photo of two hands forming a pinky promise

Vigil by Kate Finegan

We were here last year, and the ocean tugged at sand—white sand. We walked barefoot, dug our fingers in for shells.

This year, the beach is gone. I don’t know how else to put it. Waves break into a hole; the ocean disappears within it.

We arrived late, after dark, and the waves roared like angry lions, but we didn’t go outside to see. We awoke this morning and looked out the window— down, down, into an endless hole.

It doesn’t fill. I asked, as we stood a few yards from the rim, and was answered with clicking tongues and shaking heads, quivering hands. One woman gave me a plastic rosary, bright blue beads. Another wiped her eyes on a handkerchief, then passed it to my wife, who answered her in Spanish.

Back in the room, I wear the rosary on my hand, wrapped around my fingers, but I don’t know how to pray. My wife would, but I don’t ask her. She frowns at the beads.

“Hypocrites,” she says. 

“Heretic,” I say.

“Is the world ending?” she asks, studying her hands.

I take her pinky, hook it with mine, like we did when we were girls, when I joined her family for mass when I slept over, when I lifted my knees to my chest during communion so they could all file past me, heathen that I was.

“I lit a candle for you,” my someday-wife said once, and I didn’t speak to her for weeks.

Once, she clutched her wafer and thimble’s worth of wine in hidden palms, passed them to me on the playground after service. Under the slide, my just-friend kissed me. I remember the taste of body, of blood.

Now we are here on the Baja California, and the ocean is falling into the earth — through it, maybe, and out the other side — and the world may be ending, there’s a prayer vigil, ceaseless, on the rim of the chasm, and they say birds have fallen from the sky and plummeted down, down, disappeared without a trace, without a splash, and mothers are worried senseless over their small children, but I can’t hear the roar over warm breath in my ear, and my wife unwinds the beads from my hand, and that’s all the prayer I need.

Kate Finegan thinks there’s something slightly unnerving about the ocean, and Planet Money’s episode about sand theft (#853: “Peak Sand”) confirmed this feeling and sparked the idea for this piece. Her chapbook, The Size of Texas, is available from Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Longleaf Review. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and twitter.com/@kehfinegan

Lead image: “pinky promise.” (via Flickr user kayla)

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