for Rebecca Garrant
When he woke up, she was still not there.
The sense of longing and loss had been plaguing him through the distant dark hours that crawled through time. It was difficult to wake up after so little sleep, and yet so relieving when the brutal tiredness put him to sleep. He would always wake up, however.
The realization that she would not return was hard to accept, the way one cannot accept that the one must grow old and that all material things come to an end. This was not the end he had imagined though, not in his dreams nor in his desires.
A sad, inescapable (and immutable) truth was that he had at once wanted her not to be there and did not particularly feel the sting of her absence at first. It was almost a relief. Their disagreements were increasing with a frequency that he found distracting. His work was suffering just as he was advancing in standing and she was becoming illogical.
“You drank a lot.” he’d said to “So much you weren’t even laughing—you were cackling.”
“I would thank you not to comment on how much I drink,” she sneered, as she walked across the hall to the sofa, her six-inch heels dangling lazily from her fingers. She had to drag her feet as they would hardly lift from the floor. “All you did was brood in the corner when you were not talking to Armand.”
“Well, Armand is my best friend,” he said. He was magnetically drawn over to his drawing desk. The flick of his lamp quickly illuminated his blueprints with its sallow light.
“You’re working now?” She threw herself on the sofa with a grunt. Her glossy silver dress was dull in the lightless living room. The open floor living space was cold and every part of it, rather than seeming connected by their lack of walls, seemed isolated like islands floating in a sea of spacious air.
“I have a lot to finish before the meeting,” he replied, curtly. “You go on to bed.”
“I’m not tired,” she replied. “Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Fine,” She lifted her leg up on the coffee table, her toes stretching out and feeling the cool air between them. They were hot from the crowded evening event. She reached over and scratched at her leg with her navy-blue nails, grimacing as she did so. A tattoo of white blossoms decorated her ankle and lower thigh.
“Does it still itch?” He inquired from his seat, not peeling his eyes from his work.
“Like hell,” she replied.
“I told you it would,”
“Oh, shut up.”
She stood up and headed over for the piano adorning the far corner of the room. It was elegantly situated in a place where it would serve as a refined accent for the room, which it served well. It was, however, poorly placed for acoustic quality.
“Not now,” he said as she was swung her legs over the cushioned leather bench.
“Why not now?” Her face a wine-red. Her chest heaved with stored up anger.
His reply was crisp and efficient, as though his word were the final word. All he needed was one reason.
“Well, dammit, what the hell would you like me to do? Huh?”
“Anything, as long as you don’t make too much noise,” he replied, without even taking the time to be sarcastic.
He sighed, feeling the burning of her eyes on his back. He spun around in his chair. She was looking at him incredulously, her mahogany lipstick smeared down to the corner of her chin.
“Listen, this is really important to me. The board’s been tough on me with these designs—they have to please a lot of people and still be practical. Winning this could mean a lot for us.”
“For us,” he insisted. She would not look at him. Instead, her eyes roved around the room. She sighed to let out the volcanic boiling of her emotions. She floated around the piano bench, like an apparition, and pushed it snuggly into the piano.
He said nothing but continued his work.
“Your career never used to be this important to you.”
“You never used to get tattoos and be so wild at parties,” he spat back.
“One has nothing to do with the other!” she shouted, her face contorting as she approached him. He was tense and studious in his chair, not even taking the time to loosen his tie.
“Don’t they? I’m swamped, I don’t have time for this.” He returned to his papers.
The words must have stung, for she stopped and asked, “What happened to us?” And then she lunged towards him and dug her nails into his shoulders.
“You’re hurting me, and nothing happened to us—nothing ever has,” dropping his pen and trying to pry her fingers from his shoulders. They dug in further, and he could hardly feel the pain at all. The ink from his pen flooded his blueprint.
“You used to enjoy pain,” she laughed, her teeth still stained from the spicy red wine she had drunk gratuitously at the party.
“C’mon, stop it,” he tried to pull her hands away from him but could not escape her grasp.
“Don’t I arouse you anymore?” She asked, tantalizingly bending over him, her hair flowing down his head and shoulders.
“Of course you do.” He said, pulling his face away from her and spitting out her hair. It had cascaded over his head and into his mouth, tasting bitterly of spray-on shampoo.
She finally relented and draped over his shoulder. Her long fingers tapped on him like a metronome keeping time.
“Why don’t we go away someplace?” she sighed.
“I’m trying to work,” he growled, his temper fraying, nearly out of patience. He could feel his heart pumping faster as he tried to contain himself from an outburst.
“Just someplace nice! Let’s go now. Drive all night! Or fly to Cinque Terre, you remember it! It’s where we honeymooned. We had such a great time. We were young and beautiful and—”
“We can’t, I have a big presentation!” he exclaimed, rising from his chair. Her hand slipped from his shoulder, and she took a few steps back in fear, her eyes stretched wide like disks. His released his anger in several short breaths, and he reached up to undo his tie. “How many times do I have to tell you that? I’m very busy. Just go to bed or stop talking.”
She did not reply, but rather, like a stone monument, remained frozen and unmovable. He accepted her motionlessness as her reply and sat back down to resume his work. The thin pattering of her bare feet sticking to the floor tickled in his ears, fading almost like a decrescendo in a sonata coming to a ghostly close.
“I’m going out,” she said, grabbing her pair of heels and slipping them back on. “Don’t wait up.”
“Now? It’s late!”
“You don’t have to come,” she replied brusquely, clutching her shawl and swinging it chaotically around her shoulders. Her keys jingled as she snatched them off their hook.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m just going to drive around. I’m not tired enough to go to bed, and it’s better this way, this way I don’t distract you from your work.”
“Are you okay to drive? You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine—I’m sober, completely and utterly sober.”
Her face was gaunt when she looked at him. The smile he had so often remembered having graced her face was no longer there. It was replaced by her firm cheekbones, severe stare, and cold, sealed lips. It was not the look of hate, or anger, not even disappointment—apathy. Her eyes were so grey—an anomaly almost—but then she was gone. He heard her sportscar roar its way out of a driveway, disappearing down the pathway and leaping its way into the night. It didn’t matter. He had his work.
It had been days, and she had not returned.
“And you haven’t heard from her in all this time?” Georgie asked. Armand and Georgie were always sitting on the same side of the café table, usually with Armand’s fingers wrapped around her bony shoulder. They never left each other’s side.
Her hair bobbed when she spoke, and Armand’s hazel eyes rarely seemed to blink. Their eyes were more like a pair than a foursome and, together, they focused on his lips as he spoke to them, absorbing every syllable of every word.
“Once, I did,” he replied. “Or at least, I should have—she called me on my cell. I didn’t pick up. I didn’t want to. I could have, easily. I guess I was enjoying the solitude and felt like I didn’t need to hear from her yet—maybe I was just spiting her, I don’t know. Didn’t want her to think I was eager to see her—damn the espresso here is terrible.” She always made great espresso.
“But that’s terrible, did she leave a message?” Armand inquired, eagerly.
“Yes, it was in my voicemail—I listened to it a couple times, I deleted it last night.”
“What did it say?” Georgie asked, her tone still bright and full of joy—
“She just said,” he started with a sigh, looking at the table and playing with the ripped bag of sugar. “I mean—she said she was leaving and didn’t know when she’d come back, that if I wanted to find her, I’d have to go to Nautilus Point.”
“Nautilus Point? Where is that?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I mean I—don’t—know,” he repeated sarcastically. The soreness was there, the bitterness from having believed (or known) he had sealed the coffin on his marriage and sent it out to sea to sink with the tide. Everything seemed to irritate him, as though he were naked in a field of cacti. He could hardly see any vibrant colors. Everything seemed to be a haze of dark—as though he were living behind a transparent black veil that was too vast to lift.
“It’s not on any map,” he continued. “I searched every search engine, local maps, everything—she said it was somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina, on the coast—but it’s just not there. It was a lie.”
“Was it?” the voice asked from behind the screen. It was so impersonal, the way the sound had to travel around the screen to reach his ears.
“She lied,” he concluded. “She lied—she doesn’t want me to find her. She knew I wouldn’t look for her. Or she thought I wouldn’t.”
“I don’t know.”
“It seems to me that these two problems are the same,” the voice added. “Finding out whether you would search for her is the same as finding out whether or not she lied.”
“I don’t follow?”
He was confused. He had not even thought of his blueprints since he had rolled them up a couple of days after she had gone. He had not crawled over them with his usual meticulous pen but rather had sighed them away as though they were dust on a windowsill looking out towards the sea.
“Drive down there and find it,” the voice said. “Just drive and look.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he scoffed. “How can I find what’s not there?”
“But you don’t know if it’s not there,” the voice added. “All you know is that you can’t find it on a map and that no one else has seen it—that means nothing.”
“That’s proof enough,” he added. “Surely, someone would know it.”
“Your wife does, and she is telling you where to find her if you want to be with her, isn’t that enough?”
“I don’t know.”
“This isn’t how these sessions usually go, you know,” the priest concluded. “This is a confessional, for confessions—do you have anything to confess?”
“Only that I drove her away with my—I suppose we were getting bored, and I turned to work instead of her, and she turned to me, and I was—I was always with a blueprint.”
“Are you Catholic, my son?” the priest asked. The priest’s voice was softer now that he had gotten used to the method of its travel.
“No, I’ve never even been here—or in a place like this.”
“Then, why are you here?”
“It was her. She was—faithful.”
The priest sighed. He could not see the voice’s owner, nor did he think it was likely he would. He waited, his knees losing circulation from having been pressed so tightly against the bench for so long.
“All I can do is give you counsel,” the priest concluded, slapping his hands against his knees. (That, he could hear). “Go—stop thinking and go—just trust in your wife, and in your love—you do love her?”
“Yes, very dearly,” he replied quickly (more quickly than he had thought he would).
“Then go to her—”
The road did not bend as many times as he expected it to. It was mostly straight, with the occasional hill-side view. The green around him magisterially sang in baroque chords that irritated him.
The sea was far.
He could not bear to listen to the roaring of the wind through his windows and so he kept them shut. The steady humming of the air condition washed over and relaxed him. The mountains closed in on him claustrophobically, even more so than the city. The countryside was too metropolitan for him; too many inhabitants. Birds or men, what difference does it make in the end when they start chattering? He was never a musical person.
“She was the musical one,” he said out loud. He wished he had preserved her voicemail. The specific timbre of her voice was already slipping away from his memory. He could not let that happen. He wondered if he had even recorded her voice anywhere. He needed to find her. He needed more than an electronic memory of her voice.
His maps were torn into shreds in the backseat, obsolete.
“Nothing can help me now,” he whispered to himself as he sailed off into the mountains. But even those were fading away, as though they were melting under the high sun.
No more high-green castles, no more round, funerary hilltops, no more buzzing of the birds and cicadas.
Nothing could help him now as he disappeared into the wild road which absorbed him and his thoughts. He faded away into the pavement.
It was hopeless.
He pulled over to the side of the road and stormed out of the car, slamming the door shut in his rage. He had not seen a sign. He had not seen an exit. He had not seen another vehicle on the road, not even rushing past him the other way. His thoughts were left to echo in his own cavernous mind. He was alone.
He screamed out into the quietness: “Why!?” He picked up the nearest rock he could find and flung it into the trees. It crashed through the leaves and then thumped down to the ground.
“Please! Just another chance! Five minutes is all I’m asking! I’ll be different this time—I won’t just—I won’t not listen—I’ll listen—I’ll treat her right—just a few minutes.”
He fell to his knees, exhausted with his pleading against the silence. He could hardly speak from the exasperation, the heat of his blood, the tightness of his muscles, the trembling of his entire being.
His hands slipped into the dirt where he had extracted the rock from the wet, clay-like soil. He clutched at it, pouring his anger into the foundations of the earth. He felt something cold, and stone-like. His fingers slipped around it automatically. His breathing was regular as he pulled the object out from the dirt.
It was a shell—a seashell, a nautilus. It’s cool blue and tan swirls spun around in a whirlpool seemingly endless until it reached the central point. He clutched it in his hands and darted his head around. There was no sign of breath anywhere, no whispers.
He rushed off into the trees, slashing them aside with his hands until he could hardly see for the greenery that blocked his vision.
And then, the crashing of the saltwater’s fluctuations on the shoreline like the tolling of bells. He was standing on a beach, with the sand beneath his feet. The sand was all white, like powder—and dry, like dust. He lifted it and watched as the invisible and silent wind carried it off into the air and back onto the beach. White logs bleached from the sun and salty air were strewn across the sand. The sun was dipping over the waters, just beginning its descent.
Watching the waters beat themselves against the sand was a summer hut. Warm steel blue paneling wrapped itself around the house, accented by sturdy white beams and roof-capped with black tiles. A mahogany star hung loosely on the outside wall. Some beach chairs lined themselves near the edge of the house, a fire pit between them. He walked towards it, drawn as though automatically, and yet he knew he was conscious of his choice to enter it.
The screen door creaked when he opened it. He went inside, shutting it behind him.
A pale orange light streamed through the windows and created a hazy filter through which he could see the makeup of the cottage. Wicker chairs circled the glass table dining room. Wood-carved fish covered in a thin layer of paint hung from the walls as decoration near the steel stove and marble island. The screen doors led to a wood-paneled balcony. Some chairs with pillows rested in the far side of the room, benefiting from the illumination of the sunset. Bookshelves flanked the same living area. The books were dusty and leaned against each other in their peaceful state.
Dust mites danced aimlessly through the air like blessed spirits.
She was waiting by the window, bathing in the sunlight, her hair down to her shoulders as she kept her arms crossed. She was wearing a pareu and a tank top. The tattoo on her ankle seemed richly colored and poignant.
“Simon,” she said, smiling as she turned around to greet him. She seemed to be moving in grace, slow and without urgency, as though there were no such thing as time.
“Sonya,” he choked, his heart lifting into his shoulders and holding him up. “Sonya—I’ve been looking for you for so long.”
“I know,” she said. “Won’t you come to me?”
He rushed over to her, breaking through the streams of light piercing the cottage (they shattered like glass as he went through them).
They embraced for a very long time in which no words needed to be exchanged.
“I am so sorry for everything.”
“Hush,” Sonya whispered, placing her long finger on his lips. He kissed them. “Hush—hush—don’t apologize. We were both lost. But now, look!”
Simon looked at her with eyes that had never seen her before, and her standing in front of him as she had never been before.
“Your tattoo, does it still itch?”
“No, silly,” she laughed joyously. “It doesn’t itch here—not here, not anymore.”
“Together, again,” he laughed, through the saltwater tears cascading down his cheeks. “Forever.”
“Oh, no, Simon,” Sonya said, drawing away from him. Their arms were still locked. “Not yet.”
“What do you mean?” Simon asked. His joy collapsed and tumbled its way down into the bottom of his chest.
“I can’t go back with you,” she said. “I’m here now. I’m here to stay.”
“Why not? Why can’t you go back?”
“This is where I belong,” she said, laughing almost as she lifted her hands as if to display her new abode. “It’s beautiful—so beautiful here, isn’t it?”
“It’s beautiful, yes,” Simon conceded (it was to him as well). He wanted to hold on to her, not to let go, to maintain the touch and the connection. He reached up and grabbed her arms. She let him hold her as her fingers wrapped around his biceps.
“Then I’ll come and stay here, with you,” he insisted with a weak smile. His fear of losing her drained his energy and rippled across his skin.
She smiled back and brought her hands up to his face. She held his cheeks tenderly. Her hands were not warm, but they had played music so many times, and he had been too busy to listen.
“No, silly boy, you can’t,” she said. She was smiling very much now and tilting her head as though that would help him understand. “You can’t—not yet—it’s not ready for you. I’m making it ready for you though, don’t worry. Soon it will be ready for you, and you will be able to come.”
“No, it’s ready now, I don’t need it to be ready for me.” Hammer-strokes against his chest.
“Oh, I love you so much,” Sonya said to him, as though she had not heard his pleading.
“I’ve needed you and missed you—in every way—forgive me,” he begged.
“I forgive you Simon—” Sonya said, keeping his eyes caressing her form. “I forgave you so long ago. But this needs to be a place for both of us, and you’re not ready to come here—and it’s not ready for you to be here. I need to make this ready so that we can both be here. You’ll be back soon.”
“But when do I come? I don’t understand any of this, Sonya,” Simon’s tears began to flow mercilessly now. He could not hold them back. He could no longer control them. His body fluttered, and his trembling was only stilled by her (always and forever, her).
Her thumbs began to caress him at a steady rhythm that seemed to mirror the ocean’s waves outside. They seemed to permeate the walls and fill the house with a sonorous ostinato.
“You don’t have to understand everything,” Sonya whispered to him. It filled his ears like the tide coming in. “You don’t have to understand anything except this—” She turned his head towards the edge of the wall. A brown upright piano was pressed against the wall, the light illuminating the white sheets of music leisurely awaiting the music. “When you hear the music, you come back.”
“How I can hear the music when I’ll be so far away from you?” Simon asked, his eyes searching for answers on the scarred sides of the piano.
“Silly, are you really that far from me, ever? After coming all this way?”
Everything was so clear to her. He felt like her eyes could see him.
“All this way,” he repeated, his voice trailing off.
“Yes.”—her smiled penetrated him— “Yes, all this way.”
“I love you, Sonya,” Simon whispered to her, leaning in and kissing her.
“Hush,” she giggled, pushing him away and putting her finger over his lips. “Hush—it’s time for you to go. I have to make Nautilus Point ready for you.”
“Yes,” he nodded.
He embraced her and felt her in him again.
Simon walked to the door and turned around, knowing it would be his last memory of her until he returned. He could hardly see her through the hazy light—but he could see her smiling still, and her hands folded together. He had to gather the courage to tear himself from her. Sonya blew him a kiss. He smiled and received it, as tangible as any he had ever known.
He left, the screen door slapping against the doorframe before becoming still.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nickolas Urpí is the author of the literary war fantasy novel The Legend of Borach and has been published in HCE Review online journal and The Fall Line magazine. His writings fuse his studies of ancient history, literature, and philosophy with his crafted prose to immerse the reader in the world of his fiction through vivid settings and characters. An alumnus of the University of Virginia, he resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Editor: L. Naisula + Shompole N.L.
Cover Design: Shompole, N.L.
Original Images: Unsplash