By Thea De Armond
They chose the apartment because of its proximity to the lake. With his non-profit job and her not working, it was a bit over budget, but she’d grown up in the area and had been eager to return to the neighborhood. It was different when she was a child—fewer buildings, more trees—but the lake was the same. On their first night in the neighborhood, they held hands and walked its perimeter, three miles strung with twinkling lights.
She was up before dawn the following day, pulling on thick, wool socks and lacing up boots. “I want to see the sunrise on the lake,” she explained to his bleary, questioning gaze.
It became a routine. Every morning, she went to the lake at dawn; every evening, they walked its perimeter at dusk.
She was supposed to be applying for jobs, but he didn’t press her. In Arizona, he’d grown accustomed to her inertia, her resentful eyes. For months, she had been sunk in a profound depression, unable to will herself out of bed. He was grateful for her renewed energy—she would find a job when she was ready.
His own job was wearying. He spent most of the day hunched in front of a glowing computer screen, looking forward to their evening walks, when his spine uncurled and his bloodshot eyes cleared.
One night, he saw a glimmer of light on the lake. “What’s that?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “A boat?”
“At this hour?” He squinted at the lake’s dark interior, where the light pulsed, dim but persistent.
“What else could it be?” She seemed unconcerned.
“I don’t know. Do you think someone’s in trouble?”
“Of course not,” she responded, smiling. “You worry too much.”
She returned from her walk the next morning with damp boots and waterlogged socks.
He laughed, watching her peel the socks from her thin feet. “Did you go wading?”
“There are mussels at the bottom,” she said. She opened her hand to reveal half a dozen smooth, black shells.
He recoiled, disgusted. “Are you okay?”
“Of course.” She looked at him blankly.
That night, the light was brighter, more insistent. It did not illuminate the waters surrounding it, he realized. It was somehow, oddly, self-contained—a beacon, an eye. He felt watched. They orbited it, her damp fingers threaded through his.
The next morning, she returned from the lake, soaked to the collarbone, with dozens of mussels heaped together in her soggy sweater.
“Oh, my God,” he exclaimed. “Did you fall in?”
“When I was a kid, we used to swim in the lake,” she told him.
That night, he suggested that they forgo their walk.
“Let’s stay in,” he suggested.
She shook her head sadly, her hand turning the doorknob. He noticed the slick, new webbing between her fingers, the gill slits under her jawline. The light on the lake beamed through their window. Her mussel-black eyes gleamed wetly as she slipped out of the apartment.