by Tusa Shea
It was a July evening at Agate Beach when Noa asked Henry to bury her again. She dug a trough in the sand with a large brittle clam shell while he swam. A heat wave had brought throngs to the windswept shore for the day, and now, as the sun set, they began to pack their coolers and roll soggy towels. Teenagers arrived with blankets and beer in twos and threes. Nearby, a sprawling family with a confusing number of children struggled to cohere. The wilted mother rounded up the littlest ones, wrestled them into shorts, then got distracted by two bickering older ones. She turned to find the youngest naked again and back in the water. The father was a floating dot on the horizon. Henry returned and dripped over Noa as she scraped the damp sand.
“What are you making.”
“A grave,” she said.
He lit a cigarette.
She lay in the shallow depression, “it’s not deep enough.”
“Mmph,” he held his cigarette between pressed lips and scooped sand over her. It trickled into her crevices, soft and cool.
“Bury my face too,” she said.
“Close your eyes,” he sprinkled until she disappeared.
A boy and his identical sister approached, white hair salt-dried, bathing suits sagging. “What are you doing,” asked the boy.
“Burying my wife,” said Henry.
The children shuffled forward and tossed handfuls of sand over the mound. The boy put his foot on top of Noa as if to step down and eyed Henry. He shook his head. The girl crouched by Noa’s face and placed grey pebbles where her eyes should be. “Does it look like her?” she asked.
Henry nodded, “except her eyes are brown.”
The girl gathered seaweed and made long flowing hair, “she has long hair,” she said to herself, “and she’s sad.” She plunked a twig crooked across Noa’s mouth. Henry nodded. Both kids snapped their heads and leapt up at the call of their mother, now barking orders as their father crawled out of the sea.
Noa sank into the ground and imagined the tide washing in and pulling her free. She saw herself floating on the surface at night, picked at from below by curious creatures until, waterlogged, she sank to the inky bottom. Lobsters fought over her flesh, pulled her apart with expert claws. She grew cold and heavy. Sleep. Something brushed her face. Henry dusted her eyelids and blew away the sand. He rummaged for her hand and pulled her up. “Open,” he said. The sun had fallen below the horizon casting lavender above an orange haze.
The next time she asked Henry to bury her was in October at his family’s cabin near Old Range Forest. An annual getaway. He said no, it was too hard. She kneeled on the ground and plunged her fingers into layers of leaves and decayed wood. Black and rust coloured soil crawled with insects. Shy pill bugs rolled up, ants marched, red centipedes spiraled. A white spider scrambled to safety. The air fermented as Noa scraped a ditch with her hands. Green wings of cypress and dappled alder waved overhead. Yellow leaves dotted the forest floor. Henry watched, then picked up a shovel and dug. He leaned on the handle to catch his breath, “enough?” She wanted it deeper. She lay in the cool earth and closed her eyes. He shoveled dirt over her legs, moving up her body to her belly and chest. The weight swaddled. He kneeled and scooped the earth around her head with his hands.
“All of me,” she said.
“You won’t be able to breath,” he placed small handfuls of dirt on her forehead and cheeks, over her eyes. He patted the soil firm, lit a cigarette and stared at the hole he’d left for her mouth.
Below, Noa relaxed. She pictured bugs nibbling her flesh, burrowing in and following the sweet moisture of her body deep inside. The jaws of bugs ticked like a thousand metronomes. Mycorrhizae tickled root tips and trembled. How long would it take to liquify? Perhaps a bear would smell her, dig, crush her skull with dedication. Lick her brain from the bowl. Henry lay beside her. She heard his felted voice close to her head, “thank you for coming back.” She held still and silent.
“It’s getting dark,” Henry reached down through the dirt, took hold of her wrist and heaved her up, spilling soil and leaves. He staggered at her lightness, then plucked a beetle from her hair.
She pulled her wrist away, “let go.”
“I can’t,” he said.
In January, Noa stared out the window of their Pine Street apartment at the frosted street, “I’m tired of this.” Icicles hung from the eaves like fangs. Henry hibernated in bed, rolled in flannel and eiderdown. She opened the closet and brushed her hand against the silk and rayon, the crisp cotton and soft cashmere. “I should get rid of these. I haven’t worn any of it for ages.” She reached to the back and felt the silky fur of a vintage mink coat. She pulled it off the hanger to the floor. “Why did I buy that?”
“It made you happy,” Henry said to his pillow.
“Let’s get rid of everything,” she said and moved to her dresser drawers. She picked up a medication bottle and turned it around. “Are these mine?” she said.
“You don’t need them anymore,” he said, “you’re better.”
“I’d feel better if you buried me.”
“It’s too cold. The ground is frozen.”
“Then bury me with your body,” she crawled under the covers, wiggled beneath him. He spread himself around her. “When the ground warms up,” she said, “promise.” She felt his heartbeat, felt his belly inflate with every breath. Each inhalation met no resistance from her own. No sparring hearts fighting for a dominant beat. Just Henry.
Tusa Shea lives in Victoria, B.C. Her previous publishing credits include non-fiction essays, articles, and reviews for academic journals and anthologies, such as The Malahat Review and Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. She has short fiction forthcoming in the spring issues of Carousel Literary Magazine and the Wilderness House Literary Review.