Your kayak, a hollow yellow crayon, slides past, tickle of eel grass, gentle current, your life in its hull. This is how you leave, a press away from the shore and silent hoist, current lap and sun-blind.
The afternoon is not everything, it is just light, cottonwood fluff, French press smash against the grounds. Sea plunge, a cormorant’s sleek iridescence in the sun. Your voice carries over the breeze, then fails. I close my eyes and your afterimage is you against the sun, the sun against you. Your back, hat upturned, light rising hot and white.
The deck burns my bare feet. The seals wallow and splash. A wave breaks against a rock, and I think first it is a whale and second you, upturned. It is just a rock.
The squirrel you fed roots among the cool ferns, climbs the Doug you once hit with the car, drunk. Your eyes locked on an argument in your head. Things to stow.
I stack ice into a glass, pour water. Watch the ice crack and melt, the glass sweating on the counter. You used to say “There is nothing like ice water.” There is nothing like a lot of things.
The boy at the boathouse can’t remember your name. You will dissolve in the heat, piece-by-piece, from memory after memory. I smile and thank him for the paddle and vest.
I tell myself I am not going out to find you. I keep close to the shore, our familiar shoals. Mussels cling in the surf, foam around the rocks.
I also tell myself that the boy who can’t remember you knows my name, could never forget it. No one forgets. And then I know you are already pressing me into a book of memories like a wildflower. Dry, stiff, flat, lost.
When they call, they speak so quietly I make them repeat it. You have never overshot a shoreline, never missed a dock, never steered wrong in a storm. This distant saltwater cabin you dreamed of every night while tossing next to the heat and breath of me will never hold you. You will never roll out the single mattress, damp with mildew. You will never unpack your one pot, the single wooden spoon. You had yelled once these were the only things you needed, angry with me for all my objects, shells from the beach, the crock pot.
I am remembering your mouth when you yell, the hollow sound of your stomps when you’re angry. The eagle watches over the bay, as if you might come back today. In a day or so. Maybe now. You won’t. The voice tells me they found your body resting against driftwood. The bright blur of your jacket in the surf.
The squirrel waits for you on the path to the water, alert and quivering. I hand him a peanut, his wary small paws reluctant.
I fell asleep to your voicemail from the last day, milk and steaks for the grill, leaving so soon, you said, but we should have dinner first. We should mark our goodbye.
The need to be alone ate you until you were.
I feed a squirrel. I think it could be yours, who knows. The calm water is glass, is flat. I load up a picnic and water and glide out. You aren’t here. The water tells me what time is like. How pointless these hours. My legs numb under the stillness. The pills do their work, my limps slacken and fall. I have lost the paddle when they pull me out, drifting toward dark. Night fills the windows by the time I cool my sunburn against the sheets. My heart beats in my ears, too alive for me. All night in my dreams I am paddling after you, after the halo of sun and hat-tilt of you, rising over the next swell.
Frances Badgett is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine. Her work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Salamander, Anomaly (formerly Drunken Boat), Word Riot, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband and daughter.