You do not notice it at first. Until you hear the lethargic stirring of a shallow puddle on your way to the kitchen. You look down to find your feet covered in water. It slips between your toes and dances through your arches in the absence of your movement. You think nothing of this: overspill from a water glass or the place where she paused, naked, dripping and absent- minded, on her way from the shower.
She calls to you from the other room and you join her on the couch, fitting yourself to her. Half watching the TV, she kisses you, her hair tickling your nose as she turns. You do not ask about the puddle on the floor. You’ve forgotten it.
It is months now and the water is up to your ankles. It tugs at you, pushing and pulling in a tide you do not understand. You do not know how long it has been like this and you do not ask but the skin at your calves has begun to redden and dry.
Walking around the house, you do not notice the shushing of it against the furniture and the walls. You do not feel it on your legs, but inside of you. The ebbs and flows are in your lungs and the foam rises, pulling itself up your throat. Breathing is heavy and crooked, but you’ve become used to this, too.
You say nothing but you see it on her, too, the chafing at the ankles, the rot in her steps. You feel the waves in each breath you take and you assume they are in hers, too. She does not tell you, but you think you can taste the salt on her breath. Each time she touches you, you can feel the rising and rippling within. Together, you feel it surge and you wade.
It has clawed past your knees, now. You’ve watched the waterlines rise on the walls and inside of you and you mark the days in these changes. There is no foam anymore. The water is steady and dark and no longer crashes against the walls of your lungs. It holds and you can feel the brine settling instead.
Yesterday, you found her sitting on the kitchen counter drinking a glass of orange juice. She flicked her legs back and forth, dragging her toes across it like a sunbather off a dock. You felt the water rise within yourself and it filled you until you were drowning on your feet. She took a sip and continued tracing lazy patterns with her toes. It was only when the ripples reached you that she looked up.
The glass dropped from her hand and sank, coloring the water, orange fingers reaching their way across the room toward you. You do not know what she saw in you. She said nothing. But that silence howled. You took an apple and left. The water rocked back and forth against the cabinets in your wake and this, too, screamed.
There is a storm in your living room today. The waves crash against the windows and walls and your chest. They are rapid and angry and you fear the desperate rise and fall will pull you out with them. Soon enough, your lungs are full and it comes spilling out of you, punching, pushing, rushing for her.
She stands in the middle of it all. You cannot see her but you know, somewhere in the heaving and the spinning and the cracking, she is there. The eye of the storm.
You yell and feel it tear from inside but it breaks before it reaches her. The remains of it patter against the windows like a summer rain and the sound of it quells the waves inside of you. You feel the thunder recede and it slows to a low tide, gentle and warm.
She emerges, windblown and soaked, and she wades to you. The water is up to her chest but she does not fight with it. It moves and fits to her the way the world always has and that is when you realize that the water is yours.
She holds you and says nothing and she feels like the water. But different. She is warm and still and clear and there is no salt on her. She holds you and, for a moment, you’re still inside.
The water is up to your neck and, some days, it feels like fingers around your throat. It lives, happy and at home, in your chest and outside. You have gotten used to this. You do not notice the smell of salt anymore. You have forgotten what it is to be dry.
Sometimes, the sky darkens and the waves crash over your head and it is all you can do to breathe. The wind howls and it takes you awhile to realize, to remember, that this comes from you. You wonder what will happen when the house fills all the way. When there is nothing but water.
She is shorter than you and the water is to her mouth. She swims, now. Treading water is easier than walking. Her ripples reach you, gentle and soft, but they shake the world inside.
Your feet rest, pruned, on the bathroom tile and you watch her tread water in the bedroom. You cannot see her hands or feet in the dark water, but you can feel the rhythm of them. Back and forth. Back and forth. Slower each time. And it is now, watching the curtains and the water sway like seaweed, that you know that this is your water. It always has been. And it is here, listening to the tide in your chest and seeing the rising rot on the walls, that you realize she has been awash and drowning all this time.
You put your toothbrush back in the jar beside the sink and, though you can still touch, you swim to her. You say nothing for a moment, letting the waves within and without crash together until they are the same. She does not say anything either because she knows.
One more stroke and you say it. It does not dance on your tongue, but rushes from you, flowing out to sea.
And on the end quotation, the water drains from the house, rushing, pulling, dragging itself away. It drops you both to the floor and leaves nothing but the damp and the salt and the tidelines on the walls. The water inside you remains, but it is yours and you know this and it cannot drown you.
Alec doesn’t know why she writes. She writes the stories that she feels need to be told (she thinks). She likes books and words and working at Powell’s. But she also likes climbing and eating good food and snuggling because she’s not a total nerd.