Esmerelda Lee planned her suicide with the meticulous attention to detail so many of her teachers and friends and parents of friends — along with her own parents, of course — had commented on so many times in the course of her eighteen years.
Seemed to Esmerelda it was the only thing about her they had noticed.
To make sure she’d thought of everything, she recorded the plan in her journal, her handwriting as small and precise as ever.
Drowning. Least painful, no blood, no mess, no exhaust smell, no knives or needles.
Water and weighted pockets à la Virginia Woolf.
Galveston Island State Beach.
Note 1: Not the most secluded beach (per Yelp), but Sunny Beach and Jamaica Beach have such cheery names it doesn’t seem right. I’m not trying to be ironic. I just want to go as quietly as possible.
Note 2: GISB is very shallow, as are all Galveston beaches. Counteracting this disadvantage is the fact that, as has been pointed out to me oh so many times, I am not very tall.
Timing: Tuesday, October 25th. New moon, maximum darkness, many businesses closed, least chance of being observed. High tide will be at 3:40 AM. I will start walking into the water a little after midnight. The incoming tide will be in my favor.
Galveston Island State Beach was nothing but empty darkness under a sky lacking any hint of a moon–the Gulf lit more by oil platforms than by stars.
Esmerelda stepped out of her Volvo station wagon with over three hundred thousand miles on the odometer and tucked her flannel-lined jeans into her heaviest lace-up boots and filled the pockets of her longest trench coat with rocks pilfered from the ornamental borders of her mother’s award-winning and water-wise landscaping.
The weight of the rocks in the pockets tugged Esmerelda’s shoulders forward. She heard her mother’s voice in her ear — posture, Esmerelda — and straightened up.
She realized she wouldn’t be seeing her mother again and let her shoulders slump and her feet carry her forward past a garbage can full of fish guts, beer cans, and a broken fishing pole festooned with knotted monofilament.
The water was warmer than she expected and took its time soaking through her jeans and filtering into her boots. Each step was heavier than the last, like she was getting sleepy.
Esmerelda almost smiled.
The waves were low and quiet. A soft breeze blew on her face and kept her dark hair out of her eyes. The rocks and the weight of her sodden clothes held her feet to the bottom so that wading through the shallow ocean water felt the way it should. Hard, but for a reason. Not like walking into school every morning feeling helpless as the heaviness, the nameless dread, gathered.
And everybody always telling her to just cheer up or just chill out or just shake it off. As if a one-step program was all it took.
The wind was picking up, and the waves building, but still the water only reached the undersides of her breasts. Esmerelda turned to the shore. She’d come further than she thought.
Esmerelda knitted her eyebrows together, listened. Didn’t hear anything. She shook her head and turned back to the Gulf and took another heavy step.
And heard it: a puppy, barking.
Esmerelda turned back to shore and saw it on the beach, a small, light-colored dog, easy to spot against the dark sand, barking and running toward her.
The dog flung itself into the surf, barking and splashing. Esmerelda’s heart sank.
The dog’s head disappeared. When it reappeared, it was still pointed right for her.
Esmerelda started screaming: “No, bad dog, go back, no, Jesus.”
The puppy kept coming.
Esmerelda fished a rock from her pocket and threw it. It fell into the ocean far short of the puppy and vanished, followed by the splash that marked its passing.
Esmerelda screamed again, her voice shaking. “Bad dog. No. Go home.”
The puppy kept coming. If anything, it was swimming harder.
The waves too, were coming harder — and higher, the offshore breeze strengthening. The puppy vanished behind a wave and didn’t reappear.
Esmerelda leaned toward the shore, not breathing. Waited forever. Saw the puppy, its head a tiny light spot against the endless dark water, scanning back and forth, looking for her.
The puppy’s head snapped around.
Esmerelda waved, then screamed again. “Here!”
The puppy barked. Now it sounded scared. But it kept swimming.
Esmerelda dug her toes into the sand and pushed toward the shore. A wave picked her up and dropped her. Her feet slipped out from under her. She fought to keep her head up, went under once, twice. She shucked off her trench coat.
Pulling awkwardly with her arms, pushing off with her feet when she could, Esmerelda moved toward the puppy, telling it she was coming, it was a good dog.
Water filled her ears. She heard nothing, kept swimming, kept calling, her hair in her eyes, her tears mixing with the seawater, and then she saw it, a skinny ball of gray and white fur churning its legs and shivering.
Esmerelda gathered the puppy to her. Its claws tore her Joy Division shirt, gouged the skin over her ribs. The pain bright against the darkness of the waves and the night sky.
Esmerelda lifted the puppy out of the water and set it on her shoulder. She kept a hand on its trembling body and waded toward the shore feeling the wind at her back and the puppy’s tongue warm against her cheek. Thinking she was going to name it Woolf.
Prompted by Kim Smyth (fishing pole, beach, Southern Texas)
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.
Jim’s Taco Fund
If you love this piece and you’ve ever tossed some coins to a subway saxophonist or a fiddler playing on the street, please consider sending a few bucks my way — a fiver would cover a day’s worth of tacos. Or, for $3, buy me a coffee!