By: Jade Wilkison
When the therapist leaned over to check the time, Paula snuck a quick peek at her yellow legal pad: “midlife, identity crisis, possible abandonment issue.” Well that’s bullshit she thought.
Paula had been telling Dr. --- the dream about losing her son; The panic she felt as she realized that she had to find him, that she did not want to tell her husband what had happened. The loss was something she couldn’t quite convey with words. And even as she sketched out the details of her dream, as the saliva dried in her mouth and her armpits went damp she knew she would leave out the part where she willingly letting him go with a stranger--in the peculiar way dreams work, she knew that this was disaster, but she let him go anyway. Even as she was clawing out of sleep, desperate to be awake and slide off the terror and guilt the dream left with her, she knew this part would be a secret.
Dr. --- shifted and Paula cleared her throat. With a nervous laugh she said, “Ha! That bit about my son is probably a metaphor for something, right?”
“What do you think?” Dr. --- replied. Oh fuck, Paula thought, why am I even here? Therapists always answer questions with questions, and wasn’t it their job to tell you the answers?
“Pau-la (her husband always likes to pronounce her name in the spanish fashion--ever since that trip to Alicante) Paula!”
“Si, mi amor!”
“Love, we need to talk about what’s going--”
Paula interrupts, dishwater running down her forearms,
“Have you noticed the sunlight? It almost has a weight to it, like in Celaya. What was the name of that woman travelling all of Mexico with her son? Wasn’t she from White Sands?”
“Zelie,” her husband stiffens. “Her name was Zelie.”
She realizes Dr. -- has been staring at her.
Dr. --- jots something down on her legal pad. More judging, Paula thinks.
“Pau-la!” (her husband always liked to call her by the spanish pronunciation, after their trip to San Miguel)
“Si, mi cielo,” Paula says
“We should talk about-”
Paula interrupts, dishwater dripping from her fingers,
“Remember that trip to Cuzco? Remember how green that farm was? What was the name of that woman travelling through Peru with her son? Wasn’t she from Santa Fe?”
“Zelie,” her husband softly replies, “Her name was Zelie.”
Dr. --- taps her pen against her yellow legal pad.
“Right,” Paula says. “Have you ever been to Peru? We were there last year, February, and it rained and rained and rained and everything was so green. That has always stuck out in my mind. How green it was.”
Dr. --- says, “You mentioned that you felt that maybe losing your son was a metaphor for some other sort of loss? Can we explore that a little?”
Paula notices the dust that has gathered on the lampshade behind Dr. ---. Every so often a little bit of fluff breaks free and lands on the ends of Dr. --- meticulous bob. Paula likes the way the light catches the dust. When she was a little girl, she always imagined the specks of dust floating in the sunlight held a sort of magic.
“Pau-la!”, (her husband always likes to pronounce it in the Spanish fashion after their trip to Santiago)
“Si, mi corazon,” Paula says
“Babe, it’s time we--”
Paula flicks suds at him, and he laughs.
“Hey love, remember when we were in Las Violetas? That woman who was alone with her son--what was her name--did they make it to Isla de los Estados?”
“Zelie,” her husband said.
Dr. --- gives a polite cough. “Paula, you’re here--”
The sand here is dirty, strewn with bottle caps and straw wrappers. When she buries her toes into it, the smell of stale beer lingers on her skin. Wrapping arms around her legs, she rests her chin on her knees, and watches the sky turn from hazy brown to light pink to brilliant yellow. It occurs to her that everything around the sea relates to each other--the colors in the sky mimic the interior of the shells sold in all the chintzy tourist shops that line the calle.
It is quiet here in the morning, in sharp contrast to the rhythmic corridos and gritos that pierce the air into the early morning. The plastic tables and chairs are piled haphazardly near the shuttered bars and restaurants, flimsily held together with bike locks and chains. It’s as if this town has two distinct lives. Now, the locals begin to stir, the soft calls of, “Hola, hola, como estas? Bien, Gracias! Buen dia!” Doors open and close, coffee brewing gently fills the air. The waves are soothing, and watching the gulls scuffle over scraps the fisherman discard is calming. The fisherman are lucky. They steal away into the inky sea while the town slinks toward slumber, and arrive in a flurry of gulls and sunshine to clean their catch.
Sand in her hair. Sand in the hem of her shorts. Sand in the cups of her bra. She lays back and feels the trickle of sand down her back. Sand in her ears. Her head begins to throb as the cool of early morning gives way to the heavier, tangible heat of the day.
The sun has travelled up the blue sky, causing her to squint. She tries to ignore the copper taste in her mouth. When she sits up she vomits, sweeps sand over the mess. Maybe if she sits here on this beach long enough, someone will find her. Or maybe she will disappear into the sea.
She remembers the tale of the of girl who would always sneak away into the sea--her mother forbade her from going, but one night she snuck away. The water was cool on her legs, cleaning the sweat and dust from her body, and when she dove beneath the water her hair floated around her in a shroud. As she swam to shore, she felt fluid, and when she tried to walk out of the water onto the beach, she was stunned to find her legs has turned to scales and fins, and her hair had grown to such a length it covered her body.
She always wondered why this story was told as a warning. It seemed like a wonderful fate. To escape the confines of this tedious human form and swim forever in the boundless ocean.
The sun climbs yet higher into the sky and the waves are no longer soothing, the rhythmic crash pulses into her, and she feels sick once again. The gulls screeching sounds desperate and the sound drills into the spaces behind her eyes.
The beach is busy with tourists now, and vendors hawking ceviche and chicharrones and duros. Everything doused in lime and chili and salt. She licks her lips. Can taste salt and sour bile.
There is a bruise on the inside of her right thigh. She lightly traces it with the fingertips of her right hand. The fingernails on her left hand are broken and rough. There is an ache in her belly that she has decided must be from too much mezcal.
When the sun finally reaches its apex in the sky she stands. Brushes the sand from the bottom of her shorts, and ignores her missing underwear.
“Buenas tardes,” she mumbles to the women passing by with necklaces made of discarded shells.