After signing the divorce papers, I get in my car and drive the three hours to my sister’s house. I can smell the ocean from her driveway as soon as I open my door. “Yes, Jesus, thank you,” Beth says when I offer to take Nelly and grandma to the beach. It’s freezing, even now in late April, and Beth laughs when I complain, tells me, “You’re just not used to it. That’s how the people and the water are in Maine – cold at first.” I grab Nelly’s coat and hat, picture moving here, something I’ve thought about ever since I held her in the hospital four years ago while Beth slept, cradled that tiny baby and knew I’d never have my own. At the beach, I follow Nelly to the water’s edge. She points at a huge boulder and begs to swim out there, not that she could swim in the forty-degree water, even with floaties on. Grandma begins to pick her way over the rocks. “Beth is usually too busy to bring us here,” she calls, but it isn’t a grievance, just something that is, like the wet mist turning her hair limp as she pats it, or the slow, careful way she has to navigate the rocky section before reaching the sand, knowing a slip might break her.
James is a thousand years ago now. “Good,” Beth said when I called her, crying, the night he left. So simple for her, like when she caught her husband cheating. “Fuck those fuckers,” she said that night, whispering it in my ear again today as she handed me a cup of coffee. I love her as much as I hate how she towers over me like a tidal wave. But maybe she could teach me. Maybe if I moved here, I’d swim in the ocean every morning. Maybe I’d learn to love the sharp bite of cold and find the patience to wait for the burning heat that comes next. Or maybe I’d just walk the wet sand every morning and accept that this is me, like grandma, who stayed married for fifty-seven years to a man who barely spoke. “He never hugged me, not once,” mom told us at his funeral. Grandma joins me by the water, finally through the rocks and on to the soft smush at the tide’s edge. She takes off her shoes, digs her pale ghost toes in the sand. Nelly throws fistfuls of pebbles into the water, shouting, “Eat these, sea! Eat these!” and grandma smiles, reaches down to pick up a cracked shell. “Eat this, too!” she shouts and tosses it into a small wave at her feet. I squat, scoop wet clumps of sand and rocks and shells, throw them in, scattered splashes like tiny fish jumping. A shallow wave soaks my shins and butt before I can scoot back. “Eat this, too,” I whisper.
Hannah Grieco is a writer in Arlington, VA. She is the senior cnf editor at JMWW, the fiction editor at Porcupine Literary, and the founder and organizer of the monthly reading series “Readings on the Pike” in the DC area. Find her online at hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.