by J. Ryan

“Let’s run off together,” Derek says, slick with sweat and still inside her, candlelight glinting off the wet of his eyes. Seagulls caw outside the open porthole above the bed. Breathing heavy, she says nothing.

“I mean it. Let’s be together, Kelly. Just us. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Kelly slides from under him and gazes out the porthole at the other boats in the marina bathed in the first glow of dawn. It occurs to her this is the first time she’s considered the word “adultery” since Sunday school.

“Say something, will you.” Derek stands and pulls on his boxers.

“When?” She touches her fingertips to the glass.

“As soon as possible. Today. Now.”

“What about your firm? And what about my job?”

“Start my own practice. You can work for me. Or not work at all. The important thing is we’ll be together.” Derek wraps his hand around her stomach, kisses a vertebral bump on her neck. Until now the affair served as catharsis, more integral to her marriage with Doug than their own sex life. Until now, it wasn’t real.

She pulls away from Derek and gathers her clothes, feeling more naked than she ever has in front of the very man for whom—after making Doug’s 4 A.M. breakfast—she sped through darkness to the marina and couldn’t get out of those clothes fast enough. She slides beneath the sheet and slips into her things.

“Think about it, at least. I’ll go get us some coffee.” Derek hurries into a pair of jeans. The stairs creak as he climbs from the cabin.

Kelly pulls the sheet over her head and tents it with upturned legs, like a mosquito net. Under the sheet she imagines being the wife of a lawyer, of living with a man who makes her every skin cell flicker and hum and ache to be touched.

Kelly stands and flaps the sheet in the air, watching it billow and sink to the bed. She tucks it under the mattress and smoothes the ripples. Derek doesn’t need her to cook his meals, to balance his checkbook, to make all the important decisions. He doesn’t need her at all. He wants her.

She climbs onto the deck. The early morning breeze ruffles her hair and makes her skin pimple. The other moored yachts gently rock in the marina, and she reads the names Told You So and Four Sail and Camille emblazoned in gold. She rests against the steering wheel and watches oily rainbows swirl on the surface of water lapping against the hull, and she waits for Derek to return so she can tell him “yes.”


At home, Kelly stuffs clothes into a duffel bag and raids the medicine cabinet for her allergy medication and makeup. She pulls out the shoebox from the back of her closet where she keeps her secret cash, and tucks the folded bills into her bra. Downstairs, in the office, she rifles through her filing system and pulls out tax records and bank statements. Glancing up at the bulletin board plastered with ticket stubs, vacation photos, plastic wristbands, and other mementos of their younger years together, Kelly sees her silhouette reflected in the lenses of the oversized 3D glasses Doug hung there. In that shadowy reflection, she looks like a thief.

On the kitchen table, she sets out the file folder with the financials that Doug will need to know about. She whips up a half dozen ham sandwiches with mustard the way he likes and wraps them in a brown paper bag and leaves them in the fridge. She loads the dishwater and sets it running. She feeds the cat.

As Kelly sits at the kitchen table to pen the kind of letter she never imagined writing a mere six years into their marriage, the phone rings. She lets the machine pick up and stares out the water-spotted patio door at the sawhorses and two-by-fours next to Doug’s unfinished tool shed.

The voice on the machine sounds familiar, but it’s not until she hears the words “terrible accident” that she drops her pen. Doug’s boss tells of her husband’s fall from the roof of their two-story building project, says the words “impacted pelvic fracture” and “hemorrhage” and “critical condition,” his voice cracking on the machine.


Her eyes hot, Kelly runs down the pier, scanning the row of boats for the one marked The Law Won. In the bright of noon it looks smaller than she remembers. The sway of the sailboat’s deck makes her lose her footing and she scrapes the skin from her knees.

“Derek, I’m back. I’m done with Doug. Take me away.” When there’s no answer she stands and lets the blood run down her shins. Derek stopped taking her calls months ago. The door to the cabin is locked, but she plucks the spare from behind the life preserver hanging from a nail. Inside the cabin, she throws herself on the bed and hugs her bloody knees.

If she knew how, if she could only find a way, she would unmoor the boat. Cast off into the ocean and let the wind carry her far from land, far from the wheelchair ramps of her home, from Doug’s catheter bag and sponge baths and pills. She would lose herself to the sea, living only off the promise that once existed within the cabin of Derek’s yacht.

Instead, Kelly leaves the sheets stained in her blood and steps back onto the pier, the sailboat roped to the dock. She can’t untie herself. She can’t sail.


J. Ryan has said it all before. He keeps it real in Portland. 




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