Half Hitch

Frances Badgett
| Fiction

What passes for weather is cold and slick, the spit and runnel of raindrops. Padilla Bay reflects early sprigs of forsythia, yellow spikes bouncing on stems. A hardness in the clouds, an unwavering blank grayness that enters my skull. Your hands are scarlet from cold, working the knots, timber hitch, half hitch, bowline. I still your fingers and I blow warmth. The rain agitates the water into ripples. Unforgiving wet rope slips in your palm. You make it simple and drop the coil. The boat drifts a little on its line.

Later we find the barn. We nestle in hay like animals curled against each other. I smell rain on your neck. Dampness. My jacket rustles on yours. A first kiss should have a name. Something Greek. We linger here, cold and stinging noses. The wind rattles roof shingles, lifts them like wings. Summer won’t be long, though it feels a mile from this cold kiss. And with summer comes an ocean call of fish runs and trawlers. And beyond that an endless nothing of distance. The blue-sky days of cheerful breezes and glaring blooms will bring emptiness. Absence. And the long silence that follows, a stranger’s promise of some day, some day, calling like a bird only stopping on its migration.

You whisper in my ear the names of tides—bore, neap, rip—and tell me you have dogs named for them. High and Low? A hacked laugh from the cigarette and salt tangle of your lungs. The coils of my ear are moist from your breath, cooling in the draft. I want to tell you not to go. You are, when you close your eyes, already there. Your legs steadying on the deck, your hand and the rudder welded together in a single sweep.

The ends will not meet. Tug the sash loose and let it fall, there is more here than just sodden heat and belly. A ribcage flutter that grows into shadows, a girl. Techs are not supposed to tell, but they do. Her hair is a wild, wet halo, her legs above her, curled, small footprint against the wall. She floats in a tiny sea, bubble rising from her lips. I stagger into the sun, half-smile, half-longing. I can’t know yet that your boat is taking water, storm surge over the bow.

I settle into a booth and feed us both the most wholesome food I can find in a diner, limp collards dotted with bacon, and I am trying to tell you this, conjuring your face so that you might somehow hear. You once said we had to end it because you like being away. You don’t like having to return with tendrils, tethers, knots, nets. You like the clean slice of the bow through chop.

I try to picture where you are at this moment, the ocean heaving your boat in swells, the trail of gulls seeking spoils. You told me the wet deck was more dangerous than hooks and nets, the pitch and slip of your feet. Instinct draws a hand to my belly, her thud against my palm. Strong kicks, they said. You are unreachable in some river, some tumbled rocky salmon run. Your phone is out of service or dead. The line is slack in my ear.

Frances Badgett writes fiction and poetry and lives in Bellingham, WA. Her stories have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine.

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