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Riptides

Lizzie Davydov


.


There was something to be said about the poetic injustice of the waves crashing and grabbing onto her ankles without dragging her into the underneath world of freedom and virtue. No matter how long she stayed; how hard she plastered herself into the loose grains of delicate sand; how much she rendered herself fearless and frantic and fatigued, the waves refused to grab hold. They've refused to listen to the prayers she's pleaded to be answered from the pedestal of her prison since she was a child driven by the likes of gods and angels and holy spirits.


Leah was never one for the innocent waters of the kiddy pool – she always gravitated towards the recklessness and unpredictability of the ocean since she could remember to put one foot in front of the other without falling. Growing up right on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean helped with that and she quickly grew to use it as her escape. It became second nature to run whenever life threw difficulties her way, especially when her memories would resurface with the changing tides.


* * *


Leah was sitting in the basement waiting for her parents to pick her up from Sunday school. She had to wait every weekend because her parents could spark a conversation with anyone at the drop of a dime. Miss Abigail usually kept her company, though – just not this Sunday. Today, she had to go look at flower arrangements for her wedding next weekend, otherwise she would’ve stayed – that’s what she promised Leah anyways.


As she daydreamed on one of those hard, rickety wooden church chairs and fiddled with the ruffles on a dress that almost swallowed her whole, Pastor John was slinking his way down the stairs. Leah’s parents must have been coming soon since Pastor John was coming downstairs, probably to his office. They usually spoke with him last so they could get the most of his time.


See, Pastor John was the closest thing to God that a small town could possibly imagine. He looked past the sins that people would confess to him and only noticed the pure intentions in their hearts; he took in the homeless and fed the poor without ever questioning their circumstances or motives; he cared for each member of his church as if they were his own children, no matter how old they happened to be. He was the most biblically obedient man with charisma and charm that could reflect verses onto the blue and yellow stained-glass window behind him as he stood at the altar every Sunday.


“Oh, hello Leah. Miss Abigail left already?” Pastor John paused for a moment. “And she left you down here on your own?” he asked. This caught Leah out of her daydream, since she didn’t realize she wasn’t alone anymore.


Leah nodded. “She had flowers to look at for her marriage.” Her reply was timid and said as if she wasn’t entirely sure she was giving the right answer.


“Interesting. Well, would you like to come help me bring some hymn books upstairs? Your parents are still talking to Miss Mariam and we seem to be missing some. I would love some help. Plus, it can keep you busy and you won’t have to be alone.” He was almost pleading in the way that he spoke.


“Okay,” was all that Leah replied.


Pastor John smiled and held out his hand for Leah to take so he could lead her to his office. She complied and hopped off the chair that was beginning to make her butt sore. They walked down a short hallway and entered into a room that was covered floor to ceiling in what looked like just bibles and hymn books. There were also lonely crosses plastered across the empty spots of the walls that were crooked and tilted in every which way.


Pastor John placed his hand on Leah’s shoulder and lingered there for a few seconds too long. He gently patted Leah on her lower back to motion her to step forward. When she wouldn’t move on her own, he walked past the stacks of hymns he had scattered across multiple tables and left Leah standing alone in the doorway. He opened a few of his drawers before pulling out a crimson book that looked like it was brand new. Leah couldn’t tell what it was, but her eyes wandered around the small office space, so she didn’t really pay much attention to it. “Come over here Leah,” Pastor John said as he sat down in the chair placed deliberately against the wall. Leah obeyed and took small steps towards his desk. He patted his lap with soft pats to his thigh and she climbed onto his leg. Pastor John ran a hand down Leah’s arm before moving to the book that was in front of him. Leah noticed that the cross that hung around a chain on his neck was flipped upside down. She desperately wanted to fix it.


“I want to sing you my favorite hymn – my mother taught it to me,” he mentioned as a passing thought before placing his hand just above Leah’s knee.


* * *


The rain hit the metal roof of the Chrysler station wagon with a conviction and theatricality that made Leah’s ears ring the entire drive home. She was silent in her brand-new booster seat minus the faint whispers of her prayers begging the rain to tear the windows out of the car. Her parents, of course, didn’t notice – they could only seem to focus on the fact that this was the best service that they’ve been to. It somehow even beat out the service from last week! And the previous week! They said this every week and it never bothered Leah before, but today she wanted to claw into their arms and beg them to be silent. It was her that stayed mute instead.


When they finally reached their house and parked parallel to the flower garden, her father came around to her door and slowly picked her up as her mother opened up the umbrella beside him. He picked her up delicately and carried her close to the left side of his chest, the umbrella being just big enough to keep the three of them dry from the rain as they practically waded up the driveway to their front door.


That night after dinner was the first time she ran to the ocean to escape the suffocation of her home. It took her mother an hour and a half to notice she was missing from the house. By the time she’d found her, the moon had been watching over Leah for two (what seemed endless) hours. Her mother didn’t ask questions as to why she deserted herself by the shore for so long; she just tapped her shoulder and waited for Leah to stand. Leah felt mindless as she obeyed, but she followed her mother as she walked them up the pebble plastered pathway back to their home. Her mother got Leah ready for bed. They both said a prayer by her bedside.


* * *


She watched as the waves gently danced between her toes and imagined herself having the strength to walk forward ever so slightly. She wanted to be new again. The ice-cold water practically called her name from the oblivion of the ocean floor. She thought about being engulfed by the water – she imagined it felt like liberation.


If she were to walk into the ocean, she knew her body would freeze at the sudden change in temperature, but she hoped that it would actually warm her soul and melt the pain. She wanted it to be warm – the water and her soul. She’d let herself sink to the floor and pace through the forest of seaweed and seashells that were so meticulously placed by someone who constantly called out for her name. She’d let herself wander.


She’d let herself believe that she saw the bones of captains and crew members from left over shipwrecks that had been waiting patiently for her since their work began all those years ago. They’d be alluring and welcoming in a way that would make her own bones become enchanted with the reality of a hospitable hell. It would be hard to read the emotions that were meant to be plastered on their faces, but that’s what would draw her in closer to them. She’d almost want to be them – thoughtless and still. The water around her would be so overwhelmingly stagnant that she’d feel like she was finally in a home that had listened to the prayers made at the side of her memory stained bed.


She’d find him waiting at the entrance of the shipwreck, broken through by the creatures of the floor that would spend their lives here. He’d call her name and she’d walk slowly towards him, letting the sand sink her down with every step that she took. She would take his hand and they would dance. He’d be warm; he’d be inviting even when he’d smile with his teeth and laugh at the thought of a god sitting on a throne waiting for those he claimed as his children to return. She’d laugh with him; in fact, she’d laugh so hard her sides would hurt and she’d curse at the heavens she could no longer see from the depth that she sank. She’d feel the freedom and he’d let her have it. She’d sing and she’d scream and she’d sink deeper into the unknown, feeling reality and consciousness lose its grip on her mind with every sneer she let out. “Fuck god,” she’d think out loud.


But she wasn’t there; she wasn’t dancing with the devil and she wasn’t sticking her middle finger in the face of god like she’d hoped – she was back in the world that held her hostage with waves that refused to push her over, hailing the merciless calmness that swept them ashore. No matter how much she pled, the world was silent, and no one was listening to her begging for peace at the brink of her torment. She’d wish on shooting stars to see if magic did exist beyond the realms of storybooks; she’d want the world to close her wounds so desperately that she’d charge headfirst into the world of witchcraft; she’d wait for hours and days and weeks to see if maybe her angels would find the decency within themselves to spare her the pain of continuing through a world clouded by a memory she couldn’t erase. But that’s all it was – just wishing, wanting, and waiting for nothing to come and the waves to wither away back into themselves like she’d been doing for years.


Powerless and paralyzed, Leah let the water drift around her, the wind so gentle that she could almost hear it whisper as it shifted uncomfortably around her. There was something so sweet about the strawberry lemonade skies above that left a bitter taste in Leah’s mouth – it had her mind begging to be submerged by the tumultuous raptures of the riptides. It never came though; in reality, it would never come because these waves were just that – waves; and she couldn’t keep pleading with a tempting and cruel maker who sits on his throne purposeless and powerful.

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