Big Water, Little Water

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Anna Vodicka’s essay, “Big Water, Little Water,” appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review’s Summer 2011 Great Lakes Special Issue, available via our archives. Join MQR, the Hopwood Program, and the Great Lakes Theme Semester on February 25th for a celebration of Great Lakes Literature.


My last name, Vodicka, is Czech for “little water.” My family regards the Bohemian appellation, this diminutive of the Czech voda, like some defining clan plaid or family crest—my grandparents even have vanity plates: LTL H2O. We’re Midwestern, though, so in general ours is a quiet pride, the name a thing prized among the brood, as if this were meant to be for us and we were meant for water.

I grew up in an unincorporated town called Sugar Camp, in Wisconsin’s rural north woods, in a house perched on the edge of one of the clearest blue lakes in the state. We’ve got over one thousand lakes in our county alone, so our lakeside property is no sign of status. Up North, nearly everyone’s “lake place” is his or her main place. Ten miles up the road, the world’s largest chain of freshwater lakes, the Eagle River chain, snakes from town to town. We’re cradled to the east by Lake Michigan. And Lake Superior—Gichigami, “Big Water,” to the Ojibwes—the world’s largest freshwater lake, the biggest, deepest, coldest of the five Greats, a lake that could blanket the United States in a full foot of water, a Goliath of a lake, looms north.

This is the lakes region of northern Wisconsin, geographical art carved by glaciers fifteen thousand years ago. We’re folk of cheesehead fame, but our dairy history overshadows our grander, bygone distinction of glacial activity. The most recent period of the Ice Age—the glacial epoch that gave us the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, Long Island, and Cape Cod—is called the Wisconsin Glaciation. When those icy sheets shrank away, scraping and gouging the landscape as they went, they left our state a topographic tapestry of lakes and kettles, moraines and drumlins, striation, clay- and silt-rich till.

Pull out an atlas, or Google it. See the nucleus of Sugar Camp Lake orbited by electrons of blue in every direction—Maple Lake, Indian Lake, Jenny Webber Lake, and on and on. It’s the early stages of a Jackson Pollack painting, azure splatters on an otherwise blank canvas.

Camps and lakeside resorts attract tourists in the summer, while snowmobile trails that zigzag the landscape keep them coming and drinking at our bars in the winter. Our economy depends on this. But those who choose to stay and weather the winter here, one generation after the other, know the value of the element is beyond measure. I first heard the phrase “blue gold” when my friend Sam went to college at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. Eau claire is French for “clear water,” and Sam was officially an Eau Claire “BluGold.” Throughout the university’s history, attempts have been made to elect a school mascot to represent the phrase, but the student body consistently vetoes these movements. They are content, simply, with the abstraction.

It doesn’t surprise me to think of Sam and his peers voting against a blue ox or a voyageur as a representation of water. If you grow up in these parts, as most UW students do, you are shaped by the elements. Deep blue waters and whiteout winters define us—the latter, a badge of courage we bear with stubborn pride for almost half the year, the former, our June deliverance. Water, in a frozen state, begets water.

Mom and Dad taught a generation of Up North kids to water ski behind our old Ski Nautique. And when I was a teenager and my friends and I raced to the lake from our dirt-pay jobs waiting tables and cleaning cabins and working construction, we formed a kind of family. There were nine of us. Sam raised the bar on extreme tubing. Brian reported sheepishly to my dad when the dock collapsed under the weight of his running catapult dive. Josh jumped in after me when I leaped off a cliff into rushing water and didn’t rise fast enough to beat the current. We flung our bodies from docks, rock faces, rope swings, rafts, bridges, boats, and wakes as though they were indestructible. We pushed one another faster, faster on the slalom ski course, weathered the falls and bruises and humiliations. Water was thicker than blood.

But because it can be an unforgiving country, my friends and I were, from a young age, made aware of the dangers. We sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in elementary school: Superior, they say, never gives up her dead, When the gales of November come early. This is the dark side of water. Thin ice. High tide. Dead man’s float. Every winter saw snowmobile and ice fishing trips gone wrong. In summer it was boating accidents and the occasional drowning—Why do you think they call it Jenny Webber Lake? And didn’t we all, a time or two, have some glimpse of what it must feel like? The choking inhale, the sting of water up the nose? The bluish lips after a Polar Bear swim, a rite of passage we made as soon as the ice broke up each spring? We all knew the throbbing lungs from a dunk that lasted too long, or a dive that went deeper than we expected: eyes searching, legs kicking, pale gooseflesh arms raised, reaching for the light.
 
In the spring semester of 2004, Sam helped create a website called “Water Is Life” for a 300-level geography course at UW–EC. The site was designed to “explore global issues of water privatization and commodification.” Local water issues and the Great Lakes, in particular, were points of focus. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones who knew the value of blue gold.

The Great Lakes suffer from decades of less precipitation and more evaporation. From water diversion. From the bottled water industry. From invasive species hitchhiking in on foreign ballast water, released by ships to wreak havoc on the Lakes’ ecosystems and economies: Zebra mussels reproduce like cancer cells, clog pipes and wells, spread to inland water sources, and cost the Lakes region millions in annual cleanup; VHS, a rapidly spreading, hemorrhaging virus that leaves fish species bloated-belly-up and eyes bulging, has invaded all but Superior, and that may only be a matter of time. Water temperatures have risen in recent decades, forcing fish to migrate inward toward cooler waters, altering habitat and the fishing industry. In the face of all of this conflict, the lakes themselves seemed to retreat. In recent years, Lake Superior, the greatest of them all, has seen lower levels than it has in nearly a century. Goliath, too, is vulnerable.

I remember Sam telling me about the course and the things he was learning. I was in college in Boston at the time, an act some folks from home saw as a betrayal, since I left the state and the UW school system. Like most of my friends, Sam stayed but itched to get out. Maybe after college, he said. But his reverence for the place ran deep. He studied geography. He thought about teaching. I remember our young rants about human irreverence for the resources that were our livelihood. The way we humans had betrayed the water. The way we felt helpless in the face of that fact.

At the time, though, Sugar Camp Lake and the Eagle River chain and Lake Superior remained level. For me, water shortage and invasive species remained in the abstract, a distant hypothetical, just as the dangerous side of water was abstract. I think of the story my mother tells about me, at the age of sixteen months or so, down at the dock with my family. My mother, father, sisters, and brother were swimming, lounging, engrossed in conversation and tanning oil when someone noticed that I was gone. They panicked. Everyone made instantly for the edges of the dock, sure that I had drowned. But I was a baby, and fat, and while my entire body was submerged, I floated an inch below the surface, looking up at them with wide eyes, and smiling.

I never took that story to be a cautionary tale—it was all the proof I needed that I was “Little Water,” half human, half water nymph. Neither did I feel the weight of warning in the story my parents told about the family dog, a collie they owned before I was born. Tigger was obedient and smart, and always came home when they called him. Until one winter day when they called and called. For days, they called, and Tigger never came. My parents and my sniffling sisters put signs and posters up around Sugar Camp. They checked the pound, figured somebody picked him up. It wasn’t until months later, on a late spring day when the ice had finally broken, heavy slabs bobbing on the shoreline, that they received a call. Tigger was found on a neighbor’s beach, washed ashore and perfectly preserved by the winter water. My father drove over, saw Tigger lying there as though he were napping. He thought they’d have a dog funeral. But when he bent down to pick Tigger up, the dog fell apart, and there was my father on shore with fists full of dog fur, the neighbor kids shrieking behind him. Dad carried the animal by its feet to the truck, drove home, and worked a hole in the still-frozen ground, where he buried the dog before my sisters could witness the damage.

But what we can’t see, we imagine. We invent for ourselves some understanding. My siblings and I heard a version of this story countless times before ice skating or sledding or building forts on the lake. It was supposed to be allegorical. But I imagined Tigger in one moment a happy, playful thing. In the next, he was a heaven-bound, angel-winged dog soul who left his Lassie body behind in the snow like a winter snakeskin. I was a girl, and water was life, and life went on.
 
I am twenty-one years old, about to start my final year of college, and for the first summer of my life, I am away from the lake. Instead of seven a.m. water ski runs with Dad, lunch hour swims, and afternoons on the slalom course with my friends, I am waking up, attempting to look professional, biking to the subway and reporting to an internship at the Improper Bostonian magazine, where I sit in a yellowed, windowless room among stacks of overstock issues and a couple of dated computers. At 5:15, I leave the office and wander the Boston Common, waiting for rush hour T traffic to settle before heading underground to the Red Line. I resume whatever novel I set down that morning, only pausing to look up between the Charles/MGH and Kendall/MIT stops, when the train rumbles over the Longfellow Bridge and the Charles River ticks by like a movie reel, glorious blue, scores of bobbing white sailboats and college crew teams. In Davis Square, I find my bike, but I don’t go home. My bathing suit is in my purse. I pedal as fast as I can through the thick heat and traffic to Sandy Beach, on one of the Mystic River’s small lakes, to get a quick swim in before night class.

By now, it is mid-August. Evening classes coming to an end and the summer’s merciless humidity finally letting up enough for sleep. But this is not a night for sleeping.

When the first call comes, it is eight o’clock and I am sharing pizza and beers with friends and watching a Christopher Guest movie for the hundredth time. It’s Josh calling from home. I pick up in the middle of everything, so when he says something about an accident I think I’ve heard him wrong.

“What? An accident?” People in the room get quiet. A friend puts a hand on my knee.

“It’s Sam,” he says. “The kayaking trip. His boat flipped, Anna . . .” I feel some relief at this. We all know Sam’s been looking forward to this trip with his dad, a late-August father-son Lake Superior paddle to Sam’s favorite spot on the lake, a final salute to summer vacation before his senior year of college. Sam and his dad, Len, are incredible athletes, as comfortable on the water as anyone. How bad can it be?

But something is off. Josh is rushing. His speech is clipped. His breathing is loud, like he’s running. I steal away from the pizza and beer to pace and listen in privacy.

The trip was off to a great start, Josh says. They left at dawn. It was supposed to be a perfect day. But the winds turned. The waves rose. Sam tipped, and even though he is unusually strong, the captain of his college soccer team, the guy UW–EC fans wear “Super Sam” T-shirts for, he could not get back in the boat.

That’s the story, but the words I hear are “hypothermia” and “Flight For Life,” and while Josh tries to be reassuring—Sammy is strong, he’ll pull through—I know his voice and that lake too well. Superior has an average temperature of thirty-six degrees, so cold that once something’s gone under—a body, a boat big as the Edmund Fitzgerald—it won’t resurface.

There is nothing I can do from Boston, nothing anyone can do. I’ll be on call, I say. I dial the rest of the group, and for the next several hours we stand watch, eight of us holding cell phones open across the country like some modern candlelight vigil.

I return to the party and sit stunned while people around me drink beer and laugh at the television. The light hurts my eyes. Everything is too loud. At some point, I wander home, make my way past the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its statue of Mary that cries human tears, past the quad and the brick house on the corner where the sailing and crew teams are wildly gathered to play drinking games until they pass out. I round the corner, find my own house empty, and fall into bed.

I am still holding the phone when it rings in the middle of the night, and as I jolt from sleep it occurs to me that I’ve left everything on. My laptop glows blue at my bedside. A cheap desk lamp casts a strange, small light. A Patty Griffin song aches in the air. She sings, It’s never rained like it has tonight, and she is right. The hollowness has already carved itself in my chest, and somewhere inside of it is the dreadful knowing so many others have felt in moments like these. The incongruous ringing in the quietest hours, a bell toll, a phone call you’ve already answered.

“Sammy’s gone.”

Josh can barely say it. Flight For Life came too late, and there was no life left.
 
I quit the magazine early, stay in bed for days, watch the August rain streak the windowpane, and lay there like an invalid, because what’s the point? Hearts stop beating and blood is a liquid that freezes and flesh isn’t thick enough to save us.

I fly home. I sit at the edge of the lake as you would sit with a lover who has betrayed you. I walk to the boathouse, and retch at the sight of my own small kayak—flippy, tippy little boat, boat built for windswept lakes and eddied waters, boat that had me dreaming of rapids and Eskimo rolls and romantic flirtations with danger.

Sam, of all people. That’s what everyone is thinking at the funeral. That’s what everyone thinks when a hometown hero dies unexpectedly—the soldier, the quarterback, the heartthrob, killed by a bomb or a motorcycle accident. My friends and I link arms and force our way to the casket like a barricade. We seclude ourselves for days at a lakeside cabin, where we alternately laugh and cry. Sam is everywhere, in the water, the laughter, the trees, the headlines. I clip the newspaper articles and don’t glue them in any scrapbook, but hide them away in boxes and books I’ve already read.

The clippings detail Sam’s August 19th kayaking trip with his dad. They note Sam’s accomplishments, his passion for the environment and his post-graduation plans. Words float to the surface. Tragedy . . . Lake Superior . . . rough water . . . hypothermia. One reporter writes, “The cold water, strong winds and sheer cliffs on the Lake Superior shoreline hampered rescue efforts . . .” Another quotes a local sheriff: “It’s really unfortunate people don’t realize how nasty Lake Superior can be.”

But the newspapers don’t mention that the day had been perfect, beautiful and clear, when Sam and Len left shore in the morning. They don’t show the supernatural pull of the Pictured Rocks, Sam’s favorite part of the lake—towering sandstone cliffs arching out into the water, whittled by years of relentless wind and waves until great, weather-carved sea caves formed, edging the base of the rocks like a scalloped hemline or a mouth full of pulled teeth—or the fact that it was just after they reached the Pictured Rocks that the weather changed, capsizing Sam’s boat in an easy flip. That even with his dad’s help and his all-sinewy-muscle build, Sam couldn’t fight the gale-force winds and the waves, rising three and six feet high now, and so he clung to his boat, and the waves smashed him up against those breathtaking red rock cliffs over and over again.

The newspapers don’t mention that Len tried everything he could to get Sam back into his kayak, tried even as a desperate Sam grabbed for his father and in the process flipped his boat, too. For a while, they fought together against raging waves and twenty-five-knot winds. But Sam had been in the water too long. He was weak with cold and exhaustion. Len knew that if he stayed, they would both die there. So Len held Sam’s hand—Sam, with his teeth chattering and his lips turning blue above his life preserver—and they both cried and prayed as their boats rocked and swayed beside them. Sam said, It’s okay, I’m ready, and Len let go of his son’s hand and swam as fast as he could to shore for help.

And the helicopter came, flew a hypothermic, comatose Sam to a major hospital where they got his heart beating again, for. . . what? A few hours? Minutes? Long enough to keep our hope alive, to have us imagining the cardiogram and counting every beat. Not long enough to undo what the water had done, which we could also imagine.
 
For a while, he would have fought it: stay alert, keep moving, keep the head above water. But beneath his wetsuit, he would be freezing, heart thudding, lungs throbbing, breath quickening, brain racing, teeth chattering, muscles jerking, blood vessels constricting, contracting, retreating. Excessive shivering would set in. He would pull his arms and legs close to his body like a child in fetal position.

At some point, he would have felt a deluded sensation of warmth. He would have been Sam in a drunken state, deliriously happy, grin stretching between his big ears, reaching out to twirl me around a room, to tackle his younger brother, to run naked and giddy into the lake. Maybe, as he bobbed in the waves, the sensation would have registered dimly as hope. Was that a light glowing? A fire? A human hand reaching down to help? But the moment would pass, and his body temperature would drop another degree, and another. The muscles would quiet. The shivering would slow, then stop.

Maybe it sunk in at some dark moment, the notion that there was no way out, that no one was coming for him, and maybe you think that would be the height of suffering, worse than the blood collecting desperately around his liver, heart, kidney, and lungs, leaving his nose, ears, hands, and genitals to harden and freeze. But in reality it would be a watery notion, for the brain at this stage works only in the service of preservation. His legs might stir, reflexively trying to swim, but they would move in slow motion beneath the surface of the water in labored kicks, awkward and fumbling. His breathing would slow. His pulse would quiet in his ears.

At this point, a hypothermic body is on the brink. You might forget that you are underwater at all, or that you ever lived a life above water. This is a grand bath. I am the lightest blade of kelp, lone and buoyed in the brine. I am in vivo, in a sonorous, gauzy cocoon. There are so many clouds.

Then, it would be over. And no one knows what happens after that.

I had seen baptisms. A dunk dressed in white, and you were born anew. Water is holy.

I had seen older sisters as brides by the water. Water is ritual, a part of the ceremony. Eventually, a sister gave birth. Waters broke. A sign of life.

I studied biology. I learned that water is a basic need, like love. I liked knowing that my organs, muscles, and tissues are in a perpetual state of steeping.

But not this.

Water: giver, and now taker, of life.

I should have known. The clues were there. The family dog. Jenny Webber. But those were stories from childhood, full of mystery. Until now, the lakes and life had been generous in their gifts, and abundant. Water buoyed us. People I loved lived. I handled the loss like someone who’d gone around believing the things she cherishes would be around forever.

Our parents always warned us. I was taught to heed the cautionary tales and red flags. Follow some rules and hope for the best. Which, I now understand, doesn’t mean I knew anything at all about water.

In winter, 2005, a year and four months after Sam’s death, the world was warming, and our northern Wisconsin towns felt the heat. It was record high temps in a region that usually remains subzero for months on end. Record low snowfall for towns used to whiteouts, whose winter economies depend on inches and feet. Still, on the cold days, roofs caved, cars collided, and the number of snowmobile deaths reached a nearly all-time high: thirty-seven in a single season.

I had moved back home after college and found Sam’s presence more profound than his absence. His voice was in my ear when I drove to town alone, so audible that I checked the passenger seat and the rear view mirror anxiously. I felt the pull of the cemetery where my friends and I had walked reluctantly to his grave. Something forced my car off the road and into the parking lot, but I could only bring myself to idle there, my hands on the wheel. I never stepped out of the car.

Saint Germain, Sam’s nearby hometown and the place of his burial, is the “birthplace of the snowmobile.” It’s a point of local pride. Come November, the woods and lakes are abuzz with machinery, a constant trace of gasoline exhaust in the air as tourists and locals race the miniature snow-paved highways that crisscross the landscape, leading riders from tavern to tavern. Wooden signs on the edge of the lakes point snowmobilers in the direction of Schneider’s Pub ’n Grub, Moondance Pub ’n Grill, Maple’s Bar, Rummy’s, and other local watering holes. And the lakes are where the machines really take off. Riders emerge from the dense woods to tear it up on the blank stretches, feeling the rumble between their legs when they break sixty, spitting up snow wakes like their freedom depended on it, leaving ghost tracks behind.

That winter, I woke often to the drone of snowmobiles on ice, but when I looked out the window of my room I saw different ghost tracks. A path left one Christmas break, the night Sam and I ice skated circles for hours on water which had by then fully changed state, its molecules slowing with the cold temperatures and locking together, solid. Arm in arm, we traced a single loop while the rest of the gang warmed up ­inside the house. Our blades skimmed the surface, and we spoke of the deepest feelings we knew—near-love and infatuation and longing—and when our friends finally called us inside, we raced, leaving behind a hoop, a halo we’d carved out together.

The roar of machines tore me back to the present. They droned in the background of my lunch breaks, singular hours I spent at home with the Daily News, reading detailed accounts of the accidents that would, by the end of the season, become blips on the DNR’s Snowmobile Fatality Summary: another rider strikes a tree after a late night at the bars; another rider misses Thin Ice signs, or a barbed wire fence stretched across an empty field, or the truck coming around a corner at sixty miles per hour. I was almost starting to get used to it, until I read about the father and son who went snowmobiling on Christmas and never came back.

There were no witnesses to the accident, but the tracks told the story. They each drove a sled, leaving two sets of tracks that stretched halfway across Rest Lake and then stopped abruptly. The boy’s sled went first, hit a soft spot, maybe the lake’s one weakness, and was swallowed whole. It left one big, gaping hole, a flaw in the landscape, an inky spill of water where there should have been ice.

Then the father, he parked his. Footprints in the snow. A helmet floating on the water’s surface. A glove.

The father and son were both deaf. Through the creaking, rushing, old-house noises of the underwater world, they found one another. Maybe they signed reassurances from one palm to another, Follow me, or Everything’s going to be okay. But the words wouldn’t bring them closer to living. It’s hard to find the rabbit hole once you’ve slid through.

The sheriff found them the next day, two bodies beneath the surface, frozen to death in each other’s arms.

For a long time, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. I imagined the scene over and over again, seeing Sam in the details. The family outing gone wrong, the father’s act of desperation, the futility. Dive in, or run like hell for help. Sink or swim. The outcome is the same.

Those facts felt like anchors. But they were not unfettered. Even now, I cannot loose them from the other facts of these stories, the one that linger at the surface. A father’s love. A body instinctively freeing itself from pain. A body wrapped in another body, giving its remaining heat.

In the years since Sam’s death, the debate over water in our region has intensified. The climate is changing. The world is thirsty.

In August, 2010, I stood on the shore of Sugar Camp Lake with my father, on a now-empty stretch of sandy beach where I used to wade knee-deep. “What will we do?” I asked.

Dad says it’s just a phase, that water is like life and the stock market, rife with highs and lows. “Don’t worry,” he says, “It’ll come back up.” He spreads his arms wide to the landscape as if to say, Open your eyes, kid. Look around you.

A little legislative life preserver has been tossed into the waves. A few years ago, in December, 2008, the Great Lakes Compact responded to calls for pipelines and diversion, declaring that the world’s largest source of freshwater would remain regional, served up to the Great Lakes basin alone. Everyone else can pull out the proverbial straws—this isn’t a milkshake for sharing. Some argue that the legislation isn’t enough. In addition to a loophole that favors the bottled water industry, the language of the document refers to Great Lakes water as “the product.” Some fear that we’ll all see it that way someday, just as Sam’s geography class predicted. Some believe it’s already too late. Live, and learn that some things are irrevocable.

I want to believe my eternally optimistic father. But the cries come from conservationists, politicians, newspapers, fishermen, locals. And how do you argue with the falling numbers? The icy facts? The visual: your feet on the edge of a dwindling shoreline?

Still, the resounding collective voice in the region is one of hope. Hope that public awareness coupled with government action will mean cleaner water, survival for the lakes, the fish, and the people. Hope that word will spread, that people will heed the warnings. Hope that a wet summer—a slight movement, a vital sign—means resuscitation.

This is what Sam asks of us on his class website, which lives forever in the ether of webspace, an eternal public notice: Conserve. Protect. Learn. Change. “Finally,” he writes, “share your knowledge with others. Try to remember that our actions have a widespread impact on the lasting quality of freshwater resources. We can and must make a difference.”

I turn to my father at the edge of the lake and say, “I hope you’re right.”

In 2006, I spent a night camping with a friend at Lake Superior, near the Pictured Rocks. It was my first time at the lake since Sam’s death two years earlier, and I was surprised by his presence there. Large signs at the entrance to the lake’s parks and beaches warn about strong winds and the power of water, alerting visitors to the fact that “Sam Larsen, a strong, athletic college student,” was lost to the lake. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see his name on those signs, but for a moment I felt like I needed to sit down, or leave altogether. Behind the warning signs, a cold autumn breeze churned the water, folding the waves like batter.

The wind was cold and smelled of pine. The water crashed up against the cliffs and rocky shores. I walked along the shore, a beach made up entirely of wide, flat rocks—billion-year-old basalt, granite, gabbro, and slate, all worn flat and smooth by time. I skipped a few, though I didn’t really feel like it, sent them skidding back into the Big Water from which they came, the lake that keeps its dead.

On that cool autumn night, I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake in my tent, sweating, too hot for clothes. My back ached from the hardness of the earth. My forehead throbbed, my throat started to tighten. I had to get out.

I threw open the tent zipper and without thinking I started to run, pale and naked in the moonlight. I found a trail near the campsite and sprinted barefoot along a winding, wooded dirt path that led down a steep embankment to the water. I ran blindly, without tripping, and I hit the water’s edge and didn’t stop, but splashed my way in clumsily, sliding over the moss-covered slickness of the shore’s stony bottom until, knee-deep in the frigid water, I could crouch down and swaddle myself in the gently rocking waves. Only then, when I felt small, did it feel fine to stop.

I felt like I did as a child, when my mother pressed a cold, damp washcloth to my hot forehead at night, and recited the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem she’d committed to memory: By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. Dark behind it rose the forest, Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, Rose the firs with cones upon them; Bright before it beat the water, Beat the clear and sunny water, Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

She wove the words like a ballad, her voice rhythmically rising and falling in the motion of trochees—the motion of waves—that sent me off to a watery sleep.

Immersed in shining Big-Sea-Water, I couldn’t see across it. I could not tell the water’s future or know the secret afterlife of waves born from the center. I could only sit and cry and let the gentle waves console me. My body rocked by her aged body.

I thought of Sam in the waves, the way his big, long arms wrapped so easily around me, right over my shoulders, my head against his chest, and how I missed that feeling, missed his enormous heart. An endless supply, it had seemed. An unlimited resource. All around, the sky was falling, stars ascending and descending, ricocheting off the surface. A liquid moon rose luminescent, from above and from below, casting micaed light around us. The water waxed and waned, a great metronome, an ancient song. What could I do? The hour was late. I put my ear to the pulse and counted time, the beat, alive.