Throw Me a Lifeline

April 4, 2008
By Sarah Bradtke, Schoolcraft, MI

You would think that a night like this would’ve been happy. That a perfect evening would have brought dreams, not nightmares. Ha! Anything but. Savor that wish, because it won't come true. One of those heart-breaker, tear-jerker speed-bumps the road of life throws your way to make sure you're not asleep at the wheel.

Here, the sunset is a dazzling picture that only the west islanders are entitled to see. Luckily, today, the one day I need to see the sun most, it was here. Low to the Earth, a great African-like sphere, blazing above the water. Red and pink and orange stained the sky, discoloring the clouds to purple.

I lay on my back amongst the seaweed, slimy and slick beneath me, rolling over to avoid a rock that dug into my back. Trying to forget, I think only of my surroundings. Nothing else. Not him. Just the beautiful night.

It is awfully nice out, despite the cool breeze that sways the overhanging branches. I sit and watch the tide pulse, ever steady, an element I can always rely on, I think. The sun sinks deeper and deeper, reflecting it’s brilliance in the water of the inlet. I pull up the hem of my dress and wade out, far. Ocean water shrouds my legs; such a nice, tepid temperature. He likes to swim...

No. Stop. Don’t think of him. Breathe in, let the fresh, salt air clear your mind. Look, the sun is going, only a minute left. The calm wind, clear water lapping at your feet, the day’s last warmth, the loon...

A loon calls out forlornly to a mate, but receives no response. Such a lonely, desolate call! She is abandoned, too, I speculate. Alone, alone, alone. Just like me—

No, don’t you dare think of him!

Don’t you dare...

All eyes were on me the moment I entered the yard. Boys stared at me, their dates, in jealousy, flashed the evil-eye and pulled their men close.

I spied Maxim by the punch bowl. He smiled at me from across the lawn, a striking grin that showed his perfectly straight-without-braces teeth and crinkled the corners of his eyes.

“Hey,” he pulled me tight after a once over and a whistle in amazement, “Don’t we look gorgeous tonight?”

My heart raced at the sound of his voice, turning my insides to paste. I pushed back a strand of hair that escaped my bun and blushed. “Thanks.”

Maxim and I had been together for a year. It was still hard for me to be around him—he was so perfect. I never understood why he chose me, when he had pick of any girl in the state. Of course, I was glad he did: he was a gentleman in the truest form.


I turned to look at him as he slipped his arm around my waist, and swayed me softly to a jazz piece. His eyes met mine and another wave of happiness came over me. Slowly, savoring the moment like the cool afternoon air, I let my head slip and rest on his chest, where I was able to hear his heart beat—a way to know that the moment was real.

Across the yard I saw a flash of black, out of place in a garden filled with women flowering in pastels and men strutting their white tuxedos. It was odd, but it belonged. Like that piece of a puzzle that isn’t supposed to fit, but still does. A mourning dove with other song birds—it wasn’t delicate like the rest of them, but was a bird just the same. I could only make out coattails in the whirl of black before the figure was gone.

Maxim’s lips drifted along my forehead and despite my curiosity, I let myself float back to his world, where I knew I was safe.

“Have I told you that I love you?” His eyes glinted with some sort of unseen humor, but I knew he was sincere just the same.

“Not lately. I love you, too,” I answered, meeting his gaze as he lifted my arm above my head, spinning me on my toes.

“Thank you for the dance, my dear,” he said, kissing my hand like I was his lady-fair, “Could I get you a drink?”

“Water’s fine. Would you put some ice in it, please?”

I looked up to hear his response, but he was already gone, parting his way through the couples like Moses in the Red Sea.
Sometimes, I wondered why he picked me. Before, he had other girls; girls his own type, with aristocratic noses and old money. They had the Patrician looks to match their poise, while I had the auburn locks of a milk-maid and gasped at the prices of Armani and Lucky. My world wasn’t parties and handbags and scandal, like his. Mine was books, simple pleasures, and chocolate.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Before I even saw the face that matched the voice, something inside me lurched. I knew that when I did turn around, Black-Coattails would be there. Immediately I was struck with curiosity. His face was angular, hard, and as pale as snow, but his eyes…they were deep ochre and seemed to go on infinitely, never doubting, peering right through me.

“No,” I stuttered. Do.

“I’m new here,” he said, pulling up a chair besides me, “This is my aunt’s party. I’m Ethan.”

He extended his hand, which I shook. “Abby,” I whispered. His fingers were like ice. Carefully, he pulled away, as if trying not to frighten me.

“Why-are-you-wearing-black?” I spit out before I heard my own words.

Black-Coattails laughed and I apologized. “Because, I wanted to ruin their perfect world. They…”

I tried to listen, but something was wrong. One could smell it on the salty breeze. Nasty, foul; fetid like rotten meat. My eyes searched the crowd for Maxim, who was again by the punch bowl. Only this time, his hand was not on a cup, but encased in the fragile fingers of another. Ethan’s words stopped and he shook me to see if I was okay, called out my name, but I was already lost. There was a pain so sharp in my chest that it took every effort to breathe—and then I realized it was my heart. It was breaking.

Awkwardly, I scrambled from my chair and dashed out of the yard before the tenacious, acidic fingers crept up my throat and out of my mouth. I stepped out of my heels and kept running until my lungs felt like fire and my calves ached. My weary body collapsed on to my knees and I cried. Yes, I’d had my doubts about Maxim, but nothing like this. I had never been cruel to him, never hurt a hair on his head…so why did he do this to me?

It took a while before I could calm myself, then hurled my anger out to sea in the form of innocent rocks from the beach. I had hardly known how much he meant to me until he was gone—wasn’t that always the way? Now he had left forever. It was too late for us to go back and pretend. I couldn’t live a lie like that, I thought as I dragged myself under the shade of a tree. The sun began to set, and I was thankful, for a sunset would cheer me. A cool breeze brushed past my face and dried my tears as well as brought the tide. For a while I sat and watched it come in and touch the shore, then race back out to sea. It was steady, like the Maxim I thought I knew. The new Maxim was inconsistent—I couldn’t count on him to be there like the tide. He was gone…

Be strong! I thought, He doesn’t mean a thing. Trying to forget, I dipped my toe into the inlet and traced my name on the side of an underwater rock, it’s belly slimy. The water was warm, glowing, shining in the evening light. It would be beautiful, any other night. Tonight was supposed to be perfect—with me trapped in his perfect world.

I didn’t know where I was or how long I stayed. Maybe I was trespassing, maybe not. Maybe someone’s home was right behind me; I didn’t know. But either way, after sunset, I slipped off my gown, the beautiful birthday-cake pink that I had loved, and stripped down to my slip and camisole. I felt the tepid liquid flow over my thighs, up my back and cover my stomach, envelope my head and pull it underwater. It would be easy for me to swim far, far away and never come back, I imagined.


Someone called my name above the water. My lungs were desperate for air. Reluctantly, I surfaced and looked to the rocky shore. Sitting on a rock, was Black-Coattails, resting his head upon his hands in the twilight. He heard the gasp of my breath and rushed over, throwing me a rope from the shore. I coughed up water I didn’t know I had swallowed and tried to grab his lasso, tried to hold on as he pulled me to safety.

Ethan patted my back until I could breathe again. He listened while I told him, a stranger, my pathetic soap-opera story about the girl who thought she knew someone. He watched the moon rise and the stars appear in the night sky, pretended not to be cold as I talked on and on…

“Why did you come find me?” I asked finally, “You and I are strangers, remember?”

He glanced at me with the strangest look on his face, “Because you weren’t one of them. I’m not one of them. We were the only people at that party, beings with morals and feelings and thoughts. They think that beauty and money are everything; funny isn’t it? Maybe that’s why you fell for him. His perfect world deceived you.”

I processed Ethan’s logic in my mind.

“No, you and I are individuals. I saw that in you the first time we talked. But don’t worry now, you’re out of their trap. You’re safe, I promise,” he said, wrapping a protective arm around my shoulder.

I looked out a few feet ahead of me, where the lifeline he threw me lay, aglow in the moonlight.

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