Haunted in the Waters
My husband never understood the ocean.
We inherited my ancestral estate, a three story affair with broad grey wraparound porches and a sandy lawn running down a gentle slope to the seawall.
"It's so big," Max said to me when we arrived, looking towards the water. I dug the keys out of my purse, smiling at the roar and mutter.
"I forgot you'd never been." It seemed impossible to me, that somebody had reached their adult years having never visited any ocean, Atlantic or Pacific. "You're still okay with this?"
"I'm fine. You've missed this and I can write anywhere." He took the keys from me and opened the brass lock.
"As long as you're sure." I smiled at the familiar squeal; no matter how much my father and grandfather before him had oiled the hinges, that was the door's sound. Maybe it was the wood; much of the what constructed the house was from a ship wrecked on the beach a hundred and fifty years before. The house shared the ship's name, Neptune's Sadness.
For the summer, anyway, we were going to give Neptune's Sandess a go. The house we'd been renting in Harrisburgh's suburbs was sold out from under us. Between Christopher's writing and the inheritance, I was in the unique position to waste my time how I liked, something I never expected. I could pursue idle hobbies like garage sales. I could spent my time staring at the ocean with no false task to occupy my hands.
We were there for three weeks when Max told me over dinner he thought maybe he'd write about the ocean. "I thought you were writing about Vietnam?" I asked.
"I need a new angle on that one, I'm going to let it sit for a time," he said. "Something new will help me keep my mind off it."
"I thought you didn't like overlapping stories like that, though." I believe, in fact, he'd said that he never started a new work in progress until the current one was in some stage of finished draft.
"I don't, but when one thing isn't working, you need to try another. Why are you arguing with me about this, anyway?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." I really hadn't. I never read his work anyway, not after his first few successes. We didn't discuss it.
"It's all right. What did you do today?"
"I went to that little beachcomber's store on Main Street. They had a class on wire wrapped beach glass jewelry."
"The excitement never ends. Maybe I should write cozy mysteries about a seaside town."
"Maybe you have brain fever." I reached to test his temperature. Laughing, he caught my wrist, and kissed my hand.
"Let's have wine on the sea wall."
In the way women with no schedule find themselves, I was soon busy with library volunteering, crossword puzzles and having afternoon iced tea with Margaret down the street. Max was absorbed in his writing, and when he was in that state, he preferred my absence. Even while home, I lolled on the porch or lawn, working on my tan.
One night, though we'd gone to bed together, I woke up after midnight alone in our moonlit bed. I roamed the house barefoot, calling for Max, and when I heard the loose screen door banging in the breeze, I slipped outside and went down to the beach.
It was high tide, and Max stood on the seawall. The full moon reflected off the waves, and he did not turn when I came up beside him and slipped my arm through his. "Inspiration strikes?" I asked.
"I heard something."
"I don't see anything." I looked out across the empty waves. "Come back to bed?"
"I think I'll stay awhile."
The next morning, Max asked "Do you know what Neptune's Sadness looked like?" We had an entrenched ritual of coffee and newspapers.
"Yes, it's the engraving in the upstairs hall. Three masts, a delightfully curvaceous figurehead." I looked up. "Why?"
"I thought I saw it last night."
"I didn't see anything. Maybe you dreamt it."
"Maybe." He had withdrawn already, prepared to spend the day filling blank pages.
I went to the farmer's market, and swung by the library where I paid for a copy of an article on Neptune's Sadness. At home, I swept sand out of the kitchen and then got lunch going. Max sat at the table and read the article.
"All hands went down," he said. "Even the cat." I nodded, slicing tomatoes. I knew.
I woke more mornings, more nights, to an empty bed, grit between the sheets. It wasn't so unusual, except Max wasn't actually writing. He brought his pens and notebook down to the seawall, but he stood in the waves, looking to the horizon. The books contained sand and broken shells. Snooping is inexcusable, but something was amiss. I tried to ask him, "How's the writing?"
He would look at me as though startled from a dream, blink and nod. "Good, good."
He came to bed with me the next night, and I lay awake as I heard his breathing smooth into sleep. Moonlight roamed across the room, and I pinched myself to stay awake. Then came the shift and spring as he got up off the mattress. I counted the creak of the steps downstairs. He had learned, and did not allow the screen door to slam before he crossed the porch. On cat's feet, I followed in his wake as he went down to the water, the surf silver upon the sand.
He stood barefoot, looking out to sea, and the wind ruffled his hair. I waited, my skin growing damp, my lips salty. Max lifted his arms and entered the waves, and then I saw it too; the Neptune's Sadness was coming ashore, swinging lanterns lighting the deck, the curvaceous figurehead reaching her arms out in greeting.