by J. Chris Lawrence and Agnostic Zetetic
Shuffling through an old shoe box, my hands seize on the smooth surface of a postcard. A chill brushes over me as I gingerly caress the laminated surface. Staring into it, memories stir the hairs on my arms like a ghost breeze from that still image of the sea. Little tremors quake inside as that distant time washes over me, and if only for just the moment, I am there once more.
A vivid wind shuffles my sundress, and the cresting waters shush me as I stroll, licking my toes with the tide. I walk in time with my memory, counting my steps as I wander further and further from the fight.
Behind me, the hotel rises like a monolith, the lacerating words we hurled echoing through its halls like a virus in the blood of a beast. Ahead, the bare beach extends a comforting invitation to its emptiness; nearly abandoned so early in the morning, it is a thing all my own.
I stop to rest a distance out from the water. Legs pulled tightly to my chest, gripped with confidence that they can never be pulled out from under me again, I stare out into the opalescent horizon. I want to cry, to wrench my hair, to scream.
Violently ripping the ring from my hand, I grit my teeth; eyes closed in passionate terror as its sharp stone scrapes a simple, elegant red line across my thigh. Maybe one, maybe two, maybe four lines when all is done, there’s no need to keep such details, just that old, familiar burst of relief.
Finally, I pull the ring from my skin. Allowing my tears their fall, I twist it between my fingers, watching the sun cascade in the crimson dipped diamond. What seems like a ritual blood sacrifice when compared to the ring’s size is maybe one whole drop that spread itself on the tiny surface. It’s an old friend I haven’t visited since before taking his name.
I think of our vows, of promises made and broken. After so many years, the searing welts on my thighs hurt far less than the imprisonment of being a good wife. The ring gripped far too tightly in the palm of my fist, I bury my hands into the sand as deeply as I can sink them to keep this memory from cresting the surface ever again.
That’s when I hear him speak. I release my grip, the ring forgotten deep in the burrow my hands have forged. Looking up, I see little more than a stranger’s gentle eyes and a silhouetted smile, framed by the rising sun at his back.
“You okay, Ma’am?” he asks.
I’ve long since forgotten what such concern sounds like.
We talk. Our flighty words not worth the memory, it isn’t long before my lips find his, his hesitation fueling my passion. Beneath the shadow of palms and rock, his hands whisper promises his arms can keep as my nails explore his welcoming skin.
Afterward, we lay for a while, sprawled beside one another against the dune. I tell him where I’ve been, where I am, and he tells me where he’s going. He’s eager to talk, and I listen, while above, the gulls serenade us with their call. Yet as the sun continues its ascent across the sky, I feel I need to go. Whispering a soft excuse, I leave him there in that shadow of my past. I promise to return – a promise I am certain to never keep.
Making my way back, I caress a spot on my skin that had held his kiss. So charming, so brief, I don’t even remember his name.
I say nothing to my husband as I enter our room, and he returns my silence, seeing through me like the clear waters beyond our windows. I spend my day making calls, and he golfs and talks business by the pool. That night while he sleeps I lay awake, balancing myself on the bed’s edge as far as I can get from him before I’m destined to fall. I spend long hours rubbing the vacancy of my finger where a ring once rested before the morning light finally stains the room with the dull blue hue of permission.
In minutes, I have what little luggage I care to save packed and ready to go. I pause at the door, not in hesitation but in crushing disappointment. In restful silence, he looks like the man I used to love. So calm, so sincere. Stoic, I close the casket that lay open in my mind and walk through the door.
In two weeks’ time, the papers are signed.
A teardrop touches the picture. With a sigh, the moment fades like the ebb of the sea, and I put the postcard back in the box.
That’s when I feel his touch at my shoulder. Looking up, I see that young, familiar silhouetted face, framed by the setting sun piercing the window at his back. The abrasions of my rough, unforgiving past melt in his embrace.
“You okay mom?” he asks.
Resting my hand on his, I kiss his skin and smile. I whisper a soft excuse, not wanting to show him the shadows of my past, and remind him of my promise to love him without condition – a promise I am certain to keep.
J. Chris Lawrence Bio: Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, J. Chris Lawrence spent much of his life traveling. With a love for fiction, he fancies himself a writer, and hopes to make a living sharing his work. He currently lives in Georgia with his wife and two sons. Chris’s work has previously appeared in several web publications, including Everyday Fiction Magazine, Leodegraunce and Apollo’s Lyre. Read more at jchrislawrence.com or follow him at facebook.com/jclfiction.
Agnostic Zetetic Bio: Born without an intuitive understanding of the irrational human thought that has forged a world of turmoil and corruption, Agnostic Zetetic began studying human expression as a child. Hir writings are the manifestation of intensive study and analysis, and hir goal is to demonstrate and call awareness to the realities of the human condition through fictional writings in an attempt to offset the ill effects of what ze identifies as a pathologically fake society.