He, My Husband

October 8, 2007
The breeze was lonely at dusk, and the ocean was warm beneath the watercolor sky. Purples and rosy shades of peach blossomed across the heavens like opening buds, cautiously stretching their petals out to test the air. The taste of salt forever tingled the tip of my tongue. My mind danced to the soft sound of waves washing ashore. The blue mountains smoothed out like sheets stroked by a gentle hand, as they approached. The water breathed the sand quietly, and flowed up around my ankles.

The island was abandoned. The now-vacant, decrepit buildings of the military base, the cabins and storehouses and various other small buildings that clung to the sandy hills were shells, the last reminders of the then-youthful soldiers who had been stationed here. I walked down the worn street that ran through the base, and tried to imagine what it had been like while he had been here. A few days ago, I had desperately searched inside each of the five cabins, to search for my letters, the ones I had sent him to read while he was away at war, so he would have something to remind him that I loved him. I had found nothing.

I approached a small building that had half fallen in on itself. A small sign nailed to its side said CABIN NUMBER 5 in big black letters. He had stayed here. The dying evening light bathed the cabin's peeling paint, where frequently, spots of discolored, rotting wood peeked through. I stepped closer.

The thick door, still equipped with double bolts, swung on its rusted hinges. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, with a lonely sound. I was the only one who could hear it. I no longer searched, being there nothing to find, but I still wondered if they had reached him; I still was curious to know if he had saved them.

The wood of the door survived only enough to think of its bolts. A silver bar of some sort had already fallen to the sandy soil. There it lie, and had lain, pressing the same spot, every time I had come here. Since I had first seen it, rust and tangled plants had grown all around it, so that it no longer glinted and threw back reflections from its curved surface as it once had. They all will fall, eventually. They will lie in the damp, tan earth for thousands of years, outliving their wooden supports. Perhaps, the course of the seasons will place piles of wind-washed sand over them, but there still they will lie. The metal deadbolts will lie there, learn of the island, and lie longer yet, and maybe a future archaeologist will discover them, and attempt to relearn our past. But the military base, which seemed so much more substantial, will be erased from history with time.

It was hard to see what I had never seen, but so I did every day, honing the skill until it became second nature to me. I had imagined the training, the desensitizing, the lines, and the rigid, uniformed order so often that I could see the island when it had been filled with soldiers. Generals had shouted commands, and hundreds of men had run to follow them. I could see it all. They had grabbed their guns and run, run through the dappled tropical forest, or across the beach, leaving boot-shaped footprints in the damp yellow sand. They had sweat and bit back tears at their training. They had laughed together, cried together, and they had prepared for war. They had become fit and muscular, veritable fighting machines. It was nearly impossible to imagine him as any of those things. For a few short weeks, gunshots had punctuated the soft music of the sea, and battle had consumed the island.

Killing always required order. Battle was a chaotic order, one that, in truth, barely retained a semblance of the word. His first one had been the only one he had lived to tell about. He had said that battle was the "messiest and most childish thing he could imagine men doing." He, of course, had lacked every quality and necessary skill posessed by able soldiers-who were the most skilled and honored killers of all. He had been clumsy, and the first few months we had dated, he had been afraid to hold my hand, and shy upon accidentally brushing it while reaching for a napkin at Joe's. He had agreed with many of the new ideas, the dangerous ones. Women could work outside the home, he had said, and the color of a person's skin was just that, a color -nothing more. He had been kind, and loving. He had been everything I had wanted.

He had been, he had been...
And I traveled back in time.

He was sensitive; he was intelligent; he was wonderful to study with. We often went on walks, and allowed ourselves to become immersed in the hush that falls over the crunching white lawns at Christmas time, or in the rich orchestra of crickets and locusts that fills the star-sprinkled summer nights. We went to the fair and bought hot dogs, or spent a day at the art museum, scrutinizing all the newest pieces.

He is my husband-for so I still catch myself thinking sometimes, on those chilly holidays when I sit before the little hotel fireplace, in a wooden-backed armchair, turned away from the warmly bundled, smiling families who stream in and out the door, or when I lift my yellowed college application from 1929 out of my jewelry box and remember writing it with him, trying to capture myself on paper and impress a stranger. My eyes run up and down each page, and I can stare at it for what seems like hours, scanning the faded text through a curtain of tears. I never sent it in.

It was silent but for the splashes as I walked. It had all happened years ago, and now there was only me, the ocean, the rusted shells, shallow graves. His forgotten tomb- no, no, I apprehended thoughtfully, not forgotten; I remembered still, and I would think of him my last minute.

The tomb bore an inscription of 3 lines. That was it; a few carved words for the man I loved. I'd been there several times, and now there was moss growing slowly over the little block of pale stone. Every year, the shoreline extended further onto the island; in a few years, it would be lost from the world.

I walked before the dipping ball of red. The gunshot that had killed him reverberated through my skull. That single shot had earned a bonus; the enemy shooter had claimed a life halfway across the world the instant he had watched my husband fall to the ground. In an instant, he had been dead, and the soldier had probably moved on, aiming his gun at another target. An instant was all I had with him. Dreams of mine lie with him, buried, as he was, prematurely.

A woman had to get along, they had said. They had wiped away my tears and told me to pull myself together. A woman had to marry, raise a family, fulfill herself. She had to love somebody. "Love is a game," said Mother, "one that has to be played again when lost." But I had always been stuck in that first round. I still was, after all these years.

A powerful wave rushed over the rocks and filled the tide pool to my knees. It lingered for a moment, then slowly seeped back out to join the infinite blue plain it belonged to. I wished it had stayed longer. I loved the water, but each wave touched the shore for only a moment. A moment for each wave to visit land before the tide receded, and it returned to its true home. Millions of waves, yet each one was so short lived. The tide and the sun were immortal. Rise, fall, rise, fall, throughout years that man deemed countless: man, who has never ceased to wonder when the cycle will stop for him, to wonder when he will no longer exist to see it.

I splashed to a halt. My wet skirts swung around my ankles. From my pocket, I took the seashell I had found today. My brother had once given me a seashell-a conch. He had been only six at the time. I stroked the smooth, pink interior of the shell, curling my fingers into the deep opening. Bobby had claimed that a person could hear the angels in Heaven singing through these shells. Memories volleyed to win my mind. There were so many of them.

I walked along the shore. My bare feet kicked up warm clouds of sand in the water. A little fish circled my ankles. The fading sunlight played upon its scales and made it glint beneath the water's surface. A smile touched my lips before it darted away. One smile, one instant in the sunlight, before it swam into the gloom of the waves at nightfall. One instant, as it was with everything.

I heard the roaring engine of a plane high above, and for a moment, I glanced up to see it cut across the sky with its wide wings, leaving a streak of gray smoke amongst the purples and peaches. I didn't remember seeing such a plane before, but who knew what was possible these days? A banner trailed after it. It was an advertisement. I read it quickly and forgot most of it in the same manner. Only one word, one number, to be exact, hooked my eyes.

2. They followed the curves of the numbers. 00. My eyes studied the shapes and let them blur into little black pools. 6.

At first, I didn't understand. 2006. 2006. It was only a sequence of numbers. I stared after the soaring plane, watching it shrink as it headed toward its destination, probably hundreds of miles away. The last thing I saw of it was the end flapping end of the banner.
-begins in March 2006.

And then I understood.

I crumpled to the ground. Oh, how clearly, how miserably and perfectly, I understood. 2006. The sun looked out across the horizon one last time before he sunk below it and passed the moon his crown so she could begin her reign. It had always been, and it would always be. The tide and the sun were immortal.

2006. I lie sprawled on the ground, my hair curling in long, sand-coated locks in a colorless fan around my head. When had it turned white? It had always been blonde. My fingers scraped trenches in the ground.

2006. I felt the excruciating weight of over 70 years settle into my bones. At once, they became brittle. I looked at my fingers and saw for the first time how bony and spotted they had grown, and how my skin stretched over my hands like loose paper.

My eyes closed against the warm sand. They were dry. I thought of the college application, still sitting in my jewelry box, a gift in 1918, when I was 6 years old. I thought of him, and of the laughing children I always had planned on having with him, and the career name I had thought I would create for myself. So many things I could have done. I was going to see the world, volunteer, write a book, learn to play an instrument. I was going to be happy. I had been waiting for 76 years for happiness to find me. The bullet had killed my husband; the enemy shooter had only taken one victim after all. But I had never realized it.

Now, there was only me. His grave, my brother's grave, the graves of my parents, family members, and my long-ago friends. I knew it was true. Only me.

My body struggled to rise. There were so many memories. I walked along the shore, toward the hilltop. I had seen it every day throughout the years, though I had only been here a handful of times. I had sharpened my skill to the precision of a razor blade, and it had cut me. The base had been empty all these years, no matter what I had seen. My monuments were nothing more than crumbling shacks. My letters were gone.

He was gone.

I walked toward the hilltop. 2006. The cabins all were empty. They were black squares in the pale light of the moon. I could hear the wooden doors, swinging in the breeze with soft creaks. Stars twinkled high above. I squeezed my eyes shut and found that they were dry-ancient, and dry. I had forgotten to live for 76 years.

2006. I walked through the base, and felt the sand brush my bare feet. I walked through the base, as I always had. Waves lapped gently ashore. I walked through the base and was dead, and I thought of him. I thought of him, and I knew that my mind would always be here, walking along the shore through the base and remembering. Just remembering. It was all I had ever done.

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Tornado M. said...
Mar. 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm
wow. wow. that was good. That meant more than a whole novel.. The feelings. The imagery. It was all there. I thought that I was going to be one among many to comment. I was so surprsised when I saw I was the first. This is amazing. really. Your words capture everything. How she forgot to live for so long exept in her memories. wow. I'm honestly a little jealous now. 
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