The waves taunted gray and black in a twilight that flickered away into nothingness. What remained of the fallen sun choked in a smoky memory of fading crimson, the last whimper of a promise stolen.
A small hand grasped my finger, damp, slick, then slipped away.
I spun. A sob knotted my raw throat and tore from me. My foot caught on the protrusions of a half buried stone and I fell as a heron wailed distant, forlorn, in the enveloping gloom.
In the wet sand, only solitary footprints.
An empty bottle dropped from my grasp, dribbling the remnants of bourbon into the splotchy froth that marked the limits of the tide.
A weight pressed me lower, deeper. My spirit sank beneath an ocean of sorrow. I couldn’t breathe. I no longer cared.
My vision clouded, the sand beneath me becoming fluid, unsteady. The cacophony of waves softened and ebbed until I could distinguish a single murmur, a whisper.
“Daddy?” She was distant, lost among the swells. “Daddy, I’m scared.”
The sensation again, a worried grip squeezing my finger. I looked about, my heart thundering. “It’s ok, baby girl.” I said to no one, a memory. “I’ve got you.”
“Can we go back to the fire and cook schmallows?” Her eyes had been dewy, wide in the surf, searching my face. My four year old daughter. My angel.
Charcoal water had licked about her thighs, greedy, hungry, as flecks of amber and cerulean fled across the heavens. Night rose with a vengeance as we stood with shells at our toes and plovers scampering behind. We waited, hoping for dolphins.
“You bet. Cuddled and warm, roasting marshies. You and me.” I smiled but glancing down past blond tresses my blood ran cold. Her expression. She knew. Right then, even before. She knew.
Her pallid cheeks had become mottled as if a shadow hovered near. She trembled and inched toward me. “Can we go?”
From beneath us a surge rose and towered above her ringlets. It knocked me backwards and in that desperate moment I felt her grip tighten about my fingers – a squeeze, nothing more.
Then she slipped away.
My muscles had seized and my jaw dropped open for an eternal instant as the wave slithered – taking my daughter with it.
“Wh-where are you?” I’d choked, not believing.
“Constance?” Louder, screaming. “Constance?” I thrashed, groping blindly beneath the surface. How long could she … Had it been a minute? More? I flailed, running after the receding beast, searching, feeling as darkness swallowed me.
They’d found her near the jetty after dawn.
I blinked, bowing my head. If only… but there were no more ifs.
The breeze stiffened, pushing the empty bottle across the shore and topping the crest of the rising waves. Swirls of froth motioned to me from the depths, calling, promising. “We can take you to her. Come. Let your grief have meaning.”
And I wanted to go, to become lost in a morose thickness, to be swallowed by shadow.
But my baby girl wouldn’t be found in the murk nor trapped in the depths of my despair.
I lifted my face to the seducing brine, eyes narrowing.
“He’s borne my grief.” I muttered. “Carried my sorrows.” I smudged tears from the stubble on my chin. “He’s prepared a place – for me. Her.”
I stood, retrieving the bottle as the wind whipped about me and the waves clawed at my legs. “Your daughter, we took her, she’s ours.”
“No.” I clenched my jaw, the muscles in my neck distending. I raised my fist into the driving spray and shouted. “No!” My voice rose and echoed, battling the roar of the sea. “You can’t hold her! You have no sting, no victory!”
I threw the bottle into the inky blackness and turned away.
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