by Katie Karambelas
part 1 of 2
I walk into the light and shade my eyes from the blinding glare of the mid-afternoon sun. Once my eyes adjust, I see a sandy blond mop of hair in the distance attached to a stately body of muscles. My breath catches as my hand flies to my heart. It’s been five years since he went away and even the sight of the back of him makes my body go into overdrive.
He picks up a small, gray rock and tosses it, watching it skip, skip, skip before it plunges into the water with a soft thud. I pick up the hem of my dress and trudge towards him over the dead crabs and seashells that crunch under my toes. He doesn’t see me but turns toward me when I’m only a few hundred feet away, as if he feels the energy between us the same as he did before.
I stop, hesitant, dropping my dress to my ankles. His eyes light up at the sight of me but the light doesn’t reach the rest of his features, which are carved in an unfamiliar frown. I want to run to him as I would have before, but I know that time and distance have changed things. I’m not naïve enough to believe they haven’t.
His palm goes up to his shoulder in a soft wave that’s like a whisper meant only for me. Even with the crashing of waves, I can still hear my heart drumming loudly in my chest, aching in a way that it hasn’t in a very long time. My feet feel weighted down, as if in cement. Even though I want to close the gap between us and feel the familiar paths of muscle and bone that belong to Xavier, I know that I cannot. I secretly hope that he has the sense to come to me.
I feel Xavier’s gaze weighing heavily upon me, looking at all the change that has taken place over the five years we’ve been apart. The void between us closes as he trudges in the sand towards me, at a pace that I have always associated with tortoises and snails.
When he is but two or three feet from me, his lips curl into the crooked smile that was once reserved for nights spent together in the solitude of our bed. His smile causes a fluttering of palpitations in my body; they feel ancient and unknown to me, even though they used to be the most familiar thing in the world. Five years have decayed my body into a loveless void of fake emotions. Anything real feels untrue.
“Hi,” he says. It’s a simple word but in it holds enough sorrow, happiness, lust and passion to fill me for the rest of my life.
My mouth opens but no words come out. I try again after a moment. “I’ve missed you.”
He smiles at me again but this time the smile is one of pain, and I wonder if he is shielding his eyes because of the strength of the sun or because he doesn’t want me to see how he really feels. “Prudence...” he begins before closing the gap between us and lightly picking up my hand and steadying it. I hadn’t realized it was shaking. “You’ve changed so much,” he says, dropping my hand and letting it fall. I note how warm it feels from such brief contact with another human. It’s been ages since I’ve felt that kind of touch.
“And so have you.”
I drink him in, letting my eyes absorb every freckle, every stray piece of hair. He’s wearing loose slacks, rolled up at the ankles. His feet are wet from letting the waves crash on them. His shirt has specks of wetness that cling to his muscles. I’m faintly aware of the flutter of his heartbeat underneath, the pounding that I once knew so well. It ignites something inside of me, bringing a flooding of memories of our time spent together.
I yearn to put my head on his chest as I once would have. But time has hardened me, and where I once was full of life and light, I now feel rough and empty. He seems soft still, unharmed, and I yearn to touch him and see what it feels like. I have long lost these kinds of emotions and have wondered if I could ever get them back.
I feel an echo of what I used to feel for Xavier in the small space between us, a humming of energy aching to bring us even closer. We’ve lost five years, and they’ve felt like the longest of my life. But there were many before them, many nights spent in an embrace that I’ve tried to imagine these past five years but could only feel as faintness around me in place of him, like a ghost that’s long disappeared.
His eyes trail up and down the body that he was once so familiar with. I wonder if he notices how much I’ve changed, how much hardness is in place of the softness I once had. I wonder if he can tell how much sorrow and pain I’ve been holding in all these years, how much time has changed me into a stone.
He loved me once, I’m sure of that. But I’m unsure if he knows that those feelings were always reciprocated. In the end, I wasn’t sure he knew, because if actions really spoke louder than words, then he didn’t know. I was cruel, too cruel. But I know now that there was no other way, no other way to separate us in the way that we’ve been separated.
Sea gulls bark around us as we stand on the rough sand, untouched by the gentle waves surrounding us. A breeze catches me by surprise, and I throw my arms around myself, steadying my dress and warming my arms. In the same moment, Xavier reaches for me as he once would have, to keep me warm. His hands are placed on my arms, and they burn with an unfamiliar heat. It has the opposite effect on my body; I find myself shivering in spite of myself. This only brings him closer to me, sweeping me into an embrace that is both unexpected and unwanted. I did not want him to be this close, as much as my body is saying otherwise.
He pulls my head into the crevice of his neck, brushing his fingers through my pale blonde locks. It’s a gesture that I hadn’t remembered he’d ever done but now feels familiar, like a distant thought you can’t quite put your finger on. His fingers continue down my neck, tracing the curve of my shoulder and down my arm until finally, his fingers fall into the crevices of my own, where they once called home.
I don’t dare move my body, for fear that this could be the last time Xavier ever touches me again.
“I’ve missed you, Pru,” he says, strained. There’s an unfamiliar scratchiness to his voice, as if he has been yelling too much.
“Life has been kind to you,” I say, rubbing my thumb against his.
“How so?” He tries to lean in to see my face but I turn away from him.
“You look happy.”
He drops my hand and I feel a sudden coldness again. He takes both of his hands and grabs my cheeks, forcing me to look at him. “Happiness comes and goes.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
I start to walk away from him but he is quick to be at my side again, brushing his arms against mine as we walk. He is looking at me curiously and I divert my eyes towards the horizon, noting the fishing boats and the docks up ahead. When the docks are only a few hundred feet away, he finally speaks.
“Have you not felt happiness, Pru? In all the years we’ve been apart, have you not been happy at all?”
I stop and stare into the beautiful blue eyes that used to be able to read me like a book. I recall the countless nights after I left, the screams that woke me from my sleep, the hair that I lost for no apparent reason, the hollowness in my face, the shortness of my breathing, as if I barely existed anymore.
I recall the letters received even though he wasn’t supposed to know where I’d gone. They stayed unopened and eventually, after two years, they stopped coming. I recall the endless nights of other men in my bed, the sick feeling in my stomach when they climaxed inside of me. I recall the way my body once moved quickly and lightly with a swiftness that has now diminished to a slow, dragging in the sand.
“No. I have been content, yes, but happiness has not been attainable here.” I leave it at that, hoping he does not prod further into my emptiness.
He nods slowly, picking up my hand again and dragging me onward toward the docks. When we reach them, I am bombarded by the smell of dead fish and the musk of sweaty fisherman tangled with the salt in the air. It is a smell I have grown accustomed to over time.
I escaped to the ocean five years ago and it has steadied me in a way that nothing else could. The fish market was a familiarity gained from spending countless days letting the waves crash over me.
The men are vile here, but they don’t care if you leave them after a night in bed and they have been a source of comfort for me when I’ve felt lonely. Fishermen are always out at sea, so I’ve never had to worry about rumors being spread. They never seem to remember when they come back in to town anyway. Booze is limited at sea, so they spend their nights drinking enough at the local bars to forget where they are. I’m just a distant memory by morning.
I’ve made sure we walked to the market so Xavier would be kept at a distance. It’s impossible to be romantic when you are walking amongst dead fish. Between the stench and the sight of fish being gutted, there is a rawness that I’ve been drawn to here. It reminds me that life isn’t always worthless. Death sometimes sustains life.
“Tell me about your life,” Xavier says as we stop in front of a boat being unloaded. He doesn’t realize, but the man with dark shoulder-length hair was a part of my life once. It was a night I felt at my lowest, and I have to turn away from the boat and Xavier to keep the tears at bay. They are not welcome.
“I write,” I tell him. “I write and sketch. I try to create things.” I don’t mention the unspoken creation between us. I don’t mention the reason I left.
“Why didn’t you write me then? You say you write, but I never heard back. Two years worth of letters, Pru, and nothing from you.” His voice doesn’t sound angry as much as it sounds hurt.
I try not to focus on the fact that it is because of me. I believed I was the only one who had suffered. I believed that if the letters went unanswered that he would simply forget me.
I don’t answer his questions, because I don’t have anything to say that would heal his hurt. Instead I ask, “Why did you come here, Xavier?”
He presses his fingertips lightly on my spine, slowly pushing me to a piece of the docks that is unoccupied. I rest my forearms on the wood, letting my body relax ever so slightly. It is hard being numb, forcing your body to always be rigid and cold, never giving in to your emotions.
“I came for you, Prudence. When you left...” He shakes his head and rests his arms on the wood rail next to me. I catch a glimpse of him from the corner of my eye and see him struggling to form words. “I didn’t want you to leave. Even after all these years, I still wish you hadn’t left.”
Copyright © 2013 by Katie Karambelas