an excerpt from The Echo of It
note: I started writing a novel/la when I was nineteen and have been more-or-less finished with it for a little while now. I know I should probably do something with it other than post an excerpt here, but whatever. I want to share it and I want to do it now.
He asks, ‘Do you want to get out of here?’
There is no hesitation on her part, only the alcohol and a feeling of rightness that she wishes she didn’t feel but can’t ignore. Neither of them knows what they are doing, Merc’s strongest running through their veins. So she takes him by the hand and leads him out to the beach, guided by moonlight. (He thinks he hears a song in the distance but dismisses it.)
She walks barefoot on the sand. He lets her lead him; he walks slightly behind her, not because he could easily get lost (he’s spent too much time in the ocean, he’ll not be going that way) but because he wants to watch her. She turns and smiles like the sea and he grabs her wrist. ‘Swear to me an oath.’
‘What would you have me swear?’
She hasn’t stopped smiling. He pulls her to him and hisses, ‘You’re not going to sell me out to the paparazzi once I come to your bed.’
A moment of fear flickers in her eyes and the next wave comes. ‘I swear.’
Soon they are at her house, a simple stone-colored one-story house with a few stairs leading up to a porch, complete with wooden swing. Her front yard is the beach and as he looks around he feels enchanted, as though this could not possibly be real.
‘Hey.’ She stands on the porch, waiting. He nods, mostly to himself, and follows her. Once inside, she leads him to the bedroom, only turning on a few lamps on the way so that the house remains mostly-dark. She lights a candle – murmuring something the stranger can’t quite understand (Greek, he thinks, but he can’t be sure) – then sits on the bed and looks at him, smiling.
There was something about her hair that almost seemed to cause the room to glow to him, through the haze of intoxication. ‘Your hair is red,’ he murmurs, struck dumb somehow. He hadn’t noticed before; the lighting in the bar made her hair look only dark, and if asked he would not have been able to identify the color. (Her eyes, though, still have no identifiable color – just dark – and he can only think in clichés.)
‘Yeah,’ she replies, running her fingers through it. She laughs suddenly and pulls him toward her, wondering vaguely if she should make him declare some sort of vow. She doesn’t. Any evil hurt that he may have planned for her he is free to pursue. She must live with the knowledge that she did nothing to stop it, if it comes to pass.
She doesn’t really think about this now; she thinks mainly of his mouth on her neck and hands removing clothes. She is aware of skin and muscle and sinew. She feels profoundly alive. Her solitude has existed for so long that every touch is filled with awe.
After it happens, she lies next to him staring at the ceiling, and he snores while she thinks of boats out of this place – give him the wind in his sails and he will escape. (She knows he will escape eventually but she allows all this to occur anyway, knowing she’ll love him. Love is worth the escape in the end.)
She doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to cuddle, wants to be a thousand universes away where she is strong enough to send him away, to not love him. A thousand universes away where after this love-making, love-falling, he goes away to his own chambers, leaving her to dwell on what she’s done in peace, or not if she prefers that.
But now he lies next to her, sleeping like an angel, and her heart breaks on that image alone. Somehow it was easy, she thinks, a whispered is this okay? and she felt safe with this shipwrecked storyteller. She has never had a chance to get used to that, with a history of men who did not care to make sure she felt safe, a long line stretching back from her father to the last long-term fling. These efforts to convince herself that this affair (and him) will help heal ages-old wounds only half-work. It feels like enough to her.
She watches him as he sleeps, to memorize him. She tries to capture him in memory, frail though it is, even if capturing goes against her general philosophy of letting things go: good, bad, or something loved. It was the best advice she’d ever gotten, on a boat drinking her sadness away in a corner, bound for Greece, from a woman who looked old enough to have known Plato. Best advice, yes, but some of the hardest, too: her whole life had taught her to cling to what goodness there was before it vanished.
There is also something to be said for being in the present, rather than the past or future, and so the sea witch strives for this on her first night in bed with her stranger. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she touches his sun-browned skin lightly, thanking insomnia for giving her this gift of seeing him innocent. Not even he, wily as he surely is, could make a ruse of true sleep.
She moves closer and lays her head on his chest. The thrill of intimacy almost overwhelms her. With great risk comes great reward, she thinks, knowing there is truth behind the truism but wishing it also explained what to do with the reward, and what to do when it inevitably packs up and catches the wind. She does not think about the other end of the equation: with great risk also comes great loss.
He moves and she fears her secret daring has been discovered. He just throws an arm over her, though. She smiles: how rare to find treasure, even for a little bit.
The sea witch sleeps, but restlessly, unused to sharing space with a living, breathing human being (ghosts and gods are all too common on the island). Waking up the next morning with a crick in her neck, she sidles out of bed and into the kitchen to prepare her morning cup of tea. The tea kettle whistles and obediently she fills her cup, letting the tea bag steep before adding sugar and milk. She grounds herself in routine.
What are you supposed to do when your universe has collided with another?
She has never known, which perhaps explains her tendencies toward the life of a recluse. Her island had contented her. She had been happily isolated until a strong wind brought a shipwreck and then the portents were all wrong.
This will never last, she thinks to her cup of tea. I know this and I will let it happen anyway.
Love is probably a mental illness, she decides, drinking her tea, biding her time.
After he gets up, she makes the bed, and thinks more about how domesticity attempts to normalize situations, to bring passion back under control. This everyday act of pulling sheets, fluffing pillows, is supposed to make okay the fact that humming in her kitchen is a windswept stranger. It’s insane.
She then becomes aware of the magnitude of the making of beds: this is the bed they must lie in. Rather, this is the bed she must lie in, because he can escape at any moment. She tries not to think about that, even though the fact has already wormed its way into the back of her skull. The newness of the situation allows her to ignore it for now.
He comes in silently and disrupts her attempts at normalcy. She has not learned to take him as commonplace – not in her home, at least, though the bar would tell a different story. It seems to her when that happens he will leave. His arms around her remain a novelty, though other arms have wrapped her before. Love, fresh each time, a spring of cold water and green leaves.
It will be her ruin.