Seawall

My husband and I met working on the first seawall. It wasn’t so much love as you need someone to keep you warm up here, and carry you home when you drink too much. Charlie was hairy and I liked that. He didn’t say much, except sometimes when he couldn’t sleep he’d tell me how he was going to leave the island, move to Japan and have a dairy farm. I don’t know how he put those two things together, Japan and cow-milking. I never asked.

The first seawall held a long time but we started to hear about the ice caps melting. Then it was true, the water was higher every year. Finally it was lapping up over the top of the wall and soaking Janice Brown Bear and Bob Little and the other people stupid enough to live on the beach. They paid $22.50 to work on the second seawall so of course me and Charlie signed up. We were living on government money, and what I could make selling wood carvings on the Internet. We’d been married ten years then. We had sex Saturday nights. Other nights we’d get in bed together and our breaths would start to alternate, like the footsteps of a single person.

The first week on the second seawall was as cold as any I’d ever felt. When it’s really cold out on the water you lose all sense of yourself. Whole days I spread cement and pretended I was somebody else — an angel actually, floating on a warm cloud. I know it’s stupid and later I felt bad about it. But for the first seven days it was sweet.

Charlie stepped off the seawall on the eighth day. I didn’t see him do it; Johnny Brown Bear yelled and then I saw Charlie’s black head bobbing in the water. I jumped in after without even thinking, and then it was white-cold and I couldn’t see. I came to on the construction platform next to the wall with Johnny pushing on my chest. Charlie was already gone.

Of course I missed him. It was like somebody came into my house and moved all the furniture around, and switched it up so much that I couldn’t remember how to put it back. It’s not so bad now, but some cold afternoons in the stormy season I still feel a ripple of regret: when Charlie talked about Japan I just let myself slide into sleep, instead of lifting myself up and taking his face in my hands and telling him not to go.

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