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Low Country

MIMI VAQUER

Astrid lies face down on the dock and looks through a gap in the planks that gives a full view of the water.  The Prilosec is having a difficult time getting down her throat, but it would be too much trouble to grab another drink from her bicycle out front. The house is locked, sold.  They should not be here, but Astrid knows that the new owners, its new family, will not drive up from Florida until tomorrow.

“It's hard to feel anything down there.  It's all mud and oyster shells.”  Bryan's head has surfaced under the dock, and he swims to where he can focus on Astrid's one eye looking down through the crack.

“Maybe the current carried it a few yards away.  Can you swim some to the right?” She lifts her head and looks at the brown ripples of water swallowing each other down the creek.  The ring doesn't weigh much.  A two carat emerald is heavy for a gem, but it bears no heft in the cyclone of the tide.

Bryan grabs the barnacled ladder that hangs over the side of the dock and catches his breath before diving down to search again.  Astrid knows he will not look much longer.  She feels lucky that he has looked at all.

She touches the white place around her finger where the ring has been for the past six months.  It is the last piece of her mother, that and this house that will have a new mailbox and a mowed lawn in the next few weeks.  She knows she should have listened to Bryan when he told her not to wear it, but she wasn't thinking about the suntan lotion or the way that the ring already gaped a full size around her finger. She hopes that Bryan will spare her any extra guilt.

She shifts into a spot where the deck is cold and has lost its finish. The wood leaves impressions on her body, and the splinters pull against the tension of her stomach.  She is still looking through the planks when her husband comes up for air. His voice is tired, defeated.  “I've tried, baby.  Maybe it'll show up at low tide.”

Astrid rolls over on her back and watches the clouds move in with the dusk.  Bryan pulls himself onto the dock and dries off.  He tells her that it's time to go, that he'll cook for her tonight, that at least the ring has found a home in the place that her mother loved.

The water from his hair drips on her feet.  His face looks smooth in the shadow, and she feels love with an abandon that her words cannot match.  “I'll catch up with you in a little while," she says.  "I'm just going to say a little goodbye, sit here for a minute longer.”

She hopes he does not feel left out, but her need to be left alone is enough to risk any hurt feelings.  He is not present for this moment, even standing next to her; he is tertiary, but not by design.  This was never his home.  She knows he remembers a time before he said hello to her parents at the door, before they sat fishing with pitchers of sweet tea, before he tasted the gumbo that her mother cooked until February when she could no longer stand.  Astrid has been here since before her memory began.  The house is an organ packed in ice, waiting for its new recipient.

He touches her hair, grabs the back of her neck, and kisses her on the forehead.  “I'll have a glass of wine waiting.”

After he leaves, Astrid moves to the edge of the dock and lets her feet hang in the water.  She stares at the color climbing each blade of marsh grass before the tips taper in a hazy green.   October has set in, but she slips into the creek in spite of the goose bumps that rise on her skin.  The water shutters what's left of the light and chills like sleep with no blanket.  Her feet sink into the mud before she pushes herself to the surface.  It is too late to search for the ring, and she fears it is really gone.  Despite the time, she cannot resist the tide pulling her towards the bend in the marsh, her arms spreading wide, a last swim before leaving what she cannot carry with her.



Mimi Vaquer lives in Savannah, GA where she teaches 8th grade English. She has work published or forthcoming in Cream City Review, elimae, Pif Magazine, and Storyglossia among others. Her chapbook, Scratching Bones, will by published in 2010 by Pudding House Press.