Tidal Estuary

Amy Beth Sisson

She lived where the waters flow in two directions. Way down-east near the border with Canada, where the Cobscook waterfall changes course with the currents. Caught at the moment right after the stand-still of the slack tide. When the estuary roils and eddies.

Marie was in my psych lecture in the spring of sophomore year. We’d been assigned as study partners. My palms were sweaty as I typed my number into her phone and admired her gray-green eyes. She texted back, “Find me at The Barn if you need me.”

In the dark of February, my cell rang, the number marked private. None of my friends would call without texting first, but I picked up. Calls often dropped in my dorm room so I stepped outside to keep the connection going.

A woman’s voice recited in that odd down-east accent with the missing ‘r’ sounds and deep vowels.

Whateveah happens with us, yoah bawdy/ will haunt mine—tendah, delicate/

yoah lovemakin, like the half-cuhled frawnd/ of the fiddlehead feun in forests...

I’d scarred my volume of Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems with underlines. I could recite The Floating Poem by heart.

Classmates filed past. They probably weren’t listening and couldn’t care less, but my cheeks burned.

Before she got to the line with the word “thighs,” I interrupted her. “Marie?”

She hung up. No one had ever read me anything so sensuous. Her voice in my ear felt like love.

The next day I saw her in class. Outside the window, two crows perched on a high voltage power line. Blue light glinted from the snow banks. An icicle clattered off the sill. We smiled at each other but didn't speak.

The moon woke me that night. I threw my coat over my nightgown and sought her out in the abandoned barn on the edge of campus. Using my cell to light the way, I found her huddled on a futon wrapped in an unzipped sleeping bag. I crawled in beside her. She pulled the covers over our shoulders. The barn was built on a slab with nothing but the thin futon to insulate us from the icy concrete.

When I hitched up my nightgown, I couldn’t tell my body from hers. A tangle of frozen foot against cold ankle. Cool thigh against hot groin. Belly to belly, it felt like love.

The barn floor warmed week by week through the end of spring. We didn’t converse. Marie read her poems to me, and to the field mice who also sought shelter in the barn.

I should have heard the warning. But her poems felt like love.

That June, I rented a room in a house near my marketing internship in Boston. I kept checking my phone to see if she’d texted. After a while, I figured she was ghosting me. In July, my cell rang from a strange number. She was calling from a borrowed phone to tell me she was living in a tent at Reversing Falls Park. In August, she hitched the hundred miles to Bangor. From there she took the cheap bus to see me.

A housemate was watching YouTube junk with me when Marie arrived. Nausea hit as soon as I introduced them. Marie’s wide forehead, which looked so intelligent at school, now shone like a greasy frying pan. She was so gaunt that her jaw jutted out. Her canvas knapsack was as stained and greasy as she was, but I picked it up by the less disgusting strap and carried it up the stairs. I hid in the bathroom while she changed into pajamas to avoid seeing her naked. A skeleton hung with big bosoms.

In bed, I kicked her away while pretending to have a nightmare. The bed was empty when I awoke. For weeks afterwards, my stomach churned every time I picked up my phone, wanting and not wanting a text from her.

When she didn’t show up to campus that fall, classmates gossiped she was somewhere in Louisiana living on the streets, but I imagined her sitting on a stone outcrop overlooking the Cobscook falls. Maybe the rumors were true. The phone number she’d last called me from was out of service. I searched but couldn’t find any of her poems on the web. Her name is far too common for Google. Her poems were tender, and smart, and everything I need now. Just a single line has stayed with me, "She lived where the waters flow in two directions."

Amy Beth Sisson lives in the Philly area with Gritty and all that jawn. She started her career as an attorney but now writes stories for humans of all ages in an effort to restore her soul. When not writing, she spends her days working in software development. She tells computer programmers what business people want and tells business people why the programmers can't quite give it to them.

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