Anne tells Russell she wants to go to the beach, but she doesn’t tell him why. She fakes cheerful and says what a beautiful day and suggests they pack a picnic lunch. She doesn’t say that on this day, in particular, the water calls her, beckons, impossible to resist. She does, however, resist reciting aloud one of the obscure water facts she’s memorized, but she muses over it as she fills their reusable bottles at the sink: there’s the same amount of water on Earth as there was when the Earth was formed, meaning that the water from her faucet could contain molecules that dinosaurs drank.
She and Russell stake out their spot on the sand, set up the umbrella, spread a blanket. He’s brought a spy novel, and he opens it, shades his eyes with his hand to look up at her.
“I’m going for a walk,” she says, blowing him a kiss and hurrying away before he can insist she apply sunscreen, or suggest going with her.
She follows along the water’s edge, heading east, and wonders if Marc will show up. She suspects he will, summoned by the same siren she is. Although since he’s gotten remarried this year, maybe he won’t want to commemorate Marissa’s fifth birthday.
They’d chosen her name because it meant “of the sea,” and they’d introduced her to her namesake when she was just weeks old, dipping her toes into the foamy surf, pressing her foot into wet sand. She and Marc had stepped next to the tiny indentation, the shapes of their varying sized feet so distinct until the tide filled their concave soles, washing away all evidence.
Anne walks faster now, and the heat makes her thirsty. She stops, considers back-tracking for her water bottle, but she has a goal, a destination, and she doesn’t want to be late. She enters the water up to her knees, cups handfuls onto her arms to cool herself. Statistics swim through her mind—nearly 97% of the world’s water is salty or otherwise undrinkable—her obsession with water filling her with useless knowledge.
She continues on, toward the rocks jutting from the base of the break wall, and she thinks she sees Marc in the distance. She squints, recognizes his old beach bum baseball cap, his purposeful stride. The sun’s positioned directly overhead, the time that Marissa was born, high noon, on the dot.
“Wasn’t sure you’d be here this year,” she says. She licks her lips, a salty tang on her tongue.
“You too,” he says. She only recently married Russell, and she has not shared the details of this ritual with him.
She leans forward to hug Marc but stops herself. He reaches for her, his hand brushing her shoulder, and sweeps strands of hair from her cheek. “You okay?” he asks, and she rests her head against his hand and closes her eyes, knowing he doesn’t expect an answer.
The night she’d walked into the water, right at this spot, he’d followed, reaching her just in time, her hair tangled between his fingers like seaweed as he swam them both to shore. It was Marissa’s first birthday, and Anne wanted to sink into the blackness, to see nothing, feel nothing, surrender to the water. She longed to reverse time to when Marissa swam inside of her, safe and cushioned and connected.
Ice is lighter than water, which is why it floats, and that night Anne was so cold, so bone-chilled with loss, that she should have been lighter, easier for Marc to save. But she remembers feeling his muscles taut and tight around her, hearing his panting breath with each rise and fall of his chest, as she made no effort to buoy herself.
She opens her eyes now and they talk about Marissa for a few minutes. But they quickly can say no more, which had also happened when they were still together. If they say too much, the floodgates will open. They both sense it. Separation is safer, except this moment on this day, once a year.
They part and Anne heads back toward Russell, walking further up the beach in the softer sand. It burns her feet, and she quickens her pace, thinking about the fact that 71% of the earth’s surface being covered in water is deceiving on a wide swath of hot sand that seems to stretch forever. She runs to the ocean and plunges her feet in, contemplating how many inches of water it takes to reach her ankles. A baby, she knows too well, can drown in an inch of bathwater. And it can happen in what seems like an instant. In the time it takes to answer the door for a delivery, retrieve a package.
Afterward, Marc had wanted to stay with Anne, to do the right thing. But she knew what he didn’t. That if you’re the one who did the wrong thing, you can’t let someone do the right thing for you. You can’t live with that.
Russell waves when he sees her, and she sinks down beside him on the blanket. Without saying a word, he pours sunscreen into his palm and rubs it gently onto her pink shoulders. She leans against him, her eyes settling on the horizon, a shimmering blur underlining the sky. More than half her body is made up of water, and if she allows herself, which she does now, she can feel it. Marissa, in the watery depths of her heart. Marissa, pouring through her veins. Footsteps no longer visible in sand, but Marissa, in every molecule of her being.
Lisa Ferranti’s fiction has been a finalist in a Glimmer Train contest, twice short-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and a Reflex Fiction contest finalist (BSF 2019 nominated). Her stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review, Literary Mama and Lost Balloon (Wigleaf Top 50 2019 Longlist). @lisaferranti | lisaferranti.com