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Riptide

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She had told herself that the tearing of her maidenhead, the heady wine of skin on skin, would quench and empty the hot, restless yearning in her, would turn her heart from the sea to the shore; that she would sleep in a shared bed without dreams, and wake without regret. That marriage would anchor her, that her sweet, steady, long-beloved husband would be her harbor, keep her moored instead of slipping outward at the mercy of wind and tide and ever-moving current.

She had been right, at least in part, but not in the way she'd hoped.

* * *

Sunrise finds her walking the edge of the tide-line, barefoot, the insistent wind of early morning whipping strands of carelessly loose hair around her face, twisting her skirts round her legs and hindering her steps. She halts, cursing softly, unwinds the fabric, wishing heartily for the easy stride of breeches. Her eyes are drawn out to sea, then, but she will not allow herself to look for black sails there.

Around her in the paling light the seagulls wheel and cry, soaring out over the ocean. Their flight against the wide, radiant sky is sharp in her chest, and their wild calls give rise to an answer that catches and chokes in her throat. Then they wing out to sea and are gone, leaving her breathless. Suddenly the pitiless arch of the sky seems to press her into the earth. Caught between horizons, she will be ground into sand, stretched until she splits apart. She drops to her knees, her hands over her ears, but she cannot shut out the noise of the waves: rhythmic, ebb and flow, push and pull. The rip-current is so strong she can feel it in her blood; the ocean-roar echoes the pounding of her own pulse, as if her heart would beat its way out of her chest and take flight after the gulls.

The anchor-chain snaps taut; the tension shudders through her, to her bones.

* * *

The world is too still by night; she hardly sleeps at all.

One night soon, she will cease to attempt it. She will pace from the simple hewn table to the window that overlooks the faint shimmering expanse of the starlit ocean, staring out at the single vessel that lies at the mouth of the bay like a shadow. The candle will gutter, burning down, as she finally seats herself at the table, pulls a sheet of parchment towards her, and dips her pen.

The letter will take a long time to write, for the far-away sough of the waves will distract her.

At last she will fold the stiff parchment, tip the candle over it, the wax pooling like a tear. She might even press a fine gold band into the still-soft seal, her fingers lingering over it in a brief caress before she snatches her hand away, although the wax will no longer be hot enough to burn her. She will leave the letter on the table and bend to blow the candle out, sinking the room into darkness.

Outside, the night will be graying slightly, blue underwater light seeping in around the edges of the sky. She will go out swiftly into the almost-dark, treading a familiar path down to the quay.

Perhaps there will be a boat waiting there for her, and a man, too. What words they say will not speak to what they feel; but even in the uncertain light, she will see the flash of his smile. The boat will sway and shift as she steps into it, returning to the moving world; the dock will shrink and fade behind them, becoming indistinct, unreal, like a dream upon awakening.

The sky will brighten, then, lifting and opening over the water; black sails will unfurl in the boundless space between, and the gulls will bank and soar around tall masts and spars in ever-widening circles, calling into the seaward wind.

And the heavy anchor chain, now broken--worn down, as all things will be in the end, by the sea--will bury itself slowly in the fine silt of the harbor floor, while the ends of her mooring lines drift upon the placid bay, with nothing left to hold against the tide.