Selection from “Women Float”
We all create a wake when we leave a place. Not something we can always predict but an invisible trail. If I wanted to find Janie I could follow her perfume clouds and lipstick-rimmed shot glasses across the world. I could search everywhere for her clipped toenails, dead skin, straw wrappers and unsent postcards addressed to me. Mermaids don’t have clear paths, though. They drift, float on the tides, move with the currents. If they get tossed on shore that’s where they stay, until their skin dries out and they have to return to the water. Janie, like other pregnant sea fish, beached herself by Rincon to have me, then returned to the Pacific. After she took off, I left the water, but I’m beginning to feel a pull again.
I go back in the kitchen and stare through the lit oven, to check on my soufflé without opening the door. The cake’s not quite ready so I leave it in, set the timer for another minute and pull Sandra’s napkin sketch out of my pocket. Scribbled onto the back where I didn’t see it before is the message, “Words are too small for love.” Found poetry. Words are too small for love and the ocean too small for mermaids but water just keeps moving, leaving the shore and returning, pulling creatures withit, children, sand, sailors. It doesn’t care.
I bet the soufflé is done. Light on, I look through the door, and yep, it has puffed out like the breast of a mating California quail. I open the door and slide it out just as the timer goes off again, hot air blasting my face. With my oven mitt I set the cake down onto the counter and watch it sink into a chocolate crater, cracked and brown. After a cleaning frenzy but before I leave, I set Sandra’s sketch of me into my cookbook, replacing the now burnt painting of the swimmer by the pool, to mark the page for next time. I turn off the timer and pause.
Janie left for the last time exactly twenty years ago this month. She was 29, the same age I am now. Words and love. Mothers who disappear. Birthdays and giant waves. Soufflés and swim instructors. How I changed from someone drawn to the water but not allowed in, to a woman afraid of drowning. Why?
Enough. My brain is full. I grab my bag, unwind my apron and walk out of the kitchen towards the seal fountain, the thick smell of chocolate coating me like frosting.
Maureen Foley is a writer and artist who lives on an avocado ranch by the sea in Southern California with her daughter, stepson and husband, writer James Claffey. She is the author of a chapbook of poems, Epileptic. Her writing has appeared in Wired, Caesura, The New York Times, Santa Barbara Magazine, Skanky Possum and elsewhere. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Prose from Naropa University and now teaches creativity, English, writing and more in Santa Barbara County. She is currently working on a new novel and developing a series of illustrations and text for a children’s book.
Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirtyanthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.