Red Sky in Mourning, Sailor’s Warning

Red Sky in Mourning, Sailor’s Warning

By Kathryn Hudnell

I turn my face up toward the sun. It feels fresh after the cold winter has finally dissipated. I watch my…lover? boyfriend? companion? walk up the beach toward me. He had just returned a stray beach towel to the rightful owner. His kindness often disrupts our days. I find it suffocating at times. He has protested under the darkness of night many times over that I am as kind as him at my core. Everyone knows words said at night are not real. Sentiments said to the stars are as good as dreams, forgotten when eyes peek open in morning sun. Though I have found the feelings linger for hours after, just like my dreams. 

I might have too many thoughts for my own good perhaps. It is hard to say when I find so many of them interesting. I couldn’t say where that line should be drawn. I don’t think I could get to the interesting ones, the positive ones, the striking ones without the boring ones, the devastating ones, the mundane. 

The mundane. Another thing I struggle to define. Artists argue that the mundane only exists for those who don’t look for more. I find it impossible to not look for more. I wouldn’t say I’m an artist though. So, I suppose the mundane still plagues my world.

He sits down next to me. We share a towel. He pecks my shoulder with a kiss. It is a welcome warmth even in the sun. 

“Did you find who you were looking for?”

“Clearly, I found my way back to you.” 

A small smile flickers to my lips. I am not sure he saw it, but I can’t find a way to replicate it to be sure he did. Though my love for him is strong, his always shows itself stronger. I struggle to find the purpose with loving someone who gives more than they receive. I want to believe my love is enough for him. Maybe it would be easier if I only thought about this tucked into bed when the world feels smaller. My thoughts get confined to existing within the limits of what I can see in moonlight. Everything becomes one color. It is quicker for my brain to process. Less information for it to latch onto. 

I pick at the pebbles that cover the ground instead of sand on this beach. Faded greys, reds, and browns allow outliers to stand out more easily. Many of them are smoothed from the waves of the lake. I rub the pad of my thumb against one of the red ones. All the pebbles have baked in the sun most of the day, but that’s only the top layer. Below those are wet from the high tide. 

He leans back on his elbows releasing a breath. I follow his lead, but I lay back all of the way. The pebbles cradle my head making it easy to forget how harsh they can be on my feet. I examine the red stone closer.

“What do you think this rock was a part of?” I turn it and it sparkles in the setting sun. 

“Looks like quartz. Probably from a river.” 

I didn’t want an answer. I wanted him to not know. I wanted to be the one to inform him. I should tell him, but I don’t. My interest in the stone vanishes. I toss the rock back with the others. It quickly becomes one of millions and I can’t pick it out anymore. 

The sky is washed in orange and red. 

Red sky at night is a sailor’s delight. 

A ladybug crawls among the stones. I offer a finger for it to grab onto and it accepts. 

“What are you doing all the way out here small bug?”

I set it down so it can continue its journey. What does it think about? Is its mind only on survival? Maybe I am more easily understood by a bug than my lover…boyfriend…companion? 

“We should walk,” I offer. My skin feels too small to fit my skeleton. I want to stretch and break free of my casing. Instead, I walk silently a couple steps in front of him. We are headed toward the lighthouse that watches over the beach. I’ve seen it up close once before when I first visited this lake. The foundation is cracked which is causing the white paint to peel though from a distance it looks perfect. Perhaps Monet painted it. 

The waves lap over my bare toes. The pebbles dig into my feet’s soles and the pain is numbed by the cold water as quickly as it comes. He grasps my hand with a cool embrace. He bumps his shoulder against mine. My cold toes trip further into the water, submerging my ankles. I bump him back harder and he returns the gesture once again, but this time I completely lose my balance. 

There’s a sharp drop off. The water cuts into my skin with a freezing cold splash as it swallows me. My feet furiously search for anything to land onto. I’m sinking. I’m going under. The lake had appeared bound in the land when I was sitting on that towel only minutes before, yet now, it has transformed into a chasm that knows no bounds, no end. With my eyes scrunched closed, my arms flail to break the surface. A big push of my legs is able to force myself upward. A hand squeezes around my upper arm and drags me toward, I am hoping, the shore. Pebbles scrape the backside of my thighs before I find my feet again. 

“God, are you okay? I did not mean to shove you that hard.” 

I look into those dark eyes. They match the murky water I just survived. Somehow the secrets the water holds intrigues me more than the mysterious person in front of me. A mysterious person that shouldn’t seem as such. I get my breathing to a regular pace again before answering, “I’m fine. I just lost my bearings for a second.” 

We sit mostly in the water, but safely among the stones for a second more. My skin is paling as the water soaks into it as if it had claimed me. My legs push me up so I am standing and they feel more sure now that they have something solid to push into than when I was drowning? dying? desperate? 

The cold is still startling, yet I feel drawn toward the depth. I take tentative steps toward the burning red sunset. My feet slip along the slope of pebbles. Water creeps up from my hips to my waist and I stop when it reaches the middle of my chest. The same hand that ripped me from my peril now slides around my side. He tugs me closer, so our bodies are flush. It is more suffocating than the dismal lake we are stood in. My hand glides through the water. It seems to act without me having to tell it what I want. My left one soon joins the right. They do a dance among the lapping surface, then with brute force my arms also share in the waltz. They scoop water and shove it into his face. The first splash makes him smirk. He thinks he stands a chance. Another armful of water hits his face. He gasps and wipes the water from his eyes, but it is replaced by yet another shove of water. And another. And another. The exertion is equally tiring and relieving. I keep going, I close the distance between us a little making the impact greater. I could drown him for nearly drowning me. I could drown him for amplifying and opposing all of the things I hate about myself. I want him to struggle for the basic need of life like I just did. And even more so I am starving for it to be at my hands. 

“Get the fuck off of me!” His anger shocks me out of the trance. His voice rips through the serene quiet the lake houses. Like the birds, I am quieted. I stalk out of the water alone. Just as it had enveloped me, the lake releases me inch by inch. I am frozen by the air now. The icy breath of the breeze picks at my skin. My muscles ach for the strain of being used again. Only my legs receive that grace, though they feel heavy. I wouldn’t mind sinking down through the rocks into the earth. Unlike the water it might be peaceful there, not much different than my bed at night I imagine. A glance over my shoulder shows me his outline, mostly dark because of the burgundy sky. He’s walking my way now, only much slower. 

A warm trickle tickles my leg. A red line streaks down my thigh led by a bulbous droplet of blood. I feel along my thigh searching for the cut it came from. A rock must have cut me when I was pulled out of the water. A burning feeling lets me know I found it. My fingers come away sticky and warm, the most warmth I’ve felt since the sun disappeared over the horizon. It didn’t really hurt, yet tears were collecting in my eyes. 

All at once the day felt like too much, but not a single part of me wished to cry. The tears begin to follow regardless of my desire. I hold a towel to my wound begging for it to clot. 

Sometimes tears can clot like blood, sticky and hot. 

These weren’t those tears. My tears dripped and smeared and got my nose running right along with it. I relinquish myself to the mess. I sit drenched in lake water, with tears and snot on my face, blood on my hand and leg in the dark. I found no delight in the red sky this night. 

“My mom called. She just found my aunt dead.” 

I jump at his voice behind me. I wipe at the remaining tears it no longer feels like I deserve them. “How did she die?”

“She doesn’t know. We have to go.”

Our stuff is piled into the car’s trunk. I keep out the towel, so I don’t get blood on the car seat. The ride is silent, and I watch the pine trees pass out the window. They peter out as we get closer to town. I fight off sleep as best I can, though it is calling to me like a siren. 

He gets another call which leaves me to empty the car on my own. The crickets are singing when he meets me at the door during my last trip inside. I am grateful when he takes the cooler from my struggling hand. “My mom said she doesn’t want us to come over. My aunt had arrangements planned fairly well. The funeral will be on Thursday.” 

He has changed into gym shorts, the pockets of which his hands are currently stuffed into, and a different t-shirt. 

“I’m sorry about your aunt and about what happened at the beach.” I turn because the eye contact is becoming too much for me and busy myself with one of the bags. 

“No, I don’t think you are.”

I open my mouth to respond, but when I turn to dispute, he’s gone. I hear the back screen door smack shut. I search my body for heavy sorrow. It has to be hiding. It’s not in my stomach or chest or even toes. Then, I find it, just out of grasp. It’s just outside of myself. I try to reach for it. I find myself flailing like I did in the lake, only there’s no surface to break this time. I’m stuck. I have no doubt there will be a red sky in the morning, but the warning will only be for me.