The breaking waves rumble endlessly, speaking in words I can almost understand as the tides swell and recede. The noise is maddening; a constant reminder of the pain and sorrow the sea has inflicted. The eternal monologue emphasizes the quiet of the cottage, the absence of my husband’s deep laughter and my daughter’s lisping, evolving vocabulary.
I hate the sea, yet I go to it each evening, following the windswept trail from the front garden down the small incline to the wide, windy shore below. It is dusk again and I begin my search, hunting for my family.
To lose my husband is a grief that cuts like a knife, but to lose my daughter is an anguish sharper than I can bear. But bear it I must. What if they cling to life on a wooden slat from the boat? What if, even now, they make their way down the beach from some far point where the storm swept them? If only Emily hadn’t begged William to take her fishing with him that day, if only he hadn’t relented…at least I would have one of them still.
The storm had come up suddenly, mid-morning. By dusk, its fury was spent and they were long overdue. I walked the shore for hours that night. I called until my voice rasped, unintelligible, like the wind. I searched for any sign, listened for any sound that was not the sibilant hiss of rolling waves or the moan of the stiff ocean breeze.
Each night since, I have retraced my steps—from the cottage down the trail to the beach, and east, to the cliffs. The lighthouse sits up high, where I cannot reach it, where I cannot ask the watchman if he has seen our small fishing skiff. I turn and walk to the west, until a large jumble of boulders blocks my way. I tell myself as I search that perhaps my husband and daughter have found their way through the rough seas and home while I am away from the cottage. That maybe they will be there, safe and dry, when I return.
Desperation grips me by the time I reach the boulders, for it is the last place that I can look. I climb high on the spray-slick rocks. My balance is precarious in the gusty winds, but I lean out as far as possible. I strain to see around the boulders, wondering if their boat has dashed on the rocks just out of sight. The rock is too slick, though, and I teeter, as I do each time. The world spins.
Slowly, I come back to awareness. It is dusk again. I don’t remember returning to the cottage, nor do I remember the daytime. I think I hear voices. Words I can almost but not quite understand. In a cruel twist, they sound like the weeping and moaning of my husband and my child, but I don’t understand why they cry.
I become fully aware. The cottage is silent. It is nearly dark and a familiar panic stirs in me. I must hurry to look for them.
I walk down to the sea and east, along the edge of the surf. The waves tug at the hem of my dress as if they will pull the blue flowers patterned into the white cotton out into the deeps, taking them as they must have taken William and Emily. It seems I have worn this same dress for days, for I remember seeing this before, the waves lapping at the flowers.
Turning, I walk west until I reach the slick-wet boulders. I climb. The wind pushes me, trying to unbalance me. Straining to see around the rocks, I lean too far. I teeter. As I fall, I catch a glimpse of white cotton patterned with blue flowers, deep between the rocks where no one would ever notice. Pale, bloated legs protrude from the hem of the dress. I have seen this each night, I think as I fall, but it is not my child or my husband and so care not.
At dusk, I hear the voices. The deep tones of my husband disguised as waves breaking on the shore. The high, lisping chatter of my daughter in the storm’s winds. They seem to be speaking about me, worried and mourning my absence; looking for me in the same way I look for them. There is a doll on the floor near my feet that I don’t remember seeing there yesterday. Emily’s favorite.
My gray and empty world solidifies around me. There is no doll at my feet. There are no voices. Worry must be spurring my imagination. It is nearly dark and I panic. I have again missed my chance to look for William and Emily in the daylight, or to spread the word to friends and neighbors to watch for them.
I hurry outside and down to the sea. I will walk to the cliffs first, and then to the boulders. I will keep the promise I made the night the storm took them. I will never stop searching.
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