By Ened McNett
They were weekend clothes. Every Friday night the coolers were packed, the RV was clean, and she was changed out of the skirts she wore for him all week and into her camping slacks.
They went to the same campground every weekend. It was the one he liked best, tucked into the foothills of the Cascades, along a bubbling creek.
They never went to the sea. Not even before the RV, when the children were still young. He didn’t like the sea.
After changing into her pants she slowly folded the skirt she had removed. She tucked it gently into the very back of the bottom of her dresser drawer. She focused on his face. She focused on it like she had for fifty-two years. One week since that face left this world forever and she still found herself focusing like she always had.
Her study of his face was the survival of herself and her children over a half a century of what her people called “particularities” but what city women had a different name for.
In her memory she studied his face when she was fourteen and the two of them were determined to marry. His face when he was admiring her slender legs or when he was eating his favorite dinner. His face when the beer made his cheeks as red as the hair he was nicknamed for. His face when the children were on the verge of being taught a lesson. His face when he saw his first grandchild, his first great-grandchild. His face when his stomach first started giving him trouble. His face when he took to his bed. His face when he finally let go.
She locked the door behind her and tucked the key under the mat. It was mid-morning and the sun shone through a thin layer of clouds. They were the kind of clouds that seemed to be enjoying the bright day too much to put any muscle into forming.
It took an hour walk into town and changing buses four times to get to Pacific Beach.
When her bus pulled in that bright sun had just set. In the dusk she could see the outlines of her granddaughter and the barefoot baby on her hip. When they got closer to one another, she saw that her granddaughter was wearing dark men’s sunglasses as though the day might sneak back up at any moment.
As the baby crawled around eating carpet fuzz and pulling the cat’s tail, granddaughter and grandmother pretended to argue about who would take the hide-a-bed and who would take the bedroom.
Her granddaughter was putting fresh but stained sheets on the pull-out mattress. She had taken off the sunglasses to reveal a bright bruise on her left cheek. The conversation had veered away from sleeping arrangements. She was explaining how he wasn’t mean, he was just particular. She was explaining to her grandmother how decent it was for him to take in her and the baby. She was explaining how he normally wouldn’t have missed a family visit but he had had a hard week and really needed to blow off steam.
She listened from the rocking chair, watching the young woman smooth the same corner of the sheet several times before excusing herself to go and fetch an afghan.
Some time after everyone had gone to bed she noticed she wasn’t sleeping. She was listening to the creaks of the tiny house. She awoke and dressed. Through the bedroom door she listened to the sounds of her family breathing.
On the kitchen table she left an old photograph that she had kept tucked in an apron pocket every day of her marriage. The edges were soft. More than once it had been splattered with coffee or blueberry pie filling. But the image was still clear.
It was Wynema beach in 1937. It was a picture she took when her family vacationed on the coast of Oregon the year before she was wed. It was the last time she had seen the ocean.
She shut the front door behind her quietly. As she walked down the moonlit road she heard the waves getting louder on the sand.
She was going to the sea.
She loved the sea.
– Ened McNett is a queer farmer, writer and stuff do-er living and working out of a 13-foot baby pink travel trailer. Her work has appeared in Wilde Literary Magazine and on The Drabble blog. Her personal blog (www.iknowyouknowmyheart.com), containing short stories, prose and memoir, recently celebrated its third birthday.