As the police had suspected, Ada had returned to her father and discovered that though he still couldn’t look her in the eye, he wanted to love her anyway and never wanted her to run away again. For a while he’d thought that she’d taken the boat out and drowned like her mother. The sight of his face wrenched with that thought was chilling. Ada could not unsee her mother’s reflection in the abjectness of his grief. She returned home feeling foreign. After a few days, she awkwardly settled back into her old life. She went back to school, she started stumbling through the piano again and bought new patent leather shoes.
A week after returning home, Ada helped her father clear away her mother’s presence. Clothes and shoes were put into boxes in the basement, her paintings–endless bleak desertscapes–were carefully wrapped and stored. The only thing allowed to stay was her dresser, with all of her perfumes and lotions still on top. They did, however, move this into Ada’s room, because even though her father couldn’t look at it all the time, he still wanted to every so often. Ada kept the dresser in her room but never touched a single piece of her mother’s finery. The perfumes, combs and hairbrushes went untouched because she didn’t want to make her father even sadder by walking around looking and smelling like her mother. How much help she was, Ada didn’t know because every now and then she would find her father sitting at the dresser and holding the different perfumes near his nose.
“I hated this one.” He would say stiffly, eyes half closed. “She always seemed to be wearing it when we fought. I think it made her more contrary.”
Ada never knew what to say, so she would take the bottles from her father’s hands and lead him out to his study where he would drink for a while and then sleep.
Ada was, as always, a responsible child, she took care of herself and her ailing father, went to school dutifully. She quickly learned to cook and took over the daily preparation of meals for herself. She had to stand at the stove on a stepstool, because she was a tiny person, even for her age. As she grew older, her father began to adopt a peculiar madness. The further upward and outward she sprouted, the more agitated became his attempts to keep her a child. He would only buy her new clothes that would best suit a five-year-old. She was made to wear brightly colored ribbons in her hair and her father began buying her shiny shoes and lace trimmed socks again. At school she was brutally made fun of. Other girls became aware of fashions and learned to flaunt their bodies with pride, but Ada’s father kept her a child in every way that he could. When she turned thirteen, and all of her peers began to transition physically into womanhood, Ada remained unvisited. Her breasts rounded out slightly, her hips spread, but her uterus kept silent and still. Ada’s father never hurt her, or even so much as raised his voice to her, but she felt his madness keenly every time she caught him looking at her over dinner or when she came into his study to wish him goodnight. As her teens progressed and her features became those of a woman, those of her mother, he could bear to look at her less and less.
Ada had never been much for speaking. As a child she had been quiet and observant, allowing her a greater understanding of the mechanics of human interactions, if not the practice. The older she grew, the more she became aware of her detachment. Other young girls began to fall in love and dream of a life filled with emotion and Ada felt only a shade of this dream. She kept the memory of Ezra and the stone house by the sea deep under her emptiness and continued forward, a pale imitation of a vibrant, feeling youth.
What she did know was that her mind was filled with a profound understanding. She saw herself, drifting through the unfathomable emptiness of time, seeing the yawning size of the container called the universe. She saw herself like a tiny boat in a shoreless ocean, gazing towards the nonexistent horizon.
Her eighteenth birthday came suddenly. When Ada came downstairs, dressed as usual in the painful modesty that her father insisted on, her father was waiting at the table with coffee and pancakes that he’d made on his own. Ada tried her best to conceal her shock and sat down across from him. For the first time in many years, he didn’t look away from her. They held gazes for a very long time. Ada’s father seemed to have gone through an abrupt change. He looked at her, at her face, her hair, her girlishly pink cheeks, and seemed to see her for the first time since her mother had died. He didn’t say anything for a while, simply absorbed her without expression. In this moment Ada was able to remember the bright-eyed visionary that her father had been. She remembered him saying once, “It takes a lot of courage to truly feel something, Ada.” He had smiled over at his wife. “One day you’ll need that courage.” Her mother had returned his smile, an exact copy.
Now as he looked at her so closely, she finally comprehended how her mother’s death had drained him of his courage. He stared at her hard and blunt, still saying nothing.
“Today’s my birthday.” She finally said, breaking the silence. After so many years free of his scrutiny, her father’s look burned. He nodded.
“You were born on your mother’s birthday.” Ada realized that this was the first time he had mentioned her mother since she’d died. “And you have her face, and her skin. You even have the same looks as her. I see you staring at the ocean and think I have her back sometimes, damn me.”
Ada didn’t know what to say at all. She had never heard him say anything like this.
“Sometimes I feel like you aren’t even my child. Like she just made a copy of herself all on her own. She didn’t need me… She didn’t want me.” On this his eyes fell to his coffee. She knew that he would see his face there, creased and hollow.
“She did.” Ada objected. “She would tell me every day how much she loved you.”
Her father was nodding. “And I did the worst thing you can do to something you love. I kept her.”
He pointed through the wall, out toward the ocean. Ada thought bodies dusted with gold, cities shining. Her father went on. “And I know you think I hate you, but I don’t. I love you. So I’ll do what I should have done with your mother.”
Ada didn’t respond.
“After today I’m letting you go. I’ve been holding onto you so tightly that I think I’ve snared up your whole life. I was trying so hard to stop you from becoming her. But look at you, just like your mother, just like her. If you stay with me any longer I’ll drive you into the sea too. So I’m asking you. Please go away.” He didn’t look up from his coffee. Ada felt the same silence, which had only ever really been banished a short distance away, begin to well up around her. Her father stood and, after pulling on his boots, left to work. It was clear to Ada that he expected her to be gone by the time he returned. And after thinking on it for no longer than a few minutes, she decided to be so. Perhaps, even, the decision had been made eight years ago and she was only just now acting on it. the pancakes were left to go cold.
She left all of her belongings behind. After all, she had nothing of her own that she really valued. Instead she carefully packed all her favorites of her mother’s clothes and jewelry—and even a few of the perfumes. She took nothing of her own. Instead she caught her own eye in her mother’s looking glass and stared into herself for a transformative hour. Automatically, she lifted her mother’s brush and roughly brushed her coily hair, she let it down and around to frame her face. She stumbled out of all her stiff, childish clothes and scrambled into a fluid, flourishing dress that had belonged to her mother. At one moment, she realized that she no longer quite remembered what the woman had looked like or how she had been.
Once she was dressed and packed, she took her suitcase—much larger than the little sack she’d carried the last time—and turned her back on the house for the second time. Only this time she knew where she was going.
Ezra had created something of a life for himself. He grew or caught the food he needed. What he couldn’t grow, he found in trade with the baker and the butcher. He continued to live in the house his parents left him and felt no ambition for a life outside of it. As a human being, Ezra felt the same needs as others: he felt the ache for companionship, felt the urge to love and make love. Some of the women in the town would look his way, and every now and then he gave in to his needs. They always left after that. They would leave him, their curiosity sated, and tell their friends about the strange force of emotion with which he made love. They knew him as a silent and rough-hewn character by the sea shore. His hair was so dark it seemed to brighten the colors around it, and his eyes could sometimes seem to be almost frantic with feeling. They knew him to be kind and polite. They knew him to be something different, more connected somehow to the sea that made their home. He was loved by his neighbors—but from a distance. He was not theirs, they felt, but belonged to the water.
To Ezra it felt like he could sometimes go for days without needing to speak to anyone. He would go about these days, fishing, gardening and reading his parents books over and over again. He didn’t own a television. The closest electronics store was in the next town over and Ezra didn’t like the idea of being so far away from his house—just in case. So he spent many of his days in silence, reading, working, drinking. His parents had left him a record player, and left all of their records. At some point he had begun listening to them. They helped fill the silence that so often surrounded him. During the evening, when there was no reason for talking, no reason for visitors, Ezra would sit in the big, soft chair by the fireplace and just listen, completely still, forgetting that he was a human being instead of a tiny dust mote vibrating in the musical current.
It was during such an evening that Ezra, with his eyes closed and his mind unfixed, heard a knocking at his door. He lifted the needle from the record and waited to hear the second knock. He wasn’t expecting anyone that night and there wasn’t a soul in his town who would come without notice. The knock sounded again and he leapt to his feet, at the door in seconds. He swung it open a little too suddenly.
A strange woman was on the other side. Her clothes were outdated and her hair was a halo of tightly wound curls. Her eyes were wide and startled, as if she hadn’t expected anyone to answer.
Ezra didn’t move. “Ada?”
Very suddenly, their two silences crashed like galaxies colliding, like currents merging in the muted quiet underwater, like two unknowable things in cacophonous destruction. Where there had been a terrible vacuum, there was now a rush of sound. Ada heard her heart pounding in her ears. Ezra heard the last note of the record’s song ringing in his.
Her lips parted for a moment before she spoke “Yes, oh yes it’s me. I came back.”
“It’s you.” He said “Look at you, Ada, look at you.” He couldn’t help but feel that it was very wrong for her to have grown up.
“I didn’t know if you’d still be here.” She began.
“I thought you might have died.” Ezra murmured.
“No. I went home. I had to take care of my father.”
Ezra still hadn’t moved to let her in. “And now you’ve come back here. Why?”
Ada took a moment to answer, staring down at her feet. “My father told me to leave. I had to come here.” She met his eyes. “Because I love you. I have loved you since we met. It’s big and clear! May I come in? It’s very cold.”
Struck, Ezra stepped back.
Ada sat across the table silently, her eyes now dropped to her tea cup. It was the same cup she had used eight years before, but it looked smaller in her hands. Ezra had not known what to say after her spontaneous proclamation, so he had gone about brewing the tea wordlessly. Now they sat opposite one another and he could see that she had caught up to him, maybe even surpassed him in maturity.. She was a woman now, mysterious and soft-looking. His memory of the girl he’d pulled out of the water was overpowered by the vision of her now. As a child she had been pretty, like a doll or a flower. Now, looking at her, Ezra was hushed speechless. Her eyes had adopted a certain shrouded quality, her lips and cheeks looked like some sort of ripe fruits, tinged pink. Ezra was keenly aware his own thoughts, trying his best not to let his gaze linger as he thought of pressing his teeth against that cheek.
“What you said before…” He began.
“Yes?” Ada sipped her tea and leaned towards him.
“Well, did you mean it? You said…you said you loved me.” Ezra stirred his own cup nervously, lowering his eyes to cower from the world unfolding out of hers.
“Yes. Though I don’t think I even knew it myself until you opened the door.” Ada stood up to walk around the room. She stopped in front of the fire place and turned to look at him the same sharp and chilly way she had years before.
“But how can you know? I barely know you. I—.” He stopped, unable to formulate his thoughts with her standing there like that. He could hardly believe the tidal wave of distractions that she brought on him. The way between his heart and mind was fraught with confusion, disbelief, abject wanting, and–to his surprise–a clench of fear. His arms dropped to the table in the riot of chemicals flowing through him. “How can you know?” Asking this time, he saw in an instant how alone he had truly always been, frozen in the heartspace where no one had ever wanted to enter.
Ezra began to believe that she wasn’t actually here, and that this was just a new dream. She stood very still. “I didn’t say that I knew why or how, just that I loved you. That’s all.”
“That’s all!?” He leapt to his feet and seized her by the arms. She was being so calm, so unperturbed that he wanted to shake her. Instead he hesitated because for the first time since he’d pulled her out of the water, he was touching her. Inside his head, Ezra heard the crashing of waves. He was the ocean on the day they met, whipped and thrashed by a storm. She was looking him straight in the eye now, and she didn’t seem to mind his hands on her. He released her anyway. “I want you to give me more than that. I want to know you.”
“I haven’t changed.” She challenged.
Ezra spun on her, saturated with disbelief. “Haven’t you? Look at you. You’re…” He let his eyes tell the rest as his gaze cascaded along her edges.
“I hope you don’t think I expect you to feel the same.” She broke the charged silence, approaching him. “I came to see you, to tell you, see what the years had done to you. I figured that you hadn’t thought about me even once.” Finally she wavered. “I should probably go, then.”
Ezra gritted his teeth and caught her by the wrist. “Wait.” he said, struggling to think of something to say. “At least stay the night. It’s late. We can talk more in the morning.”
She looked down at his hand dwarfing her wrist. After a second, she nodded. He let out a short sigh of relief and went to gather the guest blankets. “You can have my bed this time.” He tried to laugh, but his nerves got the best of him. He couldn’t conceal the fact that he wanted to sleep near the door so that he could stop her if she tried to slip away again in the night. Ada finally smiled, setting her things back down.
Ezra’s bed was softer than Ada expected it to be. It smelled like rosemary. She wondered if he had been growing it since she’d left.
Downstairs, Ezra couldn’t calm his mind enough to sleep. His thoughts kept wandering to the woman in his bed and the absurd idea that she loved him. It was something he couldn’t ever remember hearing. None of the women he’d been with had ever said that to him, definitely not with such unflinching certainty. He’d never really known his parents and even the old woman had never said such a thing to him. Now that the shock of seeing her was beginning to wear off, her words seemed less terrifying. After all, she had been wrong when she’d said he never thought of her. He had thought of her every day. But in his thoughts she had never aged, never really seemed like a human being with human feelings. But she was, he could see that now. She had grown into someone lavish and beautiful. Someone frightening to him. Yes, she had real feelings. He realized guiltily that he had probably hurt them. He resolved himself to go and try to apologize.
His room was dark, but he could see that she was still awake. Her eyes shone in the half light. He knelt beside the bed, trying to find gentler words to say.
“I’m sorry about earlier. It’s just unbelievable that you could really be here after all this time. I can’t help but treat you like a dream.” Ezra tried not to notice that her skin was exposed near his hand.
“But I’m not a dream.” Ada whispered. The sound of her voice made it clear to him that she had been crying. That was the breaking point for him. He could no longer stop himself from reaching up to her face and wiping her tears away.
Before he knew what he was doing, he bent down to kiss her damp cheek. It hadn’t been his intention to so much as touch her when he’d come up the stairs, but now the path to her lips was all too clear. He kissed her fervently, opening her mouth with his, drinking in her flailing breath. It seemed that the next moment he found his hand on her thigh, grasping her with trembling hands .
Under those hands, Ada’s body was yielding. To have her under him like this was almost more than he could stand. Her expression was so unreadable that he could hardly tell what she was thinking. She did not resist him as he feared she would. She returned his kisses with just as much feeling, but he tempered his own eagerness. Every woman he had ever made love to had turned her back on him afterwards. This thought made him pull away, force his hands away from her skin.
“I’m sorry.” He said, breathing, feeling immediately forlorn.
Ada squinted up at him in confusion. “Why? You don’t want me?”
“I do, I do.” Against his own will he pressed his lips to her throat and hid his face against her neck. “I don’t want you to leave… I must be too much, too…I don’t know. I’ve never been able to keep a woman.”
Her slender hand came up to touch his hair. “What if I told you that I don’t need to be kept? That I can be close to you or far away and feel you still? That I see you?” He pulled back just enough to see that she meant what she said, then kissed her gratefully. Until that moment he had been unaware how much he needed to hear her say that. He hoped he could show her this side of himself without her running away.
Ada had gone to bed in one of his shirts again. This he gathered in a fist and tore away from her slight frame, enthralled by the sight of her bare body underneath. Where the light touched her skin, she seemed to give off a faint silvery glow. Her face and neck blushed deeply as his eyes roamed her nakedness and Ezra realized that she had probably never been touched this way–perhaps not at all. He removed the rest of his own clothes and tossed them aside, parting her knees with one of his. Ada seemed overcome with embarrassment and broke eye contact, looking away. Ezra lifted her up into his lap so that they were facing each other.
“Look at me.” He spoke against her cheek. “Ada, I need you to look at me.” Finally she met his eyes again and seemed to relax. “I need you to tell me that this is alright.”
She reached out an explorative touch, running her fingers like eddies over his throat and chest. “It’s more than that, it’s wonderful.” She murmured.
Making love to Ada was like nothing he’d ever felt. She was rhythmic, turbulent, all wrapped in a sort of primal innocence. It was like having the very sea surging under his hands. Ezra left his fingerprints in the flesh of her thighs, the curve of her hip, the round of her breast. Ada felt a tide rising steadily within her, washing over her in cleansing waves. They clung to each other for dear life, afraid to let the current tear them apart.
In the silence that followed they let their frantic breathing settle. For the first time he could remember, Ezra didn’t feel utterly alone. He kept silent and held Ada tightly, still fearing that she would turn away from him, terrified of the way he made love. Instead she pulled the blanket up over the two of them with shaking fingers.
“You said that you wanted to know me.” She began.
“Yes.” Ezra answered into her hair.
Ada kissed his collarbone briefly. “Ask me.”
Ezra thought for a moment, still absorbed in the heady experience they’d shared. “Where did you come from?”
Ada hesitated. “My mother whipped me up out of sea foam as a gift to my dad. There was a lot she couldn’t give him, but at least she gave him me.”
Ezra imagined the bitterness, resentment. “What made you come here?”
She smiled against his chest. “Everything. The ocean. My father. He’s…unwell.”
Ezra nodded. “How did she die?”
“Maybe she was trying to go home. Maybe she forgot how.” Ada breathed deep. “I only ever half believed her as a kid.”
Ezra nodded again, only able to accept her words. “Where was home?”
Ada chuckled ruefully. “Shining city under the water.”
He couldn’t quite sort out what she meant by that. She was so enigmatic at times, though he was sure that everything she said made perfect sense to her. Then he remembered the pale arms he’d seen under the water. “If I hadn’t been here anymore, or if you had hated me and changed your mind, where would you have gone?”
Ada was silent for so long that he didn’t think she’d answer at all. “Into the sea.” She breathed, but when he lifted his head, she was asleep.
Ezra was awake and immediately reaching out across the covers to find Ada. In the stunning light of day, her presence was even more unbelievable. Yet there she was, still and asleep. Watching her now, Ezra felt himself intensely wishing permanence on her. With their youth and the beauty of their connection, her unabashed emotions, her big eyes and frail bones, she felt like some kind of otherworldly creature that he had captured. Even as he winced at that impression, he was nowhere near prepared to let her go. It was thinking of this that he carefully extricated himself from the bed and went downstairs to make breakfast. He had decided: he would keep her.
That morning, Ezra took the boat out on the water. The early-morning light had sprinkled diamonds on the horizon. If he squinted, Ezra could almost see gleaming figures in the distance, waving at him. He watched their distant hands catch the light for a moment before breathing deeply and turning back to shore.
The contentment he felt in that moment was the first time that silence had overcome him without making him afraid. He could set foot on land without his mind reeling and his soul resisting. Ada had suddenly appeared with her daring heart and set the world straight for the first time since his parents had left him. Everything was in its place; the possibility of a different sort of life began to open up before Ezra’s eyes and for the first time in his life, he felt like a real human being.
And it seemed like he only blinked. It seemed like he had only closed his eyes for a second and opened them at the end of a decade. They had lived together; they had grown a new garden. Ezra had built a new boat. Ada spent every morning staring at the water. There was a fire in the town hall. Ada miscarried, and miscarried again. Ezra built a long pier, stretching out a little too far into the water. The rosemary bloomed and withered, and bloomed again.
But to Ezra, all this seemed to have happened in an instant, because when he opened his eyes Ada’s boat—he had given her the ICE QUEEN—was drifting back to shore on the eddies of a storm’s end. Ten years passed in only a moment, because when the boat finally reached land it rolled over, empty.
Some time later, when the sounds of the waves no longer rendered his world silent, he would return. Standing on the edge of the murky sea, he would see the sun glinting off the water like it always did and think of the shining city under the water. He would think of the glittering bodies of creatures he didn’t completely believe in; of sea fronds around the ankles of a drowning girl. He would reach out and take his daughter by the hand.
“But it all looks the same.” She would say, her mother’s eyes scanning the water.
Ezra would give her a small smile.
“Ah, there you’ve got it. It all looks the same.”