By Douglas Campbell

You arrive so sweetly, unannounced, on strange tides, rhythmless. I often tense and stand still, listening, in the kitchen or on the stairs, and last night I heard you, your moth-light fumbling near my door. Why so timid, love? You’ve seen the landscape of my heart: open sand stretching beyond the eye, a dry coast awaiting the flood of your arrival. Your steps should be bolder by now.

You come bright-eyed and eloquent, flushed with your latest passion, filming sorrow or outrage no one wants to see. How I love you that way, aflame and high-minded, needing to talk and be touched, and so we fill the night, garrulous and indignant as a mad king and queen, before plunging into the surf that tumbles warm along the ocean’s edge. Come morning, you’re gone. Gone too the water that hissed and trembled beneath us, gone the tight-bubbled foam that frothed along our limbs, sparkling in starlight as the tide peaked and you arched to pull me deeper.

My skin feels stiff, crusted and taut. I throw off the blankets, see I’m mapped with white roads, wayward as seacoasts and raised like miniature dunes, glistening here and there, tiny gems flashing in a sun spear of the new day. You and your gentle heart—you’ve left me the salt.

They only sting a little, but those white roads will redden; the pain will grow keener. I sit up, brush the salt onto paper, which I curl and tap softly, spilling it into my blue pillbox. Our salt of earth and skin, so precious and potent I lift it to my tongue with a feathered dab of moistened fingertip, tasting crystals so few my fingers outnumber them.

“How much longing can you live with?” you once asked, but I couldn’t answer your question. Longing’s simply a fact, like air. As soon as our eyes can make sense of the light, we reach for the kitten or the candle flame. Soft, glittery, filthy, scalding—we want it all. Longing aches so deep in our genes, some build huts in the depths of forests, seek caves in the bare stone of mountaintops, there to live blind, to hear no whispers, to smell only wind, taste dust, touch no one.

“How can you let her go,” people sometimes ask, “if you love her that much?”

I tell them how hard it is. But of course I let you go, and always will. I love you for your wings, not your shoes.

Above the clouds today, you’ll ride the sky. Will you perhaps see an ocean instead, flowing tranquil and blue to the very curve of the world? So much calmer than the tide that rushed toward us, then covered us, last night.

I’ll rejoice every time you come to me. I’ll take what you give me, taste you whenever I can. When you’re gone, I’ll take what you leave me, reach for our salt, and taste you whenever I must.

Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, The Northville Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, and Short Story America. Douglas lives, works, runs, and writes in southwestern Pennsylvania.