There was a storm coming. The seawater had turned a steely gray, a dangerous color. The runnels of foam dragged at Lee’s bare feet, tugging him toward the surf. He turned and looked outward, toward the horizon, as a violent wave dashed itself to pieces, and he tasted salt.
This was where it had happened, a year ago. Whatever it was that actually had happened. All Lee knew was that Jane had vanished, without a word to him, no clue as to why. She was there one day, missing the next. Her clothes were found, neatly folded on a piece of driftwood, as if she’d stripped and just… swam away.
Nothing in her actions during the weeks preceding her disappearance had seemed odd. Her wry smile, her habit of brushing back a lock of dark hair from her forehead, her kind touch, all were as usual. Even in the days that followed, when mourning spouses think thoughts of “If only I’d paid more attention at the time…”, there were no clues to be found in memory. Lee puzzled over everything, what she had said and done, places she’d gone, overheard scraps of telephone conversations. There was nothing, not the least hint of what was to come. Her disappearance was a subtraction; she simply wasn’t there any more.
The police suspected foul play, of course, but nothing about that made sense. Why would a murderer strip his victim and leave the clothes behind in a trim stack? The Coast Guard was called in, divers searched likely spots in the bay, but no trace of her was found except for the t-shirt, shorts, and underwear, placed on a log beyond the reach of the waves, as if she had thought, I won’t need these any more, but no sense ruining them. Lee realized with dull surprise that the police were probably investigating him, seeing if there was any reason why he’d wanted Jane dead. But when no body turned up, and it became clear that he was what he seemed to be – a spouse devastated by his wife’s presumed death – they gave up and moved on to more straightforward cases.
Five weeks after Jane’s disappearance, the dreams started.
Lee had gone to Colorado, far away from the ocean, to get away from the hateful, incessant pounding of the waves. Deprived of their reality, they invaded his sleep, and he woke up tasting salt and still feeling the water coursing over his body, seeing Jane swimming, her naked body, so familiar, now subtly… changed. He awoke desperately, terrifyingly aroused, needing her, but full wakefulness just brought him back to the empty bed in a motel in the Colorado Rockies, the bedsheets tangled around his bare legs.
So he had come back. His return felt inevitable. And now he stood there, the storm coming in, the seawater curling around his ankles. The wind ruffled his hair; thunder growled in the distance. He pulled his shirt off, tossed it to the sand; no neat folding for him. He unsnapped his shorts, pulled them and his boxers off together, threw them aside, and strode forward into the water. He remembered what she’d said to him, in the dream: it will feel cold at first, but not for long.
Lee plunged headfirst in, and the ocean received him like a lover.