The Dying of the Light

By Killeen Partridge

The shutter clicks and I hear Nathaniel wind the film. He says something I can’t hear, my back turned toward the horizon where the sun is falling into the ocean. I let my arm drop as a wave breaks against my legs and soaks the hem of my dress, toes digging into the sand to brace against the ocean as it washes away.

“Rose!”

I like the way my name sounds on his lips: fearless, confident — a stranger to the Rosemary I’ve always been.

“Rosie!”

I blink tears and take a breath, turn to reach a hand out to beckon him by my side, and the shutter clicks again. “Nat, stop…” My cheeks heat. “Please.”

Then his hand is suddenly warm in mine and I’m tucked under his arm, nestled by his side. Safe.

“When will you be back?” I ask.

“Not soon enough,” he whispers. A wave threatens to knock us down, but we are stronger together and it recedes.

“I’ll write.” A meager promise, but it’s mine to make.

“Every day?”

“Every day,” I say.

He squeezes me and I lean my head against his chest, close my eyes tight against the dusk.

“Rosemary?”

I open my eyes. Rosemary? His voice sounds different and I feel my heart skip.

“Nat?” My voice frantic as I look around for him.

“Rosemary, it’s okay.”

A woman’s voice? That’s not right. Nathaniel was just here, beside me. I heard his voice. Felt his touch.

“Nat!” A feeble attempt to cry out and I’m out of breath. How odd.

“Nathaniel is gone, Rosemary,” she says.

Her voice is condescending, grates against the panic that is bubbling up inside me.

“No,” I jab a finger to where she stands now. “He was just there.” The movement is sudden and she reaches out to grasp my elbow like I’m old and frail and about to topple over.

We look where I’m pointing. He has to be there. Has to. Just out of sight maybe.

“He’s not here, Rosemary,” she says, fingers clasped tight around my arm.

I jerk away, out of her grasp, and walk along the shoreline. I watch the waves wrap gently around my ankles, but I don’t feel them this time. My hem is dry and the ocean doesn’t tug me out to sea. I stumble.

“Rosemary, your cane,” she calls after me.

I pause, blink. Look down again at the sand no longer between my toes but carpet under my feet, flecked with blues and greens.

I don’t understand.

I glance at my hands, blood vessels clearly visible under paper thin skin. I shake my head, run fingers through my hair and twist some of it around and around, a habit I picked up as a little girl to cope with the worry. This can’t be right. He was here, just now, standing beside me in the ocean.

“Why don’t we go back to your apartment, Rosemary?” She’s back again.

And this time I nod.

I let her guide me to a room that smells like mothballs and disinfectant, and she moves items about, rearranging all my things as I watch. My fingers twist through hair and work overtime. I wish she would stop.

But when she leaves I just stand there, arms by my side. Still. Like a wild animal caught in headlights — too scared to run, too shocked to hide.

“Nathaniel?” I whisper. I wait for his presence to fill the space left in her wake.

Minutes tick by.

And then I feel it — his hand warm again in mine.

He leads me toward the bed where we lie down together. I turn on my side, feel his body curl around me, fill my nose with his scent of salt sea air and aftershave. Safe.

I let myself drift away then, carried on a decades-old tide, my breath rushing out with the water.

And only the ocean returns.

                                               *  *  *
Killeen Partridge is a high school Social Studies teacher and aspiring writer in her spare time. When she isn’t in the classroom, you can find her coffee shop hopping, riding her 1974 Yamaha TY250 in the forest, or catching the next flight out. Killeen holds a Master’s in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University and currently resides in Arizona with her retired show dog, Gunner. You can follow her on Instagram at @killeentravels.

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