Mabel & Jack


It is a surprise when they reach the ocean. Mabel drives south, parallel with the shore. “Want to stop?” Mabel asks. Jack nods.

     They park in the empty lot and trudge across the sand. The water is gray, the waves choppy. Jack puts his coat down and sits, patting the place next to him.

     Jack says, “When I first moved here, I came to the beach all the time. It was so beautiful. I felt obligated, like I was given this huge ocean and it was my responsibility to acknowledge it.”

     “Then what?”

     Jack shrugs. “Then I got used to it.” He sweeps his hand, indicating the whole scene: the gulls strutting, a few boats on the horizon. “It might as well be a billboard.”

     Mabel shields her eyes and points, “What’s that?” A small brown object floats a few yards out, lifting and falling on the waves. She moves closer, “I think it’s a hat.”

     Jack says, “Hey,” as she takes off her shoes and rolls up her pant legs. “You’re not going in?”

     “Just a little ways.” She strides in and immediately sinks up to her ankles. The water is cold and the pull of the waves is stronger than she anticipated. But the hat is bobbing only a few feet off and she takes another step. Now her jeans have gotten wet. Another wave, and she feels the ocean both pulling and pushing at her. She swings an arm out, trying to grasp the hat, and loses her balance. She falls to her knees, then struggles to rise but her jacket has twisted around her arms. She feels ridiculous; the water cannot be that deep. Yet, she can’t get up.  

Then Jack is there, dragging her out, sand scraping against her cheek. She sits up, coughs. “Jesus Christ,” he says, “You could’ve drowned.” His face, long and bony and worried, hovers over hers.   

     Jack too has gotten soaked. Three times on the ride home, he reminds her that he cannot swim. This time he’s driving, downshifting and double clutching. Mabel’s teeth are chattering, but she feels exhilarated. She pulls seaweed from her hair. The smell of the water, dank and secret, fills the car. She looks at Jack’s profile, his animated movements. Something has changed for him also.

      Outside her house, Jack smiles, “You look funny. Like a wet cat.”

     “Look at you,” Mabel says, “The Monster From the Deep.”

 He reaches over, half-hugs her, “Take a hot bath,” he says, “I’ll call you later.”   Mabel’s heart picks up speed. “Okay,” she responds, “Okay.”

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash