A dinghy is sinking in the harbor. I am not far from the pier. From the balcony of my hotel, it is just across the street, but I make no move toward the water. Instead, wrapped in a sheet I’ve pulled from the bed, I climb over the railing to sit on the roof, hugging my legs to my chest, watching as the waves begin to break the sides of the little boat. I imagine it feels like I do, and I am hopelessly drawn to the drama of the two of us.
I can’t remember when I learned to swim. I wait a moment to see if it will come to me. A pool, it was a pool. My father probably pulled me in; that is like him. His strong hands would have come up under me, my heart beating wildly as I attempted to kick and move my arms the way he said, his face mocking the frantic look on mine. That was like him too. I can picture my brother in his floaties, standing by the pool, eyes wide and mouth open, for once not whining or teasing me. White blonde hair above a tentative smile, his tiny arms like bird legs in inflated yellow cuffs, as if he’d been prepped for a blood pressure reading and then abandoned.
It must have been at a motel, this picture in my mind of the pool where my father stands with arms open wide. Jump! and I do, like I always do. I am heavy as I sink, choking on the chlorine that burns my throat. And then I am pulled back up, wiping the water from my eyes, eager for his smile and his “thatta girl.” My mother stands on the edge, just out of reach, my brother’s face buried in her stomach, frowning at my father.
If I say I can’t remember the first time I swam in the ocean, maybe that will come floating past as well. I know I’ve never felt water this warm. I could go now if I wanted, across the street, onto the beach, into the bay. Even as the clouds roll in and the wind blows my hair from my forehead, as spitting rain touches my bare shoulders, the water welcomes me. I can feel the sand from here, soft like a blanket, and the feather lightness of my body as I bob in the waves, quietly watching the pelicans vie for a spot on the pier.
Quito’s bar stands between me and the beach, just to my right. I am above the entrance and the people who walk in and out glance up at me. I smile but look back out at the ocean, not wanting their attention, content with solitude. My eyes are drawn back to the dinghy. No one else has noticed the way it rocks more slowly than the others, its base heavy with salt water. Like me, it has no motor.
You think I won’t call, Drew says. Blue denim shirt, khaki pants, duffel bag thrown over his shoulder like a sailor ending his leave. I glance down at where he stood on the street that is now so empty. And then I have to look away. Out on the beach, the sand turns from white to gray and the waves shimmer, trying to wash the curious sun to shore. I do believe he will call. But he will expect me to speak and what can I say that will make the desert between Salt Lake City and LA disappear? I already know there are no words. He is gone, leaving me behind, leaving me to sink or swim.
Other dinghies converse now, bobbing their dolphin-like noses at each other as sailboats farther out in the harbor nod gently, like parents at a cocktail party, keeping a not so watchful eye. The bigger boats shrug off their crews, lured by the sound of reggae music drifting out over the water from Quito’s patio. One by one, they settle into a slow drift around their anchors. I long to swim out to one of them, balance on the ladder for a moment, go for a sail. Jump! I am all too ready.
I turn away from the empty street and climb back over the balcony rail. In the hotel room, I find my sundress still balled up on the floor in the corner. Pulling it on over my head, I pause for a moment to assess the girl in the mirror and then make my way downstairs. Across the street, my bare feet touch sand, and I climb the stairs to Quito’s deck to take a seat at the bar. It takes a drink or two, but the music finally pulls me in, taking over for my own heartbeat, until I am unaware that the dinghy is gone, and the sea has put out the gullible sun.
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