Hair coiling and swirling in the murky current, she claws at gnarled fingers of seaweed, struggles to rise toward the surface before she chokes on the sea sponge lodged in her throat. Bolt upright in bed, she gags. Full moon. Open window. The wad of phlegm lodged in her windpipe loosens. Box of tissues on the bedside table next to the novel she hasn’t started reading. She spits into a tissue and draws heat-thick air into her lone lung. Thinks of how a man she once knew said he’d coughed up a log of tar when he quit smoking. She pictures it, the same texture and colour as the sponge she inhaled in her dreams.
In her dream, she was her girl-self swimming in Lac Pelletier. She leans back against her pillows, wondering why she returned to those long-forgotten docks. Where she was afraid the seaweed in the stagnant lake would drag her down and drown her. In the dream, she clamped her bluing lips against the dead minnows that began trembling on the surface. Panic exploded in her lungs, and she struggled against the sudden undertow until her feet hit the slope of sand. Her leaden legs propelled her to the colourful towel abandoned on the beach where she collapsed. Firepit smoke was in the air. A wiener roast.
She squeezes her eyes against the memory. Inhales and traps air in her remaining lung. Last night, before she went for supper, when she’d glanced back into the full-length mirror, checked her reflection for panty lines, she’d glimpsed the faded scar protruding from under the dress, just above from her left shoulder blade. A reminder that all suffering fades. How, eventually, loss blends in with the mundane. Like the spattering of summer freckles mid-March. As she exhales, she recalls the smell of a bonfire lingering before she slept.
Last night, a fever had penetrated her in his bed and clung as she untangled herself from his legs, his sheets. The heat followed her home where the swelter was trapped. As she’d lifted open the window, the neighbour’s woodfire wafted in and she paused—torn between the desire to savour the smell of her lover lingering on her skin and to escape the heat. Not wanting to get sucked into the undertow of a love that will never be more, she left the window open and sank into her empty bed.
Rachel Laverdiere is a writer, course designer and instructor living on the Canadian prairies. Rachel’s essays are recently published in journals such as The Common, X-R-A-Y Literary and Pithead Chapel. Her flash CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s 2019 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, made The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2020 and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2020. For more of Rachel’s writing, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.