I crawl at the inky surface: desperate, feral, like an animal trying to escape a trap. I manage to steal one small gasp before the waves return, shoving me against the jagged rocks that slowly tear apart my fragile body.
I’m not sure what pulled me to the water tonight. Maybe it was the moon, pulling me toward the water just as it pulled the water toward me. It always seemed to do that.
“You are a child of the high tide,” my mother told me, as she gently brushed the sand from my corn-silk hair. “You and I are both that way- Always wanting to grow, always wanting to rise.” I felt my tiny heart swell with pride.
She smiled softly, sadly, her cool hands cupped my sunburnt cheeks. “Be ready for the low tide,” she cautioned. “Some days, you will ebb, and you must be prepared or you’ll run aground. Just remember: The tide will rise again. It always does.”
My mother and I spent hours on this beach. On the days her tide was high, we’d frolic in the waves and explore the tide pools one by one, until every hermit crab had a name. On the days her tide was low, I would sit on our porch swing and gaze wistfully towards the sea, waiting for her to rise again. Our beach wasn’t any fun without her there.
Her tide always rose, though it sometimes took a while. One time, I spent an entire month on that old, beat-up swing, waiting for her to finally emerge from her bedroom. But she always did, and we’d go right back to exploring tide pools like nothing had happened. She always rose again.
Until she ran aground.
We found her body on these rocks, torn apart, the same way they are tearing mine. Her dress billowed gently with each small lapping wave, her hair drifted around her head like a halo. I was young then, but old enough to understand what had happened: She got caught in the low tide. She had run aground.
After my mother died, my father forbade me from the sea. I suppose he wanted to keep me safe from the same forces that destroyed my mother. He never quite understood the water like my mother and I had.
At least, I thought I understood. I should have been more wary of the razor rocks, slick and damp from the sea mist. I shouldn’t have come here, especially not during the ebbing tide. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have slipped.
“You should know better!” My father had screamed with tears in his eyes when I stumbled, sopping wet and bloody, into our tiny house. It was a year after my mother passed, and I had finally gotten the nerve to sneak out and visit our beach.
The moon was huge in the sky that night, pulling me to the rocks where she died. I hoped, prayed, that I would find some small trace of my mother. But the rocks were sharp and slick. I slipped.
My father was furious. He almost seemed to fight himself as he raised his hand and slapped me hard across the cheek, splitting my lip and whipping my head across so fast that my neck was sore for weeks. It was a lesson I should have never forgotten.
Pain yanks me back to the present. I taste salt and iron in my mouth, as my blood tinges the water pink. I struggle again to the surface, only to succumb once again to the overpowering waves. I should have known better.
Salt water pours into my burning lungs, only adding to the fire building within them. I can only manage to form one thought as the strength slowly drains from my body.
“Hey,” he had said coyly, eyes glimmering with reflected moonlight. I gasped sharply with a mixture of surprise and wonder at the boy who stood in front of me.
“Why don’t you go? It’s high tide,” he said to me, gesturing toward the beach-- our beach-- I had been gazing at, lost in thought. I shook my head, partly to clear my muddled thoughts, partly to shake off the deep ache building inside me. As my eyes adjusted, I got my first clear look at the man who would become my husband.
He had skin as white as the sand we stood on, hair as dark as the night we met, and eyes as blue as the ocean, my home. In that moment, nothing else mattered: I knew he was the one. He took my breath away that day and every day after.
We were married on our beach. I don’t think my mom would have minded sharing the title. I sure didn’t.
He was my moon, pulling me from the depths of the ebb tide that had threatened to destroy me. It was him who finally led me back to the sea. We built our tiny home on a small outcropping overlooking our beach.
Years later, I held his hand as we laid side by side, gazing up at the moon. In that moment, nothing else mattered: not the stumbling in his steps or his trembling hands. It didn’t matter that his moon-lit skin had been tinged sickly yellow, or that I could hear his labored breathing over the sound of the waves. All that mattered was us.
I scattered his ashes on our beach, near the same spot where my mother died. Every time I looked out the small window of our house, I was reminded of what the tides had given--and taken-- from my life.
My moon brought me here. As my mother told me all those years ago, I am a child of the high tide. By her life, I was pulled to the sea; by her death, I was pushed away. My husband, too, pulled me back to the sea, and his death drove me away once again.
And now, I think to myself, I must ebb, too.
My mother holds me with hands smooth, gentle, and strong. I sway gently, back and forth, back and forth, as she murmurs prayers for the soul she gave a home. Who is ready to be home, once again.
I am sinking, but I’ve lost my sense of desperation. As the tide rises, it will also fall. All things must come to an end, and this will be mine.
I look to the dark sky, to a sea of nothingness spattered with infine small droplets of burning stardust. My husband grabs my hand.
I take one last look at the world as I let the sea carry me home.
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A beautiful, haunting story Katherine. The sea is such a powerful setting.
Thanks for reading; I'm glad you liked it!
Is the sea a setting you enjoy writing about or was it just the perfect setting for this one?
I like the subtle mysteriousness of the timeline. I didn't quite know which stage of her life we were in until you made it clear, always just at the right time. A romantic view of the beauty and power of the sea not only as a force, but as a family member of sorts. Very lyrical. Love this line especially: "Some days, you will ebb, and you must be prepared or you’ll run aground."