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Year 11

by Kelly Mintzer about a year ago in love
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don't go chasing mermaid tails...

Sarah still watched the horizon, but as an act of dedication, now. She had maintained her dwindling supply of hope over 11 years, doling it out in increasingly small measures, fingers crossed that it would last her until Charlie came on home to her. She lasted longer than anyone expected her to, but on the 4,016th morning, Sarah desperately searched for the faintest scent, the memory of "Maybe, someday", and found only a festering certainty of despair. She had always believed on some small, involuntary level that she would intuit it when Charlie died. She'd feel it like the abrupt loss of a limb and she would somehow be less herself.

"Do I seem the same to you, Robert?"

The sun was making a valiant attempt to burn through the clouds, and Sarah resented it's persistence. The grey, the overcast...that she understood. She shared a common language with gloomy days, and often ached for the soft communion she felt with rain pounding on her roof. Sarah wished she could storm. She wondered why we, as humans, refuse to allow ourselves and each other the same latitude we afford the weather.

Robert smiled at her. Robert always smiled at her.

"The same as....?"

Sarah shrugged. "You know. The same as me."

He raised a critical eyebrow. "Well, let me see now...." He squinted at her. Took half a lap around her circumference, reversed, back to the starting line.

"I'm about 76 percent sure of your authenticity. If you are a pod person, you're a hell of a facsimile."

Sarah laughed, a sharp, involuntary response. Robert tended to elicit those from her. And every time he did, she found herself looking again to the horizon, thinking for the seven hundredth time that if Charlie's boat was going to make an appearance, well, now would be a swell time.

"I think you know what I mean."

Robert nodded, eyes soft, warmer than was strictly speaking appropriate.

"Do you feel different?"

She hesitated. It felt like a betrayal to Charlie to articulate it in such plain language. She had never expected them to remain the same forever, but she had always believed they would changed together. But then Charlie saw the mermaid...

He had looked at Sarah with such wild certainty and unbridled confidence. "You'll believe me", etched in the set of his jaw, "Because it's you and me", in the easy slump of his shoulders. And of course she hadn't, not for a moment, and Sarah had felt it acutely, the betrayal of their happily ever after, the first, hairline fracture of doubt. She would never tell.

Sarah was sneaky.

She'd try a different tack.

"But babe, what would you even do if you caught a mermaid?"

Charlie had leaned back in his chair. "Don't you see, Sarah? We'd be made! I wouldn't have to fish every day. You wouldn't have to walk other people's dogs-"

"I LIKE walking dogs."

"Ok, so we'll buy twelve dogs-"

"That's a little extreme-"

"Fine, six dogs-"

"Six I can do."

He had put his arms around her waist and pulled her into his lap. Sarah had run her fingers through his hair, unaware that it would be the last time she'd feel those short, thick strands attempting for all they worth to flow past her knuckles.

"Sarah", he'd said, burying his nose into her armpit. "This sets us up for life. We could fix up the cottage. We could travel. And not on stinky, fishing boats."

She'd looked at him fondly, as in love with him as she would ever be, and said "How do you figure?"

"A mermaid, Sar! You don't think...like...aquariums would pay for that?"

Sarah had considered discussing the ethics of taking any creature out of their natural habitat and selling them as a curio for profit. To be gawked at by strangers, to live in a glass tank made sticky by the hands of children, coated in industrial strength processed sugar. She had pulled back for a moment, assessed Charlie. Considered biting off that rancid, fetid corner of that conversation. And then she had remembered. Mermaids don't exist.

But Charlie wanted, had always wanted, and would always want if she didn't go along with this. She had made an agreement with him; a week of mermaid hunting. She had made a silent agreement with herself as well, that when he returned home, they would have an apparently very needed conversation about what they were hoping for from their lives together. She had believed that she could convince him that a quiet life in a cottage over-looking the sea was as beautiful an existence as anyone could hope for.

11 years and 1 day later, she wasn't so sure.

11 years and 1 day later, she knew she had changed.

"Yeah, Robert, I do"

He nodded. The early morning heat was already turning the delicate blue of his postal uniform darker, just what Sarah needed, even the clothing around her was conspiring to storm.

"I think most people would. It's no easy thing to lose a spouse...."

Sarah shook her head. "It's not the losing. It's the uncertainty."

Robert wanted to say something. Sarah could tell. He held himself with a particular aloof uncertainty when he was afraid that what he was about to say might upset someone.

"C'mon, man, just tell me."

He sighed. "He's dead, Sarah. He has to be."

Sarah cocked an eyebrow. "Oh? What makes you so sure?"

Robert wouldn't meet her eyes. "Well...because."

"Oh, well when you put it that way..."

"Right? Explains everything!"

"No further questions, your honor."

He smiled, and maybe, on any of the previous 4,015 days, Sarah would have let it go. But this was 4,016, and there was no ship on the horizon.

"Seriously. I wish I could be as certain as you seem to be. At least it would be...."

"Closure."

"Exactly."

Robert sighed. "Sarah. If a man could come home to you....he's going to come home to you."

"Men leave women all the time."

"I'm not saying women. I'm saying you."

Sarah swallowed. "Oh", she said, and she mostly meant it, though she supposed, she imagined, she reckoned she must have sort of known. The snowy mornings he had shown up before his shift to clear her walk, the seeds for unusual flowers he'd ordered for her, the home-made Christmas cookies.

Housed next to the future she had once promised Charlie, these gestures were labeled as "friendly", "kindness". "A little crush" at absolute most. They looked remarkably different in the cold light of another boat-less horizon.

"Oh."

"Yeah. Oh."

They stood in silence, uncomfortable but not welcome.

Robert rubbed his neck. "I, uh...I need to start my shift. Is there any chance you would want to grab a cup of coffee later?"

Sarah smiled. There was a chance, though no certainty. Certainty felt like the refuge of children and liars. "Let me think about it, Robert."

He nodded. "I'll be at Archie's at 5. Meet me there if you'd like. Otherwise, I'll see you tomorrow."

She nodded. "Thank you."

"For what?"

She shrugged. "For listening. And for asking."

He smiled at her. "Anytime, Sarah."

Sarah walked to the cliff, watching Robert drive away, in a mail truck full of false promises of credit no one ever really gave anyone else.

She scanned the horizon and thought that maybe, just maybe, she saw the faintest outline of a ship cutting slowly through the mist. And if it is? She asked herself.

She stood and watched. She didn't need to decide right then.

Morning 4,016. She had time.

love

About the author

Kelly Mintzer

Writing weird, dreamy, horror adjacent stories, with a terrible sense of humor since '86, y'all.

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