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This piece originally appeared in McSweeney’s 61. To read more from this ultra-deluxe, faux-leather-bound issue, subscribe by October 25. Get 15% off with your order with the promo code issuesixtyone.

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I met him at the drinking fountain. He was wearing purple shorts and a sleeveless shirt with sweat mooning beneath his neck.

“How are you?” I said.

“Minding my own business,” said William. A week later, he retained my services.

Ours was a seniors cruise, seventy-plus and gloriously understaffed, which allowed me to supplement my salary by companioning the people on board. We called them cones because you had to swerve to avoid them in the halls before they got their sea legs. Some retired on these ships. Cheaper than assisted. Here there was not much assistance available, though. If a person was prone to episodes or strokes, I boned up on what to do. Don’t get me wrong. Lot of folks on the cruise, healthy as horses. Mainly I was there for company, but companioning meant I was also a sort of first responder for my cone. Except I was a woman who was awful at emergencies, intimacy, and the sort of human botany required to tend to people looking back on their lives. I needed the money for my daughter, who was in prison.

After work I’d come find him at our pool. The place was meant to resemble a sort of isolated grotto, but during the day this was the most crowded pool on board. It was only when the sun went down that we had to ourselves the natural stone, the palms and bromeliads and crane flowers with ragged leaves. He liked to hold my hand and I let him.

We’d sit disrupting the decent people.

He had elided any remaining family duties, quit contact, and left to live out the twilight of his life poolside. We spoke about auric communication, the thousand heads of the ego, tantric eating, and power leaks. He told me about the Vedic astrologer he consulted through Skype; his son, who worked for big pharma and was therefore dead to him; and his wife, who was physically dead.

“She’d wear swimsuits tighter than a gnat’s asshole stretched over a rain barrel,” he’d say with great reverence.

Blurry from a long day in the engine room, I’d try to listen with my whole heart. The water was calm. Pink clouds dragged themselves through the sky. A few stragglers doggy-paddled around the pool, glancing up at us every now and then.

If crew members passed by, I’d slip my hand from his. William would grin.

When he fell asleep, I’d wheel him to his cabin. Other cones I’d lift into bed, but he didn’t want that. I’d wake him and he’d climb in himself. All he wanted was to know he’d made it back, so no one saw him forget himself. The sea outside his cabin windows looked like a chunk of blue anyone could come up with. At rest, his eyes remained a little open. He reminded me of a painting I’d seen at some museum, with my last cone, of an infant meditating in a hayfield.

- - -

Liner this big, we oilers had to do all sorts of stuff. Mainly I was responsible for the boilers and engines. You know the water’s never actually boiling in a boiler? Equipment needed lubrication, filtration, purification. Ejectors were hell. The ejectors especially you needed to be awake to handle. Some days I checked off equipment I only thought I’d looked at, but days like today I lied in the logs, knowing I hadn’t looked at something. The systems were such that you could let things go for quite a while with nothing serious happening.

We also had to clean the filters of all the pools on board, a process called backwashing, which is as rough as it sounds. More than once I had to scrape a melted adult diaper out of a heat vent. William told me this was great for cutting off a few of the thousand heads of the ego. He loved the thousand heads. He said no matter how old you got, you were still chopping off those heads.

I knew I was no better than anyone else, having raised a child on whom a lot of well-meaning people had spent a lot of money to get litigated and into her little room at Wetumpka—which, my daughter informed me, is the indigenous Muskogee word for tumbling water. I knew I wasn’t any better than anyone, and still, anytime I started to think I was something special after all, there would be another adult diaper waiting for me.

- - -

Most of us oilers were from Honduras or Ecuador or El Salvador, a couple fellow Americans, all loyal folks who sent all they earned home. Seemed to me they were trading their time for nothing, because they never saw where their money went. Maybe this was easier for them because they were religious. They were already used to stuff they couldn’t see.

Maybe they appreciated me because I guess in a way I wasn’t seeing my money put to use either. I spent barely anything, apart from going to crew bar so people didn’t start thinking I was some sort of cretin. Everything at crew bar was a buck except for a few items. Mostly, though, I abstained in favor of alone time in a storage room I’d permanently borrowed the key to, doing what I did to smooth myself out—my other expenditure. I quit officially a few months ago, after a cone of mine had a heart attack I was unprepared for. Tell you what: it took me long enough to get here. I didn’t used to care about my body or what I was doing to it. But when I saw her foaming up, I said to myself, Hey, you gotta start taking care of your body, so you’ll be in one piece when your girl gets out. I said, Let’s give this shit up before all the foam in you starts to come out too.

If I saw my kid again, out in the world, I bet I could give it up on the spot. Even she’d left off with the powder—she wasn’t inside two months before they got her straight as a stick.

But it’s so lonesome here, even with Marta, my girlfriend, and I’m so tired, I need just a little, little bit. Just to get through. If I wasn’t here, I’d get a dog, German shepherd, like we had growing up. But you can’t have a dog here. Every morning what I want most is to give it up. But working all day with the boilers and then sitting with William’s hand mashing into mine, trying to make indecent conversation and listen to someone who is not so good at making conversation or listening? I need to get back to me. I need to give something to myself. This is all I want, even when I don’t want to want it. Sometimes I think there’s a child in me, same as my daughter, asking for what she wants, and it’s like being a mom all over again except to myself—I never know when I should say no and when I should say yes. So, after a long day, even if that morning I wrote myself a note to keep in my pocket saying, “Today I won’t,” after a long day, before I go meet William by our grotto, I open up that storage room door and take my little stash out and admire how I’ve stacked the baggies neatly, shaken the contents to the bottom right corners. I give myself some, a simple contribution.

- - -

At our grotto one muggy evening, I was saying to William how it disgusted me to see people choosing between snorkeling with dolphins and swimming with crocodiles, when my daughter couldn’t even choose what she wanted for dinner. I’d seen dolphins getting boners and trying to hump women. Or worse, they picked someone to ignore, which my last cone found very hurtful—traumatizing, even.

“How do you go about swimming with a crocodile?” he said.

They had these tubes they sank into the water with people inside, so you could look the crocodiles in the eye. “It’s supposedly a spiritual experience,” I said. “Makes you remember a time when we were prey, before we chose to copy predators and hunt for ourselves.”

Of course, my daughter does deserve to be there. But it was a system put her in there. You know? She was a child. She was a little girl. And now she is inside, and will miss the most important parts of her life, unless I earn enough money to get her some Baba Yaga of the justice system, someone who could get anyone out of anything.

- - -

William lay back on his lounger in our grotto, his faithful wheelchair beside him, and ran his hands through his hair, awaiting our entrance to the Mediterranean. This the cruise marked with waste-of-money fireworks, which give up clouds of sulfurous smoke.

“Beautiful,” he murmured. If he noticed I was on something, he never said anything about it.

I wasn’t that tired, just my eyes were. They kept drooping and fuzzing up. But I wasn’t complaining. The only real unpleasant thing was his hand on mine, which wasn’t even a dangerous or bad hand. It was just a hand—a hand that knew what the situation between us was. Sometimes I even closed my eyes and pretended it was my daughter’s hand.

Crew members recycled plastic champagne flutes. They hosed burned artillery shell fireworks and other trash off the deck and into the sea. The cones liked to see us recycling, but when we docked, everything went to the same place. William and I lay quietly, the only ones there, watching the stars move inside the pool as the ship surged ahead. We had a good view of folks leaving the ship’s bars and restaurants and heading to their cabins.

“Everyone here is the same shape,” William remarked, watching a couple of big cones wobbling back from the bar.

- - -

Some days William would be shitting through the eye of a needle and I’d give him a teeny pill from my stash. Mostly he was healthy as a weed. Our exercise routine included swimming laps, if you could call that exercise, which I believe you could. Sure, he had the wheelchair, but the man could climb out of that thing and go. He told me he once swam a hundred miles and I believed him. He breathed through his nose when he came up for air—more efficient, he said—but mine was so wrecked from my habit I had to go mouth open. I hated how swimming made me feel. My heart would get to beating off its tracks, especially if I’d gone heavy in the storage room that week, but I enjoyed the feeling of bending and unbending my knees to propel myself forward. Plus it was good for me.

At certain points the process deepened dramatically, and I’d pass through a sort of wormhole, where everything became easier.

- - -

My girl wrote me emails with everything spelled wrong. Your mom tells you teachers are egomaniacs, of course you’re going to spell everything wrong! I wanted to go back and make the opposite of every choice I ever made when it came to my daughter.

I remember when I went to see her, the pens they had in the lobby were all wobbly, like someone about to cry.

“Meal trays too,” she’d said, when I remarked on this.

But I hadn’t been to see her in years. I didn’t want to take time off to see her again in her current condition. I’d rather make the money to get her free, so we could spend all the time together we wanted.

- - -

The first time I saw Marta, my girlfriend and my only friend on board besides William, we were somewhere close to Gibraltar. She had a mop out, but she wasn’t mopping. She was sitting with her back to me on the other side of the pool, mop lying next to her with its hair in the water. Her hands were covering her face. She was rawboned, with a brutal chest. I wanted to sit down and cover my face too. I thought about trying to hold both of this woman’s breasts in one hand, which would be impossible, and giving her a word that would be like an altar, where we could both take our sadness and lay it down as an offering. She had a face like my sister’s, and I didn’t even have a sister. I thought about going down to comfort her, telling her not to worry about mopping because tonight it would storm. The deck would be washed clean. Her shoulders shook and she took her hands from her face. She barked. She’d been laughing.

Marta had a mom and a brother in prison, and she hoped they never got out. She sent them postcards so they’d know what a decent, luxurious living she was making. She told them she was a performer, but she was just a janitor. Her cunt smelled like dryer sheets.

“He’s paying you to make it look like you guys are fucking,” Marta was saying. “Cones always need to let everyone know their pricks still work.”

We were lying on her bed, naked under the covers, beneath her roommate’s bunk. Marta had postcards ready to mail to her family stuck between the slats.

“Oh, come on,” I said, looking up at the medieval villages of Montenegro. “People need to be touched. It’s good for them. You’re just jealous I’m spending time with him.”

“Psh,” she said. “Come out tonight.”

“I need to save money,” I said. Every buck counted.

“Yeah,” she said gently. “But you haven’t even called a lawyer yet. Have you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m waiting until I have enough saved.”

“You don’t even know what enough is,” she said. “Plus, there’s no way she’s getting out. Right?”

Honestly? She wasn’t, no. But you never knew.

I’d thought of moving to Alabama to be near my girl, but I felt reluctant to spend all this money I was saving. Plus, where would I work? Would I remember how to drive a car? There seemed to be vast quantities of new, impossible technology you had to learn in order to function.

- - -

William and I lay by our pool. He’d brought a bag of popcorn and we practiced what he called tantric eating. According to him, the act of eating was a consecrated part of spiritual evolution. He’d charge the food by whispering a blessing over it from his astrologer, and we’d have to eat very slowly, focusing on extracting the essence. As the kernels dissolved on my tongue, I watched a few pool tiles wiggling, which felt like the tiles of my body underneath my skin, twitching from the maintenance bumps I’d done half an hour ago. Two linebackery women in matching black Hawaiian shirts walked past. Dark Hawaii: an especially popular fashion trend for cones.

I was tired of living inside my tiles.

And I didn’t think he asked to hold my hand because he wanted people to know his dick still worked. I think what William wanted was the oldest thing, what people have wanted since the beginning of time: to belong, to connect.

Then again, I have a certain look, which throughout my life has taught me that everyone—most people—do want to sleep with me. I’m not being stuck-up. I’m saying they want to use my face and my body to get off. There’s nothing to be proud of about this, which is something people really misunderstand. It is not a compliment when someone wants to fuck you.

But these black-Hawaiian-shirt women. They wore gift-shop monkeys around their handsome, fat necks. Velcro-stripped paws. The monkeys looked as though they were using these women as transport and might strangle them after. They had long, thin arms. They’d hold on for decades if no one bothered them, until the Velcro failed. The women laughed, and I knew that even if they weren’t laughing at me, they would laugh at me, if they knew my situation. It was a laughable life I was living. I imagined one ripping the other’s monkey off in a few minutes to suck her face.

“Sisters or boning?” I said.

“Sisters,” he said. I noticed them notice us in the dark. You always hear about creepy men watching women from the bushes, but more often I’m the creep watching. One woman pointed at us and said something I couldn’t hear, and they both laughed again. William rubbed my palm with his thumb. His hand was a croissant damp from a greasy bag, and I pressed into it, feeling the soft skin depress over muscle.

William drifted off to sleep, but I stayed by the pool, too tired to get up.

When my third-grade teacher began inviting me to his condo’s communal sauna, we used it as if it were the most solitary and ordinary place in the world. I wasn’t in third grade anymore by then. I was a junior in high school. But the middle and high school were connected by a little bridge, and I’d taken to having lunch with him in his classroom while we tried to fix his boiler. When he slept with me in his sauna, he told me it was because I was luscious and he’d always wanted me, ever since I was in his class, and that he needed me, and we had a marvelous time, the most beautiful time I’d had so far with a man, until later I thought back on the sauna and the lunches and realized I didn’t know anything, that I’d misunderstood nearly everything he did and everything I did. I’d gotten it all badly out of context, and this sensation started to live inside me, the feeling that anything I thought I knew, I was actually getting awfully wrong. I began to see doom everywhere. Anything good could be the worst thing to happen to you. So when my daughter went inside, I thought, Maybe here is a good thing, instead of another bad thing come along. Anything good seemed bad anyway. Anything bad seemed good. Did it really matter? Couldn’t you just designate one thing as the other, and the logic would fall into place? My senior year, I’d fuck the man who would become my daughter’s father in a sauna, thinking not pleasantly of my third-grade teacher and what he’d done to me.

In my more positive moments I thought, What is life anyway but a series of rooms, one as good as the other? I had a roommate who snipped her nails on her top bunk so they fell onto mine, a kind of bodily confetti. Not as bad as having to sleep in a room where the lights never went off, where the temperature was kept cold to prevent germs from spreading. My daughter was reading books. She’d told me plenty in her emails about what she did in there, the food, her friends, the courts, the laundry room where she worked, same as she had on the outside. She was studying toward a graphic design degree.

On the phone one day she told me she’d started tattooing at Wetumpka, which was making her quite popular and earning her commissary besides.

“What are the sanitary procedures?” I said.

“I burn the needles,” she said.

Everyone in there wanted a tattoo, according to her. Made me think of her dad, who always told her she looked like a school desk someone had scribbled all over. I personally thought she looked like the back of a church pew, where the Bic pen carvings were precise and seemed to involve a lot of effort and redoing to get the lines so deep. What I mean is, I believe my daughter’s markings were not how they looked—haphazard, procured in a boozy haze—but were her way of articulating her destiny. She’d repeated the markings as many times as she needed throughout her life because she was a repetitive, solemn, reverent girl, and always had been.

“It’s great,” she said. “No one wants to hurt the tattoo girl.”

In my more negative moments I remembered all the incompetent drawings my daughter had done as a kid. I didn’t ask how someone who couldn’t draw had picked up tattooing, but obviously a mother worries.

I called up a lawyer that evening. I told the woman how much money I had saved. The lawyer sounded like Martha Stewart, which struck me as a good thing because though Martha was overindulgent and lazy, she was savvy enough to turn her jail stint into a cooking show with Snoop Dogg, which has always seemed to me like awfully smart marketing.

What the fuck is white pepper, he’d say, or something like that.

She’d go, Snoop, I couldn’t agree with you more.

“Tell you what,” the lawyer said to me. “I’ll look into it and give you a buzz back.”

Weeks went by. I never heard from her.

- - -

William and I were both advocates of routine. Mornings when I had time before work, we’d do our swim in the grotto pool, William ahead of me in his tiny purple shorts. I swam in my uniform top and a pair of men’s striped running shorts with a mesh dick pocket I liked, a place for the organ and balls I did not have.

Everything had a place, I thought. My daughter had a place at Wetumpka, which was reassuring in a way. I had a place in my fingernail bed. William had a place at the pool and in his cabin.

His quads were stunning, the only place on his body without wrinkles. He swam daily out of a restlessness that seemed to propel him in all things.

“Come on, come on, come on!” William would say as we swam lap after lap, and when he said it I could do it.

People would smile at us from their loungers, at the thirtysomething woman struggling behind the older man. At first I’d be faster, but after a few laps he’d move ahead for good. I’d be behind him, my heart wiggling in my chest and my lungs throbbing.

After, William would climb up into his wheelchair and I’d wheel him around. One morning we passed one of the gift-shop monkeys curled like a squashed spider in a corner. We passed a row of women applying temporary tattoos of glittered hibiscuses to their arms. We passed Marta wheeling a cleaning cart and I felt like someone had opened the bathroom door while I was pissing. I wanted to know what William thought of Marta. I was tempted to tell him who she was to me, but I was too embarrassed by her large breasts, by how her legs were long, featureless sticks below a cute pooched belly. I didn’t have anyone else who would give me an outside perspective on her, not even my roommate, who, apart from the fingernails, shared the room like you’d share a seat with a stranger on a bus.

“How’d your daughter end up in prison, anyway?” he asked as I pushed him.

I wasn’t entirely sure what my girl had done to get into Wetumpka and I told him so. I’d kept out of the court stuff and she hadn’t wanted to worry me. She’d shot someone, a robbery gone wrong, drugs. She’d chosen earwigs for friends. That’s all I got. Every unintended murder’s pretty much the same, isn’t it. Someone says, “Oops,” and everything goes very quickly to shit.

- - -

Nights when new crew boarded, everyone, even me, went to crew bar to scope out the new employees, to think about making a move on someone before repeat offenders pounced. At home I’d been the one you got warned about. Here people I barely spoke to warned me about Marta. I sat in the corner, thinking of William in his lounger next to our grotto. I watched Marta buy dollar margaritas for a new woman who was offensively tiny, with infant arms, wearing a disgusting outfit, high-waisted pants and a shirt that showed her flat gut. I would like to be the type of woman who wouldn’t stand for this—Marta hitting on someone else in front of me—but if I’m being honest, I’m not. I don’t not stand for anything anymore.

Another oiler came up and talked to me, which was rare. He wanted to tell me how Marta slept with cones for money. I shrugged. He went back to his people.

I peeled a label off a ginger beer and watched my non-acquaintances, folks I never wished to know, move their mouths and grow softer and more animated. Marta was next to me again. I’d shifted to real beer even though I didn’t drink anymore and soon she was sitting beside me. We went to her room.

Her roommate was reading on the top bunk, holding a slap-full glass of tea on her chest, but we were used to her and argued like we were alone.

From Marta’s face you’d think she’d be fat, but she was very thin, except, of course, for the tits, and the tiny belly she had from drinking. The transition between face and body was arousing: you took in the face and forced your eyes down, correcting what you thought you were seeing. It was the correcting that got me.

“I saw you the other day,” she said. “Holding hands with William. It’s weird.”

“I retained a lawyer,” I told her.

“You did not,” she said.

“Well, I called one.”

“And? Can he get her out?”

“It’s a she,” I said, “and we’re going to try.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“You ever sleep with a cone?” I said.

“Of course not.” She frowned at me.

If you got caught coning, you were toast, and you had to pay for your flight home from whichever port was next. I’d rather die than risk getting fired.

- - -

A few days later, when I kept pressing her, she changed her story. “Oh, on Disney,” she said. “Everyone does on Disney. Here’s different.”

“You slip them the Mickey?” I said. An old joke. Disney cruises were known for harassment and date rape among the employees. Plus pervs signed on to be around kids.

“You think your daughter deserves to go free?”

“She’s my kid,” I said. “Of course I do.”

“Look, I’m telling you this out of love. She’s not getting out,” said Marta. “You’re delusional. I used to think it was helping you, believing you could make enough to get her free. But you’ve got to let yourself leave her behind. It’s like you won’t get off this ship because it would mean you’d have to face her being stuck in there.”

I didn’t say anything.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “I’m going home. You should too.”

We sat there a long time. I was looking up at a postcard of some moonlit waterfall in Cyprus, thinking of the bullshit she’d send me about her new life. All she needed to be happy about her life was someone to lie to about how good it was. I envied her for that.

- - -

Next port, Marta left for good. I called a million lawyers. They all said they’d email me soon as possible. They said I had enough funds to get started. They explained what getting started was, but it didn’t sound like much.

I was on my way to see William, late from repairing a three-hour engine room mistake, after whaling on what I had in the storage room because I was crashing, doing more every day just to stay awake, when a tall, beer-bellied cone stopped me and called me honey and put his hand on my neck and demanded to see the captain. This happens all the fucking time. Plastered people always want to see the captain. They want to meet the person guiding the vessel. They begin to understand this is their right.

The man was pregnant with a lifetime’s worth of beer, his skinny legs shaking.

“Let go of me or I’ll push you overboard,” I hissed. “Want to find out how it feels to hit the water from ninety feet?”

He grabbed my arm. “Lemme see him, dyke,” he said. I smelled like grease from the boilers. I felt smudged. The man caught my other arm and grinned. I kneed him in the balls, stomped his Crocs. He grinned wider and held on.

“Take me,” he said, “to the motherfucking captain.”

All I could think of was my daughter in similar situations, locked in embraces with women who don’t have to worry about sunscreen for a long time, or ever again.

- - -

When I finally got to William, he crabbed his hand at me, stretching his palm and wiggling his fingers. I waited a long beat before taking hold of it.

A man nudged a rusted walker ahead of him as if it were a reluctant, beloved pet. “Come on now,” the man said gently. “Come on.”

“Pathetic,” I said, crouching to pick a leaf off the water’s surface.

“He seems sweet,” said William, squeezing. “Your hand is always so sweaty.” He patted it absently. “A very worried hand.”

It rained while we sat there. I watched the drops hit the stone around the pool. I watched individual drops smack the palm fronds and the bromeliads and the crane flowers.

“I wish it wasn’t raining,” I said. I was pushing my heart along like the man with the walker. I missed Marta already.

“Power leak,” he said. That’s what he called any phrase that began with wishing for something different.

I told him wishing was most of my life.

“Then you’re giving away all your power,” he said.

My daughter had always been so thin, thin in a way that made her muscles show because there was nothing to get in the way. Unlike me, she was tough, the kind of person whose skeleton you could see right there under her face. Looking at my girl, you were reminded that beneath our face tissue and skin and all the more impermanent bits, we had no eyes or nose, not really, just holes in our skulls that, once we died, would allow bugs and bacteria to get inside our heads and help us break down into something useful again. Mouths we had; teeth, yes; but all the other face stuff was weak. Bones, on the other hand, were strong. And my girl was nothing but bone, bone, bone.

“Hey,” William said. “I’m still here.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I was just thinking about my daughter.”

The kid kept telling me she was straight. I hoped it was true. I’d heard folks stuck drugs in Nerf footballs and threw them over the walls, swallowed them during visitation, even used drones. Drones! I’d heard from a cousin inside that they’d invented this spray. You sprayed it on a letter, baked the letter in the oven to cure it, and mailed it to the inmate, who smoked the letter like weed. Paper, they called it.

When I looked back at William, he’d fallen asleep, and I wheeled him to his cabin, feeling bad for not being great company. I tried to wake him up. When he wouldn’t budge, I checked his pulse—normal—and lifted him into his bed. He was light as a child.

- - -

On a port day I met up with William at a nearby beach. He had a saffron-stained tongue. He handed me his paella leftovers in a Styrofoam box like a kindly leper. I told him I wasn’t swimming that day and he seemed to understand. I ate while he swam in his girly purple shorts. I pressed the shrimp between my tongue and the roof of my mouth so the juices leaked out. I followed his glistening form back and forth, hoping he wouldn’t find a hidden riptide in the crowded water. You always heard about riptides, these erotic, draggy forces. I’d seen a lifeguard put purple dye in a rip before, saw how quickly the dye flew out to sea.

When William came out of the water, his head was shiny and wet and hit with so much sunlight it was no color at all. He hobbled over and collapsed into the chair.

I was missing Marta so bad. Maybe she was right about Wetumpka. I was glad I had William.

“I don’t want you to pay me anymore,” I said. “I just want to be friends.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said.

“How’s your heart these days?” I said. “You wouldn’t wake up last night.”

He shrugged and toweled off. He rubbed his head vigorously before settling into his wheelchair.

“You don’t think about someone for long enough, they disappear,” said William. “And I’ve been trying to not think about anyone for so long.”

I nodded.

“But now I’ve been thinking about them and they’re all coming back,” he said.

I stared out at the swimmers, who were hollering with joy every time a big wave came in. A young, big woman swam out past the rest, went underwater, and reappeared so far away I could no longer make out the tattoos encircling her chest and arms. She appeared one more time, glimmering in the distance, before I let her go.

- - -

At the next port, I had a message from Wetumpka. My daughter had been hospitalized. She’d been in solitary confinement for reasons they couldn’t share, but somehow she’d gotten into a fight in the shower. They had no other information at this time.

William bought us both hundred-year-old ham to eat on the beach. After the ham, he handed me another Styrofoam container, this one with a honey-and-cheese dessert inside. I ate mine in two bites and he did too.

“What’s the crunchy part?” I said.


He had fine grains of sand on his lips, clear like salt crystals. “Heart bothering you?” I said. He shook his head. Our hands sweated white sunscreen sweat.

Above us were a few daytime stars. We were quiet. We lay there on the sand.

“Goddammit,” he said. “Goddammit all to hell.”

I had to agree. I reached for his hand and he squeezed mine. Together we took in the sea.

- - -

Illustration by Sophie Hollington.