THE BEACH COTTAGE • by Angela Carlton

I am washing my hands at the beach cottage, when the phone rings. My friend Tess and I have come here to escape. We’ve come to cope with the issue neither of us plan to discuss. Right away, I know it’s him calling by her liquid tone. “I’ve been thinking of you,” she whispers. “I’m sorry,” and then, “You know I would.”

He is her old love, a trust-fund kid she ran off to St. Johns Island with when she was barely twenty. Andrew is in his thirties now. He’s married. When she hangs up the phone, Tess moves toward our open window facing the Florida shore. “You know why he still loves me?” “Why?” I ask like I haven’t heard the answer a hundred times. “Because… we never were foolish enough to marry,” she laughs, pushing her blonde hair out of her eyes. I am pouring Tess the Pinot Grigio now chilled with one ice cube the way she likes. “Andrew says he wished he could sleep in the bed with me one more time, no sex, just sleep.”

“Do you want to watch the sunset on the pier after dinner?” I ask. It’s one of the many distractions I have come up with that really won’t work. Nothing does. “What would you  have done  if you were me?” Tess asks. Although I despise the question, I am still somewhat pleased, for she is nibbling on a cube of smoked Gouda. She’s eating something.

I busy myself with the Pinot and bring forth the pineapple, blueberries and watermelon, another distraction, a mini comfort. Tess knows I won’t answer the question. I can’t. I don’t know what it’s like to lose an old love, find him again inside a ferocious affair and still lose.

That evening, we don’t watch the sunset. I try for my third distraction “Let’s watch The Pursuit of Happyness now.” But Tess has passed out on the sofa instead mouth open like a fragile child so I resign myself to a hot bath. Our marble Jacuzzi is the shape of a seashell, a soft rain is tapping on the rooftop. My body is warm. I feel cozy, lifeless beneath the bubbles yet the weight of the air, this cloud, remains.

And when Andrew’s brother phones much later the next day, I do not have one single distraction for the news. The wine glass is in her lap, but Tess stands up too quickly without thinking. She can’t think.

A few seconds after the glass breaks, Tess does.

So I hold her. It’s all I know to do. She is sobbing choking so I hold her. I rock her like she’s a new baby with a chill, a puppy with a disease. Her eyes are black from mascara now and her face is splotchy-red. She is having trouble catching her breath so I keep holding on as if she’s my Nanna with the heart failure coming back to me.

We do not go to the beach the next day or the next but Wednesday we stay up most of the night to catch the sunrise from our porch. We drink far too much and don’t sleep enough to appreciate the swirls of soft purples and pinks, this delicate scenery, its beauty. Still, we are mesmerized. We watch. We watch without saying a word about Andrew’s cancer, his morphine ride. Death makes us silent.

Angela Carlton has previously published other stories in Burst Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, Long Story Short, Pindeldyboz, Storyglossia, The Dead Mule and Coastlines. In addition, she won the Reader’s Choice award with Pedestal Magazine in 2006.

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