This story shouldn't have taken me so long to write. It wasn't hard, I just didn't have the time. But I got it done before Monday, and that's what counts. I like how you have to pay attention to certain parts to get everything that's going on. Did you understand it?
I stood by Midas as he performed his ritual. My eyes followed the glass beer bottle as it arched through the air then hit the water. I witnessed it week after week but every time it caught my attention: the sun glinting off the clear surface and the water inside, the sand bouncing from the top of the container to the bottom. My paintings could never capture that essence, not if I painted the scene a million times.
Midas stared after the bottle long after it had sunk. It was as if he could see through the grimy water to the slowly descending flask as it fell deeper and deeper, hitting the ocean floor with a silent thwump.
Then he sighed and turned away, returning to the cooler nestled in the sand. He sat on one side, while I flopped down on the other. This was how we sat, every Sunday, with the cooler as a wall between us. Midas flipped open the lid, reached inside without looking, and extracted his second beer. The first was always had before the ritual, for the bottle.
A crack split the air as the lid came flying off. He flipped his bottle-opener to me as I reached for my first and only drink. The liquid splashed down his chin as he leaned back. It was perfectly silent, the water lapping at the beach a substitute for conversation.
A breeze swept over us, and around us, bringing the scent of the sea. Midas took a deep breath, “It smells like her.”
I glanced at him quickly then looked away. Midas never spoke until he was so drunk he couldn’t remember that he wasn’t supposed to speak. It was one of his rules. He had a lot of them when it came to Sundays.
“The ocean, I mean,” he clarified.
I nodded, swishing the beer around my teeth. It felt gritty and burned my gums. I swallowed, took another drink.
“The ocean always reminds me of her,” his face was thoughtful in a way I had never seen, “but, a lot of things remind me of her.”
My attention was riveted on him now. He didn’t seem to notice, too lost in his memories.
“She had such rages. Her face would puff up, like a red balloon,” he chuckled. “But she had the most gentle touch. It felt like diving into feathers.” Midas laid back in the sand, spreading his arms. “And, I swear, she cried at everything, at puppies, at homeless people, at little kids playing, at war. She would laugh at herself for being so silly, but she couldn’t help it.”
I made a noise in my throat to acknowledge his words. I was listening so hard I couldn’t see straight.
He continued on, a small smile adorning his face, “She loved seeing the world and she was determined to see every inch of it. We climbed a mountain together once, even though heights made her nauseous. I climbed through caves with her, even though tight spaces made my throat tighten. Her favorite place, though, was the beach. She loved the way it seemed endless, the edges of two worlds melting together she called it. Her favorite place to lay was with her feet in the water and her head in the sand. When she would fall asleep, I’d wake her up telling her I couldn’t bare if she got washed away by the tide.”
My eyes jumped to the waves crashing against the shore. I shivered, imagining their cold hands grabbing me, dragging me down till the breath left my body and I became so much useless trash on the ocean floor. Like the bottle.
“But of all the beaches we visited, she swore this one was her favorite,” he picked up a handful of sand, letting the grains slide through his fingers. “The sand was softer, more angelic, she declared. The water was cooler and clearer and the most pure, she always assured me, as if I cared. All I ever wanted was to be with her.”
My head was starting to pound with the sound of his words, each one a metal spike driven through me. I rubbed my sweaty hands down my pant legs, hoping he wouldn’t notice, praying he wouldn’t notice.
His voice changed suddenly, from light and airy to rough and harsh, “It was a Sunday, sort of like today, when her boat left. My heart broke that morning when she left without me. It wasn’t her fault, I simply couldn’t go. You remember, my father had that heart attack? She offered to stay, but this was a trip she had been looking forward to for months. I refused to let her miss it.”
A cold feeling washed over me. Midas’s face looked completely drained of color. He looked lifeless, his eyes dull. He droned on anyway.
“I remember coming to this beach when I got a break from the hospital. I had decided to surprise her. I remember scooping the sand into my hands, trickling it down into the bottle I had emptied. Scrambling around, I found tiny seashell shards, dropped them in with the sand. It was getting dark and the water was cold when I drug my hand through it, adding the last touch to my beach in a bottle. I remember how sure I was that she would love it and how happy I was when I answered the phone.”
His face contorted as if he was trying not to cry. It didn’t work. A tear slid down the side of his head, dropping down into the sand.
“The ship, the one she was on, it sunk,” he drew a breath that rattled in his throat. “It sunk, Austin.”
His shoulders heaved as he sat forward, hiding his face in his hands. My insides went numb. Midas, calculating Midas, who kept all his feelings hidden, was crying.
His next words were muffled, his hands still over his mouth, “I threw that bottle as hard as I could. It arched high, shining in the sun’s last rays, then it fell down, hitting the water. Ripples spread, but they disappeared soon enough. And it was as if the bottle was never there, swallowed by the sea. Just like her.”
My arm twitched, wanting to reach out, but I stopped it. Only my eyes were allowed to touch, only my eyes.
Midas’s head whipped up, “Did you hear that?”
I shook my head. The only thing I heard was the slapping of the water and the wind.
He stood up, his eyes scanning the beach. Then his breath caught. I turned then, wondering what it was. Someone was running toward us across the beach. They were shouting something, but I couldn’t catch what it was.
“Mary,” he said it so softly, I almost didn’t hear him. Then he was shouting, and running, “Marigold!”
The two people grew closer until finally they hugged. They hugged for what seemed like an eternity, my heart chipping with every second. I lifted my beer as I watched them, just to discover it was empty.
I reached for my second drink, my hand drifting through the freezing ice, as I watched my ship sink.