It is long after dark when the girl jumps off the pier, into the Pacific wasteland. Waste as it is total, land as it is ocean—she lets it in.
You and I lie down in parallel universes, but I bring you to mine tonight. I slide a candy bracelet over my ankle. Your lips part there, break apart each small colorful ring against my skin.
The girl’s body falls through fog. Soft waves disguise her plunge. She lingers awhile under the pier, her long dark hair caught against a pylon studded with barnacles. The sea ponders her, makes a memory of her, knows it must bring her back to her mother, her father—a mother, a father who don’t even know yet to look in the awful water for their daughter.
She stole my gig, the girl who jumped. The girl who does not swim back. She lets the sea in.
I let you in. With each tiny snap of hard sugar, I feel your teeth scrape gently at my bone sending a shock up to my knee, my ribcage, my collar, my jaw. I do not say your name aloud. I press each of its letters like petals, lovingly, to the back of my throat.
Open your mouth. What is real life and what is raw space. In your absence, I ache terribly—full of apology, full of love. A stranger warns the internet is forever, draws a simple picture about it, but I don’t care. I am bitter and kind. I am a lover. I am mine. In the dark, you bite the last candy ring from me and stay there, looking up with something to say.
If you would let me in.
/ / /
After three days, a family vacationing at the beach discovers the girl.
Flower bouquets, loud in their cellophane hoods, are laid at the end of the pier in offering. Chalk messages scribbled all the way to the concrete lip of her earthly world drop into a mouth of rolling black glass. That girl. It’s her gig now.
/ / /
This morning I study the bodies of kelp strewn along the shoreline. Bodies torn from their deep houses; dragged in and offered to hungry beachgoers. Sleeping bodies, they are ageless and peaceful. One’s face is completely sunken in. One wears a delicate crown of pale green bulbs. Up close, they are women. You will know when you step on one.
I almost step on a piece of sea glass where the girl’s body was reported to have washed up. It is a green heart. The girl in the sea. The girl in isolation. I pick her up, hold her to the sun, and she spits a shard of light at me. I put the heart in my pocket.
It is Valentine’s Day and a young man, stupid drunk, jumps off the pier in broad daylight. A surfer rescues him. Before he is arrested, he is interviewed, says his heart is warm, so warm, no, it is cold, cold, very cold to you. He looks into the camera and cannot commit to the state of his own heart.
I lie down in the bright sand, my face at the sky, and you knot blue flowers into my hair. It took me four years in California to grow wild. I know exactly the shape, exactly the work of your fingers inside my tangles. I lift your name from my throat. Harbor its letters between my teeth.
You lie back in the place you have chosen, easily untying all the blue flowers from me. Unparalleled, you are still on my tongue.
I wait for the water to break over me, to take in my knotted body, take me past the place I am stranded, past the place I once belonged, past you, past me. And yet, because I am horrible, because I love you without any cause but my own, I cling desperately to sand while the sun grows hotter and pray that I, like the girl, burn to glass.
Sarah Shields is a writer and artist living in Southern California. Her work has appeared in The Pinch, Memoir Mixtapes, Gigantic Sequins, CHEAP POP and others. She is lost and sometimes found on Twitter @saraheshields or www.saraheshields.com.
Artwork by: Emily Wiethorn
Emily Wiethorn (b.1991) is a photographic artist currently based in Lincoln, NE where she will graduate with her MFA in Studio Art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is an Instructor of Record and holds a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. She received her BFA in Photography from Northern Kentucky University. She has most recently been awarded the 2017 SPE Student Award for Innovations in Imaging, was a Critical Mass finalist in 2017, a finalist for The Texas Photographic Society’s National Photography Award, and is a featured artist in the spring 2018 issue of PDNedu. Her work has been published online with Musee Magazine, Lenstratch, Loosen Art, among others. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally in China and Italy. She works primarily in self-portraiture where she explores notions of feminine identity, societal constructs of femininity, and self-discovery.