The next time Samuel sees Clara and Lyla, the girls are holding hands walking down the beach. They’re whispering in each other’s ear shifting attention between the water, sand, and vanilla sky.
Samuel feels like they don’t notice him. He feels like no one sees him at all. And although the perpetual emptiness that he spent most of his adult years trying to mask with shallow encounters is undoubtably present – somehow it doesn’t hurt.
As soon he gains this awareness, the girls take notice of him. They’re steps quicken in his direction. They’re giggling about what he slowly understands.
Turning over his shoulder, he sees Clara’s mother pull her car over and frantically exit. She stumbles during her run toward the brush that conceals her daughter’s body.
Clara doesn’t know that the letter she thinks is in her handbag waiting to be found landed on the floor of the hypnotist. It was the last thing he read before dialing her mother.
“She mentioned Samuel? Do you know who that is? You must contact him as well. Please… quickly…”
As Samuel’s feelings developed for Lyla, he disagreed that they keep it from Clara.
“We need to be honest with her.”
Lyla regretted telling Clara the moment the syllables slithered from the corners of her trembling lips. “I… we’re…. I’ll end it with him. Straight away. Let’s just talk about something else. Let’s pretend it never happened. It was stupid, I love you. Our friendship is so much more important. Let’s just put it in the past.”
“Let’s play a game…”
Clara is under the water again. Just beneath the surface.
Wrapping herself in the liquid salt embrace a few steps offshore, she opens her eyes to a blurry burn. It soothes her. It soothes because she can make sense of losing focus.
The last time she saw Samuel, her vision hazed in a similar way for a far different reason.
“I thought it would be best if you found out this way.”
Clara remains enfolded in ocean. Her cotton dress extends in twists and twirls beyond the elegant shape of her drifting body.
Is this what it feels like?
Turning toward the faint light of dusk, her thin frame floats above lapping waves. Half exposed.
She reacts to the grayness of the clouds and subtle caress of liquid ripples with sprawled fingers and a delicate smile. Clara’s smile has always been her most fragile feature.
He should have understood that.
Her amber gold locks shape a sail that is perfectly tuned into the motion of marine swells keeping her afloat. The only sound in her mind is stillness. The calm drift of her perpetually craved freedom.
Clara’s mother is concerned. The icicle shade of her knuckles gripping the steering wheel is the same as her cheek’s ghost tone when she first heard the news.
“Clara would never do that…”
Along the road she is driving are rocky faced cliffs leading into the ocean. Her windows are rolled down in effort to lower the boiling temperature of unmentioned history burning her veins.
photo: Under your sea by Jessica Tremp
Clara is in her bedroom smoking cigarettes. Considering the number of people in her life at the moment directing where she must go and who she must speak with, there is a unique freedom within each inhalation.
Her mother loathes her habits.
When she arrived home from the hypnotist, Clara stepped into a steaming shower and exfoliated her skin with hand-made sandalwood soap from the local market. Within the patterns of hot water chasing the curves of her body, she saw his name spelt across her skin.
No one knows about the tattoo.
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for strings purrs from small speakers resting on a desk beside a bay window overlooking the aquamarine sea. When a private investor unexpectedly purchased more paintings than she ever imagined to sell, things started changing.
Clara knows that money will never buy happiness. She’s never said this to anyone because she understands it is a cliche statement, and the idea of ordinary tangles her stomach into sailor knots.
She exhales a trail of smoke and watches it dissipate. She raises a hand to her heart and circles bare skin with the cool tips of her fingers.
What is left behind? Continue reading
Clara has sought many places to go deeper. More than crystal streams and woven baskets. Wherever she looks lately, she finds an extra thread.
Like everything else, her memory does not seem to be what it once was.
What do you see?
People have different theories about what happens when you die. Lyla was brave enough to test them in a new way.
“Cover my eyes. I’ll hold my breath.”
The attraction of seeking how close you can get. The compulsion to let it go too far.
“What happens then?”
“That depends on how long I can hold it for.”
Clara was still until Lyla’s skin grew cold. Long after her shoulders molded like stone within the small space they used to roll to symbolize life. It was after her deflated diaphragm weighed down the shell she was determined to destroy. Continue reading