Juliet knew that the rising of the sea had been a slow and precipitous, almost imperceptible, process. But as she stood on the deck of her beachfront home miles away from what used to be the shore, she wondered how all of this had been swallowed up so quickly. She could remember the shoreline, when it was there, and then there, and then there, until it was here. She knew that this, too, would all be gone soon enough, but this morning she had decided to ignore that and enjoy the view.
She appreciated her waterfront proximity if only because she was certain that it was what kept Phillip at the house. It had been three years since Francis died, more than enough time to grieve. He should want to be out, have his own apartment, want his own space, she reasoned, on her less clouded days. But even in those moments of clarity she was still grateful for his presence. The house didn’t feel as empty. The night time didn’t catch her by surprise. It was easier to cook for two.
Not that Juliet had done much cooking lately. She used to find such peace and purpose in the kitchen, bent over the stove, wanting to get it just right. She would trace it all the way back to those immediate days after, when there was a constant parade of Pyrex dishes bearing casseroles and lasagnas. You shouldn’t have to worry about this, they said. And so she didn’t.
Phillip was an easy eater. But he particularly liked shrimp scampi, which was to Juliet’s advantage; it was simple. They would take their plates out to the deck and watch the last glints of winter sun set under the ocean. Francis would get a kick out this, Juliet thought. He hated the water.
On mornings like this Juliet would find herself staring at the water for minutes at a time, wondering if it was all still there. For so long, she had been both mystified by and terrified of the ocean. As a girl, she imagined mossy treasure chests and elegant mermaids. When she was older, she developed an inconsolable fear of sharks. Her first boyfriend, Eddie, had taken her out on his parents’ schooner, and she clung nervously to the railing the whole afternoon, teeth chattering, impervious to the romance of his gesture. Now, the ocean made her vaguely mournful, for she knew too well all that laid below.
When Phillip was still a young boy, they had taken him out on a boat to see Venice. The tour guide led a snorkeling expedition to visit the old main drag of Abbott-Kinney, and her perpetually curious son was eager to see it. “You think it’ll be just like Atlantis?” he had asked in the car on the trip down the shore. Francis laughed and said, “I don’t know, from what I remember of Venice, it’ll be more like our old neighborhood.” He took a beat and glanced over at Juliet, grinning. “Well, underwater.”
She could remember that day in stunning detail, better than she could recall the previous one. Francis wearing his worn Dodgers cap. The scent of seashells and funnel cake. The sound of the afternoon tide beating against the bottom of the boat. They dove in one by one and slithered through the abandon buildings. Francis, reluctant as he was of the water, had always been a good swimmer. His slender frame was suited for it. He flipped his fins and pointed emphatically to a one-story frame on a corner. Juliet swam over and he squeezed her hand. She recognized it immediately. It was the one from the photograph. For a moment, a sense of deep sadness washed over her. She was glad for Francis’ hand.
Later that morning, she asked Phillip if he remembered that trip. “Yeah, I guess,” he shrugged. She was distraught by his ambivalence.
“You don’t remember?” Juliet pressed on. “How we went snorkeling over all those old buildings? Oh, and on the way home, when we stopped at that terrible fish shack off the freeway and your dad was just–”
Phillip didn’t look up from his phone when he interrupted. “Yeah, no, I mean, I remember. Like, the general stuff. Of course I remember snorkeling.”
“The Lost City of Venice,” Juliet mused, shaking her head in bemusement. “Remember?”
“Yeah, Mom,” Phillip offered sympathetically. “I remember.”
Juliet wondered if there were things that she had forgotten that Phillip would have remembered. If they had been responsible for equal shares of their collective memory, and he had taken with him chunks of their life together that she couldn’t get back. About a year after his death, when she felt she had run out of ways to think about him, she used to ask these questions to the half-empty bed. Is there anything left that I haven’t remembered yet? She would fall asleep concentrating, hazily hoping the memories would visit her in her sleep.
Phillip was too young to remember, but this house had an almost identical layout to their first home, the one to which they had brought him home. The front door opened to the main stairwell, at the top of which Francis would call down in the morning, half-dressed in his white shirt and white underwear, and ask Juliet if she had seen his belt. She loved the way he asked her for help before even trying to look.
She had dreamt about that old house the night before. They were throwing a party, something for Francis’ office, but they had run out of liquor. Juliet left to run to the store but when she came back her home was submerged under water. She floated apprehensively to the front door and was relieved to find that all the guests were still there. But she could not shake the image of the house’s exterior, covered with algae and hollow, like the corner store in Venice.
Juliet knew that this house, too, would be under the ocean soon enough. She wondered how long it would really take. If Phillip would have to take his grandchildren out on a boat to see where he once lived. Something about this prospect thrilled her, she realized, and for a moment she delighted in its inevitably. When she bought the house, she wasn’t sure precisely why she wanted to be on the beach. It was meant to create distance from Francis, she had told herself, but she was beginning to realize she had hoped it would bring her closer to him.
Juliet reminded herself to enjoy the view. To enjoy her son being home. Maybe she would walk to the grocery and pick up some ingredients for dinner later. She’d ask Phillip if he felt like scampi. It would be a good night for dinner on the deck. Just being here is enough, she told herself. For now, that’s enough. She rocked back and forth at the railing and waited for the tide to rise.
T.S. Leonard is a Los Angeles based writer, Missouri-bred storyteller, and persnickety cultural essayist. His work has appeared on Entertainment Voice, in Civilian Stories, and Missouri Life Magazine.
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