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Eloise was at the edge of the sea, deciding to enter or to not enter. I watched her from the beach, a ways off, sitting in the beach chair beside her empty one. The wind was blowing and clouds passed over the sun, as the weather report had warned.
She looked like a figure from an old film, in her black one-piece, hair flowing out behind her under a large round sun hat. She lifted a hand to hold onto it as the wind picked up.
I pulled my notepad from my bag and sketched her as she remained there. I felt like something would interrupt her soon, call her back to the beach, to me or to her phone, where several messages from her boyfriend were awaiting her attention. I wanted, selfishly, for us to remain in the moment, me the main witness of her life, which is how it had been for six years.
In the car ride back to the rental hub in lower Manhattan, a block away from our shared apartment, Eloise looked out the window and asked me what I thought about marriage.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Your parents are still married.”
“So are yours.”
“Unhappily, I think,” she said. “Once my brother gets out of college, I think they will get divorced.”
“How do you know?”
“They don’t speak to each other anymore.”
Eloise shrugged. “Time, I think,” she said. “They don’t have much in common anymore.”
I nodded. “I can’t figure out what is the point of marriage, when we’re all atheists now, and women are independent and self-sufficient.”
“Do you believe in a bigger purpose? Not religion, or God, I mean, but maybe just love. Dedicating yourself to one partner. Monogamy maybe is the better word.”
“I believe in a bigger purpose,” I said. “But I don’t know if it’s monogamy. Maybe dedication. But I don’t know to what, or to whom.”
Eloise nodded. We were both twenty-seven.
The landscape began to change as we approached the city, the trees disappearing, buildings rising up on both sides.
The next weekend, my friend Anna came over to our apartment. I was scrolling through my phone looking at food options. Eloise came out of her room and leaned against the wall of the kitchen.
“Do you want to order take out with us?” I asked.
“That’s okay, I already ate,” she said. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Anna’s friend is visiting and reserved a table at a club.”
“Oh, so fun.”
“This week has been a horror,” Anna said. “So I’m not going to talk to any men, I only want to dance.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I want to be with Otis. We had this incredible date on Monday, and he texted me on Tuesday, but now it’s Saturday and I haven’t heard from him.”
“Ugh,” I said. “Have you texted him?”
“I was the last one who texted on Tuesday, so I can’t.”
“I mean, you could,” Eloise said. “If you want to talk to him, why don’t you reach out?”
“I feel like that’s so horrifying,” Anna said.
Eloise shrugged. “If you actually want something with him, maybe not.”
“Obviously, but at the beginning, it doesn’t work like that. I don’t know if I actually want something with him.”
Eloise glanced at me and straightened, then went into kitchen and poured herself a glass of water.
“I can’t tell if it’s me, anyway,” Anna was saying. “Maybe I am overreacting and it’s totally fine, you know? And I just am being anxious. I had this sad moment before our date on Monday, so maybe I was the strange one.”
“What were you sad about?” I asked.
“I have this friend from years ago, we both started dating people at the same time. Mine didn’t last. But my friend’s did, they’re getting married.”
I felt a tightness in my throat. “Do you even want that?”
“I mean. Don’t you? Either way, technically, everyone’s ahead of me.”
“Ahead of you?” Eloise said. She was back, hovering over us, glass of water in her hand. I turned to her. “What’s the race? What’s the finish line?” she said. “It’s not like you suddenly get engaged and win life. That’s not how it works.”
“That’s true,” Anna said.
Eloise withdrew to her room, closed the door, and I sat across from Anna and felt a strange lightness lifting up my body.
Every Sunday morning when Eloise was in the city, and not visiting her boyfriend in California, we went to a coffee shop across the street and then to the flower shop to get a bouquet for the kitchen table. It was the one routine I maintained even when Eloise was traveling back and forth between cities.
This morning, we were both quiet. I watched as she selected an orange bouquet, different than anything she had ever gotten before, and brought them to her face. She closed her eyes and scrunched her nose. Without saying anything, she carried them to the register. I stood at the front of the store, still by the flowers. I had the strange sensation that she was not fully aware that I was there with her, that she was in some crevice of her mind I was not privy to, and that she was there alone.
A few nights later, I was in my bed reading, under the covers with my elbow resting on a pillow. Eloise appeared at the door, nudged it further open.
“Hey,” she said.
I looked up. She had on a face mask, the white synthetic material stretched out across her skin, but her eyes were bright and wide.
“Hey,” I said.
She slipped into the room and sat down at the edge of my bed. She looked at the opposite wall, at the photograph that hung there, of the time I accompanied her to California to meet her boyfriend and see what her life looked like there. On the bed, my toes were against her leg. I felt the warmth of her body, the solidity of it.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“I remember everything about that trip,” she said finally, nodding at the photograph and turning to me. “Do you think you’d ever leave New York?”
I shrugged. “Not yet.”
She nodded and looked at my book. I felt awkward, like she was seeing me for the first time, even though she had seen me in bed like this for so many nights I could not count.
“How fucked is Charlotte in that?” she said.
“So fucked,” I agreed. “But that’s what makes her interesting.”
“I feel that way about people in general,” she said. “It’s bad, Elliott doesn’t like it, he’s very healthy.”
“That’s what makes him good for you,” I said.
“That’s what makes you good for me,” she said.
She leaned forward as if to embrace me, but then stopped midway, and her voice caught. I wondered if she was going to explain what she had not yet shared with me, the news that was existing in her world outside of me. But she only tapped a finger on her cheek.
“Anyway, I have extra face masks if you want them,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, and she smiled, got up and left the room. The door clicked shut and I felt the same lightness in my body, as if I were being filled up with air and would float out into the night.
The news I had been waiting for came on a rainy night, on a Tuesday. We emerged from the subway holding our bags over our heads and were running down the street.
“Rule number one,” I said. “Always bring an umbrella.”
“Rule number two,” she said, “don’t not bring an umbrella because you think it won’t matter if it rains and you don’t want to look stupid carrying it around.”
It was raining too hard to go on. We ran under an awning outside of a smoke shop. Someone inside was getting two teenagers a bong and we could hear their voices through the glass. It smelled like pot and oil and pizza from the shop next door.
“We are twenty-seven years old,” Eloise announced.
“When did that happen?” I said.
“Overnight,” she said, “when we were watching Dinner with Andre and fell asleep.”
“I’m pregnant, can you believe it?”
The awning was not protecting us, the rain was perpendicular and my clothes were soaked through.
“Holy shit,” I said.
“I’m fucking pregnant,” she said, and she sounded happy, but the words came out choked and thick.
“I thought you were going to tell me he’d proposed,” I said.
“No,” she said. “But now I guess that’s going to happen, too, but I’m going to move, I mean I have to, to California, because he can’t move out here with work and I want to keep the baby.”
“The baby,” I said. “Of course you’ll want to keep the baby.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted until I found out I was pregnant and then I knew I wanted the baby.”
“When did you know?”
“Three weeks ago, the day before the beach,” she said.
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“I haven’t told him.”
“I’m delaying it all,” she said, “all the normativity.”
“Nothing will be normal. You’re not normal.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled it to her stomach, which felt the same as when she made me feel her stomach after a night out eating tacos and drinking margaritas.
“That’s our baby,” she told me, and I looked up at her, at the water collecting on the sleeves of her jacket and dripping down our skin, and I was not sure who she was referring to, but I knew then that the opposite was true.
The day before Eloise flew out to California, I filled the apartment with orange flowers. She opened the door and walked into a sea.
We sat on the couch watching the sky turn different colors, pink and purple. There was music playing somewhere, at a bar, and small children were running through the streets below, screaming for various reasons.
Eloise was distracted. She would glance out the window, over and over, turn her head at the noises and the creaks from the neighbors overhead. In the end, she could not sit still; she rose, and she began to pick apart the nearest flowers to press them into paper to take with her, she explained. I watched her, long fingers delicately separating the flowers from their stems. She had a little bump by then.
I wondered about the baby, how the baby would grow and thrive in her care. I wondered how it was that Eloise would already be a mother by the start of next year, that time had tapped us at different rates. I had come to rely on Eloise as the pillar of my house that still, to some degree, felt make believe. But not for Eloise. Eloise was grown, she was made of something different than me.
I felt then that I was carrying the weight of something alive, something heavy and cumbersome, something that had the power to make one suffer as much as the power to put one at peace. I wondered, if ever the lightness returned, I would still be carrying it.
About Erin Winseman
Erin Winseman is a writer based in Houston, Texas. She has an M.A. in Cultural Reporting & Criticism from New York University, and her work appears in The Rumpus, Sleet Magazine, Soft Punk Magazine, and elsewhere.
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