While my daughter and I dove under the curls of the Atlantic, and two little girls (close by, but not as deep as us) got continuously rolled, and a plane groaned back and forth across the sky trailing a lime green scroll advertising something called Bud Light Tea, and a too-tan woman with a butt like unrisen dough blasted Sugar Ray from a blue portable speaker as her skin turned slowly to paper, and my boyfriend (not partner—too permanent; not lover—who says that?; no relation to my daughter, though often prone to an authoritarian tone) lay on his side on a sand-covered towel in a pose radiating despair, and I felt, as I laughed at the water sluicing across my skin, that his sadness must be somehow my fault, and tourists crowded around a huge statue of a juiced-up Poseidon—frozen in a glower and about to trident the shit out of somebody—snapping selfies (#VABeach #beachweek #summer #funinthesun), and military jets roared back and forth across the sky because, according to my father, they’re preparing for war (you know, because Trump), and a drunk teenager crashed one of those rentable electric scooters off the boardwalk sending a flock of seagulls squawking into the air, and a pair of lovers walked hand-in-hand in the lapping waves, glowing, really just glowing, and my stomach plummeted, just for a second, just for the breadth of a thought, really just glowing, until I dipped below the next crest and rose again to my daughter’s grin, because who says the love of your life has to take the shape of a spouse, and I didn’t think of how the Great Whites are returning in rising numbers due to conservation efforts, because if there was one here in these waters, I knew they preferred the blubber of seals to our scant baby fat, unless, of course, the shark was a bad egg, an aberration, because (how humanly!) the shark that attacks is often just that—a bad egg, angry, overly aggressive, acting out some trauma never fully felt—and so there isn’t any reason to be afraid, not really, and my boyfriend’s pale skin turned pink, and I thought of yelling to him, or maybe doing some pantomime (oh, but he’d hate that), to reapply the sunscreen, a Virginia Beach civil engineer walked from room to room in a municipal building a few miles away, a silencer attached to his .45, and shot eleven people, before he himself was shot by police, and my boyfriend almost cried because, also that day, Roky Erickson (who’d been dying so long) died, though my boyfriend seemed unfazed by the dead at the beach, and ever since then, I’ve had to fight this sinking feeling that I can’t explain, other than to blame it on physical proximity to tragedy, because this one was too close, because I was swimming in the ocean with the sun on my face, while you were bleeding to death.
Elizabeth is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in The Forge Literary Magazine, Bodega, CRAFT, Fiction Writers Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her daughter Ruby. Read more at ElizabethGMayer.com.