But We Were Still and One
“Earth is over there,” he said, pointing with his chin at a vague cluster of tiny, white smudges on the wall of the sky. The soughing of waves on sand beat like a crimp-stoned drummer, regular but slow. Feathery greenness swayed out of time overhead. Beach biters nipped at our feet. We brushed them off with gritty soles.
He looked at his watch. “Two more minutes.”
I hugged my knees in that girlish way I hate when I think of it. I rubbed my cheek against the girlish curves. The sand clustered between cheek and knee in the salty wetness that trickled down my face. I sniffled girlishly. The sea winked silver at the nearest moon. [MORE]
The surf hurled itself into the sand. The sand roiled up and clattered back on itself. Bubbles fractaled into froth, slid up the shore, settled in the grit, crackled whitely on the gray slope, burst, left a snake-skin tracery.
“Well,” he said. “We’d better go. I told my dad we’d be ten minutes. Long enough for goodbye, too short for suspicion. You coming?”
He stood up, brushed the butt of his shorts, held out a hand. I brushed my shorts with my free hand. We shifted our grip so our fingers interlocked. We looked at the sky.
“One minute,” he said. We looked out over the sea and its steady tearing up of the beach.
“That’ll be me tomorrow,” he said.
I brushed my eyes with the back of my wrist.
“You’re quiet,” he said.
I threw myself against his chest and clung, shuddering, breath staccato, eyes filming up. He put his arms around my shoulders, rested his chin on my head. His chin, not his mouth. The bone was hard. My skull hurt beneath it. We barely moved. Perhaps we gained a millionth of a second in that motionlessness. The planet turned. The stars wheeled. The moons swept overhead. But we were still and one.
“Let’s go,” he said, one hand falling to my waist, locking me under his arm, the other hand finding mine and squeezing hard.
We turned away from the scrape and roar and the sharp patter of falling spray. The house smiled at us with its rigid, stark eyes. His dad stood on the porch, hands in pockets, squinting through the backlit gloom, his shadow black on the lawn. The rough grass dusted our feet.
We stopped in full view of the porch and windows, alone if we whispered. We held each other again. My own coiled sea burst through my eyes, roared through my mouth, dashed against his chest.
“I’ll write,” he said.
My sobs choked on a laugh.
“How?” I had a tissue out, daubing punily.
“I’ll be able to. I’ll write.”
“Why?” I asked.
There would be no point except to slow the grief. Where he was going, the way he would be, like a beach whirling in the memory of itself, I would be meaningless, not even a face, just a guilty twinge until he faded into the waves, mixed with the other shards of broken flesh, embraced the alien.
“No,” I said. I looked up. Those eyes. What color were they? I have a picture somewhere. I leave it there. What would be the point?
His hand fell to my waist. The other hand found mine. We walked to the porch. His father held us. We all cried.
Next day, he walked into the fire. It didn’t hurt. Only his mind remained and that went gladly to its new home, bearing its sermon of a bipedal god, no longer human, holy as a ghost.
(c) 2013 Mark Penny