“You really don’t believe in any of it?” Michael asked.
“In any of what?”
“In signs. Superstitions.”
Anna thought of the robin that flew through the open window yesterday as they were eating breakfast and the three gulls that flew overhead as they walked the beach that same evening. She threaded her fingers through Michael’s and rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “You fishermen are a superstitious lot. I bet you cross your fingers when you walk under a ladder.”
“You haven’t noticed that I don’t walk under them to begin with?”
She threw her head back and laughed. They continued down the dock, the planks creaking beneath their feet, Michael’s duffel bag swinging casually from his free hand.
There was more activity on the dock than normal, but even so it wasn’t a bustling seaport. There were four weather-battered boats going out, their hulls dulled by sea spray and time. The nets that were laid out on the dock to inspect looked tired, their glossy brown faded to a dull gray.
They came to a stop in front of the largest blue trawler, the Sally May II. He tossed his bag onto the deck of the boat. “I’ll call you when we’re dropping off in Brevent in two weeks.”
“You stay safe. Be careful.”
“I will.” He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear and pulled his face to hers until they were nose to nose. His eyes were the color of kelp, his skin tan and toughened by the sun. She lifted her chin and kissed his chapped lips.
For a moment her world dissolved; Michael the only real thing. His body against hers. The whiskers under her fingers that she knew would be a beard when she saw him next. His lips; his hands.
Catcalls came from the wheelhouse. Anna moved away from Michael, but he caught her arm and pulled her back into the kiss once more before letting her go.
“You stay safe,” he said. When she rolled her eyes, he shook his head. “Look, I always wear my lucky socks the first day, I spit on the bait, and I won’t say ‘pig’ after I get on board. I also happen to believe that a robin in a house and three gulls flying overhead are signs of bad luck. And I worry about you. I can’t help it. If that makes me weird, so be it.”
“It does. You’re goofy.”
“I know.” He kissed her again.
Reluctantly he pulled away and boarded the boat. Anna waved goodbye and walked down the docks to the small beach where the canal opened up into the restless ocean. She sat down in the lee of a dune and waited. She watched the canal.
The boats pulled out, the Sally May II the last to leave. The trawler came down the canal slowly, the men aboard starkly outlined against the setting sun as they worked. Anna picked out Michael’s lean frame. She knew his body, the set of his shoulders, and the tousle of too-long hair.
She heard the flurry of wings before she saw them. From the other side of the canal came several dark birds. They caught up to the boat and settled into a rhythm behind the Sally May II as it pulled into open water.
She counted them, reciting a nursery rhyme her mother had taught her. “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for laughing, six for crying, seven for sickness, eight for dying…”
Her voice trailed off. There were eight.
She watched until the boat and birds were obliterated from her vision, whether by distance or tears, she didn’t know.
Lily Thomas lives in Pennsylvania with her son and two misnamed animals–a spastic dog named Betsy and a sedate cat named Spaz.