Mick’s Bay * draft 9 – m.t.roberts
He kissed her beneath an alder tree outside her home; she placed her hand on his chest, fingering the buttons of his shirt, gliding a nail into the dip between his collar bones with a smirk, staring, and wondering maybe—a slip on the rocks and Mick realized once more just how careful he needed to be. The cliff was small, but steep, and yet the kiss with Beth was all he could see. The rush of that memory drove him downward until he found himself balancing on a stolid outcrop of driftwood, where he took a breath and hopped off to the beach in a falling plume of sandy bark.
He moved along the shore, watching the bay churn in highlights beneath a moon whiter than bones. Mick listened to the waves brush each other, like massive leaves thrashing in the wind; a shiver crawled up his neck. He knew how the water would feel—immense and cold, colder than the October at his skin, but then almost warm, almost informal as it made drowsing attempts to pull him in further. It was a courtship he knew only in quick spurts, but he knew it well and turned away, looking back at his house perched squat and quiet atop the cliff.
An orange light off the porch lit his mother’s damp rhododendrons. They rose soft and tall, lipping the picket fence; he whispered a quiet thank you to their stereochromy, feeling they guarded his trespass from the dark window of his mother’s bedroom, and let his gaze wander back to the bay, back to the sparkling harbor of Wilkes Island. Perhaps Beth was asleep now, or staying up late reading a girl’s adventure novel, having forgone her homework in the quiet of her kempt room; maybe she was on the phone with another boy, talking in her smiled, thoughtful way. Mick closed his eyes, letting the cool breeze ripple across his body, and hoped not.
He wished he could reach her, that he could bound the entire bay and swoop into her town. He wanted to be a part of it, that lone hump-of-an-island, sitting nestled in the night with its lights like bright freckles, motioning to the stars that it too twinkled—he could be there amid the trees and street lamps, walking up a sloped road past houses in a sneakered wind! Oh he could see again how Beth’s neighborhood was littered with bumps, as if the place rested above a giant creature that hummed and yawned in the soil, rising the very ground beneath every tree and slab of cement!
Mick reveled again in the feeling of that night, the moment they kissed, how it had been like an opened door into adulthood, and how he had known it—even knew he liked what he thought he saw—but now, finding that door again seemed elusive, and like a dream, or like the wind that remained as a light buffet on his face, tapping at his ears, some sensorial thing he could only allow to happen; Mick studied Beth’s face in his head: beautiful with long hair almost the color of baby strawberries, and slightly curled; if he ever told her she looked elfin, Mick was sure it would annoy her. She might roll her eyes and say with an up-lilting inflection, “So what can I do about that?”
Mick took off his shoes and reached for the garbage bag he brought, unfolding it from its nook in the breast pocket of his jean jacket. He went over to a wooden box he had stashed behind a rock earlier. Inside was an orange life ring and towel—Wilkes was a little over one nautical mile from his angle on the bay, and the low tide was already beginning to wane. When he was down to his bathing suit his teeth had already begun to chatter. The old life ring felt like an anchor in his palms, and the bloated garbage bag roped around his waist, slapping his calves with each step, seemed more like a pleading puppy tugging him not to leave. Mick held his breath, and the bay curled around him.
Beth walked up her street after school as authorities were scouring a scene off Wilkes’s eastern beach. Beth heard a fisherman found a body earlier that morning. She ducked below a branch with pine cones. Beth lived in one of the nicer areas of the island, but always wondered why nicer had to mean hills. Shortly, she reached the top of her block and paused by her father’s alder tree like she had done every day since Saturday. A boy had kissed her that night, just beneath it. He walked her home from the videotheque, all the way from town square. Beth touched her lips and smirked, inhaling the cool October wind while leaves fell to her feet. She walked into her yard from the sidewalk and wondered, maybe, if he remembered also.