The last note fell flat, warbled by the old crooked vinyl. The needle tracked in the narrow circle, clicked and began humming analog static. With a soft hand, he brushed her hair back. The freckles around her eyes were black spots in the moonlight. Little drops of rusty water leaking onto a sheet. The record made its round and clicked, its warm crackle like fingers tearing open a delicate package. Like the sea, only far away, as if in a shell and misremembered as if it had never been heard before. Something in the way her head rested on his chest, going up and down, like waves matched to the rhythm of the shiny black disk spinning as absently as his breath.
He caught it like a fish between his hands-there for an instant before swimming away back into the black twisting leaves of wet weeds-the memory of this moment transfixed in his mind’s eye as another far far away. He often shut his eyes for fear of blinking away such rare vivid recreations of his own recollection. This time he lost his gaze somewhere between her chin and her lips and the cool air she exhaled onto his arm. The dunegrass rustling in the breeze, he found her then, while wishing for nothing else but to not be found. Her toes gripped the sand, feeling for shiny polished pebbles to be flung into the foam. Little cross-hatches marred the surf where she had stood. He recounted her steps back as far as he could tell, but he knew her tendency to pace in circles, it started and ended the same. Like it always had.
The record clicked and the waves reset the sands, white, solemn, and lonely. She paced in her pattern, edging nearer and nearer to the briny waters. The whispy brown thistles parted at the whisper, the question, the worry carried by the weight of her name said aloud. He expected no call, or any answer, just a peace left in the brush to be washed away by the tides. Experience, not the explanation. He wanted the other, but deep down he knew he was wrong.
Her eyes matched the clouds strewn across the sky, thick as soot–freckled as the rest of her. Never taking her gaze from the edge of the world. Everything held in place as she stood in the center of the mirror. Both sides offering their boundaries with hands overflowing. She saw the clouds break in the surf, the salt falling on her from above. Her timid slender toes found a stone grit against another and flung it to where the water retreated, pulled by the moon herself. She took a step into the damp. Bemused or perplexed at how it held her weight, scratching salt polish against her nails as they crept down into the tidal pools.
Breath flooded into her lungs as the brine washed under her soles. She gasped as it were her first breath as the stray sands loosed now scrambled back on cold receding fingers. The shiver tore up her spine and the bellows blew back her hair. Hands outstretched feeling every prickle and bite with welcome. Her jubilant squeal twinged with an unexpressed longing was lost to him as the waves broke again on the sand. The cacophony embraced her as the tide rolled in, clutching at her with every step, curling its clear, wet fingers. She beckoned and bellowed and danced as the sea splashed up to her thigh.
She had told him once how fearful of the sea she was. The expanse of nothing, while even resting on solid ground, it frightened her enough to avert her eyes and pretend she was somewhere else entirely. She had never told him about the day she embraced it with open arms, clattering teeth, tossing rocks into the drink to test the depth where her feet would eventually follow. She never said how she saw the horizon cut the sky and how she had never seen anything as beautiful as the maw gaping, frothing, twirling, spinning, breaking before her. She had never said, but he had seen it. Now alight in memory, soon to be lost again as it had been for decades. But someday, he knew, she would remember too.


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