I made a fire on the beach and settled down close to it. The warmth held me where you should have, but couldn’t. No longer did you have any arms, so it wasn’t as though this was your fault. Your choice.
Except it was. I was lying to myself again, pretending. When someone you love dies, you must re-learn to pretend, the way you did when you were four and six and eight, but rarely thirteen. It is a survival tactic. It came back naturally to me, or I had never lost the ability.
I said you had no arms, but you did have hands. I saw them. Your hands were frantically reaching toward the orange crest of every golden flame. Just the shadow of those ten fingers I remember every detail of, every line, every crease. Ten fingers that have touched every part of me, held our babies, traced out our initials into the freshly poured concrete of the foundation of our first home. Your shadow hands were frantic, shooting up toward the stars, attempting to materialize, but leaving only a faint trail of smoke at the tip of every finger.
Keep trying, I whisper softly. The air tastes like salt and carries my voice toward the Gulf of Mexico. I watch the phosphorous glow in lime green ectoplasmic jewels, swirling in the moonlight on the skin of the water. I thought if you stared long enough, it would seem as though the night sky had fallen straight into the gulf and that space was water and the water was all of space, crashing over on itself, unsure of this new choreography.
Little gifts of fish and pretty shells got left on the sand, refugees confused by the new dry land. Gasping for air the way I did when the phone call came that said you were gone. I couldn’t get the sound of that ringing telephone out of my ears for months afterward, no matter how many pills the doctors gave me. It was worse than Hitchcock. It was real life.
The waves bring in more fish, more jewels, and then take some away. Back home.
That’s where they kept telling me you went. Back home. Oh, the scars well-meaning people can leave on your heart. Of course you weren’t home. I expected you home every morning when I woke up in a panic and saw only the emptiness of your side of the bed. You weren’t home and you weren’t coming home.
It wasn’t just a nightmare, it was my life. So real it was pouring blood.
There was no trace of you on the porch, either where we used to sit on summer nights and talk about plans for our future. Our beautiful future.
I didn’t know then that there was no future, but you must have. You knew that every day was a bright miracle and there were only so many nights ahead. I could never appreciate things the way you did. If every night was a coin to be spent, I spent every blasted one as carelessly as a child expecting there would always be more pouring into my greedy little hand. I never knew night was currency and like currency there was an end to it. Once it’s spent, it’s gone.
It’s gone. Which is why I’m here on this beach making a woman-sized dent in this brown sugar sand, being held by the warmth of a fire I have created instead of by my darling husband’s arms. I am hypnotized by the shadow of the ghost of your hands. I add more driftwood, reasoning that if you only had enough fuel…you would appear.
I miss you, I whispered. The flames flicker. Not good enough.
I miss you! I cried. A little better. The flames bend and laugh and stretch.
I want him back! I scream out toward the water, imagining my words are a ribbon coiled into a glass bottle that would hurl itself as either a threat or even half a prayer toward whatever god existed out there in all that blackness.
When the fire dies you go with it. Another coin, another night gone, and I deeply feel the end of it. I leave the fish alone, but shove a few shells into my pocket.
Shells are currency, too except there is no end to them. The water brings more and more and deposits them onto the sand forever. They are real and hard and feel cold and smooth in my hands. They’ll sit on my desk as a reminder of the night I tried to conjure you. A memory, but also a gift. A gift of the knowledge that not everything ends. And even if it does, maybe it’s not really an end. New souls crash onto the shore every minute, realizing all this chaos.
© Ashley Noelle, 2012. All rights reserved.