In April, the sea began to leave us strange things. An ivory comb. A tortoiseshell headband. A potato masher. A key. When the tide receded each day, the objects would be strewn across the beaches or caught in the marsh grass. Our kids, splashing in tide pools, found cat-eye glasses, a waterlogged copy of Little Women, a plastic ring looped around the shell of a periwinkle. Bill Fryer pulled up a lobster trap full of high-heeled shoes. We figured there’d been a shipwreck somewhere far from our little island town.
We collected the objects and arranged them on the library lawn. Then, Laura Goldstein spotted her grandmother’s pearl necklace with its broken clasp. We opened the copy of Little Women and read, “Property of Molly Shields,” who was a deckhand on the ferry.
We called a meeting. We claimed the objects that were ours and returned them to bedside drawers or kitchen cabinets or cardboard boxes in basements and garages.
Soon, the beaches were so thick with detritus we couldn’t take our morning walks.
We debated. We gossiped. We searched for patterns. We tried to treasure our belongings. Then, we tried to give up worldly things. We never noticed that the objects were missing until the sea gave them back. We drank tea or whiskey to calm our nerves. We had trouble sleeping. When we slept, we dreamed of waves.
We started combing the beaches. We took whatever we wanted. Some of us made orderly piles to contain the mess. Some made altars or structures like cairns. A few flung everything they found right back into the ocean. Some refused to touch the items at all. We worried what would happen come tourist season.
Then, one Tuesday in early June, the beaches were clear.
It hadn’t stormed the night before. The morning wasn’t especially foggy, or cloudless, or warm. Sometimes the sea takes on an unusual color in the morning or stills so much that the surface is like glass. But that day there was nothing remarkable, except that the tideline was clear. We bent closer, kicking aside thick mats of gray-green seaweed, but there were no yo-yos or coasters or sodden scarves.
We didn’t know how to feel. We were relieved, of course, but there was something left behind, a suspicion we couldn’t identify or shake. We thought we would sleep better, but for years we did not.
Rebecca Turkewitz is a writer and high school English teacher living in Portland, Maine. Her first book, a collection of stories titled Here in the Night, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in July of 2023. Her fiction and humor writing have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Normal School, The Masters Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from The Ohio State University.