Robyn Thomas

It only hurts you to fight the tide, she thought to him, memory reproducing an argument they had, well he had, when she spilled his coveted ice wine over their dinner guests. And she wondered if he had realised those words, if they sunk in at the end, when his arms burned and his lungs sputtered salt water.

The dinner guests didn’t care, but he didn’t let go for weeks.

Lesley sat on a submerged stool at the swim-up pool bar, sipping her lukewarm rum punch and refocusing on her airport romance novel in an attempt to drown out the DJ’s nauseating carousel of top 40 hits. The lower half of her body already itched from the chlorinated water and sweat tricked down her ribcage. She watched a family return from the ocean, sand crumbling off the young boy’s ankles. They had that glow you don’t get from swimming in anything else, that feeling of your soul being scraped clean.

Nobody understood why she had flown back here, to the same resort. Lesley was certain his family blamed her for how things turned out, although they would never say so directly. Exactly a year ago today, Martin battered against the waves while Lesley went to fetch new towels. Some guest had pilfered theirs, and rather than receive an earful about why she hadn’t paid better attention to their belongings, she ventured forth to retrieve new ones. By the time she flagged down a “paradise attendant” and returned to the beach, he was gone.

Lesley used to find death calming—a finality that provided definition and certainty. But now she treaded carefully along the poolside to avoid skidding on sandy puddles and fracturing her skull, she dutifully checked the earthquake reports every morning, and she most certainly did not go near the ocean.

Before she met Martin, she was paying her way through school to become an aesthetician. By the final semester she was struggling to make rent, so when a roommate picked up a gig transporting dead bodies for a funeral home and suggested she apply as a mortician’s apprentice, Lesley figured she would at least be practising her craft. After her initial revulsion—their faces were sallow and their mouths sunken—she began to take great pride in her work. She experimented with air brushing and colour palettes, asking for photos that hinted at her subject’s style and personality so she could render their image as close to the living original as possible—sometimes even elevate it. After all, it would be the final image held in the memory of their loved ones, and when she did her job well, she was giving the grieving family a gift. She met Martin shortly after she’d prepared his father’s body for open casket. When they first started going out, he made her feel brave and interesting. After all, he “sure as hell wouldn’t be able to stomach it.” But after a few years he began complaining she was bringing home that “dead body smell”, and some nights kicked her out of bed to sleep on the couch when a shower didn’t adequately scrub off the stench of the deceased. Once she was in her third trimester, she “decided” to stay home for a year, and when motherhood declared she was an unworthy candidate, well, there were things to be done around the house. “Focus on getting strong again, love. You’re in a fragile state.” After  she officially resigned, she started having nightmares of bodies with garish faces painted up like clowns bursting out of their caskets, horrifying the families. She channelled her creative desires into painting her own face, every morning, into a perfect portrait.

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Image by Helmut Stirnweis from Pixabay