BY GRACIE NEWMAN
Kevin insists that I would make a great mother. I hate to give him the first word here, but that’s where it all started—with his strange desire for life. Any sort of life will do, or it used to; he collects all the plants and animals he can, particularly the marine kind. Before we moved in together, Kevin kept several species of kelp in his bathtub. It was one of those old clawfoot kinds, yellowing and separate from the shower. I hated the tub even when he got rid of the plants, not because of the kelp thing but because of its feet. I didn’t like the thought that the vessel holding my naked body was poised to run away at any moment. The porcelain had the texture of a cracked tooth.
We’d talked about it before, and I’d been clear that I didn’t want children. Kevin said he was okay with that; he said we would travel. But a year into our marriage, Kevin begins to get antsy. He starts commenting on the babies in strollers and saying things like “If we do end up having a kid…”
So far we’ve been here and once to Nova Scotia, and we’re only here for his work anyway.
Here is Monterey. Kevin’s a marine biologist, a specialist in kelp forest ecology. He’s been invited to spend six months researching at Hopkin’s Marine Station. There’s a team trying to figure out how to stop the purple urchins that have been devouring the kelp forests. It’s a crisis, he tells me, for the coasts of Northern California.
I resist the move at first. I like San Francisco in the summer, the only time when the harsh wind feels like a blessing. I have a good routine, where I wake up early and swim in the black water of the bay. Then I go somewhere to work, usually the office, even though as a software engineer I technically work remotely. At night, the two of us cook simple dinners together and watch two episodes of the latest Netflix drama—I don’t usually have the stomach for comedy. On Fridays we tour different ice cream parlors around the city, trying to find the best pistachio.
There’s also the issue of the fish. Kevin needs something swimming nearby at all times. We have three fish tanks in our apartment that each cost about the same as my car. Kevin usually keeps between thirty and fifty species, not counting crustaceans. He can watch the fish for literal hours. Before I got sober, sometimes I’d smoke a joint or drink a bottle of wine and join him. A few people have commented on how fishy the apartment smells, but I don’t notice it anymore. Every month we have to allot a fish budget. “Don’t you find it a little strange?” a friend asked after her first visit to our apartment. “I mean, you’re basically living in a tidepool.”
The fish thing didn’t freak me out at all, to be honest, although maybe it should have. This is partly because it’s better to see people’s crazy upfront and partly because I grew up on the coast of Maine, where oceanic oddities abound. Every morning my father and I would go for walks on the beach, even in the winter when blue snow peppered the rocks. We’d find all sorts of creatures, lobsters and harbor seals and rainbow smelts. Once we found an eight-legged starfish.
I want to stay. It doesn’t make sense for him to commute, though, so I tell Kevin to go without me. I’d stay in San Francisco for the sixth months, maybe come down on the weekends. It wasn’t as if we’d be far apart—the drive is only two hours. But Kevin won’t hear of it. I think he fears that the physical distance would entail some sort of emotional separation as well. He needn’t have worried. I’d chosen him as my person, and like the mantis shrimp, I mate for life.
Sometimes I think about the tattoo parlor in the Mission where we met, both with bad haircuts and fresh out of school. We talked in the waiting room where the walk-ins were put, beneath a giant poster displaying popular designs—Chinese characters, animal skulls, flowers. Kevin told me it was the pain, rather than the permeance, that made him nervous. He wanted his tattoo to be symbolic of something important. I said I agreed, although mostly I just wanted an aesthetic way to hurt myself. Not that it really mattered; I chickened out. Kevin, of course, got that marlin inked across his forearm. He let me watch and said the needle felt like the sting of a sea nettle.
Every night in bed he tries to convince me to join him at the station. The quiet ones are always tricky, though, and he finally gets me to agree by holding me at the brink of orgasm.
“Besides,” he whispers, squeezing my hand as I come, “migration is a natural thing.”
So we move down here, to Monterey. I like the town, at first; it suits my particular brand of melancholy. The streets by our house are mostly residential with an aggressive number of churches on every block. Laundromats, liquor stores galore. As you get closer to the water, the roads start sprouting shitty seafood places and old thrift stores that I wander in and out of. Mostly it’s just overpriced wicker furniture and framed nature prints, but occasionally I’ll find something interesting. A live seagull, for example, that I mistook for a statue. The shiniest coin I’ve ever seen, with the dates rubbed off completely. The whole town feels a little precarious, as if it’s being pulled towards the flailing waves. Maybe it’s just because most of Monterey is built on a hill that slopes toward the craggy coast. Further down towards the ocean, you reach Cannery Row. Like many things, it’s mostly a disappointment that smells like fish and piss. The street is lined with tourist shops and restaurants and motels that charge like they’ve got the ‘h’. Even when the streets are busy it’s quiet.
We rent the top floor of an old house five blocks from the sea. The entire place is covered with kitsch, TJ Maxx nautical knickknacks and mismatching Eiffel tower pillows. The owners have also hung signs with expressions like Seize the Day! and Find the Silver Lining. I turn them all around to face the wall. We end up with a California king and a gas stove we don’t know how to use. There’s an antique highchair in the corner of the kitchen, which I cover with a coat.
From the porch, you can see a slender line of ocean. Kevin brings one of his tanks so that he can keep watch over his favorite fish, leaving detailed instructions with our neighbor about how to care for all of the other, less favored specimens. It had taken up the entirety of my car’s backseat. He puts the tank on our new kitchen table, in the shade where the fish can keep cool. We eat on the couch.
Fish don’t even exist, you know. That category of animal was debunked as a veritable taxonomic class in the eighties. Most marine species only seem similar because they’re scaled and swimming – genetically, fish are all over the place. Lungfish are more closely related to us, for example, than they are to tuna or salmon. It figures the man I married is obsessed by creatures that aren’t even real outside the imagination.
Each morning I rise early before the fog disappears. It takes me several minutes to untangle myself from Kevin, who sleeps lightly and clings like an octopus. I go for a run, occasionally a swim if my hip starts to hurt again. There’s an old man I pass by who sits smoking in his beat-up impala in a parking lot near the wharf. He is there every day. In the passenger seat of his car, there sits a lifesize skeleton. By the time I get back Kevin is usually up and looking through work emails. Over coffee, he’ll read me interesting tidbits about the migratory behaviors of the Pacific Squid or whatever. I tell him about the seals I saw kissing in the harbor.
But back to our children, or lack thereof. That’s the whole point of this, anyway. The kid.
That idea that feels slimy inside my stomach. I’ve known I didn’t want one since I was a kid myself. There are so many things I don’t want to do, like rip open my pelvic floor and start censoring my language. I get especially annoyed when people say, “but think of the children!,” which my mother says a lot while watching the television. I don’t want to think of the children or anything else that doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is why Kevin follows FAO Schwarz on Instagram, but I can’t find a way to bring it up that doesn’t sound accusatory.
Kevin starts buying cheap plants from the drugstore to decorate the house. They’ve got the world’s nicest CVS here, as humongous and luxurious as Saks. Last week he brought home two snake plants, one smaller and one bigger. They’re beautiful, the color of an emerald. I can’t help noticing that they look like a mom and baby plant, which inspires several days of quiet resentment. The neighborhood seems suspiciously idyllic, and I start wondering why I ever thought to let Kevin pick the house. The wind is briny and it rattles mermaid windchimes that adorn every fourth porch. Deer trot back and forth across the street.
After he leaves for work, I usually slouch around the house for a bit and tidy up. Recently I’ve had to use the kitchen ladle to scoop out the tiger barbs that have started floating belly-up in the tank. They haven’t adjusted well to the move. I try to catch the dead ones before Kevin does, flush them away or, after an unfortunate clogging incident, fling them into the neighbor’s hedge. Twice I spook an unsuspecting pedestrian with these flying fish. You can tell the deaths make Kevin sad, especially the rare ones to which he gets really attached. He cried when Phineas, the platinum alligator gar, died last year. After that we made a rule about not naming the fish.
Sometimes I’ll go work in one of the dark bars off Cannery Row, setting up my laptop in a corner booth and watching fat men stagger in sun drunk off the hot streets. I buy iced teas on the hour so they let me stick around. Mostly I just sit in my little corner and type. The firm I work for builds systems for various biotech startups, but they hire so many of us that the work isn’t terribly demanding if you know what you’re doing. The particular company I am assigned to is developing a vegan egg. When I get tired or bored, I wake myself up with a game of one-man pool. For some reason, stripes always wins.
The bartender is a blonde and beautiful man who looks like he is descended from Vikings. He’s constantly wiping down the bar, even when it’s spotless and glittering. Behind him, an altar of colored bottles gleam in the dull light. Sometimes I think the things that every alcoholic thinks, like just one beer. Which I know is a Bad Idea. Still, I like to gaze at the rainbow row of glass. I hope the few other patrons think I’m staring at the handsome bartender instead. The smart thing to do would be not to go to bars, and so sometimes I go to tiny cafés on Lighthouse Avenue. But I enjoy the ambiance of a dim saloon in the daylight, when the restaurant is open but as a rule empty. It feels like a misalignment of space and time, like being at school afterhours. A wormhole of sorts. The bar plays Weezer every afternoon, and I develop a certain fondness for the singer’s boyish voice.
So it’s not so bad at first. Kevin and I fall into our own half-joined routines. I carve out my preferred running routes and pick out rock formations to mark the distance. The woman who lives downstairs shows me how to bake a tomato pie, with flakey golden crust and thick, spicy filling. Every Monday I go to the farmer’s market and pick out the fattest tomatoes I can find. Kevin watches me bake in the evening with a warm expression that I don’t quite like. To remind him that we’re not living in the fifties, I make him roll out the dough. He obeys, holding the ball of flour between his palms carefully, pinching its edges with scientific precision.
The thing that really surprises me is the sex. The coastal air gives us some sort of renewed energy that leaves us both panting in the frigid air conditioning. After dark every touch feels red and electric, like the glowing filaments inside of a toaster. Kevin, in particular, seems to be putting more passion into it. I can see the determination in his grey eyes each time he holds himself over me, grinning ferociously as the salt of his sweat dries on my skin. It’s a primal thing, I decide. Being around so much sea life has gotten us excited; even I will admit that the curvature of certain shells strikes me as erotic. But in the back of my mind, I worry that he’s trying to get me pregnant through sheer sexual enthusiasm. It’s the kind of thing he would do.
I don’t talk to that many people, and those to which I do are usually strangers. “Hey you,” says the skeleton man in the parking lot one day. He calls after me until I stop running and take an earbud out. His grey beard trails all the way down to his naval, and he’s wearing a tie-dye shirt emblazoned with a peace sign. He gestures me over and I carefully walk a few feet towards the car.
“You’re the prettiest fucking thing I’ve seen all day,” he tells me.
“It’s six-thirty AM,” I say.
“Sure,” he says, and then he points to water, which is veiled in the pink fog of sunrise. The broken vertebrae of the San Francisco skyline are just visible through the vapor. “But look at your competition.” We both squint at the sea for a moment, where the seals are barking gleefully in the distance. Well, I like to imagine they’re gleeful, anyway.
“Thank you. That’s very kind.” He smiles as he relights his joint and I worry that his beard is going to catch on fire. Beside him, the skeleton stares blearily out at the water. I have the strange thought that I might be meeting a god. Plush dice twirl slowly from the rearview mirror.
“I guess so,” he says.
The summer trails on. The bartender learns my name. Kevin gets busy with his research and I start going on a lot of walks. I burn through true crime podcasts rapidly. One day, I spot a pair of otters holding hands and text a picture to everyone I know well enough to send a birthday card. Sometimes I examine the forest of bull kelp to see if they’re shrinking, but the urchins must be feeling lazy because I can never see a difference. Mostly I just meander. I find paths that wind through the rocky shoreline, where you can see giant waves collide with the rock formations and explode into lacy spume. The power excites me, when the ocean rears up above my head like a flexing muscle. When I get tired, I sit on a bench for a while and watch the sea foam curdle around the seagulls’ bright feet.
We make reservations to go paddle boarding on a Sunday in early September. Despite the budding chill, the beach is crowded with speckled flesh and kayaks painted in technicolor. As we wait to sign our liability waivers, Kevin kneels in the sand and picks up a single strand of kelp. It looks brown and flaccid in his hands. He holds the slimy strip up to me and points to where purple urchins have gnawed at the bulb.
“They’re taunting me,” he says. “The urchins. Fucking bastards.”
He lays the kelp on the sand tenderly, like a dead lover. As he initials our waivers, I watch a group of teenagers pass around beers and a blunt under the rotting dock. Their speaker is playing a fuzzy song about getting high at the beach. I listen to the ease of their intoxicated laughter, and for a moment I want badly to join them. Instead, I run my toes over the tattered kelp. I try to feel its texture through my callouses, this single loss among many.
We paddle out until the frilly surf morphs into cold, large swells. Between crests our boards bob at strange angles, and I know it’s matter of time before one of us goes in. The sun is white and hard. We paddle alongside a rocky outcropping, on the end of which seals sunbathe in the hundreds. I try not to breathe as we get closer to their stink. The kelp seems plentiful to me, even annoyingly so, and I keep getting my paddle stuck in the clumps of chartreuse. Occasionally a fish appears and
Kevin identifies it – a treefish, an opaleye, a monkeyface prickleback. An hour in I start to shiver. When we round the bend into another bay, the seals bark at us in deep baritones. As with my mother, I can’t tell if they’re being friendly or hostile.
“Abigail the Otter has made a public apology on Twitter,” Kevin is telling me. “The
aquarium got in trouble for saying that she’s ‘a thicc girl.’”
“What we really need is more otters to eat the urchins,” he continues, throwing out his arms to stay balanced. Seabirds circle overhead. “But they’re sort of hard to come by.”
“One of my dad’s old friends was a seaweed harvester,” I tell Kevin. “When I was a kid, we used to go visit him up past Cape Neddick.” I can’t remember his name, only that he’d lived in a little fisherman’s shack near a craggy beach. He’d collect the bright, battered buoys that washed ashore after storms and hang them on the outside of his house. I remember thinking that this was so if the tide ever rose too high, the house would float.
“Kelp is a subspecies of seaweed,” Kevin says.
“He only got forty-seven bucks a ton. He told me that every time I went up there, I think so my dad would lend him money.”
“Look,” says Kevin, pointing at the water. Below us, under the steely swells, there is an enormous jellyfish bloom. Their bodies are silky and orange, glowing like toaster filaments. Some of their trailing tentacles surpass the length of the paddleboard. I will myself not to fall off.
“Let’s watch them,” I say, kneeling on the board as so not to pitch over. Once seated, I reposition my rash guard to maximize the sun-to-skin surface area. We settle into silence and watch their molten forms float by. After a while I stretch out on my stomach and slip into a half-sleep. I open my eyes every so often to trace the bloom, and it occurs to me that their bodies, as they extend and contract, look like flowering marigolds.
My arm must slip into the water at some point because I am jolted awake by a bright pain near my wrist. I can feel the welts bubbling immediately. When I extract my arm, the skin is already hot and red.
“Fuck,” I say. “A jellyfish stung me.”
“Technically those are sea nettles,” Kevin tells me. I take a long breath. To soothe myself, I imagine what he would look like as bloated corpse floating out to sea. Slender lashes curl down my forearm.
“You’re gonna have a gnarly scar,” says Kevin in a tone that suggests this is a compliment.
On the way back to shore, the splashing of his paddle behind me suddenly stops. I brace myself for a big wave. When it doesn’t arrive, I turn around and see Kevin floating at the edge of a kelp forest, a still figure under the dark wool of the clouds. As I paddle to him, I think about the kelp in the bathtub and how he would strip to his boxers and submerge himself to study it.
“So this is the mission,” I say, poking at the soggy fronds.
“Yeah,” he says. “That’s one way to think about it.”
“Would you say the mission is doomed?”
“Not out loud,” he says, heading towards the beach again. I find this unfathomably depressing. Then I feel the feeling I spend most of my life trying not to feel.
“Tell me something good. Something hopeful,” I say.
“Barnacles,” he says, “have consensual sex.”
As we drag our boards out of the water, minding not to scrape the fins, Kevin asks if I wouldn’t mind staying in Monterey until Halloween. Because I am tired and cold, I agree.
More fish start showing up dead, and I stalk the local pet stores to try to find replacements.
First the pipefish take ill, and then the big-eyed squirrelfish kick the bucket all at once. No doubt Kevin will notice eventually, but I wanted to delay whatever small grief he might feel as long as possible. Life’s just one long exercise in postponing the inevitable.
I start attending the local AA meetings because there are too many opportunities to drink to not think about it. I am by myself a lot. The one I choose is held on Wednesday evenings in the parking lot of an ugly cement church. Bird shit everywhere. The group leader is a young guy named Steve who works as a kayaking instructor. I like his easygoing nature so I keep coming back. At the third meeting, I speak about my reluctance to have a child. How I won’t risk holding the weight of another life when I can remember struggling so desperately with just my own. I talk about how irresponsible it seems to bring life into a dying planet and how the thought of it makes me want to uncork every bottle in sight. How I’m not sure I can make it this month without drinking, much less nine more. I talk and talk until I realize that I’m being rude.
The only thing I don’t talk about is why I got sober in the first place. I had never intended to quit because to do so would suggest I had a problem, and I didn’t, or that’s what I told myself. I just liked the way the world seemed to relax around me when I drank, and the small, golden feeling it spun in my chest. A few swills made everything better—parties and dinners, sure, but also work, walks, household chores. A lot of alcoholics have rousing stories about the incident that inspired their sobriety; they blacked out and crashed their car into a yield sign, or their only child threatened to cut off contact. Me, I passed out and almost drowned in the shower. Or that’s what Kevin said, anyway, during his one-man intervention in our living room. I don’t remember it at all. During my sixth meeting, Steve asks me to recite the Serenity Prayer and all of the sudden I also forget that.
One morning I find Kevin standing in front of the fish tank. His face is bathed in its turquoise light, the artificial tides playing across his jawbone. “Have any of the fish died?” he asks. “No,” I say. “Why?”
When Kevin has time, we go on little adventures. He shows me around the Monterey Aquarium, where my favorite exhibit is the garibaldi. They’re bright fish the color of a traffic cone with delicate, heart-shaped tails. One of his colleagues meets us there, a fresh-faced post-doc who’s recently made a significant discovery about sea otter teeth. I tell Kevin I want a garibaldi for Christmas because I know it will make him happy, and I want the pretty researcher to see that he’s happy with me. I see that she’s a few months pregnant when she takes off her sweater, and I can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Another weekend we go hiking in Big Sur. The wildflowers are blooming yellow and orange, like fire on the cliffs running down to the blue sea. The sunshine is soft and coppery as we wind our way around the sea cliffs. As we hike, we talk about the latest episode of Narcos and debate the ethics of pescatarianism. A rabbit with one ear crosses our path and Kevin decides it’s good luck. Greenery is everywhere. From the lookout point, we share a canteen of grapefruit kombucha and FaceTime my parents to show them the view.
As we get up to start the long return trek, Kevin looks back wistfully at the sea. “It’s a shame,” he says, “that we’re destroying all this.”
Below us the pale water jumps against the cliffs and dissolves back into itself, white foam running through the bay like veins. I don’t know what to say, so I kiss him hard on the mouth. As we hike back to the car, I wonder what he’s imagining. I picture bubbling acid water and flaming schools of fish corpses floating along Highway One. When I tell this to Kevin, he assures me that the climate change will wipe out civilization before that happens.
“I think we’ll die way before it gets that bad, honestly.”
“As a species, you mean? Or us in particular?”
I laugh at this. His expression remains grave, and on his furrowed brow I can see where wrinkles are beginning to bourgeon. I close my mouth.
“The sea will swallow us,” he says, and I’m glad.
I’m working at the bar when the skeleton man from the wharf come in. It’s late afternoon, and the first happy hour patrons are beginning to trickle in from the street. When he sees me, the skeleton man twirls his beard and gives me a wave. His t-shirt says something about blowing the Mothman. I only look up again when he sets two beers down at my table. It’s a brand I don’t recognize, a cheap domestic with an orange label. I learn his name Eugene Shinkles and that his occupation is “local fixture.” When I ask how I can help him, he smiles jauntily and slides one of the bottle towards me.
“Give me the company of a foxy woman,” he says. “Least until sunset rolls around.”
“I’m married,” I tell him.
“And I don’t imbibe much anymore.”
“Sobriety is overrated,” he says, and it’s hard to argue with that.
“Tell me something,” he continues. I wait for more but nothing follows. Eventually I just start talking, and soon enough I’m drinking too. I tell him about Hopkins’ mammoth storage bins, the ones that reek of rot and are filled to the brim with purple urchins. How I secretly think the urchins are pretty. Then it’s his turn, and Eugene tells me that he lost his spleen in the Vietnam War. He pulls up his shirt to the show me the scar, which looks cleaner than I expected, the line of tissue almost glittering in the bar light.
“Shot right through,” he tells me.
“That’s terrible,” I say, just happy to be drinking. Soon I’m buying us both another round, this time of something harder. He tells me about his daughter. I tell him about the time I dreamed my water broke and Kevin insisted on testing its pH level.
“If you do have a kid,” he says, “name him Eugene.”
“Or Eugenie,” I say. “Or whatever version they want. But I won’t have one, so it’s irrelevant.”
“Nothing is ever irrelevant,” says Eugene. I begin listing off irrelevant things to prove him wrong: John Mayer, my bronze chip, his opinion, the forecast in Belgrade.
Once my words are slipping together and my stomach is bloated from the liquid, Eugene pats my hand and offers me a ride. The edges of the world blur softly as we step outside. The sun is still out, pale in the sky; I’m surprised by how early it is. It takes Eugene three tries to get the keys into the impala’s ignition. I sit in the backseat, as the skeleton rides shotgun.
When I walk in the door, Kevin is sitting on the couch watching television. His nose wrinkles when I walk in; I’m sure I reek of alcohol. I’d spilled whiskey on my shirt and the stain blooms tumor-like across my stomach.
“I’m drunk,” I tell him, and he goes silently into the kitchen. He returns with a mug of tepid water and an aspirin, and we look at one another for a long time. His eyes are ringed and cloudy.
“What happened?” he asks.
“Are we all just skeletons? Moving fossils?”
“You promised you wouldn’t drink again.”
“We’ve promised each other a lot of things,” I say. I don’t realize I’m crying until I taste the saltwater on my lips.
Kevin squints at me, and I can see he’s recalibrating his approach.
“You know what? Setbacks happen. It’s okay. This is one bad night, and we have our whole life ahead of us to look forward to.”
“The problem is that neither of us is looking forward to it,” I say. In the gilded plastic mirror I catch a glimpse of our faces, older than I remember, both of our expressions nauseated by my drunken honesty.
“I’m just gonna say this, since you won’t remember anyway. I don’t think you know how to care about other people.”
“One, I will remember, because I’m writing it down in my Notes app right now. And two, it’s not that I don’t care. It isn’t that.”
“Oh, Kevin,” I say. “You’re always asking for something I can’t give you.”
The fish, watching from their tanks, bob up and down in agreement. Kevin looks like he might cry too. I turn away from him and look out the window into the horizon where lying in wait is the black box of the ocean, that inaccessible archive.
“Can’t or won’t?” he asks.
The night ends with me vomiting into the toilet, the bathtub, the kitchen sink. Kevin watches me as I curl over myself, spitting up the detritus of the day.
A few days later, he brings it up again over dinner at Montrio Bistro. It’s our favorite spot, with big outdoor tables across which we split the baked brie. Kevin waits until he’s on his second drink, a bourbon cocktail with a large smoked ice ball floating in the center. He rarely drinks around me, which is the first sign that something is up. I have a sudden, irrational fear that he has secretly replaced my birth control with a placebo. Since that night at the bar, I’ve had a headache that won’t go away, and strange thoughts keep filtering through my brain without reason.
“I’ve been thinking,” he starts, and all I can think is, oh boy. I take a sip of water and blink at him demurely, cocking my head to indicate he should go on. Kevin, to his credit, immediately senses the danger and retreats.
“I’m not trying to talk you into anything,” he tells me. The smell of fried brine wafts over from another table’s calamari. Our waitress clears the bread plates hastily, promising our entrees will be right out.
“You want a kid,” I say once she’s out of earshot.
“At the very least—”
“Will you leave me if I say no?”
“What?” he looks taken aback by the question, and his drink sloshes out of his glass and onto his hand.
“It’s okay,” I say. I realize how long I’ve been preparing for this conversation in my head, how ready I am to have it out over this stupid, nonexistent thing. “If the answer is yes. Well, not okay, but I’d rather know upfront.”
“I’ve just been hoping,” he starts, and this right here, I think to myself, is an irreconcilable difference. I forget to listen for a moment.
“—would you at least consider it, angelfish?”
“Sure,” I said. “Fine. But stop looking at cribs on our Amazon, and don’t expect my answer to change.”
I can tell he’s trying not to show he’s upset, like when I bought that sexy mermaid costume for Valentine’s Day the first year we were dating. He’d thought I was making fun of him, which I really wasn’t trying to do. I just thought it would be funny.
You already know what happens. Or maybe you don’t. We have six children and I become the housewife who hides chardonnay bottles in the closet. Or I refuse him and, after a lot of reflection, we file for an amicable divorce. I abort the next prophet. Kevin kills me in a fit of rage, which would not be that out of the ordinary, statistically speaking. It turns out that post-doc is pregnant with Kevin’s child. We both die in a tragic car accident on the way home from dinner.
But maybe what happens is this: A few months later, I move back to Maine because my own mother has started to die, slowly and loudly. Each day I wake up in my childhood bedroom. I clean bedpans, coordinate doctor’s appointments. I drink like a fish. Maybe Kevin calls often and then not at all. Maybe every morning I look out the window and see the kelp bobbing on the dark, sunwarmed surf. I think about swimming out and letting them entangle me in their long, thin arms.