“It’s not a wild enough ocean for me,” she said, and he remembered that night, months ago – before the baby – when she had raced him down the beach, tearing off her clothes. How she had leaped into the pounding surf as the rain poured down, how she had laughed and shouted his name, calling him to her.
She had moved on without him, wandering off the marked trail and clambering down the huge boulders that rose above the ocean. He squinted in the fog, saw her making her sure, quick way to a rock that jutted into the water like the prow of a ship. When he caught up to her, she was sitting on the edge, legs dangling in the empty space between sky and sea.
“The tide isn’t right yet,” she said, consulting the chart they had picked up at the tourist shop in town. “Half-hour, maybe.”
He unpacked the cooler they had brought, handing her a sandwich, a bag of chips, her beat-up Nalgene full of lukewarm iced-tea. They ate in silence, listening to the shriek of seagulls circling above, the ceaseless, thrumming murmur of the waves below, the wind blowing in sudden, jolting gusts.
“I can’t believe we’re the only ones here.”
“Off-season. Everyone’s at work. Or at school. Or the dentist.”
“Somewhere not here.”
“And that’s what matters.”
She tipped the Nalgene in his direction before draining the last of the iced-tea. He watched the way her pale throat moved as she swallowed, wondering if they should have booked that cabin after all. But it was still early in the day, and they could change their minds. They could always change their minds.
They met at a dance lesson. Both of them were there with no partners – he because his date had stood him up, she because she would never not attend something geared for couples just because she happened to be single. They were paired together for the tango – he cursed the instructor for having the audacity to choose that particular dance – and he tripped and stumbled his way through the steps until finally she took pity on him and asked if he’d rather leave and get a drink instead.
He’d assumed they would get that drink at a bar, not that she would drive him to her house and get him drunk off an entire bottle of 1986 Merlot before undressing in front of him (he would always marvel at how bright it had been in her living room, her special daylight bulbs glaring out their false sunshiney promises).
“We both knew it was going to happen,” she said afterward. “Why bother with the formalities?”
It was the first time he’d been powerless to argue with her logic. She was many things; above all, she was usually right.
The fog was finally beginning to clear up, hours after the weatherman predicted.
“About damn time,” she said, squinting up at the pale sunlight streaming through the lifting air. “Maybe if I don’t make it as a poet, I’ll become a meteorologist instead. Seems like you don’t need any real training to do it. Go in, stare at a map, tell the loyal news-fans what you see on the map. I’m good with maps.”
“Why wouldn’t you make it as a poet?”
“I was just saying it to say it.”
“You’re a great poet.”
“You still haven’t read any of my stuff.”
“I just know.”
She let out a long breath of air. “You can’t know what you don’t know.”
Their second date was a geocaching trek in the woods. The third, an entire day at a waterpark in New Hampshire. And the fourth – the one where he knew he was in over his head, where he knew he’d fallen in love with this woman without meaning to – was a spontaneous trip to the Bahamas.
During hurricane season.
“Who goes to the Bahamas during hurricane season?” he’d asked, watching as she threw their belongings in a hot pink carry-on.
“But you booked it without telling me.”
“That’s the point of a surprise. Where’s your razor? Never mind. I kind of want to see you with stubble. You’d look good with a beard.”
“We have jobs. We can’t just take off without a second thought.”
“The average American has two to three weeks of vacation a year and only uses four days. Do you want your life to be like that? Festering in your sad little cubicle at your sad company working for sad, khaki-wearing fascists who don’t even know your name?”
“I have a desk, not a cubicle….”
“They don’t even appreciate you enough to give you your own space, for the love of God.”
He’d wanted to argue, to tell her it wasn’t happening, to insist that if she really wanted to go, she could go without him. He was an adult with responsibilities, a 401k, a timeshare in Florida he’d gotten roped into with his coworkers and had never used. Instead he’d found himself dashing for his passport, throwing it into the carry-on, and asking her what time their plane departed the next morning.
Two days later, draped over one of the resort’s many bars, piña colada in hand, he’d told her he loved her. To which she smiled, clinked her glass against his, said, “Of course you do,” and asked the bartender for more peanuts.
“Ten more minutes,” she informed him, staring down into the swirling waves. He watched as a slow smile crept over her face.
“What?” he asked. “What is it?”
When she glanced up at him, the smile was gone, replaced with the blank expression she reserved for times she preferred not to share whatever was on her mind.
“You looked happy for a second,” he said.
“I am happy,” she said. “Why do I have to keep telling you that? I’m happy, for Christ’s sake.”
It was that night in the Bahamas, after he told her loved her, after the third – or was it the fourth? – piña colada that she’d convinced him to step outside the resort with her. “Ignore the wind and rain,” she insisted. “It’s just a distraction, like everything else in your life.”
“It’s not safe….”
Again, that feeling like he’d been defeated; logic he couldn’t have argued with even if he had been sober. She was right. What, really, can be guaranteed as absolutely safe in this world?
A hurricane. A plane flight. A cubicle. Even a jog around your own neighborhood couldn’t be promised as safe, the suburban world filled with dangers like rogue garbage trucks, half-blind drivers, protein-bar bikers distracted by tight Spandex shorts.
“Nothing is, really,” he agreed.
She swam naked in the churning waves, unafraid of what was beneath. For a time he watched from the shore, feeling the rain drench his skin until she called his name. Then he went to her, shedding his clothes, greeting her in the black sea as the storm swirled around them.
“I love you, too,” she said, and that night, she did.
He wanted to try out those words now, see what effect it might have. But if nothing is safe, this, too, was part of that nothing. This feeling for her that made his bones ache. This thing that kept him awake at night, haunted by an acidic, relentless cramp in his stomach. This thing that made him do things like call in sick to work so he could drive her to an ocean she deemed not wild enough for her, an ocean that contained all things, but still not enough for her.
“Don’t,” she said, but she let him kiss her.
“Don’t,” she said, but she let him whisper her name.
She told him over the phone.
“When?” he asked, knowing the when didn’t really matter, that three home pregnancy tests proved that when was a matter of now, of what comes next.
“Bahamas,” she told him. “I should have listened to you. We never should have gone.”
“It’s going to be okay,” he said, because he thought it would be.
“Oh, I know it will,” she replied, and he had taken the light tone of her voice to be one of reluctant acceptance, a willingness to take what came at her without protesting, even the things she’d taken precautions not to let happen.
“Let me come over,” he said. “I want to see you.”
“Tomorrow,” she told him.
A few nights later, she showed up at his apartment, smiling widely and holding a bottle of champagne.
“To celebrate,” she said.
“If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be drinking this.”
“A stickler for surgeon general’s warnings. I like that about you. It’s okay, though. I made an appointment, so soon I will not be pregnant.”
“An appointment? You mean….” The unspoken word hovered between them, taking up space in his kitchen, hovering somewhere over the sticky linoleum floor.
“Why do you look so surprised? I don’t want kids. Never have. I thought you knew that.”
“Don’t,” he said, but she did.
“Don’t,” she said when he asked her what she was thinking. “Don’t try to make this about that again. Why can’t we just be here and watch the waves?”
“You’re unhappy,” he said, as the wind coming off the water down below them tossed her hair around her face.
“Only when you tell me I am,” she said.
After that, there had been more spontaneous trips, more afternoon sex (this time with all defenses in place, double- and triple-checked), more Netflix binges and late-night pizza deliveries. There had been pillow talk and breakfasts in bed, evening walks and morning jogs.
It was not as though she refused to talk about it; if he asked, she told him about the procedure, the kindness of the clinical staff, the feeling that she had done the right thing. “Not just for me,” she told him. “For both of us. You don’t want to have kids with a woman who doesn’t want kids. How fucked up would that be?”
And again, he couldn’t argue, because he knew she was right.
But he was sure, in a way he couldn’t explain, that the baby would have been a girl. He named her in his mind, his grandmother’s middle name, and spoke it to himself, silently, reverently. He’d never known, before, how you could miss something you’d never had, something that was never yours to keep.
“Any moment now,” she whispered, staring down at the tide chart. She lowered herself onto her belly, shimmying up to the edge of the rock so that she had a clear view of the water below.
A roar louder than the wind and the waves began to fill his ears. He looked down, leaning as far over as he dared, and watched with wonder as a torrent of white and blue water began to gush toward the hollow between the rocks. Seafoam swirled, tossed about on the eddy of the tide rolling in. Thunder Hole, they called it, and now he understood why. The sound he heard was the sound of the ocean itself, coming to claim any part of solid world it possibly could.
She was laughing now, the same laugh from that night in the Caribbean, with the black, unseen water crashing upon her. “Leave her wild,” she had whispered in his ear that night, wrapping her legs around him in the storm-tossed water, and he’d had no idea what she was talking about, hadn’t cared, had kissed her anyway.
Now she looked up at him, her eyes bright. “Come closer,” she shouted. “Don’t you want to see?”
But he saw, in the way she laughed in the untamed wind.
In the way she shouted his name and made it sound like love but also like fear.
In the way she threw her arms over the ledge and closed her eyes, as though she were flying, borne upon the wings of something pure and maddening, something he would never understand.
Shannon L. Bowring is 27 years old and lives in Bath, Maine. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Maine at Orono. Her work has appeared in The Maine Review, the Hawaii Pacific Review, Sixfold, and the Joy of the Pen online journal, for which she won the Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award in November, 2016. She is also the author of Twice Sold Tales, a blog published by the Bangor Daily News from October 2015 – February 2017. Shannon works in two local libraries, where she is thrilled to be surrounded by books and by those who read them.