Our last husband was so hot, he burned the house down.
This was what we said to impress other women. We did not tell them of the firefighter’s hands that night, so strong, so firm around our shoulders. “Are you okay, miss?” he asked, his voice, his voice like gravel. “You’re so cold.” We did not tell the women that our north wind had been acting up that night. We did not tell them that then, we were bitter, angry, powerful. That if pressed, we would have torn the whole neighborhood down.
We did not tell them of how we fanned our last husband’s fire, his rage. How he drew from us; all our energy—made us grow small, feel small. And then, when it became too much: a backdraft. We made our husband try to consume us, until he, himself, dwindled into the dirt.
The firefighter’s hands on our shoulders were firm, heavy, laden. Stones. We knew that he would be too much. An anchor. We would tear him apart. Wear him down slowly, so slowly, until he was less of a thing.
“Do you have anywhere to go tonight?” he asked. “Anywhere at all?”
We answered him, our eyes blue and cold and beckoning.
We said, “No.”
Of course, we went home with him.
These are the secrets we tell to the sea, as it draws us in, as it plays with our hands. These are the things we told to no one, to no one but the water. The firefighter had an apartment by the sea. He took us in, and we took him in. Afterwards he made a pot of coffee, it was bitter like we were that night, and we sat with its bitterness cooling in our hands, as we all watched the tide come in.
“What’s your name?” the firefighter asked, far too late to be asking.
“August,” we said. “What’s yours?”
“My friends call me Cole.”
Then he smiled. His teeth brown as wet sand.
“But what should we call you?” we asked.
Our north wind had settled back in the bedroom, between the sheets, sated by his weight, his steadiness, his grip. Now, now we were a precocious spring breeze, heralding storm. His smile grew wider. We saw that he liked it.
“You can call me this,” he said, he said, and he leaned in.
Cole's lips tasted of the memory of our last husband. His tongue of hops and barley. His fingers of a man we could only erode.
We stayed with Cole two weeks, long enough to know how much he stayed close, was close. To learn how he settled, burrowed, into his chair when he returned home; to learn how much routine must be maintained. To learn the rhythms of his breathing, his chewing, his drinking.
We learned the secrets that the sea told us: that Cole spent his lonely evenings planting bottlecaps. That the sea had never seen him go through women, the way they knew we went through men.
You aren’t right for each other, the sea said. You’ll eat him alive.
And they were right.
They were right.
We left as insubstantially as we came, to protect Cole, to protect ourselves. We left with only the clothes on our back and fifty dollars in our pocket. We would find what we needed, what we wanted. We drifted; we traveled. We walked; we paid attention. We told the other women of Cole’s hands, how they anchored us to the mattress. We told the other women of our last husband's heat, how we kept it burning all through the night.
We watched their eyes go wide. We fanned the flames of their desire. We let them take us home, to apartments with leaky faucets, to homes with more than one shower. We left sneaking out of windows, thrown out of front doors. We blew through the women who broke us by trying to hide us; we breezed past the women who thought we were broken—so then, we hid ourselves.
When our fifty dollars became fifteen, became zero, we found ourselves standing on the wet sand again, the color of Cole’s firefighter teeth.
Hello, August, the sea said. What secrets do you have for me today?
“We’re lonely,” we said. “We’re afraid that we will always be lonely.”
But you’re not alone, the sea said. You’ll always have me.
“Will we always?”
“Then,” we asked, our voice delicate as an echo, “may we join you?”
Their answer was simple.
Their tide came up to meet us. Came up to meet our toes. So we came up to meet it. And as we did, the sea’s waves grew, and as their waves grew, our confidence grew. Their waves grew to swallow, swallow my hips, lick my fingers, caress my hair. This, this is what we wanted. To be adored. Not to be held down, and anchored. Not to be drawn in, and made small.
We wanted to be joined, joined as one together.
We dove under the water, we dove into the sea, into them. And their current, it took us in; the sea took our whole body in. They enveloped us, surrounded us. They brought us down into their body. And then the sea said to us, they said, August, I love you. I will never, ever let you go.
And the truth is, they never did.
They never, ever did.