Pauline was alone again. She sighed and stared quietly at the water as it lapped against the dock. A quiet ache was stirred out of her bones by the December chill and she wished she could bundle up and disappear out across the water. She didn’t have a boat anymore though, the dock wasn’t serving any purpose other than a place for the water to lap and for an old woman to stand and ache and reminisce. The wood had long ago rotted and decayed, it was likely the trees her first husband had felled to build the dock had been rotten to begin with. Despite the inherent flaws, the dock continued to stand through the sour west coast weather, and as long as it stood Pauline had no intention of tearing it down.
Her first husband had been Harold and he’d been Pauline’s high-school sweetheart. He’d been a very handsome and debonair man, one raised in a world of gentlemen and ladies. He’d been exceptionally loving to Pauline, and she missed him with every fiber of her being. She’d waited by the phone for days after his disappearance, but she never heard anything about him or from him again. Friends and family came to console her. They’d appear at her doorstep one-by-one, then all leave at the same time as though they had been blown away by a mighty wind. They all had the same questions, and she always had the same answers. Many of them tried to gently ask Pauline if she suspected that Harold might have taken his own life, and Pauline told them that their accusations were preposterous and that Harold was an exceptionally happy man. She knew he had though, there was simply no other explanation. People don’t simply vanish into thin air, it’s just not the way things happen anymore.
She’d been quite a mess after her grieving was over. She’d hurled Harold’s possessions against walls and through windows and out into the lake where his body likely lay. She’d gathered all their photos and thrown them in the fireplace along with the empty bottle of red wine she’d opened that morning. She and Harold had spent many evenings sitting in-front of their cobblestone hearth. It had been in front of the fire that they’d first kissed after they had officially bought the house, and it had been where they’d slept the same night. She remembered watching the flames, watching the wood that Harold had cut and stacked himself become coals then ashes, nothing like the photographs she’d burned after he died. The photos would ignite then rapidly be reduced to a thin black film that the wind could pick up at any moment. She never used the fireplace after that, she’d drove into the city and bought sweaters instead.
With the spring came a second suitor; a Jewish broker named Eli. He and Pauline romanced quickly despite Pauline’s fresh wounds, there were only two weeks between their first date and the evening when he’d proposed to her over the telephone while he was on business in Siam. He moved in with Pauline, the romance of the lake-house was too much for them to forsake. They’d renovated the house together, purged the place of what remained of Harold after Pauline’s initial sweep. They filled the place with the essence of Eli and Pauline, and for the first time in months Pauline had felt like she was ready to live again. Three weeks after the wedding, Pauline found out she was pregnant.
Harold and Pauline had conceived once before his disappearance, it was an accident that they’d welcomed with open arms. They'd gone out onto the ocean to celebrate when they heard the news and they'd kissed and sang and made love beneath a warm July moon. Pauline followed every doctor’s order to the most minute detail and rested her body in preparation. Harold built a crib and painted a nursery and did all the things that he’d been told a good father should do to prepare for a child. They decided not to find out the sex so they bought only neutral clothes and painted the nursery a gentle green. It wasn’t until the second trimester that the complication happened. The doctors couldn’t determine what caused it and neither could Pauline. All that anybody knew was that one morning Pauline woke with blood in the sheets and the next morning the sheets as well as a hand-made rocking horse, crib and mobile were thrown in the furnace.
Pauline didn’t tell Eli about the pregnancy. Life had never shown any intention of kindness to her and she didn’t foresee any coming in the future. She tried to continue through the days like nothing had changed. She continued to smile and laugh with Eli, and she still let him make love to her between the pristine, new sheets they’d purchased together. But everywhere she went a quiet voice followed her. It was subtle at first, but as the days marched on it’s volume and frequency increased. “He never has to know,” It whispered, “say you’re going for groceries and come back with less than you left with.”
Pauline endured for a month before it became too much for her, on a cold evening in the month of May. Eli had taken her out onto the sea in the luxurious new boat they’d purchased a few weeks before. Clouds were moving in on the horizon, but otherwise the night was clear and the moon was full and pale. The boat floated effortlessly through the waves, Eli had killed the engine and they were just drifting on the currents. The waves on the ocean lapped at the boat, the only sound between Eli and Pauline. The undulations, though quiet, formed a barrier which divided them; a wall strictly confined to Pauline's mind.
Pauline wished she could have been better for Eli, like she had been with Harold. There had been so much love between them, even after the death of their child. In fact, the death had brought them closer together. They were bound by their shared sadness; a sadness nobody but them could ever truly comprehend. It was a foolish thing; to be bound by sadness, but it was a binding nonetheless. There was such understanding between them, there were no secrets. There was simply no need for secrets, nothing either of them could do could ever match the pain of losing their child. The only thing that one of them could ever have done to hurt the other was leave.
"I wish I was the moon tonight." Pauline said quietly to Eli as he poured her a shallow glass of wine. He looked up curiously.
"What do you mean? Why the moon?" He replied, looking up at the pale, cold moon.
"Why would anyone want to be anything other than the moon, Eli? Just look at it." She smiled, but it only made her look more sad. "It seems cold and lovely from a distance, but as you draw closer it grows imperfect and cratered."
"Why would anyone want to be imperfect up-close?" Eli interrupted. Pauline wasn't irritated by it, Eli was the kind of man who needed to orate his thoughts immediately and she’d accepted this.
"It's the craters and imperfections of the moon that make it beautiful. The meteors that made them have crumbled to dust, but the moon is still standing." Pauline sighed longingly towards the sky. Eli snickered politely, drawing Pauline’s eyes from the sky and back to the kind face of her husband. "What's funny about that?" Eli blushed and waved his hand showing he meant no offense.
"It's nothing, but doesn't that sound familiar to you?" He asked. Pauline furrowed her brow and motioned for him to continue. "Polly, you've just described yourself. Don't misunderstand me; you're a beautiful woman in every sense, but it’s undeniable that you still wear your tragedy like a crown of thorns. I don’t mean that you’re depressing to be around, just that your sadness has left a mark on you. I didn’t marry you despite the emotional scars left by your husband, but because of the wonderful woman that has been born from them." It was clear that Eli was sincere even if he wasn’t really making sense to Pauline. She didn't know what to say, her mouth hung open like dummy as she groped for words to express what she was feeling. She tried to articulate, but the air caught in her throat and she fell into shallow hiccoughing sobs. The boat rocked wildly as Eli rushed to her side.
"Eli... I've been terribly unfair to you." Pauline wept. "It’s all terribly unfair." Her fingers dug into his coat and she pulled her face into his breast. "These scars don't make me beautiful, Eli. They only serve as reminders that pain follows me wherever I go. The moon is cold and stoic, and despite the scars it doesn’t... I see him in you, Eli! I see him in you and it's so painful that sometimes I can't even look at you." Pauline cried into his chest. "Then you'll look at me, and I can feel the love radiating like waves out from you, and I'm just filled with terror that I can't love you back." Eli sat silently and Pauline continued to weep quietly against him.
"Polly," Eli whispered, "you could tell me you'd never love me and I'd still love you. You could stab me through the heart with a fireplace poker and I'd still love you. You're the best thing in my life, Pauline. Any future that you aren't in is a future that could never possibly be something better."
"I want to be your husband for as long as you'll have me. I want to grow old with you and be the one who's there when you need someone. I want to be the father to the child inside you." Pauline opened her mouth to interject, but Eli continued. "Even a fool could see it Pauline; you glow."
"Oh, Eli." Pauline gasped, her lips finally parting into a smile. "Oh, Eli... I really have been a fool." She whispered then pulled herself up to his face and kissed him hard on the mouth.
After that night Pauline and Eli began to connect on a level they hadn’t before. It was so apparent to each of them how well they were understood by the other. It’s not to say they didn’t need to work at loving each other, they fought and disagreed as is to be expected. But through all the conflict they always understood each other and knew their love was mutual. Eight months after the night on the water, Pauline gave birth to a beautiful young girl named Penelope.
They raised her and cared for her until she had grown up and blown away on a changing wind that swept her far to the East. Pauline and Eli had only had a year together before Penelope arrived, and they had only one year together after she left. One grey November morning, Eli was pouring a glass of orange juice into what had always been his favourite cup when a traitorous vein burst in his head. Pauline found him a few minutes after he’d passed, his flannel bath-robe soaking in the spilled orange juice and shattered glass.
Penelope had come home to grieve with her mother, but by the time she arrived Pauline had gone. As the officials searched the area for the body of her Mother, Penelope couldn’t help but smile despite her devastation. She knew they’d never find her Mother, not even if the combed the lake and the forest and the attics for a year. The police didn’t believe her though, they didn’t believe that a woman could simply disappear into a cold November morning. But Penelope had been taught better than that.