The boy she liked in primary school is an architect. Or at least finished his studies of architecture. She’s not really sure. She hasn’t spoken to him in years, but in today’s easily connected world, it wasn’t hard to find him. She’s become addicted to scrolling through his Instagram. She loves the photographs he takes. They capture the city she left behind as a child so beautifully. She loves that he’s able to capture what she misses, but envies that he can live the life she still believes was supposed to be hers. She always feels ashamed when she looks at his pictures – like a voyeur – and makes sure she uses a private window. Sometimes, she tries to justify her perversion. Like she is peeking into his life, for mystery-solving purposes, trying to piece together the kind of person he’s become in the thirteen years that have passed since she’s known him.
Her most recent inquiry into the architect boy’s life reveals he’s engaged. She looks down at her hands. They are white from her constant cleaning, the skin peeling up like scales, and covered in little cuts from where it’s split. She sucks the blood from a knuckle, the taste of iron transporting her to her childhood. For a second she can almost smell the harbor, rust on one side, salt on the other, a sweet combination of sweat and spray. She recalls standing on the pier with her father, watching several fishermen slice open a shark, revealing treasures hidden in its belly. That was the day she gained a sister.
She’s never been in a real relationship and sometimes this bothers her, though most times it doesn’t. On cold days, she notices how empty her bed is. She packs the bed with pillows until she has cocooned herself into a claustrophobic, downy world that is hers and hers alone. She sleeps uninterrupted.
Her colleagues have pictures of significant others neatly displayed on their desks. Her desk has a smooth pebble she found on the side of the road. When she is having a rough day, she unknowingly presses the pebble against her forehead and counts to six. Lately, she’s been using the pebble more and more. The sound of her neighbors’ keyboards is suffocating. Her monitor stares back at her accusingly and she looks down, ashamed to look it in the home screen. The folders of paperwork are never ending. Every day, she’s drowning. She counts. One. Two…
She goes over the names of the boys she liked as a child, the boys who broke her teenage heart, the woman who almost swept her away, like a prayer almost. Please never let me be this foolish again. Please don’t remember me. Please just let me disappear. Despite years and years passing, she’s still unable to forgive her childish actions. She cannot let go of the past. She imagines she’s looking backwards as she walks. She wonders if the architect boy looks forward when he walks. Sometimes she imagines his life from his photos. It’s put together. He has a job he loves. He has many friends who love him. He has many hobbies, many which incorporate the sea somehow. The sea they were born from. The sea that she misses.
She hates her job, the incessant swooshing of files and clacking of keyboards gradually swallowing her up. She has few friends, no hobbies, unless she counts peeking into his life. She lives far from the sea, drowned in yellowing trees. On windy days, she likes to close her eyes and pretend the sound of the wind rustling through the yellow trees are waves crashing beneath her window. She searches this city for remnants of her past life. She gathers gingko leaves and pretends they’re seashells. She sees buildings as giant fish, their windows like scales still glistening from the window washer’s work; the thunderous clang of the garbage truck becomes the sound of the cannon many miles off, signaling twelve o’clock. She remembers the shark again and the moment her sister slipped out of its belly, a slimy pup with filmy eyes.
She hates the way she was born. Unlike the architect boy who was carefully crafted and tuned like sea glass, and her sister who was a gift from the sea, she was an afterthought. Two waves rolled into each other and she fell out of a column of foam. She has very little substance to her and begins to believe if she can’t make anything of her life, she will return to foam. She cups her hand to her ear and listens to the distant hum of her own blood. She calls her sister, who offers a solution to her imbalanced misery: a plane ticket home. She cries so much, she loses her voice.
Twenty-eight hours later, she stands on the nearest beach, sinking her toes beneath the sand. The air is as harsh and sweet as she remembered. The sea is calm and pushes against the shore in lazy, frothy waves. In the distance, cormorants drop into the water, like synchronized divers. They emerge seconds later, their black bodies slick and shiny. She throws herself into the water and to her surprise finds herself whole. No foam, no bubbles. She is solid.
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Tara Manshon has lived in the United States for sixteen years and still looks the wrong way when crossing the street. When she's not working or writing, she is constantly thinking about fries. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her work has appeared in 805 Lit+Art and has been nominated for the “Pen/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers.”