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FEB 2023 | ISSUE 21

The word yes is too short. From now on, the word for yes is chemosynthesis.

What I can tell you is that the ocean looks white today, not blue. Albedo.

The man out there isn’t my husband, but my husband is out there.

Chemosynthesis occurs when there is no other option, which is to say when there is no light left.

He was straight off ten days on a troller when we met in a wet bar. When we kissed, his mouth tasted medieval and his sandpaper cheeks turned my face red for two weeks.

The discovery of chemosynthesis was the most significant discovery in the field of oceanography during the twentieth century, so much so that we say, before 1977 and after 1977. Before chemosynthesis and after chemosynthesis.

I am living post-chemosynthesis. I am living on what, before 1977, we didn’t think could ever be enough.

When I say we, I mean we oceanographers; I mean myself and those who did return from their fieldwork. Who did not move into a drafty brick house with a fisherman who was sure he could stop fishing.

I hate to watch, but I can never look away. I always seem to catch it no matter what I have planned for the day. The moment just before his head is fully submerged and the moment his head is fully submerged.

The man who is the light has been gone for too many nights. There’s no fish in the ice chest and hardly any water in the well. According to the red x’s on the calendar by the door, he’s been gone for three weeks.

I have watched him drown and come back to life 3,000 times. I’ve watched and I’ve waited, night after night.

Three weeks and thirty years ago, he held my red face between his rough hands and filled me entirely. Thirty years ago, he said he’d stop living the way he’d been living—on ships fighting against the sea. Thirty years ago, I said yes to honey in my whiskey.

Yes before I understood that decisions should be made in a span longer than it takes to say yes. Before, I understood that just because we don’t need light to survive doesn’t mean we should try to survive without light. Before, I understood that dark surfaces absorb far more than they return. 

The truth is, he didn’t even have to ask. The truth is, I didn’t even say yes. I nodded my head, and that was that; I moved in the next day.

At 3:30 pm, I pour his tea down the drain. If they aren’t in by 3:00, they aren’t coming in. The fly that died in the curdled cream sticks to the side of the silver sink, and for a moment, I believe he’s still alive.

He lasted three months amongst the trees. Learned to plane wood and blow glass. The man could do anything with his hands, but the man couldn’t breathe on dry land. He said, don’t you see, after booking a job that would keep him away for weeks. That night, I stared and stared but couldn’t find his face in the dark, even though he was lying just beside me.

I free the fly with a spoon and place him on the counter, where nothing moves besides the light from his eyes.

People need to eat, he answered when I asked if he still thinks of me when he’s at sea.

Giant tube worms at the bottom of the ocean contain a particular bacterium that oxidizes sulfur, transforming it into something they can consume for energy. The worms evolved until they could fulfill their own needs. For thousands of years, they tried and failed until one day, something inside me changed, and I couldn’t wait.

For thirty years, I tried and failed to make myself eat, but what cannot be filled remains empty.

The porch lights burn two eyes into the churning face outside. I imagine going to him. I imagine his arms around my belly. And just like that, relief pours through me like honey.

I wrap the white blanket around my shoulders and unlock the glass door, sliding it to the right. As I step onto the deck, the wind pours inside rearranges the room, returning everything to where it was before I arrived.

When his voice cuts through the wind and my name follows from the open door, I know I’m confusing his voice with the voice of the waves.  

Before he left, the first time he left, he gave me the abandoned body of an animal that once lived hundreds of miles from shore, told me to hold it to my ear when I missed the sound of his breathing.

As I walk toward the sea, the blanket stretches like a shadow overhead, then waves in surrender before plunging into the water at the exact spot where we’ll meet.

All those nights, I lay with a hollow shell pressed to my head, and only now can I hear his voice as if he were here. I press the palms of my hands to the shells of my ears and refuse to return to the home he’d long overgrown.

Another step and a skyblack tide rushes in to fill what’s empty. Diffusion.

Bore up by the swell, I float for a moment, poised evenly between sea and sky, past and present, full and empty.

When his face appears, illuminated by a sudden light emanating from no possible source but me, I catch his eye, nod my head, and as the crest begins to curl, open my mouth to say yes