Molly Bruce Jacobs

Sipping hot tea, gazing across the empty beach towards where the night rests upon the ocean, a woman sits on the wooden steps that lead from the beach to the cottage. She has wrapped her cotton nightgown tight around her knees and legs. Her thin feet are bare, the toenails cut blunt and left unpolished. Her long black hair twisted up in a barrette sets off the inky depths of her eyes--bright as an animal's. She wears no make-up and, except for the silver bracelet that seems somehow misplaced on her, no jewelry. Radiating an air of stark candor, she's a woman whom you'd expect to smell like herself, her breath moist with a warm salty aftertaste.

Behind her, her husband lies in the hammock strung across the porch. She turns to glance at him. Legs crossed, toes poking out of gray worn sneakers, hands behind his head, he is staring at her.

"The bracelet looks nice on you," he says suddenly.

"Yes, it's nice," she says, running her thumb over the slender band of silver that fits snug as a cuff around her wrist. She fingers the bracelet's fringe of tiny silver hearts that jingle girlishly whenever she moves. A present, he'd passed it across the table to her in its black velvet case during dinner that night.

She'd like to go in to bed now, and let the sound and smell of the ocean caress her to sleep. She's ready to put the day behind her. But she can almost feel her husband's thoughts tumbling through the air towards her, spinning awkwardly into the beginnings of words.

Waiting for him to say something, she rests her eyes upon the sky where stars glint like a host of cat eyes in the night. The full moon is copper red, eerie against the blackness. Over an hour ago, it had hung like a bright pendulum, luminous as satin, just above the horizon. When a shadow had crept across the face of the moon, dimming it, she'd realized they were witnessing a lunar eclipse. Had he ever seen one before? she'd asked. He didn't think so, though he remembered learning as a child that when the moon enters the earth's shadow, it darkens--taking on a reddish glow--but rarely succumbs to total darkness.

They'd just sat, watching the moon float higher above the water.

Now, anticipating the conversation they've come here for, she tries to believe it will go well. She hopes that this time he'll acknowledge that their marriage is in trouble. He must see by now, she thinks, that the flimsy emotional rapport and bare bones sex holding them together isn't enough. Simply having the conversation might rekindle the intimacy they've lost. It might breathe new life into the brittle shell of a relationship that for several years has been their marriage. But a voice inside reminds her that he has in the past headed off any discussion of their problems. Invariably, he's dismissed her complaints as unreasonable, reassuring her that the marriage was a success.

Restless, she watches a few stray seagulls dipping in and out of the night, like bats. A tremulous breeze rustles the dune grass that grows wild in front of the cottage. For a moment, she imagines that she can fly. Closing her eyes, she sees herself coasting on wings through curtains of fog; her vision obscured, she nonetheless glides higher, trusting in the stillness of her soul to guide her. "Look, the moon's darker," he says.

Surprised, she looks up at the moon. The reddish shine has deepened into a dull brick color, its glow fading. He sits up, swinging his legs over the side of the hammock, rocking the hammock gently back and forth with his feet. "The Mayans used to sacrifice a child at the peak of an eclipse. Did you know that?"

She shakes her head 'no.' It was just like him to latch onto some remote subject, inspecting every corner of it, as if it were somehow vital.

"I wonder if they chose girls or boys," he says.

Hugging her knees to her chest, ignoring the silvery tinkle coming from her bracelet, she turns to face him. "Probably girls," she says evenly.

During the first years of their marriage, they'd often lapsed into this kind of easy bantering, comfortable together. Now, after telling him only days ago that she'd leave him if things between them didn't improve, she bristles that he should talk of eclipses and Mayan sacrifices. He'd pleaded with her to spend the weekend at the cottage with him. To talk. At first, she'd refused, willing herself to be firm. Then, a whisper of hope softening her, she'd gone with him.

A breath of a cloud, lavender gray in the night sky, floats across the moon. She finishes the lukewarm tea, listening to herself swallow. Through a bay window downstairs, the glow from a lamp inside lights up the living room. She stands, dangling the teacup from a finger, and heads across the porch towards the door. "I'm going in," she says gloomily, pausing beside him in the hammock. A frown on his face, he reaches for her hand.

"I'm tired," she says, pulling away, inadvertently sending the silver hearts into another annoyingly plaintive jingle. "We've been civil to each other tonight. That's something, don't you think?" he says slowly, solemn as a pope.

She shuts her eyes against unexpected tears, trying to stop the tightening inside. Civil as two mismatched buttons, she thinks, fingering the bracelet that after tonight she knows she won't wear.

"Yes, it's something," she says. "But it's not enough to - "

"And we love each other. I think we can take that for granted." There is a petulant tone to his voice.

Saying nothing, feeling a profound sadness, she listens to the silence pulsing between them, her eyes fixed on the sky. Along the edge of the moon, a shimmer of light appears. It slowly grows into a pale sliver, brightening the darkness. The Mayans would have already sacrificed one of their girl children, she thinks.

Together, they stare into the black bowl of sky, still streaked with stars, and watch the moon emerge from shadow. He gives her a sheepish look. "Sometimes I think we're like a pair of old shoes."

"Yes. We probably are." She'd thought that they could salvage the remnants of their love, and piece them back together. But the time for that is gone, she realizes. For the gulf separating them has grown too vast. She touches his shoulder with her hand. "I'm going up," she says.

Removing the bracelet from her wrist, she places it in its velvet box which she slips into her suitcase. Then, alone in bed, she succumbs to the sounds and smells of the ocean floating like promises through the open window. She hears the tumult of waves churning and crashing, then the hush of froth lapping at the sand, over and over again. The crescent of moon already strokes the ocean with streaks of cool light. Soon the eclipse will be over, she tells herself. Shafts of light from the living room reach upstairs, softening the darkness of the bedroom. When she hears him click the lights off, she knows he is coming.

Pretending to sleep, she imagines a small girl, her face brown as a berry, the inky pockets of her eyes wide with horror. A man grips the girl's wrist tightly, the muscles in his arm taut as he tugs her along the beach, dark and silent beneath a reddish moon. But then, breaking free, the girl sprints like a colt into the darkness, leaving the man behind her. An outline of a bewildered figure in the haze, he reaches for something glittering in the sand: a wink of silver, a forlorn broken thing the girl has left behind. He grabs at it but he is too late. The ocean has already swallowed it up, and deposited it in its bank of souvenirs echoing the saga of the human heart, its dramas both ancient as moons and timeless as time itself.

© Molly Bruce Jacobs

Molly Bruce Jacobs' essays have appeared in Redbook, Sojourner, The Sun, Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul, and The Ngami Times (Maun, Botswana.) Her short stories have been published in a chapbook called Small Burials (1998), and in literary journals including The Crescent Review, Potomac Review, Potpourri, Fodderwing, The Bridge, Farmer's Market, Barnabe Mountain Review, and others. Her story "Nail Polish" appeared in Great Writers, Great Stories: Writers from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. She has won numerous fiction awards.

Submit your comments on this story to our MoxieTalk discussion group by clicking here!   You can also send your comments directly to the author using the form below.

You can do both by typing your response below, submitting it and then copying it, going to MoxieTalk, and pasting it into the form there for posting a message.

Email: (required)


Copyright 2002 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved