What Doesn’t Float, Sinks

Jad Josey


An empty canoe floated into the bay overnight. You woke me in the pale morning light, told me you’d been watching it since just past midnight, rudderless vessel hovering atop the starlit water. There was no wind, you said. It moved so slowly toward the shore.

You’d scanned the distant sandspit with binoculars, searching for signs of life. You found only long-necked egrets moving like apparitions across the still night sky, yoked together on some invisible cord. You wore the same clothes you’d taken to bed. The nights of your naked heat beside me had waned, then vanished.

I made you two eggs with the yolks runny, the way you like them. You tore pieces of sourdough toast and dipped them into the bright orange, tapping salt onto each bite. Afterward, you walked across the cold ice plant to the water’s edge. I watched through the kitchen window, an unfettered view of your careful steps as you tried not to crush the ice plant that compasses the bay. The canoe had docked itself on the sand, faded green hull glistening with dew, not unlike the plump fry-shaped chunks of ice plant—both unnatural in this place, but only one of them unwanted. You examined the interior, head tilted like a curious retriever. You lifted a dry oar from the starboard side, holding it overhead like a javelin. I wondered if you would tell me about it later: the theory you were constructing about the where and the who and the why.

You’d left your phone on the kitchen counter, and it buzzed with a call. After a few minutes it buzzed again. And then again. I forced myself not to look at the screen. I kept my hands busy to keep them from doing something else. Perhaps it was an act of denial. I’m no longer sure of so many things.

I heard the shower come on while I washed the breakfast dishes. I tipped the hot water up a notch, let it run into the frying pan longer than necessary. I could have started the load of towels in the washing machine, but I didn’t. I thought, instead, about my favorite tree by the bay, the Monterey pine jutting into the sky, sentry against that pale blue or mottled gray, guarding the precious streets we keep secret from the city vultures. Branches swaying in the mighty spring wind, slowly in the summer breeze, so still during the warmer months of fall.

“Did you see the dog walker?” I wasn’t expecting your voice, but I kept from flinching.

“The barefoot guy?”

“Yeah. With the four dogs. He walked by earlier than usual.”

I waited. You were coupling his timing to the abandoned canoe. I saw the story unwinding behind your eyes. You wore the bathrobe your mother gave you for Christmas last year, not the one I’d wrapped so carefully for your birthday, the fabric sheer and delicate beneath my rough calluses.

You glanced at your phone, then flipped it face-down. You tightened the bathrobe and stared out the window at the canoe, then walked away without a word. I steadied myself at the kitchen counter. The cutting boards needed to be oiled.

You left without saying goodbye. It stung the first time a few weeks back, but it had shifted into the ordinary now. I went into the bedroom and looked at myself in the full-length mirror. I took off my clothing and stood there naked, watching the light move over my body. I felt stronger than I had in days.

I walked outside, across the ice plant, reveling in the way it crunched beneath my bare feet, how the cold air dimpled my skin, the lines on my face earned. The sky was a motionless gray, the same color as the bay water. The eel grass looked almost fluorescent.

I straddled the canoe and rocked it loose from the sticky bay mud. It was too early for tourists, but the morning walkers stared in my direction, mouths agape or lips pursed. I swallowed down the shame of my nakedness, the sweat stippling my shoulders the only reply. I dug my toes into the mud for purchase, slid the canoe until it found buoyancy in the salty water. I turned it onto its side, and water surged into the open hull. It grew harder to keep the canoe steady, but I was strong now. It began to sink, open maw slurping bay water like a whirlpool. The thwart shone dark and steady, its descent an omen, and then the keel stood straight up, silhouetted against the gray sky like an iceberg before descending into the bay, the tip of the bow slipping down silently. No death rattle at all.

I slogged to the edge of the water, then bent down and pulled up handfuls of the silty bay mud. I covered my arms, my chest, fistful after fistful, my white skin coated and crackling. A breeze was blowing from the west, a cold ocean wind. I felt smaller standing there in it, body shriveled and tight. The onlookers tittered, and I met their gazes one by one, each falling silent in turn. I took another look at the bay, made certain the canoe was gone. An egret hopped into the shallow water, one foot missing. He prodded at the murk with his black beak. A pod of pelicans navigated the bay breeze in tight formation, their reflections vibrating across the water.

I walked back into the house, muddy footprints following me through the kitchen and into the bedroom. I tipped onto the bed, onto the downy comforter you used to love so deeply, in that place where you used to love me so deeply. I spread my legs and raised my arms above my head, again and again, the opposite of a snow angel, the bay silt abrasive and dark.


Jad Josey’s work has appeared in CutBank, Glimmer Train, Ninth Letter, Passages North, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions and his story, “It Finally Happened,” was selected for inclusion in the Best Microfiction 2021 anthology. Jad is currently working on a novella and a collection of short stories. Read more at www.jadjosey.com, or reach out on Twitter @jadjosey.