Corrie Haldane has a number of online and print anthology publications. Most recently, her work can be found in the anthologies “What We Talk About When We Talk About It Vol. 2” and “Branching ... [+]

Image of Short Circuit - Short Circuit #12
My daughters run across the hard-packed sand, their blonde hair—Maureen's hair—streaming out behind them. They are three little replicas of my wife.
 
As always, the worry grips my heart with icy fingers: What else of hers do they carry? 
 
Every night, my girls sleep together in a huddle in my queen-sized bed. I sleep on the sofa in the living room, when I sleep at all. Their nightmares come less frequently now, but they still come. And when they do, the three of them take comfort in one another. Mostly, I'm thankful for that, but in my lowest, loneliest moments, I resent it. Just one more reason to hate my wife.
 
The sun has only just begun its climb across the sky. Gulls fly overhead, calling to each other with mournful voices. The ocean is quiet this morning; still sleepy, as I am. The waves whisper shush, shush, shush to the shore. My breathing slows, my heart calms. Its soothing murmurs work on me, too.
 
Maureen loved the ocean. She walked this beach through all the seasons and all types of weather. She would stand at the water's edge and gaze out to the horizon with a look that could only be called longing. "Maureen the mermaid," I used to tease. "Always searching for a way back home." Her answering smile never reached her eyes.
 
Her love for this place was no secret, so it's no wonder that whenever the girls want to feel close to her, they beg me to bring them here.
 
Now, they stand where she so often stood, looking across those same waves. Each girl clutches an origami boat they made last night after dinner. It's a craft Maureen taught them. 
 
 
Shelley, our oldest, helped her sisters. "Fold it like this," she'd instructed, demonstrating technique. Little mama bear, Maureen had called her, because Shelley had always looked out for the younger ones.
 
A familiar wave of anger washes over me. Had she known, even back then, that someone else would have to take her place? I clench my fists and shove them into my pockets. How could you do this to us, Maureen?
 
Making the boats had been Caitlin's idea. She was our middle girl, the creative one, the dreamer. "We can write letters to Mommy on the paper before we fold it up, and then we can mail them to her in the ocean," she had said. "We'll use the good red craft paper."
 
Red had been Maureen's favorite color. 
 
The girls have kicked off their shoes, peeled off their socks, and they stand with their toes in the surf. Olivia, our youngest, glances back at me. She's checking to make sure I'm nearby, that I'm watching. That they are safe. 
 
I raise my hand in a wave. She waves back, then blows me a kiss. I pretend to grab it out of the air and put it in my pocket. Our little game. Her smile is wide and heartbreakingly pure. It's the first one I've seen from her in days, the first one since the disastrous trip to the supermarket last week.
 
When we go grocery shopping, the girls each have their own jobs. Shelley pushes the cart and Caitlin carries the shopping list. Olivia thinks her job is the most important one, and to be honest, I think she might be right. She holds my hand.
 
We were in the dairy section. Shelley and Caitlin were bickering over yogurt flavors when Olivia slipped her little hand from mine. 
 
"Mommy!" she squealed and bounded down the aisle, where she threw herself into a blonde woman's arms. 
 
The woman caught her, patted her awkwardly on the back. Wide-eyed, she scanned the area, clearly seeking out a savior. 
 
I hurried over. "I'm so sorry, ma'am," I said, peeling my little girl out of her arms. "She lost her mother last year and I guess you resemble her a little . . ."
 
I couldn't hear her reply over Olivia's wails, but I could read the pity in her eyes without any trouble at all. 
 
That night, I held Olivia while she cried. She cried for a long, long time. "I don't even remember what she looks like anymore, Daddy," she'd sobbed. 
 
"Shhh, baby, shhh," I whispered. "You remember her in your heart."
 
I had never hated my wife more than I did at that moment. 
 
How could you do this to us, Maureen?
 
And so, my three little girls had made three little boats. Ever practical, Shelley decided they'd each make a different size. "So Mommy will know which one is which."
 
The biggest boat and the next one down sit on the sand, up by the pile of shoes and socks. The older girls help Olivia launch hers, the littlest one. The waves catch it, push it forward and then pull it back. Once, twice, a third time. 
 
Each time, it bobs a little further out. The girls watch, holding hands. At last, Olivia breaks free, blows it a kiss, turns and runs away from the water. Laughing, she chases after a gull.
 
The older girls retrieve their own boats. Shelley sets hers adrift, then turns her back on it, stone-faced. Caitlin watches her own boat a long time before joining her sisters in their game of tag. 
 
I remove my shoes and socks and stand barefoot for a minute, enjoying the feel of the cool sand between my toes. Finally, I take a deep breath and approach the water's edge. 
 
I'll never know what Maureen was looking for when she gazed out over the ocean. All I know is that she never found it, and that was more than she could bear. 
 
I pull my own paper boat out of my pocket. I'd folded it with clumsy fingers after the girls had gone to bed. 
 
"I love you," I whisper as my boat drifts away. Inside its folds, I had written just two words: 
 
Be free.

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