On the dock stands a barefoot woman, watching the rolling waves. Damp algae between her toes. Seaspray pearling her hair. There are splinters in her heels, for the dock is old and battered; and there is blood, too, from where falling rocks had taken their pound of flesh. In the cold, the woman does not feel this pain. In the cold, the woman hardly feels at all. She watches the greedy ocean, crashing on the black-sand shore of a greedy village, and on the fringes of that protective numbness waits a different sort of pain. She is determined not to see it. Not to let it make her cry. A laugh escapes in lieu; a smile replaces a frown as she remembers, fondly, the memories they’d forged.
How could it be that a bond so intense, so strong, could blossom—not like a flower, but like an oak, dignified and tall—in so brief a span of time? How could it be that a bond of such magnitude was still vulnerable, breakable? No. Not breakable. The love had stayed behind with her, an unbendable beam, an Arthurian sword; but death, O death, had swept her partner from the beach, and she is left to shoulder the weight alone. Her arms shake. They are weak without him. It is a weight meant for two.
The woman’s smile crumples. Her laugh becomes a sob. Salty mist jewels her cheeks and rain streaks her face, but even these are not enough to disguise the tears her dignity proved too paltry to fight. Tears fell in a manner quite different from rain, after all. Tears fell heavy and slow, like the descent into the unfathomably deep sorrow with which they so often went hand-in-hand.
On the dock sits a barefoot woman, glaring at roaring waves. She curses the shoreline and the sea rocks, screams at the basalt columns and the foam, whipped to froth by winter wind. The blood painting her body has cooled to a film, but the red on her hands is wet. She stares at those scarlet palms. Studies the lines of life, fortune, and love, turned to crimson rivers in the meager topography of her hands.
The woman cries into these hands. This blood is not hers. It is the last of him she has: the warmth before the cooling; the wet before the drying. She will press it to her face until it seeps into her pores, until strangers in labcoats arrive and ferry her away. They’d wash him off with soap and water and a rough scrubbing sponge. They’d dress her in a paper gown that smelled nothing of his skin. And once she stares into the drain and its last swirls of pink, once she sheds the shirt he’d once wrapped around her shoulders, she knows that this is when she must set down the beam, give up the sword, and find a way to live without the man who made living worth the effort.
The woman sleeps on the dock that night, shivering in November’s chill. No one comes for her. Not yet. For this, she is grateful; these scarce few moments more to spend with his feeble remnants. Even with the moon and stars for company, the woman is alone in an asylum for the broken.
This is what love is, she muses, gazing into the night.
Together, together, together—gone.
This is what love is.