The wife sat near the fire next to her husband. The flames spit sparks and scattered like fireflies. Her husband sipped sweet wine from a crystal glass inherited from her grandmother. She couldn’t place it but something seemed off. It turned her stomach. She peered over at her husband for comfort but received nothing except a split face: half shadow, half burning. His right eye, the one glossed in firelight, appeared tearful, like he was sorry. But sorry for what?
She couldn’t place it: did I turn off the iron? close the garage door before sundown? shut off the stove after dinner? Her mind was getting worse. The other day she’d forgotten her uncle had died the year before for she swore she’d seen him in town. The doctor reassured her it was normal forgetfulness due to a hormonal imbalance since the unexpected pregnancy.
I’m sorry, her husband said to the fire.
For what? she asked.
He did not respond. He began to cry. She’d never seen him cry in their twenty-six years of marriage.
For what? she asked. Robert. Robert.
Oh, God, he said. He stood, walked away from where they sat, up a small hill, past the rose bushes toward the beach house.
She stood too from feeling abandoned. Where are you going? she said. You still have half of a bottle. His form disappeared into the darkness until he reached the square of yellow light stretching across the lawn. He entered the house. He pulled down the shades and flicked off the lights. The sea air was chilly like cold fingers pressing her neck.
And then she remembered with blunt force like a rock to the head.
Within her invisibility she tried to detect a heartbeat. But she’d disappeared into the darkness, along with the ocean waves, the crickets chirping in damp grass, the slowing fire. The short flames beat softly around long pieces of wood resembling bones. Something had slipped away from her. She was the balloon a child had let go of.
The moon was bright and high and it made the white beach house glow like a ghost hovering the yard, a ghost she sort of recognized, and it frightened her. It frightened her because it mirrored herself, and she knew the bones were her own.
* "The End of Summer" was previously published in Neighbors, Fall 2015.
The End of Summer