Laurel Rogers was brand new to Sledgehammer this month, and she walked out with a newly won bottle of wine! She says, “I really loved it. Such a great event. Thanks again.” Thank YOU, Laurel!
This month’s prompts were:
Character: A barber
Action: Parallel parking
Setting: At a bike rack
Phrase: “You gotta remember where you are.”
by Laurel Rogers
The icy wind wrapped around Kay like a vicious sneer, as if the islands themselves knew how much she didn’t belong there. Not now anyway. Not in this alternate timeline she’d lived for the past five aching years.
Bill’s face was, as always, immutable, but that was preferred to the blood-red anger that had overtaken him when she pulled the car up by the bike rack in a haphazard version of parallel parking near the beach. “You still just can’t do it, can you,” he fumed.
Well, fuck him.
The old Kay would feel the sting of his words. The old Kay, who had a heart that did more than beat.
A heart that stopped feeling years before.
You could only find a few references to it online, always tagged as the “Puget Sound Mini Tsunami.” No one really knew much about it—almost know one ever heard of it.
But it was the lightning rod moment for Bill and Kay. An extinction-level event, as tsunamis often were. And here they were at the spot, five years and a few months later.
Because coming on the anniversary would be cliche, Kay had said.
Too fucking impossibly painful, she meant.
Time supposedly heals all wounds, but it hadn’t proved to have an effect on the abject, utter loss of an entire world. And that’s what the “mini tsunami” had been—the Great Flood, ending of everything. Just a random late spring day, the kind when families play, lovers kiss, sailboats unfurl their spinnakers and hillsides fifty miles away don’t collapse into the sea, spawning a two-foot-high relentless, powerful ripple across the sound and around Spieden Island.
And funneled—“with surgical precision,” one newscaster described it—right into the spit by Davis Head.
Where Bill and Kay were.
Watching in utter helplessness as their three kids looked in momentary shock as the water receded to showcase the crabs and sea slime and purple clams they had, but seconds before, longed to reach under the too-deep water.
“Mom, look!” Lina hollered. “A starfish!”
It was the last thing Kay would ever hear any of her children say.
“You’ve gotta remember where you are,” Kay’s therapist reminded her about once a month. “And that’s a lot further than you were last month.”
Was it? Was it really? Because it felt like a treadmill. Day after day, going through the motions of a life Kay wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.
Bill was on a treadmill too. It just wasn’t the same treadmill. And gradually Kay realized it wasn’t even pointed in the same direction.
At first, there was still some kind of connection. The inconceivable grief, combined with a zombie-like onslaught of “helpful” opinions offered by friends and family, had given them at least the shared focus of survival.
No, they weren’t wearing lifejackets, they answered a thousand times. No, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. How could we possible know if it would’ve made a difference. NO, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD PUT LIFEJACKETS ON KIDS WADING IN ANKLE-DEEP WATER SO FUCK THE HELL OFF.
Over time, the world went on. Other children died. A mom down the street died five weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma. Bill’s grandpa died. A truck driver on I-5 fell asleep and took out a motorcyclist heading home from work.
Death was everywhere, and after a few months, Bill and Kay weren’t special. Or interesting.
Or even alive, they realized.
But no one else really noticed.
Kay had heard of people “growing apart” or just “not having that spark” any more. People got bored. People got lonely. People got scared as the years ticked by closer to an unknown but certain doomsday looming—age 72? 80? Maybe 100? No one knew, but it was there like a barber holding a straight-edge razor, ready to cull a few more strands from the world’s tapestry.
But only three strands mattered to Kay, and they were gone. And over time, as she looked at Bill, he seemed more and more part of the memory of those family days—days that gradually became myth and legend, rolled up in the modern cave paintings of family scrapbooks.
And just as untouchable as an extinct mammoth.
Extinct. That was what their marriage was. They realized this quietly, she and Bill. Each on their own.
Out of habit she kissed him on the mouth on his way out the door to work for the first time since their world was destroyed. But there was nothing there. For either of them.
“It’ll take time,” the counselor assured them, first together, when they tried together, and then separately.
Gradually everything was separate. First, Kay tried a few nights on the couch, knowing too well her insomnia was keeping Bill from sleeping. “One of us has to get some rest,” she said as she left their plush king-size bed.
She never came back, in word or deed.
And Bill never asked.
Coming back to San Juan Island again was Bill’s idea. It wasn’t a romantic proposition. They both knew that. They hadn’t even driven together, although they decided to meet at the Anacortes ferry terminal and go that far together to save a few bucks. Naturally that was Bill’s idea, but Kay knew, in fairness, it was best. Lawyers cost money. Tax accountants cost money. Never mind the therapy bills, the online dating fees, an increasing amount of money going out the door separately.
The papers were ready, and they both were fine. It didn’t hurt, in the same way you don’t feel a thing when they remove your leg while you’re under general anesthesia. But they weren’t macabre enough to make some grand ceremony of it on the island.
That wasn’t the point.
Even though neither ever said it, Kay knew that this trip was a simple, quiet, strangely necessary funeral. A terribly cold one, inside and out.
Kay shivered again as she looked out toward Pearl Island. The Davis spit was so much the same—its swath of granite gravel and pearly clams. Million-dollar yachts still bobbed at moorages out of reach of the common folk. Yet it was oddly silent, shrouded in winter’s inescapable solitude.
Kay was grateful. The island she had known and loved was seared in her memory, an endless summer where her children played happily in their eternal youth.
She looked at Bill, whose stoic face was lined with ever more wrinkles even if they weren’t caused by grins and laughter.
Suddenly he looked at her, really looked at her, as if for the first time in all these years. And then he spoke aloud the epitaph they both had written in their hearts.
“I always thought I’d grow old with you.”
© 2016 Laurel Rogers
Laurel loves to make up stories. Sometimes she even realizes they’re fiction. Other times she fashions them into website content, blogs and twisted Facebook posts about her family. One day soon, she’ll actually get her own blog going at www.theclockstruckmidlife.com.