rentals were in scant supply. Readying Sea Rose for prospective tenants, Daniel nailed and taped long into the night like he had somewhere to go.
“Shouldn’t the wood dry a little longer?” Janine asked.
Sealing another wall, Daniel waved away her question with a drywall rasp. “If it does, we’ll miss the rental window.”
Finally, all that remained was painting. Janine chose a restorative sea glass blue to recall the bay before the flotsam choked it. It was while painting a kitchen wall that she noticed the moist, blurry growth, a mound that sprang back under her touch, leaving a musty dankness on her finger.
She hurried outside to find Daniel. “It’s back. The mold. We have to rip everything open again.”
“Ridiculous,” he said. They’d spent thousands; tenants were already calling.
“It’s toxic. People might get sick,” she said.
“They’ll be fine. They’ll be here a few months, max.”
It was still Janine’s place. “We have to fix it.”
“Fine. I’ll fix it.”
Daniel grabbed her paint roller and strode to the kitchen, sweeping the roller over the offending fungus, then handing it back to her. “There. Fixed.” He left then, basketball curled under his arm, screen door slamming against his back.
Janine coughed. Paint spurted onto the floor—sea glass tears.