The Current

Cover of The Current

I strongly consider responding to the DM I received two weeks ago, which has remained unopened and in a state of social media limbo. All I’ve read is the fragment that popped up when I received it: I know I’m the last person you want

It’s not difficult to piece together the rest. Heartfelt apologies. Acknowledgements of shame, regret, the desperate wish to travel back in time for a redo. But since that’s impossible, will loop back around to shame, back to overwhelming regret, regret, regret.

I slip the phone into my pocket. 

I’m not sure anyone has complete control over their mind. The subconscious is sneaky, turning its wheels when you’re driving, taking a shower, sleeping on a plane. Probably mine’s been stewing over the message, unearthing this consideration, because deep down maybe I feel safer if I am to respond now that I’m far away, on what can loosely be called a vacation. 

I’m spending a week at the Oregon Coast with my second husband, Jack. We are visiting his parents in Waldport, staying at their two-storied beach house that has too many large windows. 

Right now, I am in the guest room upstairs looking out of one of those many large windows. This one overlooks the back deck. Beyond this is a row of pale dunes covered in patches of straw-thick grass quivering in the breeze. Gray and white waves roll and break a hundred yards beyond them. Despite being overcast, the water looks inviting. I’m forty-two and this is the third time I’ve seen the ocean. Jack warned me the water is frigid. Something about the current originating in the northern Pacific, up near Alaska. He told me if I want to get in, I’ll have to dig out one of his old wetsuits in the attic or risk freezing to death. I’d turn around to ask if I have this right, but he’s asleep. 

I am annoyed with him. Jack’s been referring to his parents as his “aging parents,” as if he needs to remind me that they’ve been together longer than I’ve been alive. This began last April, after his father suffered a transient ischaemic attack while crabbing and almost fell off the dock. “It’s doctor speak for a mini stroke,” Jack had to clarify. He hasn’t said, but this was the impetus to our visit. He thinks his father’s episode was the first in what will likely be a short line of complications that’ll put him in the ground. “Then Mom won’t be far behind,” he said. “That whole widowhood effect thing is real—at their age, I mean.” He’s been saying “his aging parents” ever since, and with increasing frequency the closer the trip came.

Last time was several hours ago. When the plane touched down I was startled awake and half-asleep, I believed we were still airborne and something had gone wrong. On the verge of a panic attack, Jack set a hand on my leg and gave me the same reassuring half-smile he gives his nervous little patients. Jack’s a pediatrician. He told me to breathe and modeled calm, rhythmic inhalations, which he pantomimed for me to copy. When it passed, he squeezed my thigh and said, “Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.” He yawned. His breath smelled like pretzels and ginger ale. The cabin lights snapped on. “And thanks again for agreeing to stay with my aging parents.”

A hotel would have been better. My in-laws, Sue and Marty go to sleep early and wake in that dark, quiet stretch of morning where even the birds are silent. They were waiting for us when we pulled into the driveway, squinting against the headlights of our rental. “Are we going to eat our dinners at three? Walk on eggshells before the 6 o’clock news?” I asked while we unpacked. Jack was amused at my brattiness. “He takes his teeth out first, then his contacts, and finally his hearing aids. It’s a whole deconstructing ritual,” Jack said, removing a shirt and a pair of jeans from his bag. “And Mom sleeps like the dead. A survival tactic evolved decades ago to combat my father’s snoring.” 

I keep going back and forth about whether to wake him. I could say it’s because I don’t want to keep his parents waiting. They began banging around in the kitchen ten minutes ago. Now, there’s a faint crackle of bacon, its aroma mixed with the acrid bite of cheap coffee. I want to ask about the message. I should have told him about it right away. Jack will shoot me straight. He’s direct, oftentimes sagacious, and always pragmatic. The kind of person who takes their own advice. 

Something catches my eye down the beach. Two people in hooded sweatshirts. Each holds the opposite end of a large, multicolored kite. The wind rattles its carbon fiber skeleton and taught, nylon skin before they let go and it’s snatched away with shocking ferocity. The kite launches upward a hundred feet in seconds, where it begins to move in an erratic, patternless fashion like a moth beneath a porchlight. Gripping the spool in both hands, the man plants his feet and leans back while the woman—I see it’s a woman now that her hood has blown down, which has set free her long hair—laughs and takes pictures until the string suddenly snaps and the man falls backward in a puff of sand. I lose sight of the kite immediately, as if it’s been swallowed by the clouds. Maybe it has. They’re low. The woman holds out her hand and the man remains sitting, not moving except for the slight backward tilt of his head. He stares open mouthed in what looks like a state of disbelief or an absurd display of misplaced hope the kite isn’t really gone.

I step away and sit in a rocking chair across from the bed. Jack’s chest rises and falls beneath a thin white sheet tucked up to the beard I wish he’d shave. He’s been asleep for an hour. I’ve always found it unsettling how he sleeps on his back, arms stiff at his sides.

“What do you think,” I whisper.  “Do I reply or is it better to delete the message and block the sender?”

The sender is Brian Glick.  He was eighteen when he killed my first husband while street racing. He’s got to be twenty-three or -four by now. Anthony was not street racing. Anthony was driving the speed limit on his way home from a faculty dinner after dropping off a visiting professor at his hotel. The dinner had gone later than planned. I was told the professor had caused a scene, rudely sending his entrée back, and proceeded to drink enough scotch to annihilate a parade of elephants. Anthony had hardly pulled away from The Ambassador before Brian—in his souped-up Charger—careened through a red light. 

The visiting professor sent me a letter a few weeks after Anthony was buried. He confessed to sleepless nights due to a prodding sense of responsibility. If only I hadn’t been such a snob at the restaurant, he wrote. An overcooked ribeye had nothing to do with this, was all I wrote back.   

Litigation took a year and the jury convicted Brian of vehicular manslaughter. But his age had been taken into consideration, his clean record, the fact he would have started college in the fall at KU, which the judge deemed an appropriate time to mention was her alma mater. Leniency was given. He was sentenced to thirty-one months.

Brian took my husband away and I wanted him to rot in a cage. I left the courtroom in tears. In no condition to drive, I sat in my car hyperventilating, gripping the steering wheel so tightly the leather crunched. Thirty-one months. People gave the age of their children this way. No child is ever two and a half. That makes it sound like too much time has passed. And where had it gone? No, no. Their little gumdrop is only thirty-one months. 

“I didn’t catch a word of that,” Jack says, knuckling the pocket of an eye as he turns to his side and props himself up on an elbow.

“Must have been thinking out loud,” I say. 

“Care to enlighten me?”

“Maybe later,” I say. “We could walk the beach. Collect shells and marvel at the bleached bones of marooned marine life, find a good rock to skip.”

“Did I ever tell you about the time I stepped on a jellyfish?” he says.

I nod. The story ends with him peeing on his foot.

“Is this so you can lay into me about not getting a room at the Alsi?”

I smile thinly and shake my head. 

“Let’s go after breakfast,” I say, my stomach knotting at the word. 

I haven’t had anything to drink or eat since yesterday morning. I’m prone to motion sickness, so I fast before flights. I’d rather dry heave than puke into those little, wax-lined bags. 

Jack sniffs.

“They’ve made the same thing every morning for as long as I can remember,” he says, peeling the sheet down and swinging his legs off the bed. He reaches for the outfit he laid out earlier. “Sorry to inform you, but the scrambled eggs will be very dry.”

This guestroom is Jack’s old bedroom. He’s woken here thousands of times. I’ve seen enough photographs to know what he looked like back then, beneath the beard. But try as I may at this moment to imagine him as a younger man, I can’t.


I think Sue and Marty have shrunk. I hadn’t noticed in the driveway. Our arms and shoulders weighted down by our luggage, Jack and I voiced our happiness at seeing them, rather than taking the two seconds to set down our things and hug them. 

One thing I can’t remember is whether I hugged Anthony that night before he left. There have been times where at three in the morning I’ll jolt awake, breathless, my face and arms filmed in cold sweat with this thought traveling through me like debris, knocking against my skull, scraping down my throat, and collecting hard and sharp in my chest.

“I was this close to coming upstairs to get the two of you,” Sue says, and releases me from her gentle embrace. “I can’t think of anything more unappetizing than cold eggs.”

When I stand she hardly comes up to my shoulders. I’m 5’6”.

The table is set buffet-style. Napkins, silverware, and plates precede a mound of bacon, a wok of eggs rests on a trivet, and toast has been cut into triangles. There’s a ceramic butter dish, family-sized jar of Smucker’s strawberry jam, a metal urn of coffee, mugs, salt and pepper grinders.

“You’re out of luck if either of you like hot sauce,” Marty moves a hand to clamp his chest. “Stuff gives us heartburn now. Even the mild one we liked so much,” he says, and turns to Sue. “What’s it called again?”


“Louisiana,” Marty says, shaking his head. “Might as well be battery acid.”

Jack laughs. “What about salsa?” he says, handing me a plate. He likes his eggs with so much pepper that they look scorched and doesn’t use hot sauce or salsa. He’s asking for me. Acts of service is his love language.

“Even that’s too much for us now,” Sue says, tapping that hollow space between her collarbones.

Jack laughs again and rolls his eyes. 

“Maybe all you have to do is work back a tolerance,” I say. “Put up with a little bit each day until it doesn’t bother you anymore.” 

“That’s no way to live, is it?” Marty says. “Besides, I’d much rather be rid of it and move on. I’ve already moved on.” 

“Don’t you think that’s a little dramatic?” Jack says and touches my shoulder. “Samantha’s given you some pretty solid advice.”

Marty groans.

“Were the two of you able to get some rest?” Sue says to me.

I scoop eggs onto my plate and hand Sue the spatula while Jack spreads jam across a piece of bread.

“I slept the entire flight. Most of the drive over,” I say. “Your son doesn’t trust me to drive when it’s dark. Even so, I’m still somehow a little jet-laggy.” And despite trying not to, I yawn. “I’ve been up admiring the ocean while he power napped. I suggested going for a walk on the beach after we eat, if that’s all right. I don’t know if you’ve made plans.”

“We stopped making plans after we retired,” Sue says.

“Maybe we’ll find that kite,” I say to Jack.

“What kite?”

“While you were asleep,” I say, pointing at a window with my fork, though this one doesn’t face the beach. “This couple was flying a kite and the string broke.”

“Maybe make the drive to Bayshore instead,” Marty says.

“Why would we go there when we can just step out of the back door?” Jack says.

Sues eyes briefly swoop across the floor. 

“How have I already forgotten about that?” she says.

“About what?” I say.

Marty puts five strips of bacon on his plate.

“Cholesterol, Marty,” Sue says.

He puts two back.

“There was an accident a couple of days ago,” Sue says to me. “Couple of boys messing around, trying to out dig one another. People don’t realize how dangerous that can be.”

“The walls collapsed on the kid,” Marty says.

“Oh my God,” I say. “He… suffocated?”

“It’s very unfortunate,” Marty says.

“I’m confused,” Jack says, and the moment he sits, begins to twist the pepper grinder over his plate. “What exactly don’t you want us to see?”

I picture a plastic tent covering the site, roped off by yellow police tape. Men in long coats looking morose, standing inside of this forbidden zone, smoking. A scene from a television drama. 

“It’s just so—depressing,” Sue says. “You shouldn’t be depressed. Not on vacation.”

 “It isn’t like the body’s still there,” he says.

I don’t know what disturbs me more. His comment, or the fact he’s said this without pausing from peppering his eggs.


I am on the beach with Jack, huddled in a puffy pink Patagonia Sue insisted I keep because it’s too big on her. I’m several steps behind him. My head down against the wind. Jack is on a quest to see what all the fuss is about. He seems to have forgotten the reason I wanted to come out here in the first place. 

I don’t think I’ll remind him. 

The ground softens beneath our steps the closer we get to the shoreline. The waves break and hiss as they draw back. The air is pure salt. Jack pauses and digs the tip of his shoe into the gray sand, kicking up a flat, oblong rock the length of an egg. 

“That’s a pretty good one,” he says, reaching down and brushing it clean, blowing on it, before handing it to me. 

I unzip a jacket pocket and drop the rock in, which clatters against my phone. 

“I bet that’s the one your mom was talking about,” I say. 

Not far from us is a massive, gnarled piece of driftwood. 

When they dug the boy out, he was lifeless and pale. His nostrils and mouth had to be cleared of sand before someone performed CPR for three agonizing minutes. Marty hadn’t paid attention while Sue told the story. He’d heard it before. Jack quickly lost interest, which I thought was rude since he’d been the one to badger Sue about spilling the details. I suspected this was the case because working in a children’s hospital he often sees much worse things. I’d listened to everything Sue said while breaking clumps of egg in my mouth, choking down the pulverized, dry granules with sips of burnt, black coffee. And no one knew who started it, but word got around that someone had printed off a photograph of the boy, wrote a farewell note, and staple gunned it to this large piece of driftwood we now stand next to. Within a day, every inch was covered in pictures scrawled with parting words.

There are so many of them.

And I’m close enough to see staples holding down the pictures. Some of the pictures have torn loose at their corners and flap in the wind, making crackling noises like a dying fire.

Jack puts his hands on his hips and moves closer to the memorial. The sand around his shoes brightens in wet halos before going dark after he steps to a new spot.

“That’s some shit luck,” he says. “How many times do you think has any kid done something stupid that could get them killed and it didn’t?”

“Too many,” I say, and am surprised to discover that I’m crying.

I jog past Jack and ignore him when he calls out my name. I keep going until I’m ankle deep in the water. He’s right: it’s so cold it renders me breathless. 

I reach inside the coat pocket.

Here, I take it out and wind up, lifting my leg like a pitcher before I throw. When it hits the water, it skips along the surface and quickly loses momentum. When it sinks, I feel like I can breathe again. 

I turn to see Jack standing a few feet away, his forehead wrinkled with concern.

“Sam,” he says. “You’re all wet.”

I hold out my hand. 

“It’s fine,” I say. “I just got a little carried away.”

We walk back to his parents’ house, fingers laced together, not speaking. I fight the urge to shiver while plunging my other hand into the jacket pocket, the smooth surface of the rock cold against my palm. 


Share this