Half Hitch

Frances Badgett
| Fiction

You come back quiet. She tugs at your hair, stares into your eyes. You blink. This is not what you meant, you say. There is too much ocean in you. Mornings, you walk the shore and stare into the whitecaps as if they might birth your dead crew, one by one. We plank and smoke salmon. We grill cod. We can tuna with carrots. She smiles when you walk toward her. You call her Girl, afraid of the net of a name. You turn to me and smile, a tight-lipped attempt at not leaving us both, a stab at happiness. I wave, my eyes caught in her curls.

Antun was your favorite of the crew. You want to name her Ana for him, you want the churn and stroke of the engine to live in her pulse. You liked the way he sang with the radio, the crazed shock of his hair, perfect vertical. You want me to be him. You want all of us to be him. She slaps her salmon with her palm, and it sends you into gales, reminding you of Antun, of the long hours drifting, churning away from here. She upturns her milk and puts her glass on her head, drops catching on her shoulders. You see her now as yours. We sign the certificate “Ana” as she chews your pen.

You tell me you can’t wait to get her out there, to show her that a horizon never arrives. Like us, you whisper. I hear you over the fan. She pulls the collar of your shirt and buries her face. You hand her back to me and walk to the yard, door still open, salt brine air wafting in.

You place her on the deck in her red boots and untie the bowline. We are in a small space of calm between arguments, your body still tense, hands still thrashing. It is too cold for her out here. The water is deadly cold and we cannot swim. You have no life jacket. You pull me on board and tend to the engine, the rudder. We chug away from the dock, the tension eases off your shoulders, your face. The wind braces, and you howl into it. She howls, too. She teeters on the edge of the boat, hugging the air.

The islands rise and fall on the horizon, a light rain soaking us. You turn us toward home, humming a song you shared with your crew. You once said they were the only people you ever really loved. You said it to me. The salt stings our faces. I tuck her face under my arm and hold her, warming us both. You are gentle at the dock, lifting her carefully and placing her just so. You kiss my cheek before tying the boat, over-under-over of your cold, stiff fingers.

Just before bed, she rolls into the warm reach of the fire’s halo. You snatch her up, hold her to the light. She smiles back and kicks, a game. I place a finger on the page and look up, the two of you. Your hands are softening without the daily scrape of saltwater and cold air. She rests on your shoulder, slip of drool. I watch you both longer than you know. She is almost asleep. Then asleep.

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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