Echoed against the cliff walls of the ragged coastline, the bark of two elephant seals. Aaark, one calls, then moans like the creak of old redwood. Even through closed lids: the periwinkle grey of dawn. I open my eyes at the fifth cheer-up-up from a nameless bird in dialogue with its mate. A moment later, my husband opens his. We stare wide-eyed across the pillows. We traveled nine hours to perch on this cliff far from the segmented lives that fracture us, and spoke of nothing timely but the shortening blue shadows and play of sun along the grizzled backs of the golden central coast hills. Now, in the briny blue morning, we shove away the flannel sleeping bag and crawl out of the tent zipping our jeans. I balance on a weathered log; he stands on a rock. We survey the morning palette: sky against sea, dusty rose and slate grey, echoes of elephant seals and the crash of waves.
Black sky and a thick sheet of Milky Way flips us face up on the campsite picnic table. My hips stack one over the other; my belly touches my husband’s ribs. I lay my head on his arm. We spin inward to the black hole at the center of the galaxy. I search the thick for constellations: Cassiopeia; a dipper; Orion: I recognize only the belt. He hunts satellites and shooting stars. Make a wish, one of us says. We go silent. The night pulses with cricketsong. This cusp of October is summer’s last hurrah, and the crickets in the chaparral cannot be still. Chirp, they cry. I am lost for a breath. Then, like a prayer:
Keep this man healthy; take care of my man. When, I wonder, did I begin to pray? We’re moving so fast, he says, Why don’t we feel a breeze?
The starscape is better for the moon’s absence, but the trails are dark. The beam of my
flashlight hits a couple stargazing and huddled among the sage and chaparral. I point it
down and it flashes over the neighboring campsite’s tent, chair, and half-read paperback.
We follow the trail and again lie on the picnic table in wonder of the galaxy. A tiny
satellite travels nearly indiscernibly amid the fixed luminous stars. I stare till my eyes
cross, then leave my husband on the picnic table and crawl into the flannel. Mid-night, the
elephant seals become raucous, the crickets are mad; we feign sleep. In the morning
bathroom, the woman from the campsite says her name is Tian. I ask if she often camps alone
already daydreaming of my future solo trips. I am not strong, she says. She means the
tent, and I nod because she looks two-thirds my size. She had bought it with her husband,
but he died, was killed, six months ago. I dry my hands. I wish her well. What else can I
do? My husband waits with our bags. Outside, he looks out at the slip of moon fading
over the eastern mountains. I wrap his ribcage in my arms and say another prayer in the
The Pacific swallows the sun in a blaze of hunger; sand pipers lift in formation; a pelican skims for dinner; a dog searches the tide for a ball; a young man asks, “Will you take a photo of me and my future wife?” They are backlit by the sinking sun, but my husband takes three shots. They laugh, we wish them well, and we return to our king bed, cotton sheets, and the thunder of waves from the beach below. Five paddles, medium speed, throw rhythmic blurs across the bluing hotel ceiling. On the table, a plate of brie, apples, and crackers, three-quarters gone; the sauvignon blanc, a third. The ceiling fan whirs; we are happily in love. It whirs again; our tectonic plates shift. A fault line of empty sheets divides us. I blame him. I listen to him sleep. He blames me. He listens to me sleep. I don’t know what causes us to crumble at our edge. We dream of waking and remaking love. The Pacific rolls in and out. At dawn, we glue ourselves back together.