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The Sea Latch

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 36, Number 1, 2013
pp. 112-134 | 10.1353/mis.2013.0008

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Photo by Jim Naureckas

When I wake our first day at the Sea Latch, my mother and Agnes sit on the motel’s carpeted porch, smoking as they gaze over the railing at the passing cars. The sound of the Atlantic Ocean’s slow suck carries across the motel parking lot. Route 1, the coastal highway that runs through York, passes directly in front of the motel. You can see the highway’s glittering gray pavement and the boardwalk’s sandwich stands, but not the water. Still, the salt-air smell makes its way to us, the wind that carries it over the dunes bracing and wet and alive.

“Should we head to the beach?” I ask. Late yesterday afternoon we arrived amid a July squall that lasted until dark, but the morning sky is clear, the air balmy.

“I think I’m just going to sit by the pool,” my mother says. The swimming pool, ringed by a chain-link fence, occupies the middle of the motel parking lot.

“But the beach is so close,” I say. “We could see the ocean.”

“I can hear it from the pool.” She and my sister glance at each other.

“OK,” I say. “The pool it is.”

“You go ahead,” my mother says. “We’ll catch up.” My sister looks straight ahead, blowing smoke over the wrought-iron railing of the raised concrete porch. A car rolls by, squeezing through the narrow space between our row of rooms—which forms an island in the motel complex—and the outer horseshoe of rooms across the way.

Agnes tilts her chair back. She looks luminous in the morning sun, her olive skin taking on that filtered-light quality of amber, though she’s broken out, and a faint red trail of pimples traces her forehead. Her belly rolls over her sweatpants, a plump white coast of skin. She is four months along and starting to show. She posted the news on MySpace—“About me: preggers”—and that was how I found out. Trying her TracFone, I found another girl’s voice on the voice-mail greeting, another girl’s name. When I called home, dialing Vermont from my rented Phoenix casita, my mother answered, sounding evasive and distant. I said, “What’s new?” and she said, “Oh, not much.” I waited, giving her a chance to tell me. She was silent. I said, “Agnes wouldn’t happen to be pregnant, would she?” There was a pause, and then, her voice all cheerful belligerence, she said, “Yes, actually, she is.”

Farther down on Agnes’s MySpace, she’d written: “I get interested in things easily. It’s the staying interested that’s hard.”

“Here,” my mother says. She hands me a key. The motel has given us two of the old-fashioned kind, real metal keys attached to oval turquoise key fobs. Embossed in white is our room number: 32A. “Agnes and I can share.”

She and Agnes wait for me to leave so they can continue their discussion. This is their new thing: they stop talking when I approach, make a halfhearted attempt to pretend I’m not interrupting, and start talking again as soon as I walk away. Mostly they seem to talk about Agnes’s boyfriend, Tully, whom she met in community college at the beginning of the fall term and is considering breaking up with, and Agnes’s ex-boyfriend, Mike, who’s joined the army and will deploy to Iraq in a month. Agnes is still in love with him.

I stretch, inhale the salty air, and my stomach makes a low complaint.

“Want to come to the coffee shop with me?” I ask Agnes. She might want breakfast, I think, though my mother will not. My mother’s sole nourishment is a microwaveable Hungry Man dinner she heats up at 10:00 PM, a habit I made the mistake of suggesting she reconsider. “You might feel better if you ate regular meals throughout the day,” I said, and now she calls breakfast, lunch and dinner, if eaten before 10:00, my “regular meals.”

“No, thanks,” Agnes says. She glances at her belly and tugs down...

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