Emily Anderson Ula
I’d asked him to meet me at the waterfront, because I knew it would be the last time, and I didn’t want to be anywhere with a bed.
“We can’t anymore. I feel guilty.” But it was more than guilt. Something I feared to even speak aloud. Some devastating act of a jealous God. Eye for an eye.
“What’s the difference? It’s a sunk cost.” He did this sometimes—simplified questions of morality into the language of economics. A coping mechanism, perhaps, to absolve himself from the shame of our Protestant childhoods, which lurked in our cells like a dormant virus.
There had been a storm the night before, and the sea was hemmed with brackish foam the color of ochre. Barefoot, we moved down the stretch, shirking wracks of kelp and beached jellyfish. He crouched, using driftwood to flip them, exposing tentacles and a simple coiled nervous system like filament in a lightbulb. He recalled a report his son wrote for school on moon jellies—no brains, just synaptic memory, and the ability to regenerate their own body parts.
I pressed my fingertips to his ribs, where the bones had fused imperfectly together. I knew the story, of course. His sister’s horse had spooked and thrown him into a fence. His father had carried him home in a saddle blanket.
“Joel has never even had stitches.”
“Well, what do you expect? Isn’t he a tech guy?”
“There you have it.” He scooped a jellyfish from the sand and flung it against the bluff. I flinched just before it hit, sloshing against the wet stone. “Risk is everything.”
We stayed until oil rigs flickered violet against the water. Nothing much left to say. I shredded strands of sage scrub and watched children leap across jagged rocks out on the spit. Perhaps the same age as my daughters. If I closed one eye, it seemed I could pluck them by the hoods of their coats and set them safely on the sand.
Near the public restrooms, he watched as I deleted his number from my phone. Then we knelt at a water spigot and washed our feet.
Emily Anderson Ula earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from The University of the South, Sewanee in 2017. Since then, her work has been published in The Cincinnati Review, The Baltimore Review, The Chestnut Review, Cagibi, and elsewhere. She lives in a small town near San Luis Obispo, California with her precocious daughter, Scarlett. In addition to pursuing a graduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology, she is working on a collection of linked stories and other stray, dreamlike creatures that keep her up at night.