'Tails Entwined' by Ashling Dennehy


What he wants to say is: “How do you let it get this far? Can you not judge your own needs?” The thought seeps from him like pheromones and I can't get away from it, even when I lie back in the bath and squeeze my eyes against the burning in my legs.

He had poured in table salt, swirled it in sharp sweeps that slapped the water over the tiled edge. But the crystals have not dissolved and the ribbons of my calves merge and break over and over. I try to be still.

 In the next room, the Leau begins to stir and he slumps between the toilet and the sink, takes the baby monitor in his hand and watches it, as if we had been able to afford the video monitor he had wanted.

She is fully awake, hiccupping newborn cries, when he heaves himself to his feet. I have not moved. I take my hands from my thighs and the pads of my fingers gleam iridescent.

*

“We need the money Leau, I'll be home soon.”

He kisses our toddler and the sparsening hair at the top of his head tickles my chin when he leans into my clavicle, where Leau has laid her swollen face. I pretend I have not heard and tip my cheek toward him for a bone-dry kiss before he leaves.

My skin itches. I will need salt water soon and there is a secret jar of change under the sink for the sitter.  It is secret because the ocean is an indulgence.

*

Leau is screaming in the back seat. She wraps a length of her hair twice around her wrist and wrenches hard, a tantrum style copied directly from a new friend at school. By the time we reach the beach, my own lips are trembling and the air is thick with salt spray. She quietens when I lift her, and tilts her chin to the stars, inhaling slowly.

The sand is damp and the scales slice through the soles of my feet. Leau's arms cling to my neck and there is guilt-ridden pleasure in the pressure, the quiet. It reminds me of tails entwined.

I bring her so close that I worry I may beach myself.

A sudden sweep of headlights ends its trajectory a few feet from where we stand. I can hear him, calling stern into the night and Leau's head snaps toward the sound of her father's voice.

The crash of surf is urgent, it reaches my toes. Until she looks back at me, her blue eyes to my green, I am unsure if my legs are still beneath me or if we are already swimming.


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