Shoving my hands into my pockets I find a receipt. On the back, the hangman’s game we played on the ferry. Your word was U N D O N E. That was a year ago. The first time we met in real life.
This morning the air smells like woodsmoke and cider. A crow hops through the frost on the shed roof pressing down hieroglyphs with its claws. In the alley, gravel and leaves crunch under my boots.
I wasn’t prepared for you in that burgundy dress and teal scarf, the end picked up by the wind. You bit your lip when you saw me gripping the rail next to the fish and chips stand. The air reeked of grease and brine. The seagulls screamed “Fools-Fools-Fools.”
I took your hand. You leaned into me and buried your head in my neck—a little shy. I pointed to the market. “I don’t know what we’ll be able to get on the island.”
You ran fingers through strands of chives, held cantaloupe under your nose, caught and released the reddest and ripest tomatoes. You said, “Taste this.” Slid an Italian plum between my lips. I saw lightning flashes and the Pinwheel Galaxy.
You stopped as we were leaving, said. “Tangerines.” I didn’t understand. I love them and forgot to get some.” I ran back inside, and when I returned you kissed me like you didn’t care who was watching.
Now, stepping from the alley to the street where political signs line up in front yards, an orange tabby darts out. It arches up, tiptoes toward me and rubs against my leg.
I fought a long time to save my marriage, for the comfort of the discomfort. The silent dinners, separate bedrooms. Netflix and financial stability became the gold standard of acceptability and I don’t remember the terms of surrender, only that she was angry and I was tired.
I tuck the receipt I’ve been clutching into my pocket, squat to scratch the cat’s belly, tiger stripes quiver under my fingers.
On the ferry, you pulled a pen from your pack and the receipt from the bag of fruit. You drew the gallows and dashes. You said, “Guess.” I was almost to the end of the rope when I got it. “Me too.”
At the beach house, I took off your dress and tied your hands with your scarf. I kissed your tattoo, the one with blackberries and sea roses knotted together. The one you got on your honeymoon. I marked you as mine knowing it wasn’t true.
We walked the shore, listening to freighter horns, screeching birds, and waves carrying secrets—bottles with just one wish. We needed to play it out, to see what it was, even if it was an infatuation that would pass.
I handed you a sand dollar. “I’m more cowboy than pirate, more pickup than sailboat. I come from valleys held by mountains, meadowlarks and fuzzy-tongued penstemons, ponderosas and tamaracks, harsh winters and summer swimming holes. Come live with me.”
You laughed. “I don’t think your wife would appreciate that.” You peeled a tangerine and held out a slice. I shook my head. You popped the fruit into your mouth. “Besides, I’d miss the sea.”
So much has changed. I have a new address in an old neighborhood filled with apricot and apple trees. Pumpkins cling to their vines, ripening for Halloween.
Back on the mainland I inhaled the ginger-peach of your body wash. You said, “I don’t want to cry.”
I watched the taillights of your cab take you back to your wife. In my truck I listened to bar songs and drove back to my other life. That weekend undid us, and the lives we’d made.
I served divorce papers on my wife. Your wife stayed at sea, watched and waited from the crow’s nest, believing you were still her treasure.
Opening the door, trying not to wake you, watching the rise and fall of your breathing as the morning light parts the blinds and ripples across the ocean blue comforter. You stir when I kiss your forehead and set the receipt by your water glass.
E.L. Cork lives in Missoula, Montana where she writes and hikes with her two rescue mutts most mornings. She works the swing shift as a train dispatcher. Her recent work can be found in Hobart, Bending Genres, Rejection Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, Memoir Mixtapes among others. She was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Emerging Fiction Writers contest and is currently editing her first novel.
Photography by: Lena Bauermeister