Vala spelled out ‘I Love You’ in her breakfast cereal, but by the time Emily came to look, a couple of O’s wandered. It was textless. If Emily had gotten out of the shower quicker it would have been ok: the relationship. Maybe Vala shouldn’t have yelled. It may not have been important, although it wasn’t alphabet cereal. They were toasted O’s and she had to line them up; a real challenge. It didn’t help that Emily was still wet from the shower. Water was dripping into the bowl from the dark curls of her hair, making the abbreviated love letter soggier. Emily rushed from the shower and didn’t grab a towel. There was a trail of water from the bathroom. Vala looked at it annoyed. She knew she would end up cleaning it.
“What are you talking about?” Emily asked. Vala pointed with the spoon.
“You got me out of the shower for that?”
Vala offered her a full spoon, part of the L. She refused. Emily stood there waiting for something. Vala ate the spoonful. She could feel Emily’s stare.
“Can’t you see it’s romantic?” she yelled while chewing.
In hindsight she shouldn’t have yelled the second time, but the taste of watered down cereal with a hint of mint shampoo was terrible.
On her way back to the shower Emily slipped on her trail of water. She fell and broke her wrist. Vala felt it wasn’t her fault. Emily was the one that wanted tile in the kitchen. The old linoleum offered better traction when wet. She told her to hurry to the bowl of cereal, not hurry away from it.
Vala thought the cereal incident would burn out and be over with; like most of their fights. They didn’t speak all day Monday. Tuesday Vala ate Raisin Bran but couldn’t get enough raisins to spell anything meaningful. She drove to work early wondering if Emily had purposefully de-raisined the box. Emily slept in after her late night visit to the emergency room: alone.
In the afternoon Vala felt guilty about her raisin accusation and for not going to the hospital with Emily. She texted her lover OOOOOO. Vala figured Emily couldn’t get any angrier and the upside was that she would get the toasted O reference, laugh and forgive her. Emily texted back: XXX; a good sign. Vala came home late to find her on the couch hopped up on prescription pain pills. She leaned in for a kiss and Emily balked.
“I thought we were good.”
“What gave you that idea?”
“Your text message triple X rated? Tonight?”
“Oh sorry, I thought that meant poison.”
Vala grabbed Emily’s pills, poured half of the bottle into her palm, popped one in her mouth and threw the bottle back to Emily. Satisfied, Vala went upstairs. She was in the bedroom relaxing in a medicated haze when she got a text message from Emily. She picked up the phone and pressed a sequence of keys. Her text message read, “XOXOXO”. She lost her Zen. That woman poisoned my Cheerios! She popped another pill and passed out.
On Wednesday Vala came home early to the familiar sound of water running upstairs. It was a good sign. She turned on the television a little too loud and heard Emily calling only after it turned to yelling. She paused the television and walked upstairs. Vala looked in and saw a trash bag floating in a pile of suds. Emily loved bubble baths and her broken wrist wouldn’t stop her from relaxing.
“I was calling to ask you to turn on the radio for me.” There was a small radio on a shelf, far enough away for safety’s sake, but it made it inconvenient. It had become a ritual for them. Emily would ask her to turn it on and then invite her into the tub. Finally she thought.
“Sorry I didn’t hear you.”
As she turned on the radio Emily continued, “That’s right, you only communicate in writing. You’re a writer.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A career pays bills, otherwise it’s a hobby.” Classical music played in the background.
“I’m an artist. Don’t get on me about work.”
“No, why would I do that when there’s so much money in Toasted O syntax?”
Her face dropped.
“Oh look baby come here; look what’s written in the bubbles?
Vala started to walk away when her curiosity peaked. Maybe she still wanted her to join in. Maybe she was in for some kinky trash bag sex. Emily could make her believe anything. Maybe there was cloud like writing in the bubbles. Maybe it was her way of apologizing.
“What does it say?”
“Actually, it would read. It wouldn’t say anything, but you’re the writer eh?”
Before Vala understood that a reconciliation wasn’t happening, Emily changed her tone. “I’m teasing sweety, come closer it’s hard to see.”
Vala was hopeful. She went to the edge of the bubbles. They were pouring out of the tub and she couldn’t wait until even more poured out.
“No, where?” Vala was searching the skin tones in the tub, not paying attention to anything else.
“It’s written in the bubbles. It says fuck,” she paused. “you.” Emily splashed a handful of bubbles into Vala’s face. Vala’s eyes burned. She jerked back; slipped on the suds. Her hands flailed as her eyes clamped. Her body reached for stability. Vala’s right arm found the radio shelf. It didn’t hold and sent the radio flying through the air. She forced her eyes open enough to see Emily jumping up. She was standing in the bathwater when she caught the radio with her trash bag wrapped arm. It hurt. Her eyes and mouth opened wide. The pain receptors in her broken wrist betrayed her. The second Emily caught the radio, she was forced to drop it. The radio fell into the suds. There was high pitched sound and Vala couldn’t tell if it came from the radio or her girlfriend. She tugged the cord unplugging it from the socket and huddled over to her body on the floor. There was no pulse. She tore her cell phone out and dialed 911; put it on speaker. Vala started massaging her heart and she yelled for an ambulance. She was giving her CPR when they arrived.
Two days later Emily was discharged. Vala realized how much she almost lost. Emily realized how much she was still in love. Vala started therapy even before her court mandated deadline. Emily joined her on a session and a half. They made progress. The fighting ended and the bitterness started to fade. Vala and Emily worked together nurturing their fragile relationship. To celebrate its rejuvenation and her cast coming off they booked a first class cruise.
From the moment the limo dropped them at the port their smiles were inseparable. They enjoyed overeating during the day and reading with a buzz in the afternoon. Nights were a regiment of drunken gambling and dancing into morning. Toward the middle of the week Vala found the gym and Emily found a yoga class. They spent the evenings together and during a worn Cabaret they decided to duck out and take a walk. The clouds diffused moonlight into the water as they walked hand in hand. Their vacation was starting to breed warmth back into their relationship. Vala smiled. Toward the back of the ship Emily stopped and looked over the railing. The churning from the ships engines caused the phosphorescent algae to shine creating a trail of intricate patterns. It was beautiful. Vala stepped on a low rung and leaned over the rail to block out the ambient light. Emily checked out her butt, as she did when they were first dating. She joined her on the railing.
“Look Vala, in the water.”
Vala scanned the water.
Emily pointed. “It says ‘I Love You’” She put her hand over Vala’s guiding it to the words written in algae.
Forgiveness is fragile. When a wound is confronted it’s brought out to be remembered in a different way. A bad event can become a modified memory, or an act with an asterisk; a blanket on a footnote or a warm coating. There is however, a moment just before forgiveness when the asterisk hasn’t been placed, the memory not modified, and the wound is fresh fresh fresh. The wrong words in that moment, a misunderstood look, a misplaced word, an interruption, can mean disaster. It can inflame the damage exponentially. If salt is thrown in this instant, the wound bleeds wide open.
It was at this moment, something in Vala’s mind couldn’t resist the opportunity for instigation. It was a defense mechanism. She thought things were going too good on a path she knew she was afraid of. It wasn’t even as if she knew she didn’t want it. But it was different. Fighting was safe. Vala threw a pound of raw salt.
“Actually, according to you it would read I love you. The algae wouldn’t say anything.”
Emily’s mind erupted; flooded. She stopped breathing. Her mind settled enough for a few seconds of calm. With the remaining air in her lungs she replied. “You’re right. I was wrong,” Emily held her hand, “anyway I was mistaken.”
That’s when Emily breathed in. Her mind exploded with relief in the knowledge that everything would be over soon. She breathed out quickly tugging Vala’s hand just enough to shift her center of gravity. “it reads ‘fuck you’”
Vala fell. The churn of the propellers drown her splash.
According to an independent study approximately twelve people per year go missing on cruise lines. Causes of cruise deaths include allergic reactions to shellfish, food poisoning, choking, pool accidents, stray golf balls, falling bunk beds, mooring lines, open hatches, and insect bites. Most falls are lumped in there somewhere for public relations sake.
Emily returned to the Cabaret in time for their last dance number. She looked over at the empty chair beside her, complete with cup holder and half filled daiquiri. Leaning over the top of the cup was a cherry speared with a pink plastic sword. Vala had stolen it from her earlier. She reached over and took the half filled drink. She plucked the sword out and ate the cherry. Vala always stole her cherry whether it was in a drink or on a sundae. Before she popped it in her mouth she looked in the froth and thought she saw a couple letters, but smiled when she realized she was mistaken. She plucked the cherry stem from her mouth and gulped the last bit of Vala’s daiquiri. She grinned.
Meanwhile, in the eerily pleasant darkness of the tropic water, Vala floated. She stroked once every few yards, conserved her energy and listened for a ship. Her thoughts after the panic subsided were wishes of Emily getting food poisoning or being hit by a stray golf ball. As the night passed she thought of the fish that would in hours be feasting on the exploits of her digestive track. She dreamed they would grow up strong; someday be caught and be served to Emily. Hopefully she would choke on one and die. They weren’t far from port. She had a fifty fifty chance. Vala grinned.
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