I have always been a light sleeper, so when she slipped out of our bed and crept through the house, I was dredged up from the depths of sleep. Not as much by her movement as by her absence. Never leave me, Bea.
I find her on the lawn, lying in the soggy two-am grass. I wonder if she knows I’m there, halfway between the inside and the outside. I move along the patio and catch that look in her eyes. The look that is lost and winsome and so, so far away. The one that makes me think she is not entirely mine. Not even a wedding, a house, a life together can bring my starry-eyed lover back to earth.
“Bea, come inside with me. You’re going to get cold.” I feel small and quiet in the face of whatever has captured her attention. For a moment I think she hasn’t heard me, but she answers, voice hushed with wonder.
“Be still, I’m thinking.”
There is something calling to her so strongly that I can feel it from where I stand. How am I supposed to compete with the divine cosmic truths that she finds in these quiet moments?
I go to her. There is nothing else to do. We sit silently for ten, and then twenty minutes. I wish I could see what she is seeing. The dew has begun to soak up the back of my shirt when she stands and drifts inside.
The sheets are cold, and I know I won’t sleep again, but it’s okay. Because she whispers
“I love you, Sara,” into my hair as she falls asleep. I love you too, Bea.
Morning is as crisp and clean as the night was languidly chilly. Bea is making breakfast. A non-apology for waking me last night. It’s okay Bea, I could never be angry at you. She is a fierce kind of happy as if she is smiling in spite of something. She whistles as she puts the wrong creamer in my coffee. It’s okay Bea, I am devoted to you. I drink the coffee.
“So I lived in that beach house with my mom when I was a girl.” I know you did, Bea. I know everything about you except for what I don’t know.
“Once when I was young, maybe seven or eight, she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night and took me out to the beach. She had a seashell in her pocket and madness in her eyes and she put the shell to my ear. She said ‘Abigail can you hear it.’ she pauses and takes a long drink of her coffee. It is strange to hear her full name, she never lets anyone call her Abigail.
“And could hear it, but my science teacher told me it was only the blood in my veins. Of course, I said yes I could hear it. And she took a great heaving breath and turned away from me. She said, ‘I hear it too, and not just in the shell. I hear it all the time. They’re calling me into the sea, Abigail. Don’t be afraid when I leave you.’ Of course, we know how that ended.” She gulps down her coffee again, grimacing as it burns her.
I move to take the cup and put it in the sink, brushing the hair away from her forehead. Her hands are cold and weak in mine, but her eyes are hard.
“Bea, is this about your mother?” I breathe deeply and she mimics me, breathing in time with me.
“No, it’s about me.”
We end up on the road to her childhood home. We are silent, somewhere in the grey space between comfortable and on edge. I hold her hand, but we are still separated by something immeasurable and insurmountable. My eyes are on her, and her eyes are on the road. I’m losing her, I can tell, I’m losing her and I can’t bear it.
The beach house is the same as it was when we met. We were seventeen and in love. She put her hand in mine and led me into the water. She told me she would be mine forever and ever, and I kissed her on the sandbar. But even on that moonlit evening, there was a part of her that was untouchable.
I see her growing paler and paler as we walk through the feral garden and up to the door. The ghost of her mother still lingers in the tired but steadfast doorway and the dusty plastic cups still set out on the table. Bea reaches back for me and I press her hand between mine. You don’t have to do this all alone, Bea. I’m here, Bea.
She moves through the house with cautious sincerity, bordering on reverence, as if she doesn’t belong here. Not anymore. She takes it all in, lets the memories wash over her. I know you so well, Bea. I know exactly what your thinking, you aren’t alone.
“She used to say I was the chosen one. That I was destined to serve what called her to the sea.” She doesn’t say it thoughtfully. It’s okay, Bea. You have a right to be angry.
Later, on the beach, she leans her head against mine, tucks her feet up onto the blanket and weeps. She doesn’t make a sound. Her shoulders don’t shake. But I see the tears dropping onto my sweater, soaking into my skin. You’re okay, Bea. Let it all out. I’m here with you.
We sit for so long that every thought in my mind stills. There is only the patient urgency of the waves.
It is long past dark when Bea breaks the spell, standing to walk toward the water. I follow her. I will follow you anywhere, Bea.
When she turns to me again, her face is mottled and wan, like the gleaming shell she holds out towards me. In this moment she doesn’t look like herself. She is the tired, unhinged woman I talked to once or twice in that beach house. She pushes the shell towards me, a lonely sailor floating on the night air, thick with salt and long suffering sorrows. I press the shell to my ear at her insistence.
“Do you hear it? Do you hear it calling?” she hisses in time with the sea. She no longer resembles her mother, this is madness entirely her own.
“Bea you’re scaring me,” I’m trembling now, terrified of the woman standing in front of me, yet still in love.
“I hear it all the time.” Her eyes are wide and dark. They have tides and cycles tonight.
“It’s calling me to the sea. I love you Sara, but it’s calling me.” She is more afraid than I am, and I am so weak.
“You don’t have to. You don’t have to follow her, Bea, please. Don’t leave me. You’re the love of my life. Do you know that? I have never loved anyone or anything more than I love you, and I never will. But you don’t know that, there’s something else holding you in its thrall, something infinitely more fascinating and complex than I am. I don't want to sever you from your creative muse, I can live with never having all of you. But if you walk into the water, I will drown in grief. When I die, my love for you will stay behind on this earth, searching the sea for you, for all of eternity. And certainly long after I am gone.”
She looks surprised, I don’t think I’ve ever said that much at once. She holds the shell to my ear again, eyes begging me to understand, and then I do. I hear it. It is the blood thrumming through my veins, the waves in my head and in the sea. I am salt and I am ancient. I am boundless. I am asleep. I am violent. I am Bea and her mother and a long line of drowned and tortured women who walked away from their lives and into the sea. And I am cold.
I nod, shaky but still standing firm. Bea crumples into my arms, relief in every line and plane of her face. I hear it too Bea. I understand. It isn’t captivating, it’s powerful and compelling and rancorously cold.
I am kissing my wife beside the sea, in spite of the sea. Her lips taste of salt, but not of sea. And she is All There. I am kissing every bit of Bea, even the parts of her soul that I thought would never be mine. I am the only thing calling to her
“I love you, Bea. I forgive you. I’m going to spend forever with you. And not once in the rest of that forever will we come back to this place beside the sea."