Shell Game

My anxiety went through the roof once Adam left. The cage I had built to contain my fears collapsed – a cage formed from the routines of a medicine resident, the weight of a wooden hanger in my hand as I selected a clean shirt for my husband from among the collection I’d ironed, the smoothness of the cold morning kitchen floor that he had swept – everything that had steadied me was gone.

Instead all I was left with was raw nerves – the silent apartment, shards of shells the wind blew on our windowsill, the emptiness of his side of the bed, and on the big windowsill, loads of seagull shit – what the birds did when they lost it, which Adam and I had learned from rescuing a gull from the freeway. I felt a physical distress, a thrumming nausea, a feeling of blood rushing abruptly through my whole body, so quickly that I couldn’t adjust to being alive while the people I had loved most were dead.

But I was going to meet Adam and we were both alive. I pulled it together to psych myself up to drive a thousand miles. No sleep in thirty hours and driving all the way to Florida; total of $196 in cash for gas pulled from my bank account and a few random tens and twenty-dollar bills I found in an unwashed pair of Adam’s pants.  It was all pieced together without enough for plane tickets. The very idea of this whole day was ridiculous.

Though not that much more ridiculous than marrying Adam, a trust fund baby white guy who’d only ever dated debutantes, in the first place.

I’d packed a bag, even, with snacks, and was supposed to leave yesterday at five sharp, but found I couldn’t do anything more than wait on my sofa since ten pm last night, without sleeping, to give Adam a chance to call. But he didn’t call.

Today was the earliest I could have followed him. Otherwise I would have missed one of my required shifts. I wouldn’t have let anyone call me paralyzed –not that, I refused a medical name for it. O-ho no, if you want paralyzed, I’ll show you the para on the general medicine unit, shouting in pain over a bedsore Plastics is late going to see. I was not demoralized either, like that para, who’d said that he had nothing to look forward to except for his Oxy’s.  It wasn’t fear that had me stuck, though I’d been on the couch for hours. It wasn’t a shrink’s couch though. I knew who I was.

I was still me, Renuka Maharani Krishnan, transitional year resident (combination medicine and surgery) and orphan daughter of two prominent Delhi-based doctors who’d died, when I was four years old while they’d been traveling receive a hard-earned humanitarian award in Switzerland for their tuberculosis work in slums; lucky granddaughter of an indulgent and wonderful Patti who had always encouraged me and loved me endlessly, until I lost her. She died after I finished medical school in California, a week before the first day of my hard-won residency in Baltimore. She’d had a chronic lymphocytic lymphoma that had without warning progressed into an accelerated malignant phase.  But I hadn’t wanted to take time off from work. I’d wanted to be perceived as the tough, like the surgeon I still hoped against odds I would become- even though I’d failed to match in surgery and was stuck doing transitional year. I had ‘bounce’, that was it – persistent and always propelling up, like a swimmer torpedoing to the surface from some high-pressure dark place –a handful of cream-colored pearls tight in my fist, triumphant when I hit the surface.

It wasn’t as if my nausea this morning was like what you get from chemotherapy, I reminded myself. I wasn’t pregnant either – I’d checked so many times I couldn’t fool myself that blue shadows meant positives.

For the past year, since I turned thirty-three, I’d been trying and failing to get pregnant for real, and last week, Adam had suddenly gotten on a plane. My husband was a Cancer – “moody and sensitive but very good at getting what they want.” He’d wanted this apartment instead of a nicer place in the suburbs, loving its balcony, the ocean smell, the quaintly dangerous aura from years of beach rapes and drug busts. He’d personally redone the kitchen so he could really cook at home – even though it meant not having any kitchen for two months, which I’d hated. Adam was also an armchair psychiatrist who didn’t accept the dictum: “don’t destroy someone’s defenses until they have something to replace them with.” But he was good-hearted, brilliant, loyal, affectionate, great in bed, and rich. It wasn’t entirely his fault that he was now considering divorcing me.

He found the excuse to leave that he’d needed in the elaborate, even sinister series of phone calls inviting him to interview at a Miami Asian-Cuban-fusion restaurant. He “wouldn’t have considered it before,” he said, but things were “at that point.” He went there knowing I couldn’t move my residency to U of Miami; they didn’t have a spot for me this year, I’d checked and checked. He got on that plane knowing how alone I’d feel with my grandmother gone.

Not to be snobbish toward coq au vin versus surgery – but the medical career I’d been working toward trumped Adam’s cooking hobby. In chi chi restaurants Adam was ideal, because in addition to cooking impeccably well he couldn’t have cared less about the famous, pampered clientele. He’d grown up around people like that; his art dealer parents had hosted huge parties. He liked to cook, he liked the creativity. Above all I knew he liked being needed, without question.

But Adam wanted to be needed by the earth. His real identity was paleo-geologist working on intensive ecosystem restoration projects, collaborating with indigenous local authorities, inventing the sustainable. That was his dream. He would be on a plane to the Andes, the Amazon, the Everglades, the minute he got word of a job. Those jobs meant traveling for up to months at a time. He knew I would support it. But for a whole year, since we’d left California, he hadn’t been called for a single job.

He could travel as he needed to, I’d said often. I’d said it even after my third miscarriage. Not that I’d told Adam about the losses, or attempts. And once or twice in recent weeks, I would lie passive in our bed, wasting time, not trying to conceive with him again, listening to his low voice instead– watching my husband as he used his tanned Caucasian hands to tell stories of American Indian tribes, the other kind of Indians – at least one of the Europeans’ mistakes was only poetic. Adam loved the Calusas with their costly ornaments and engraved, respectful alligator heads; Tequestas who lassoed the creatures of the sea, and finally, most recently, the Semnioles, absorbing all the fiercer tribes. The Seminoles, Adam said, were harmless in their sweat-stained undershirts, gap-toothed and obese in National Geographic photographs that seemed to mock their scheme of Everglades casinos, that hid their history of being slender, effective evaders of better-armed tribes, American generals and incurable disease.

In the dark one early evening a few months before – our shades drawn against the sun’s glare off the water as those shades always were, so I would sleep better post-call – Adam whispered to me about a particular story he had read in the Johns Hopkins libraries. “Both the Calusas and the Tequestas performed child sacrifice, for all kinds of occasions. Giving up a child to be killed in some ceremony was expected, all the time, can you imagine it? They thought that otherwise the sea would claim the rest of their children. That waves would come up and catch the children playing on the beach, and they would drown.

“Good thing we don’t have kids I guess,” he’d said, upset at me for something he thought I had prevented from happening, not knowing how carefully I spared him from my grief that it hadn’t.

I’d never expected a move like he was planning now – frankly, I thought I had whipped him. In a good way. But then in April Adam’s foodie-stature earned him a breathless review in the Baltimore Sun.  The food writer? A leather-skinned, flat chested plastic-surgery-whore whose toothy smile I didn’t trust for a second, who would have done anything to get tongue-love from someone as handsome as Adam. So far, my Adam had aged well –still lean and blue-eyed, tall, straight and narrow-hipped, arms strong and sexily veined from lifting huge bags of rice or cartons of fresh vegetables, his hair a dirty blond, no sign of grey.

That leathery lady had left the first voicemail of many.“ And bring your recipe for that paella that the Sun people were raving about,  y’hear? My good friend Sheila said you are a master of shellfish, a master of the game. Come teach. I want to learn, master,” she simpered, as if she’d invented the joke.

Master my fist, I thought, not knowing whether to direct my spleen at Adam or the crone.

Listening to her on our machine at first, I almost pitied the clueless cow. She didn’t know that my gorgeous geek husband would never take her bait. She’d never know him like I did. The minute his work was finished, Adam McClellan II, low-key and liberal-enough WASP scion, would go back to his modest hotel room on South Beach, wearing unfashionable glasses to look closely at geologic maps and nautical charts, in preparation for the interview he really cared about, a permanent job on a prestigious and well-funded government Everglades project, the real reason he’d boarded the plane to Florida.

I’d teased him about his charts that looked like required homework for becoming a pirate, asked him what was the point in restoring swamps, in providing a playground for bloodthirsty, ancient ghosts. “They’ll just end up putting up more alligator warning signs,” I’d said, and anyway, to get hired, Adam would have to go in and convince someone to create a position. And selling himself that way had never been Adam’s forte. Not that, with his fortunate parents, he’d ever had to.

But Adam could be with that white woman now. Since he had left a week before, Adam hadn’t even e-mailed me. Not once.

I’d been on our apartment balcony a few times though, just looking down.

For Adam, a man with kind, massaging hands that undid me, being oblivious was just about the only crime in a marriage that was unforgivable. “Infidelity could be a sign of longing for your spouse, or longing for more in your marriage,” he’d said.

“Anyway, you wouldn’t even notice if I had an affair,” he’d said, watching me read an article or go through my few folded pages of sign-out so I would be in shape for rounds the next morning.

The way he said “You are obsessed”, nearly daily, was as a casual insult. He muttered it as I kissed him on my way out; he cursed me with the word when I got up at four in the morning to get ready.

But it was also acknowledgement. He must have known deep down that obsession was what it took for nobody to die on my watch. We residents were the ones running the hospital, peering deeply and sleepily into its machinery.

There were human lives in my hands, so yes, I would be steady, and no way, I would not fail. It was a prayer I said to myself every morning, between launching myself out of bed and kneeling to light incense in front of my grandmother’s photograph.

This morning, seven days into uncertainty about my marriage failing, only forty-two days since I’d lost the last baby, I felt more keenly that my grandmother, my Patti, was watching. I pulled myself off the couch, stopped looking at my iPhone with its screen saver of Adam kissing me, and found a red sundress I had worn on our honeymoon that still looked presentable. In no time I was under the shower, scenting my body with bath oil Adam had bought for me from an eco-aware company and washing my hair for the first time in weeks, letting it curl out under the steam. Soon I was in our sunny front room, pulling the balcony door shut and locking it. For the first time since they day he’d left I looked out at the ocean below and did not think about jumping to my death, not even as a fleeting hypothetical.

“Renuka, I’m not playing with you. When the hell are we going to have kids?” was Adam’s quiet but deadly question in the dark, on those rare mornings when I lay in bed between the 4:00 a.m. alarm and 5:30 window, my last chance to get up and still be early for the hospital.  I prided myself on how that question, asked by so many strangers, never made me cry. “Renuka, look at me when I’m talking to you. Look here, not at the clock.  You knew I’ve wanted kids. I’ve never lied to you. You told me you wanted to have children too before we got engaged. You said you’d always wanted them. You said you did.”

His questions were self-righteous and proud. I had no answer that wouldn’t make me break apart – except the answer contained in my springing out of bed, planting a quick kiss on his face, busying myself in the bathroom.

In a way, my impulse now to drive so far, to see Adam in person instead of sitting here waiting for his call, or waiting for him to come back, was tantamount to flushing away my diaphragm, to forgetting that I could miscarry again. But now I was driving, racing toward him really, saying yes. Yes, I would try.

“Isn’t that enough?” I wanted to say. “I’m risking my life to not lose you. I’m risking a pregnancy that will either ruin my career, if I don’t miscarry, or leave me disappointed and bleeding.”

The truth I acknowledged to myself, running to the garage and sliding into our packed car, with its debris of half-full crates of food and juice boxes, was that I couldn’t decide between babies and surgery. I had applied again this year to match in surgery, without Adam knowing. The transitional year would prepare me for any number of places. I put down Hopkins, like I’d done before, and Maryland, but also thirty other places, including places Adam would not agree to go.

But I still I wanted to be a surgeon. How I wanted it.

The baby who eluded me a month before? I had wanted him too.

As I drove I prayed to Lord Anjaneya, out of habit saying words I always knew.

The Hanuman picture was still taped to the dashboard of my car, a used but valiant Toyota Camry. Before she’d been hospitalized, my grandmother had stayed with me and Adam in Baltimore during some of her University treatments. One morning, on the way to get radiation therapy, she had pressed the picture on the dashboard with her graceful fingers, promising: “Hanuman will protect you,” telling me the story, as she had so many times, of how the god had once flown to a mountain, lifted the whole mountain when he couldn’t find a healing plant and brought it to fallen soldiers in battle. I’d been distracted, hardly listening, losing the meaning she’d meant to convey, I realized only now – a year later – that she was proud of my being a doctor.

Driving down the interstate, 95 South, with only Patti’s memory beside me, glad for the picture of the monkey god she’d left behind, I could admit that having divine protection couldn’t hurt. I could say in my head what I could not say to Adam:

the reason I didn’t tell him about the pregnancies, nor the miscarriages, was that saying such a thing out loud, to anyone, meant drawing an evil eye toward our child. It was my duty to stay mute. Hearing that, Adam would’ve muttered all of the same tired White Man’s Burden shit, about how “I didn’t have to be traditional.”  He would never understand how it was my duty to keep our losses secret. That it was my right.

About five hours later, my eyes started to do this funny twitching thing. I’d never driven this distance before – fifteen hours straight, I told myself, so I could reach Miami by tonight, swim in the ocean once, then fly back early the next day with money borrowed from Adam, in full control of my marriage and without missing my senior call.

I stopped off at a gas station then for a Power bar and two six packs each of Red Bulls and iced coffees. I’d need all of those to stay awake. When I got back into the car I asked an unfriendly white guy to pump my gas, tried to get used to his slow response. Jiggering my smartphone, all I wanted was to see if Adam called. No. Paying fast to avoid thinking about how broke I was, I kept on driving without pause, past the point of feeling hungry or tired. I ordered my eyes to stop acting up and they got used to the road. But that was Adam’s problem with me, wasn’t it? I was more grit than gossamer. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t force myself to do.

The day my grandmother died in a Baltimore hospital, the big one, the much fancier one than mine, Adam had stood there holding the phone and staring at me, aghast to see me calm and in my scrubs as if I wore something obscene. It was shortly before my first real day of being an intern, and I’d been on track to be on time for the pre-orientation class.

“You’re going to work?” he’d asked, his voice rising, high with outrage and not pity for me. “Come on. You aren’t even asking for time so you can go to India and be at the fucking funeral?”  At that moment, I almost hit him. I almost said: “You’re expressing an awful lot of emotion on behalf of somebody you hardly knew,” wanting to blame him for his polite reserve with my grandmother, for how he’d never given any of her quiet but deeply-felt questions more than a tentative response, for how even his simple hugs would always turn awkward with her.  Even though she’d wanted distance too.

But fighting with Adam isn’t what I do. A year ago I didn’t even notice talks that could have become wars if I had said all that I thought. Now I couldn’t remember what it was like to want so badly to please him. Now I couldn’t imagine wanting anything more than my own animal instinct – blood underneath surgical gloves, a downy head under my breast.

By now the ten straight hours of driving, some in heavy and contentious traffic, were starting to scare me; Adam would have been glad that I didn’t soldier through, I thought. Just before I had to get back onto I-95 and marathon through Georgia, I quit to avoid facing any more redneck road rage.

I’d made it all the way to South Carolina, at Santee. At the last bathroom break I’d made, I’d seen an ad for a highway motel. It was a small one overlooking cliffs and beckoning with a white Southern gazebo in a neat but lush field of green. I convinced myself I wouldn’t be lynched there by the local rednecks who knew I’d cut their brothers off on the freeway, and decided to take a room. Walking slowly to the registration area, I admitted that yes, there had been a few moments, when my car was almost hit by a semi, because I had almost fallen asleep, or when I had been speeding on a curve, and kind of lost control.

But here I was alive. Life had won out in some kind of crap shoot, despite the fact that I had only my own now.

Another positive sign: my checking-in couldn’t have been any easier. Some guy – not quite as tall or broad-shouldered as Adam but still pleasantly solid-appearing, with a softer voice and straight black hair in a ponytail – stood with his back to me, talking on the phone, the receiver of which was shaped like a black shell. Dude must have seen and approved of me via a hidden monitor, because without turning around he waved me on in, pointed to an envelope with a key on the counter until I took it and signed my name. Then he went back to practically crooning, holding the receiver with both hands. I guessed it was “pay when you checked out” – a novelty not to have to give a credit card. A woman popped into view – thin, smoker, curly-haired. She did her job fine. But the young man remained apart. Admittedly, I yearned to see his face– see what went with the hair and his big capable brown hands, arms, back, just see his lips. It was my lack of sleep making me horny, that was all.

But once in my room, I couldn’t quite sleep, too excited by being only five hours away from Adam. It was already night. I made my way down the set of white stairs and chose a little table overlooking the pool. In what seemed like a few minutes later, there was a soft giggling, a child’s, then a mild splash. Then nothing again. The wet silence should have alarmed me right away. But I was so tired, it took several long minutes, a mother’s scream in my face to fully wake me up, “Do something! Help her! I can’t swim, you know!” before I realized there was a child deep in the pool and the water was still. Upstairs from the pool a door was open and I could hear music and laughing, a man’s voice shouting after the mother, “Kate? Katie, that your name? Where are you goin’ sweetheart? Come on now, I’m all paid up!”

The mother looked too angry to listen to me, or I would have said calm down. Without the hooker’s permission, I jumped into the pool and promptly brought her daughter out. She was light in my arms with long, fine, blond, bedraggled hair, no more than three or four years old, her foot entangled in the low rung of a rope ladder. She’d been submerged, eyes closed and face tilted down for some brief, dangerous interval but not difficult to extricate. In less than a minute I had her up at the surface, head back and lips only a trace blue.

Now I had an audience of close to a dozen fat sweaty white people, holding beers and standing there not knowing what to do but looking vaguely dangerous. Pray to Hanuman, I could hear my grandmother say. Show these fuckers no fear, I heard also, a common phrase of my favorite teacher-attending, a female surgeon in my residency whose voice had turned raspy from cigarettes and who, I remembered, grew up somewhere in Carolina territory.

“What do you need?” a mellow male voice asked. It was the checking-in man at the desk –closer to my age than Adam’s, face close enough to mine so that I finally could confirm how beautiful he was.  Ignoring him, channeling that favorite teacher of mine I barked, “Call 911” to the white man in front right near the phone. He startled, then jumped up and did it. I started CPR the second I could lay the girl down on the astro-turfed ground. By the time the paramedics came her color was good and she’d coughed up most of the water. It was easy to let them take over. By then the mother had calmed down and brought over a mountain of towels. The woman nodded her head in my direction but didn’t thank me; I didn’t care. I couldn’t wait to call up my husband Adam, to share with him the perfect ease of my knowing what to do, of having the right to lay on hands. I was a doctor, I wanted to shout.  Hallelujah!

“Nice,” the other-kind-of-Indian man said, patting my shoulder.

“Come have a beer with me once you dry off,” he said, extending a towel toward me. His lips, smiling more widely as I stared at them, were as good as his eyes.

I stammered and blushed my way away.

I said, “I’ve got towels,”

He laughed and watched me walk away.

He was a stranger, smooth-skinned and highly kissable. One of those people, or maybe just one of those times, when simply talking to a person gave you an idea of how they’d taste. I didn’t need the actual man, though – his presence, his existence, added to my jubilation. We were alive!                                                                                                     Someday, directly because of me and skills I’d taken pains to acquire, many more people, maybe, for years to come, would stay alive.

Back in my room, I wished like anything that I could tell my grandmother, to see how proud she’d be. Adam would be proud of me too, I thought. Adam and I would be parents someday. We would take real care of a little girl, teach her to swim. We’d bring her out of safe water together. If Adam and my daughter wanted, I would quit medicine, and I would never say I’d sacrificed. Before sleeping I called Adam to say that I loved him, excited, jubilant, telling him whatever he wanted me to do, I would.

It wasn’t even an effort not to go find out if the good-looking Indian guy was still hanging around the front desk area, waiting with a beer and a towel. I didn’t have to stop myself from taking out his hair, so sexy, out of the gleaming ponytail; to tell him he shouldn’t come to my room and press me down on the big bed. I wasn’t tempted enough to talk at all. I felt married again. I felt faith in my husband’s benevolent love, only a little bit anxious because I hadn’t heard in voice in over a week. But around two am, Adam did finally answer all my messages. He called me to make his confession, proving that I’d gambled by making this trip. Gambled and lost.

I learned that Adam had betrayed me that night, just hours before, by having sex for the first time with another woman, who until then he’d only kissed. A woman who had traveled with him from Baltimore to Miami without my knowing it. Not the restaurant critic who’d left stupid phone messages; but instead some young dishwasher from the restaurant where Adam worked, a recent immigrant from Colombia with Indian blood, “pueblos indigenas”, Adam called her when I’d come by the kitchen and we were introduced. She’d nodded, quiet, caught by surprise to see me there. She looked like an eager little girl with braided hair pinned up, broad nose, exquisite lips. That day in the kitchen next to her, and now on the phone my husband spoke too fast, as if he hadn’t been sure he had the nerve to tell me. But his voice was clear; I knew he wasn’t drunk. I was the one who couldn’t speak, who found it hard to breathe.

He misinterpreted my silence at first. “It’s not that I’m leaving you for her,” he said. “In fact, I’m calling you because she’s gone. For good. She knew I’d never leave you, sweet. She knew.”

When my shocked laugh leaked out through my lips I knew the sound was wrong.

“What? You – you’re laughing or something? What’s wrong with you?” he demanded. “Aren’t you going to ask why this happened? How long it’s been? If I was at the restaurant all these nights screwing with her? Are you still human? Are you just sitting there resenting me for distracting you from your wonderful patients? From the all-important savior and heroine that you’ve become as a doctor?” He paused a few seconds, but I hung up, unable to hear more.

In the morning, I left the motel just as early as I had been planning to when I had started this whole trip. Before leaving I didn’t see the Indian man. He was probably off-shift by then. I took the exit from I-95 south to Boca Raton, because it was an earlier exit than to Miami and it would put me at last into the ocean, where I wouldn’t have to think.

In Boca at high noon, I swam in the shallows and walked out crunching shells beneath bare feet, remembering the stories Adam had told me about water, about shells, how the American Indians in Florida had once used them in abundance, before their villages were burned and the whole structure of their lives had been destroyed by colonialists, whose stories about the Indians had painted them wrongly, who’d lied so Indians would seem like monsters.

Kissimee, the place Adam was striving to restore, the Lake Kissimmee project of the Everglades, was a silly-sounding name, but it meant “heaven’s place.’ It made my grandmother giggle, when she read it on a postcard we’d bought once on vacation, when I was young.

After my parents died, I’d lived with Patti in Delhi till I was nearly seven. Then one of my uncles brought both of us along to the US. He’d set us up to live in an apartment in Oakland while he and his family remained settled in Palo Alto, near Stanford, where I’d eventually gone to medical school, to be near family, not realizing how safe their nearness made me feel – secure enough to marry a ghora.

From Oakland, as I was growing up, Patti and I would make small excursions. Once when I was twenty-five, just before I’d met Adam, Patti and I had even made it to Carmel – scared of allowing me to drive, though by then I had been driving for years, Patti had made us take a bus. In the gift shop of a cute inn were postcards from all over the US, including Kissimmee, Florida, making her face light up like a child’s, giving her something inexpensive to collect. By then she had been diagnosed and might have known she’d never go to see those towns. I could have asked her if she was scared, if she still believed in a Hindu version of heaven, the kind that the good people from the epics go to and the villains only get to glimpse from a distance. I could have asked how she endured her grief when both my parents died. At first when I lost her it didn’t bother me that these things had gone unsaid, because I could still dream about her so precisely. But a year later, well into my residency, there were incidents, days, places with my grandmother that I no longer really remembered. It felt like she had never been in this world, watching over me.

What I never told Adam, because by the time my Patti died, he no longer felt safe: If I’d gone to her funeral in India, I would have had to watch as someone steeled himself to crack her skull, committed violence on her corpse to allow her soul to be set free. My paternal uncle, traveling to Delhi from California, did the ritual. But while Patti was still in her understated way alive, awaiting whatever would come next in the hospital, I’d kissed her cheek and held her head, finding it an antiquated shell, caressing her.

No matter what training I got, I would never be that much of a surgeon, that I could have borne seeing her broken.

“So Renuka, what happens now?” Adam’s familiar voice demanded in yet another angry voice message. “You shut off your emotions the exact same way you did when your grandmother died? You push me out?  It’s not even that we work through this and we eventually forgive each other. You sever us. You go. Well. Wow. You’re really superhuman, aren’t you? Congrats.”

In response, I called the main number of the motel where I had stayed the night before, the one at Santee. I recognized the handsome stranger’s voice but didn’t speak.

“Elizabeth?” he asked in a whisper. I could picture him holding the phone as tenderly as some pretty girl’s face.

“No, the doctor,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said, sounding cheerful, unashamed. “The Indian chick, so smart. Mmm, yeah. Where are you now? Want to meet up?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah,” and told him when I might be back at the motel, not promising.

Satisfied that he’d remember me, I shut the phone off, lay down and slept for the first time since Adam had left me a week ago, I mean I fully, really slept, at peace with not being pregnant and not even hoping to be. Free of being on-call to anyone, at last, I dreamed of the ocean where I swam as it had been a century ago, except my grandmother and I were there in our bare feet, wearing long maxi-dresses like she would never have worn in reality. She and I were dream-walking on the shore at Kissimmee, and the waters were clean there. As I slept I saw men with unfamiliar tribal names, men walking with dignity while other men chanted, warrior men decorating their black hair and walnut-colored necks with shells that they found in their path, saving the most sturdy to store food in, the most colorful to make sea animals and other toys, and only a few shells to use as harbingers, to listen as they traveled far out to sea, to blow into when they needed to signal that they were coming home, even if nobody knew how long their return would take—or whether there would ever be a sudden, passionate, single blissful night, or have to wait for some other lifetime.