The end of my nose is numb. The surf crashes to the shore. The stones beneath my feet are smoothed and rounded by the tenacity of Lake Michigan. He shouts as he points:
“Today, to the north, if you squint, you can see Beaver Island. And to the south, that tallish rectangle, that’s Charlevoix.”
“Beaver Island?” I say, my voice gets high at the end.
“Have you been?”
“No,” I say, “but I’ve been to Charlevoix.”
“Well, of course,” he says and I wonder what he means. What does he know? If he can tell? Is it written on my face or in the bulge of my pockets. “The cloud bank is good tonight,” he says. “Nice and high. We’ll be able to see all the colors. Some nights it’s right on the horizon and you can’t see anything. The sun is just there, and then bloop, gone.”
And I realize that he thinks I’m here to watch the sunset, and like the rocks at my feet I am washed and released and I close my eyes with gratitude and put my hands in my full pockets.
There is a little girl. She wears her hair in a pony tail every day, and this year she has switched from mostly pink and turquoise clothes to mostly purple and navy, and I want to think that it’s because she’s a bit older and maybe more sophisticated. But I also worry that she’s now dressing like a bruise. I wonder why her clothes look like the insides of my arms.
But I can’t ask.
Because she can’t see me.
Because if she did she’d ask why I don’t come home and then I’d have to lie.
So, I’m conveniently near, but not at, her bus stop at 7:53am and 3:16pm, looking for answers, but I’m just going for a walk if anyone asks.
Maybe I’m broken.
Maybe my mom, or the girl’s daddy, didn’t love me enough.
Maybe I’m selfish, or immature, or weak, or any of the other million things I’ve been called by people who claimed that tough love would save me.
Today when she stepped off the bus a woman with shiny hair and pink cheeks met her. They walked home hand in hand and the little girl smiled. That’s how I found myself here, at the water, putting the heaviest of the smooth stones my pockets, and wondering what it will feel like to sink.
“Don’t go to Beaver Island,” he says as the sky turns a brilliant orange. “There’s nothing there but dirt roads and drunk drivers. It’s no place for a girl like you.”
And I wonder what kind of girl he thinks I am. What made him leave his seat and come stand next to me, again? If he would change his mind about the island if he knew? Maybe he’d pull that old boat out of the dune behind us and paddle me there himself.
The sun disappears, and the sky is purple, and the lake navy, like her clothes and my arms.
“Well,” he says, “I won’t hold you up any more. I’m sure you’ve got places to be.”
And I do, at 7:53am, so I pull a rock out of my jacket and drop it on the beach. One by one they hit the ground, I can’t hear it for the surf but I imagine they sound like billiard balls sunk in a pocket. I don’t know who is winning, but for now I feel like I can keep playing.
Meagan Lucas is the author of the novel Songbirds and Stray Dogs. Her short work has appeared in: The Santa Fe Writer’s Project, The New Southern Fugitives, Still: The Journal, and The Blue Mountain Review, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she won the 2017 Scythe Prize for Fiction. Meagan teaches English Composition at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and is the Fiction Editor at Barren Magazine. She lives with her husband and children in Hendersonville, NC. She tweets: @mgnlcs