By Kiah Mott
She was sitting silently, listening to the weight of the water churning the rocks.
She held two rounded stones in each hand, her white fingers wrapping around them.
They were small, dark, slick, and she could feel their smoothness melding with her own skin.
She could hear other people, climbing onto the hunks of driftwood that were splayed out on the beach like whale carcasses, baking silver-white in the sun.
The children were laughing, their little red raincoats and yellow rubber boots contrasting sharply with the starkness of the grey surroundings. She wondered what the women were thinking, holding their babies in their hands and smiling, framed against the surf in their thin little sweaters with their wedding bands glistening coldly.
She had left quickly. Had packed her car in the one am stillness and listened to her neighbors’ dogs barking as the light blue horizon blazed up. She had waited until he had fallen asleep, his body becoming limp and his breath deepening.
She had stopped at the gas station on the corner, filling up with his credit card and buying a bag of chips. The man behind the counter had looked at her as if he knew. She had tried to say something about the weather, how the rain reminded her of home. He had nodded, his dark eyes glittering, gathered at the corners.
She had driven blindly. Had eaten fried and sugary scraps and had drank black cups of coffee when she had stopped for fuel.
She realized she had forgotten to pack her toothbrush, her red lipstick. She glanced into the rearview and saw what the clerk at the gas station must have seen. Red rimmed eyes with dark blue hollows forming under them. Her lips were cracked and peeling, pulling apart at the corners. She wanted to laugh or scream. But the sound that came from her throat was the sharp and pitiful cry of a wounded animal.
The miles fell away, the sky shifted color five times, the trees blurred into deep black strokes, and the radio crackled sad song after sad song. She couldn’t raise her finger from the steering wheel to change the station. She alternated from silent tears to guttural little noise leaking from her throat. The rhythm of the wheels and the ticking of the odometer and the whine and hiss and rattle as the car climbed the mountains and dropped sharply into the valleys became predictable.
When the clock on the dash glowed out a green 8:00, she thought of him. The alarm would be echoing off of the white walls of the bedroom. He would reach out with his calloused hands, silence it. He would reach for her, out of instinct, and the bed would be cold. He would stand slowly and shuffle into the kitchen, calling out her name. He would walk the darkened hallway, past the pictures from their wedding, the pictures of the trips they had taken back then. He would call her phone and hear it buzzing from the living room. He would snap on the light, his eyes adjusting.
She followed the map that was in her mind. Found the same landmarks, looked for the cafes with the trembling neon signs and remembered. The closer she got, the more she settled into the familiarity of the perpetual rain beading against her windshield and the snap of the wipers as they smudged it away.
She rolled down the window, letting the air blow the rain onto her face.
She breathed in the deep sting of cold and the sharp burn of ozone and salt.
She found her way to the trailhead with ease, and parked quickly. She could feel the need raising up in her lungs as she fumbled with her keys, locking the car. She started to run. She hadn’t run in years. The burning sensation and the sharp intake of breath made her want to choke. She sank to her knees when she reached the beach, her pulse shimmering beneath her thin milk skin.
She had tried to shake the rain and the soil and the crystalline stars from her pale skin when she had moved with him to that city. She had bathed a hundred thousand times in that chlorinated water.
Somehow, the peninsula still clung to her, the thick mud seeping in through the soles of her feet. She had tried to shape herself into the cubicles and the confines of his bed. She had never fit. She had always maintained some of her strange geometry.
The rocks scraped against each other as the tide pulled them in and out, drowning them over and over. She could hear them crying out and wondered what mountains they had once made.