The Sea is Restless

Submitted into Contest #151 in response to: Write about a character who keeps ending up in the same place.... view prompt


LGBTQ+ Lesbian Happy

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

(Summary – A young woman, consumed by thoughts of anxiety about health and death, returns again and again to an ice cream shop on the coast. There, she endeavors to meet with the one she has been in a relationship with online for several years.)

On the shore there is an ice cream shop. Pale and pink, it advertises itself like a warm, tired face.

There are two skies now—one clear as day, the other troubled as dusk.

I walk forward through the sand and sunshine and enter, watching through the window the mountainous crimson and navy clouds, which I can see are also at points white.

What does it feel like to not scream when you need to?

You feel it in your sinuses.

Like holding your breath to listen for someone, but then it—a vacuole—expands and you want to cough. Or vomit.

But that is the answer for what’s going on internally, in the morass that is a mind that wants to erupt.

Alternatively, externally, it can feel like someone clasping their fingers over your ears—flat and cool and muffling—and staring at you right in the face. Maybe this staring face has features; if that face cares about you, those features might be arranged in that contracted, focused way of a person contemplating another’s inscrutable pain.

And I must admit that I am a person who believes pain is inscrutable. Even to the endurer, it is incomprehensible—an illegible script half-perused and half-avoided fearfully. What does it say? Tell me—wait. Don’t!

Inside, there are people waiting. I am at once blasted with air that makes the left side of my body go numb.

Contemplating which flavor to choose is more difficult than I anticipate. The customers obscure the same glass counter that exists in all ice cream shops. Bodies shift gently from side to side in groups, leaning apart and together and around each other like a human kelp forest. I join them, swaying.

Cookies and Cream, I annunciate when it is my turn.

Cookies N’ Cream! An employee shouts, raising her head from where she is stooped to retrieve a new, massive tub of ice cream.

We look at each other and I watch as a lock of her black hair falls across her cheek. More hair settles easily onto one shoulder, straight and long. In the corner of my eye, I see her straight eyebrows. I see her eyes. They are brown, like a cormorant. 

She frowns, then smiles.

I eat my ice cream on the patio, with the sky above my head and lizards below my feet. They fling themselves amongst the invasive dune-grasses and drag their bellies on the wooden boards of the deck, full of purpose. My body, which was half numb, now shivers in the heat. Muscles twitch like I’ve been flicked. Once on a calf, twice inside the meat of a shoulder. I picture the blood pumping there, surging heavily through the ligaments and tendons and up across the nape of my neck, down into my shoulder blades.

When I was younger, I used to imagine I had invisible wings. I felt convinced I could feel them spreading from my back, pulling at my muscles, and reaching across the expanse of the hallways when I was at school. For this reason, for years I walked in the center of the hall any time I was alone, lest they be crushed against the walls and cause me more pain than their weight already did.

I return to the ice cream shop the next day around noon, bringing with me my nephew. Half my age, yet he has somehow grown to nearly twice my height. When he speaks, voice a kind, low rumble, I startle at the person he is becoming. I wonder at how it is possible for a body to grow so much and so quickly, correctly. I consider that mine might not have succeeded.

He grins at me when I order Cookies N’ Cream and orders the same.

The employee from the day before is not there. It is a Monday in July. I wonder if perhaps she has school.

On Friday, I ask her. My body is, for once, quiet as I move it up from the beach and across the shaded threshold of the shop.

She is tilted slightly forward at the waist, her hands clasped behind her back as she speaks with a customer across the counter. Her uniform is a clean pink apron tied around a red t-shirt.

Nice guess! She exclaims, her eyes too intense, after I ask. Then, when I don’t say anything more, she seems to choke a little. Her hand grasping the counter, white at the bends of her knuckles, she insists: So. What can I get you today?

I expect her to follow me outside onto the patio, so I stand against the patio railing instead of sitting. My phone, which I have been holding in my hand, I place next to me. I stare at it while I take licks from my cone of Cookies N’ Cream. I swirl streaks of oil from my hands across the screen with three fingers, idly. There is a calm whispering, the susurration of the ocean in the distance.

Soon, she is there and places her phone next to mine. I catch sight of a faint freckle on her index finger before retracting my own hand to the edge of railing.

And then there are two phones there in the afternoon light, bumping against one another, burning up. Their screens are black, reflective; within them are our faces.

The breeze is hot and the sea is restless, she says at last, her gaze turned from mine. I nod before realizing that she is reciting.

The gull keeps calling—

She stops when she sees that I am angry. She sighs, though I can see the corner of her lips lifting. Boldly, when I make no move to counter, she continues, shifting on her feet.

How can I not feel pleased

Meeting the one that I love?

There is red rimming her eyes, but before tears fall, she takes a great lick of her ice cream—green tea and strawberry, the colors of the flavors wrapped nicely one around the other. Naturally concomitant. The two of us are of a height, and I stare at the gentle slope of her nose. The dark, wide band of her tongue.

I turn to look again at our phones.

I am not dying, I reassure the screens, insanely. I know this, I don’t say, I just don’t think it.

After a moment, she laughs. It is full of kindness, full of mischief and the knowledge of knowing another.

How lucky—

when the rest of us are!

And then I am pulled in and crushed against her chest.


When we meet again, I try green tea ice cream. She chooses strawberry.

After her shift ends, we walk down the beach so far that we begin to veer into an inlet. There, we trip over mangroves for a few minutes before I am instructed to wait where I am. Uncertain, I watch her disappear into the gloom of the forest. The sun shines golden across the still water, casts arcing shadows that penetrate to the bottom of the mottled shallows. Crabs scuttle over the field of aerial roots in her wake.

If you betray me to anyone, I will, unfortunately, have to kill you, she threatens when she returns. A bright red kayak has been produced from a hiding spot within the forest.

Okay, I say. She smiles down at the mire of the sandy, muddy earth, dragging the vessel along. Her white teeth flash.

Once settled inside the kayak, we paddle. As we navigate through the labyrinthine tunnels of trees, the open water disappears somewhere behind us. The quiet is such that I hear mangrove leaves fall and the crabs conduct their meaningful, click-filled evening routines. When we emerge to float in a shaded cove, I lean forward to press my lips to her nape experimentally.

How is today, she whispers under my mouth. Her neck is hot and sweat beads where skin meets short, ink black strands of hair.

Today is good, I say, breathing slowly. Time passes. I push my tongue forward, move to the skin beneath the soft curve of an ear. For you?

She scoffs.

Eventually, she pivots bodily, grabbing my face in her hands and pressing our lips together. We both beam. Leaning back for a moment, only a moment, she lets humor dance in her eyes. Behind her, a bird dives below the surface of the dark water.

A Dew has sufficed itself, she says joyously,

And satisfied a Leaf!

Notes –

- “The breeze is hot” adapted from a sad little ditty from the character Wen Kexing, in episode 14 of the Netflix danmei drama Word of Honor. Lol.

- “A Dew has sufficed itself” is a poem by Emily Dickinson about—you guessed it—death. But like: ahh, death!! Not like: ew…death…. You know?

June 24, 2022 02:37

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