The milk has gone sour with no replacement jug in the back of Nancy’s fridge. Now she can’t eat Special K this morning, and what’s more, the Special K supply will fall out of sync with the milk supply. This means more trips to the grocery store. This means more time walking up and down the aisles, more time looking at people, more time being looked at. This means more time out there.
Every day, Nancy wakes up, and she lies on her back and watches the fly crawl loops on her white stucco ceiling. She watches the fly, her vision slipping in and out of focus, until the fly leaves. It will be back tomorrow.
Nancy gets up. She brushes her teeth with Arm and Hammer Soda and Peroxide Toothpaste. She scrubs her face with Burt’s Bees Citrus Facial Scrub. She gets her one-piece swimsuit with the broad blue stripe from the dryer and puts it on. She walks barefoot into the kitchen, and she opens the window above the sink. She listens to the wind whistling from the ocean over the beach. She pours the Special K. She pours the milk. She eats.
She checks the messages on her landline. She does not return calls.
She walks to the counter, picks up the Sharpie, uncaps it, and adds a tally mark to the Sticky Note. If the Sticky Note is full, she adds it to the wall and starts a new one. She puts on her Dansko clogs. She puts on her yellow Dollar Store sunglasses. She picks up the orange-and-white-striped towel. She leaves her small house.
Nancy walks forward about fifty yards to the beach and retrieves four stones from behind the dune with the crab carcass. She lays out the orange-and-white-striped towel and weighs each corner down with a stone. She slips off her clogs and lays them next to the towel. She takes off her yellow sunglasses, folds them, and places them on the towel.
She walks over seashells into the ocean. She wades until she must crane her neck to keep her face above water. She has decided this is the cause of the persistent ache in her neck; this and age. Still she walks, face up to the cloudless blue sky, until her toes can barely touch the bottom, until her ears are submerged, and the sound of seagulls is swallowed up, and the line between air and water laps at her nose. She ducks her head under and curls up. Her whole body is engulfed.
Nancy opens her mouth and screams.
She screams to fill the entire ocean. She resurfaces, she breathes, she sinks back down again. She is aching, small. She is shaking and shaking; she can feel her skin vibrating. She can feel the leviathans churning below her. She cannot tell if her eyes are closed or if the water is just that dark. She is suspended at the center of all outer space. She sees purples and reds, and she has lost all sense of gravity, and she screams. She screams.
And then Nancy closes her mouth and brings her head above water and wades ashore. She puts on the clogs and sunglasses. She picks up the towel, shakes the sand off, and folds it. She puts the stones back behind the dune with the crab carcass. She walks back to her small house. She pours a glass of water and she drinks it. She does not open the bottle of wine in the fridge. She closes the window. She changes into dry clothes. She puts the swimsuit back into the dryer and runs it. Sometimes, if she absolutely needs to, she goes shopping or does the dishes or does laundry. She gets back in bed. She wakes up, and she lies on her back and watches the fly.
Bed, fly, breakfast, messages, tally, scream, bed.
Bed fly breakfast messages tally scream bed.
Today, the milk has gone sour. Today, the Sticky Note has 23 tallies, and 1,825 more tallies fill the notes which line the kitchen walls. Today, like every day, Nancy goes into the ocean to scream. But today, as she is wading back onto dry land, something cold and smooth knocks against her ankle.
And now here she is. Here she is with this bottle.
She didn’t ask for the bottle. But there it is, it’s in her hand now. And, really and truly, there is a little rolled-up piece of paper sealed in it. There is a message. Nancy wants to throw it as far as she possibly can towards the horizon. But the bottle stays in her hands all the way back to her small house. It stays in her hands until she places it on the kitchen counter. It stays on the counter as she changes into dry clothes, puts the swimsuit in the dryer, runs it, and gets back in bed.
Today, there are messages on the landline.
Nancy, please call me back. You can’t be out there alone forever, you have to --
Congratulations! You’ve won --
Hey, Nancy. I just wanted to call to see how you’re doing. I mean, I hope you’re doing… I hope you’re doing better than you were doing here. It’s empty here, though. It’s just --
Congratulations! Y --
Every day, Nancy walks past the bottle on her way to the beach, and again on her way back to bed. In the morning, the sunlight from the window shines through the bottle, and it glows green. It casts light-shadows on Nancy’s wall of Sticky Notes.
Bed, fly, BOTTLE, breakfast, messages, tally, scream, BOTTLE, bed.
It brought the smell of the ocean into her house. All the brine and dead fish. When Nancy was younger, she began writing a story about the moon crashing into the ocean. The water moved in great walls to make way for the moon and spread out over the entire Earth. Seaweed grew miles high, and whales glided between skyscrapers. The smell of the ocean pervaded over every inch of the planet. People could swim from the roots to the uppermost branches of a redwood forest. They sent love letters folded into paper boats. They saw sea turtles almost every day, they could stargaze by looking up at the constellations or down at their reflections, and pilgrims paddled rowboats for miles and miles to visit the moon in the middle of the ocean, to kiss its dusty surface.
Sealed inside the bottle on her kitchen counter, the message waits patiently.
Every day, Nancy walks past it twice.
Maybe the message reads:
Today, the crab carcass is gone. The gulls must have found it. Today, the fly is there on Nancy’s bedroom ceiling, and the bottle is still there on the counter. Today, Nancy runs out of room on another Stickie Note. She posts it and starts a new one. Today, the fly is still there. Today, during breakfast, the phone rings and rings and keeps ringing.
Today, Nancy wakes up and looks at her ceiling, and the fly isn’t there.
She cannot move. Her eyes wander without focus in the vast white space. Any second now, the fly will enter her field of vision, and she will cling to it. She is clawing, she is spinning delirious and directionless in the stucco sea. Any moment, there it will be. There it will be. Nancy feels her heartbeat pick up with each passing second spent staring at that blank fucking ceiling.
She throws herself out of bed. Blood rushes to her head and she wobbles and crashes against her bedroom wall. It must be in the house. She stumbles to the lamp on her bedside table and rips off the shade. No, not fried by the light. She goes to the closet and pulls her clothes off their hangers, where, where, no not here. She slams the door open and rushes into the kitchen. She examines every inch of air. Not on the tally notes, not on the cabinets, not on the window. She opens the fridge door and leaves it hanging open, no, not in the fridge. She scans the counters. Not on the knives, not on the phone, not on the sink, not on the bottle, not on the drawer handles. Not on the bottle.
The bottle, the bottle.
There it is, still. It is screaming at her.
With swift violence, Nancy picks up the bottle and sends it flying across her kitchen. It smashes to smithereens against the wall and the shards go skittering out across the tile in all directions. One, and then two, and then four Stickie Notes come loose from the wall and float downwards.
Nancy stands motionless for either a few moments or a few hours, staring at the tile patterns on her kitchen floor, tracing a right angle and another right angle and another right angle and oh, a square, that makes a square, but I meant to make, I meant to make, let me try again, a right angle, a right angle, a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle a right angle
And her eyes snap into focus. She kneels and leans forward, reaching out over her wreckage, and she plunges her hand under the broken glass and feels her skin catch on a shard and split open. She pulls out the message, leaving a thin river of red running between the shards. She reads.
Hello. My name is Mohinder Patel. I’m a career counselor. I am very unhappy. But I wanted you to know I hear you singing every day during my lunch break. This is the best thing about my life. I don’t know who you are, but I had to tell you somehow.
Nancy holds the message. The sting has not yet arrived in the cuts on her hand, only the faint pressure. She can hear the screams of seagulls outside the window. Slowly, she begins to look up from the note and already, in her mind’s eye, she can see him walking towards her, picking his way through the field of green glass shards, on tiptoes. Yes, on tiptoes. She knows that when she looks up, she will see him, her son, her boy, walking to her on his tiptoes, wading through miles of water, across oceans.
Nancy raises her head and does not see him. The fly has landed on the faucet of her kitchen sink. It is looking at her. The iridescent multitudes in its eyes sparkle as they twitch. She stares at its wings jittering through the air, even as it stays grounded, she looks at it and it looks at her, and she grips the note, and she feels blood running down, down and clinging to her fingertips for just a moment, and then slowly slipping away, drop by drop, to the tile floor. And Nancy looks up past the fly, up and out through the window, where the sky is cloudless, and the moon hangs faintly visible in the daylight, and she looks out at the tall grasses bending over on the dunes, and out past the grass to where the waves harry the shore, and farther to where the water darkens and the bottom drops off into an abyss, and over the abyss through miles and miles of water, breaking through the surface on the other side of the planet’s curve, out into open air, miles and miles of air, out to where there is no more air, only black, only rare star-specks, only endless space and miniscule planets and their moons, and Nancy kneels on her kitchen floor, and she opens her mouth and laughs.