The Rope and the Sea
By Ben Loory
A boy meets a girl on the beach, and instantly falls in love.
Would you like to go for a walk? he says.
Okay, says the girl.
The two of them walk along the waterline; they talk together and laugh.
What’s that? the girl suddenly says.
There’s a rope leading up out of the water.
The two walk over and stand beside it. The girl looks out at the sea.
Where do you think it goes? she says. And what’s at the end of it?
I don’t know, says the boy. Let’s find out.
He looks at her.
The boy and girl start to pull the rope in.
It’s a very nice rope, says the girl.
Yes, says the boy. It’s a good material. And it seems very strong.
Together, they pull the rope a long time. It begins to pile up on the shore. But as they pull it further and further in, they find it gets harder to pull.
There must be something big at the end, the girl says. Do you think we should we keep pulling?
We’ve come this far, says the boy. We’re so close. I think we should keep going.
The boy and the girl strain and pull and pull. And when the last few yards come in, they see why pulling had become so hard — there’s an immense, canvas-wrapped object tied to the end.
What is that? the girl says.
I don’t know, says the boy.
The two move closer to the object. The boy bends down and unties the knotted rope. Then he peels back the canvas.
Oh god, says the girl.
The boy stares down.
Inside are two dead bodies.
A man and a woman, lying side by side — lying in each other’s arms. They are bloated and white, and the fish have been at them.
I’m going to be sick, the girl says.
What do we do now? she says a moment later.
I don’t know, says the boy. CPR?
CPR? says the girl. They’ve been dead for days. Maybe for weeks — maybe more.
Have they? says the boy, looking down at the bodies.
He can’t really tell.
Maybe they have, he finally says. Maybe; I don’t know.
But still, he says, we can’t leave them like this. Shouldn’t we get the police or something?
The police? says the girl, looking around. Do you want to get involved with this?
In the end, the two of them roll the bodies back down into the sea. They can’t seem to tie the rope correctly, so the corpses float out separately, one by one.
Well, says the girl, wiping her hands, I guess that takes care of that.
Yes, says the boy, looking over. Yes, I guess it does.
And the girl says goodbye, and wanders off, and the boy stands there and watches. And then he turns and walks away back in the direction of his home.
But that night, the boy cannot sleep. In his mind, he sees the two bodies drifting. And then, in the wind, he hears their voices — two drowning voices, calling.
They’re alive, says the boy. I knew they were. I have to save them.
And he runs.
It is dark, but the great full moon overhead illuminates the beach. The boy strips off his clothes and wades on in, then pushes out into the sea. He swims in the direction the bodies went. He swims for hours and hours. He searches and searches everywhere, but there is nothing, nowhere, anywhere. All he finds are endless waves, endless cold black waves. And every wave, he finds, is colder than the last that came.
Please, says the boy, his teeth starting to chatter. Please, just let me live to find them.
And then up ahead he sees an arm in the dark, and he knows his prayers have been answered.
He reaches out, and finds a thin wrist. He takes hold — it’s the woman he’s found. He pulls her to him, ducks beneath, then rises to buoy her up.
And when he does, there is the canvas, spread out against the dark sky. It looms like a sea creature unfolding its wings, and then it comes down, all around them.
The boy sinks beneath. The water crowds in. And as the rope coils and ties, the boy sees the body in his arms is the girl.
He slips into the darkness of her eyes.