Warning Signs

Fiction by Alison Wisdom

“Think about this,” Anna said. “If we were at home, we’d be eating something your mom cooked.” It was Christmas Eve, and according to the way they had divvied up the holidays between their families, it was the meal they traditionally shared with Nick’s parents. This year, though, Anna and Nick went on vacation instead.

“And we’d have to pretend to like it,” Nick said. “That’s worth the price of plane tickets alone.”

“I still don’t know how you managed to make it out of there alive,” said Anna. “Think of all the possibilities. You could have eaten undercooked meat and gotten salmonella and died.”

“True,” said Nick, smiling.

“Or choked on a tiny bone she forgot to take out of the chicken,” Anna said. “Or she could have left the stove on, and–”

“Okay,” Nick said. “I get it.”

The waves made a hushing sound as they rolled in and out. Shush, they murmured over and over again. Shush.

“You know,” Anna said. “I’m not entirely convinced that she isn’t actually trying to kill me.”

“I can’t even dignify that with a response,” Nick said. He had a white streak of sunscreen cutting across his cheekbone, and another smear clung to the bridge of his nose.

“Seriously, though,” Anna said. She rolled over onto her side, propping her head up with her hand. “What did she make the last time we were over?”

Nick said nothing. He rubbed at his nose but missed the sunscreen. The white swipe maintained its position.

“Something with mangoes,” Anna said. “The only thing on the face of the planet that I’m allergic to.”

“Ah,” said Nick. “Okay. So, clearly, that was deliberate.”

“That just confirmed it for me,” Anna said. “She doesn’t like me.”

“Of course she likes you,” Nick said. A white bird swooped down a few feet away from their beach chairs and waddled along in the sand, venturing closer to them and cocking its tiny little bird head in inquiry. “Get outta here, bird,” Nick said. He made a quick movement, and the bird took a few startled steps before taking off.

“Does she, though?” Anna said. “I mean, I know she doesn’t.”

“Fine,” Nick said. “You’re right. Is that what you want? She doesn’t like you.”

A flock of laughing children ran past them. The last one, a chubby boy with goggles bouncing against his chest as he ran, veered from the course set by the others and stomped the remnants of an abandoned sandcastle close to the waterline. Anna watched him as he quickened his pace to catch up with the others. She flopped back over onto her back and picked up her book again. Then she sighed and put it back down.

“I’m going to get a drink,” Anna said. “Something with an umbrella in it.”

“Okay,” Nick said, his eyes closed.

“Actually, will you go get it?” she asked.

“Probably not,” he said. “Sorry.”

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Anna said. “Besides, you’d probably get me some kind of mango drink so you could watch me break out in hives.”

“Jesus Christ, Anna,” Nick said. “You are insane. Seriously.”

“You married me,” she said.

“Come on,” Nick called after her as she walked away. “Anna!” But she didn’t turn back around.

From the bar, situated on a little cliff overlooking the beach, Anna scanned the shoreline, looking for her husband among the other tourists. She watched a little girl playing tag with the tide as it rolled in and out—it would creep up on her, and she would run away, taunting it. Then she would chase after it until it turned on her again.

When a man came up and leaned against the railing beside her, he and Anna struck up a conversation. She stopped trying to locate Nick on the beach below. “I’m here for a bachelorette party,” she told the man. “See?” She pointed vaguely to a spot on the beach where it looked like a group of young women could potentially be celebrating.

“Sounds fun,” the man said.

“It is,” said Anna.

The sun felt sloppy and loose in the sky, like the runny yolk of an egg cracked open. The man was talking about his work, something having to do with oil and gas. Anna didn’t listen. Something brushed against her leg: a dog with other dogs, all small, skinny, and brown, trailing behind him. They scurried past Anna and the man, hightailing up the stairs deeper into the resort grounds. They moved in a purposeful pack, swiftly and seriously as though they were escaping from something no one else knew was coming. A man in the custodial uniform of the hotel saw the dogs and ran after them, shouting. “They’re in a hurry,” the man said with a grin. He looked at Anna. “Can I get you a drink?” he asked.

“Sure,” said Anna. “Something with an umbrella in it.” She spotted Nick. He was standing up now, at the edge of the ocean. This was Anna’s favorite part of the beach, that place where the sand and water met. It was always cooler and felt more solid, safer than the regular sand, and when she was little, she used to sit at the water’s edge and coat her arms and legs with it. It was usually only a narrow strip, getting smaller and then bigger as the tide came in and out, but right now, it seemed long, rolling back, deep in to the ocean like it went on forever.

“An umbrella,” he said. “I think I can handle that.”

A flock of birds soared by overhead, and Anna looked up, squinting at the white flap of wings against the blue sky. The man looked up too. There were so many birds. She wondered where they were going.

In the distance, the tide pulled farther and farther back, like something building up strength, like an archer drawing back his bowstring, waiting to release.

Alison Wisdom is a first semester MFA candidate in Fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her work is forthcoming in Quiddity International Literary Journal.

Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels, www.ebbartels.com.

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