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"The tide’s coming up."

Jane’s brush nearly fell out of her hand, splattering crimson on the rocks. She glanced up. Mark’s familiar jacket matched the red that now covered her shoes.

"Is the moon the only light you have?" He peered over the short wall, trying to get a glimpse of the other side.

A wave crashed behind her. Droplets of water rained on her palette and brushes.

Jane resumed her painting. Mark sat on the wall facing the ocean and dangled his legs over the side, hands stuffed in his coat pockets. Only the waves broke the silence.

The seawall stretched for about a half mile, bordering a small section of coastline from the end of the beach to the nearest dock. It separated the ocean from paved streets, sidewalks, and unoccupied hotels.

Jane had been crouched by the rocks on the other side for a few hours now, coloring cracks and bumps in the aging wall. Paint didn’t stick well to the salt-covered partition, but she kept adding layers anyway. It didn’t matter. She wished she had brought gloves, though. And more brushes. 

The sidewalk was empty. Not unusual for the middle of January.

"I saw your car parked here." Mark stared at his hands. "And I didn’t see you."

Jane kept her eyes on the mural.

 "You see me now."

"I figured you might be on the other side," Mark said. "I just didn’t know you’d be painting."

"I need to."

"I don’t blame you."

"I don’t care if you blame me."

Mark wrung his hands. 

Pebbles were getting stuck in her brushes. Whitewater splashed her back and caused paint to drip down the mural.

Jane couldn’t see much of what she had created. It was directly in the shadow of the partition. Not much light from the streetlamps reached anything beyond the short wall. She could barely distinguish the rocks from each other. 

Mark gripped the edge of the seawall and swung his legs back and forth. "I can’t believe those rock sculptures."


"You know." He gestured to the wall, where a hundred feet down some small rocks piled high, looking as if they were about to tip over. "The ones people build in the summer that somehow stay up all year round? I don’t get how they’re so stable, must be breaking some laws of physics."

"Yeah, I don’t get it either."

"You could say their balance is rock solid."

Jane smiled unwittingly. She knew he had seen it.

"I knew you weren’t so stone cold, Jane."

She slumped her shoulders in defeat and let her smile grow like usual. She even bared her teeth. 

Mark laughed.

"Aren’t the rocks slippery?" He asked.

"Only the ones with seaweed."

"Not the others? Really?"

"I haven’t cracked my head yet."

"You cracked your head a while ago."

He lowered himself onto the rocks beside the worn brushes and palettes.

Jane looked at Mark for the first time since he arrived. His nose and cheeks almost matched the color of his jacket. His hands were white.

 "I haven’t seen you in a while." Mark carefully stepped onto the rock with Jane’s tools. "Why are you here, Jane?"

"I don’t know."

"You don’t know. You have no idea why you’re painting the seawall in the middle of the night. In January."

"I like to paint."

She focused on the crisscrossing shades of pigment on the wall. She placed the brush on a rock beside her and began tracing dripping paint with her fingertips.

"Plus, there’s no one here." She traced a crack in the partition.

"I’m here."

"You shouldn’t be." She made a cross at the end of the trail. X marks the spot.

"Did something happen?"


"Then what’s wrong?"

Jane turned to face him. "Nothing’s wrong." She traced her fingers from the corners of her mouth to the tops of her cheekbones, carving a crude, unconvincing grin on her pale face. "See, here’s a smile."

Mark scowled. 

"Sorry," she said. She stared at her stained hands. 

  Mark stepped toward her, knocking a brush into the crevice between the rocks. He traced his white fingertips on the weathered surface of the wall, adding another trail of paint. 

Jane felt a tear stream down her cheek. She hadn’t cried in a long time. There was still so much wall to paint, but she had used all her pigments and ruined her brushes.  Jane looked up from her hands to meet him face to face. She knew the tears and painted-on smile hid nothing.


She turned away and tried to wipe the paint on the damp rocks. 

"Jane, please look at me."

She sighed and turned towards his voice. Clouds from their breaths condensed the air between them.

Jane felt Mark’s cold hand on her cheek. 

She drew in a sharp breath and clenched her teeth. She pushed him away, and his foot slipped.

It happened so fast. Mark fell backwards and didn’t catch himself. The sound of skull hitting rock. She couldn’t look. The shallow breaths. She heard him moan. A wave smashed the rocks below. Jane retreated, grabbing her stained palettes and destroyed brushes. She didn’t want to see his body crumpled in the red jacket. 

She scrambled over the partition and threw her stuff in the passenger side. She started the car and slammed on the gas, leaving Mark’s truck parked by the seawall.

Paint from her fake smile dripped onto her pants. Her hands gripped the steering wheel.

Jane shivered. She still felt his frozen touch on her cheek.
Marissa McPhillips
Published in Issue 39