The sea breeze wafts over her, gentle and comforting. She smiles and runs her hand slowly along her arm, imagining it is the salty touch of the air caressing her skin and guiding her down the beach. She doesn’t walk; the sand doesn’t touch her feet. She floats, as smooth and fragile as a mother’s lullaby to her sleeping newborn. A coaxing wind pulls her forward and the rolling waves sing their praise of her aimless direction. Her mind is swimming, drifting, both out to sea and into the clouds simultaneously, splitting her in two. Closing her eyes, she opens her mouth and tastes the ocean. The foam coats her tongue like a casket and sends goosebumps along her body.
Time moves oddly, passing quickly and yet, strangely, not passing at all. Her white gown flows around her, dancing with the wind. She giggles softly and twirls, diving into the movement as well. Somewhere in her mind a lilting melody begins to play and she hums along as she ascends the cliff. Rocks dig into her bare feet as she walks, but it doesn’t hurt. It makes her feel alive. It makes her feel. The melody picks up and she starts to jog up the cliff, excited to reach the top. She can see the clouds beginning to come down from the sky to greet her. They remind her of the smoke in the bathroom where she had gotten high a little while ago.
The world is prettier like this—when she can see and feel only what she wants too. The pain falls away as though it was never piercing her to begin with. Finally, at the peak of the cliff, she looks around. For a moment she waits, smiling and giddy, before cupping her hands to her mouth and calling into the clouds.
“Abe! Abe, I’m here! Come on out silly, you can’t stay in on a day this beautiful.”
The clouds part before her, opening biblically as her savior steps forward. He smiles, dimples lighting up his face and black hair falling into his eyes. From his pocket he retrieves a cigarette and a junky lighter. Skilled hands light the cig and return the lighter to his pocket. He looks up at her again and runs a hand through his slicked hair, pushing it back and out of his face to display gaunt features that don’t fit his shining eyes. A portrait of tattoos run from wrist to wrist, creating a colorful, captivating loop.
“Annie, you look so lovely.”
His voice wraps smoothly around the words—singing her lullaby—and he gives another dimpled smile before taking a long drag. He holds the smoke a second, before exhaling. Vapor swirls mystically from his mouth to join the haze of clouds around them.
“What are you doing, Annie?”
She smiles, distant. “I wanted to see you. I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Annie, love, how are you seeing me?”
She continues to smile, looking through him. “I took everything.”
The words come out in a content sigh and she begins humming again while Abe takes another long drag and exhales. The clouds grow thicker.
“Annie, you shouldn’t have done that. You know I don’t want this for you. I don’t want you to fall, same as I did.”
She opens her eyes and the smile falters.
“I know. I know, but all I want is you. The world is so ugly without you, so I do this and find you. You always hide again, though. I don’t want to live like that anymore, Abe. Like this—an infinite game of hide-and-seek. I just want you and your beautiful world.”
Her eyes glisten as Abe takes a final drag and flicks the cigarette over the edge of the cliff, watching it disappear between the clouds.
“Don’t you think the world can be beautiful without me?” he questions.
“Perhaps for others, but not for me. You’re my breath of life, and now you’re gone and I’m suffocating. I don’t have much air left. I need you.”
She breathes deeply, before opening her eyes again. Abe turns from the swirling clouds and looks at her. Once more he pushes his hair out of his eyes, shaking it back.
“You’re high, Annie.”
She looks back at him with a single focus in her eyes.
“Take me higher,” she whispers back.
He says nothing for a moment, staring. Then, without a word, he holds a hand out, the tattoos swimming. A strangled sob of joy escapes Annie as she glides towards the edge of the cliff, reaching for him. The clouds sweep around her, growing thicker until her feet leave land and she tumbles. For a moment, her breath leaves, and then the clouds catch her. Abe is beside her and they’re both flying.
Seconds feel like years with her Abe—her angel— flying wingless beside her, and then suddenly they’re swimming. She begins to choke, the water flowing into her lungs. Terrified, she searches for Abe in the crushing waves that compress her chest. Looking up, she finds him floating just above her, eyes beaming like lighthouses, filled with safety.
“Look at me Annie. All you have to do is look at me, and you can breathe.”
Her faith-filled eyes find his and she takes a deep breath. He wraps his arms around her as they drift beneath the waves of the ocean.
“Just stay with me, Annie, and you can breathe.”
Annie closes her eyes and leans into the embrace, allowing the ocean the draw her out to sea.