Dr. Ericson said a change of pace would do Janie good, so when Anthony found the little cottage on Conway Lake and a marketing job he could work from home, he knew it was time to surprise her.

The plan went so well, Anthony even called his sister to tell her on the phone that night.

“Hell,” he said, “It was just like a movie, Tish. Janie didn’t have a clue. I drove her out there, blind-fold and all. I brought her down to the dock. Took her blindfold off. She was blown away. Couldn’t believe it. She said, ‘Where are we?’ And you know what I said? I said, ‘We’re home.’”

He sounded almost giddy for the first time since Tish could remember, and she was happy for him. But that couldn’t stop her concern.

“You think it’s going to help, Anthony? I mean, really?” she hedged.

“Yes—of course it will, Tish.” His voice had that harsh automatic quality when she upset him, so Tish let it go.

“You’re right, Anthony. I’m sorry. It’s a new start.”

“I know,” he said.


What happened to them, Janie told him the night they lost Grace, was a godless thing she’d never get over. For Anthony, it was two lives—not one—that were sucked through the open window of their brownstone into the moonless sky. He knew then they couldn’t stay.

“Miscarriages happen. It’s more common than you’d think,” the doctor told them at the follow-up.

He examined Janie and poked around, like a thoughtful auto-mechanic does an engine.

“And your cervix,” he added, “looks just fine.”

The lack of ceremony unhinged Janie, and it sent her into a tailspin as they pulled out of the parking lot.

“Janie, please… just calm down…” Anthony pleaded.

“How? How do I do that? 

“I don’t know…”

“And how could he say that? It’s common? Like that’s supposed to make it okay?

“It’s going to be okay, Janie. I promise.”

“My cervix is not okay—nothing is okay, Anthony!”

“Janie, please.”

Anthony grabbed her left hand and pulled it to his mouth. But it was too late. She leaned away from him and sobbed against the passenger side window.

The buildings flashed in her periphery, blurred, and caved in under her tears.

“We can get pregnant again,” he murmured, as he stroked her back and navigated I-90.

Janie didn’t answer.  


It had been about nine months since their move to New Hampshire from the bustling metropolis of Boston, and the silence had only increased. Janie was disappearing. Her shoulders sagged forward. Her form narrowed. And in early mornings, when it was still dark, she’d slip out of bed in her white nightgown and make her way out to the edge of their dock.

Most days Anthony would meet her there and bring her back to him with strong coffee and his grandmother’s worn green afghan.

“You know I’ve counted them,” Janie told him once.

“Counted what?” he asked her.

“The steps. There are 148 of them from our bedroom to the edge of the dock—where I sit.”

\She told Anthony she liked to watch the stars disappear into the morning haze and listen to the water lap against the pylons.

To any onlooker the two lovers must have looked picturesque as they gazed out over the lifting fog—their dark heads bent together in apex. But now, sitting at the dock’s edge and surveying the gray miles of placid lake before him, Anthony couldn’t shake the dread pooling in his gut.

More and more, Anthony was learning to lie—telling himself this was normal behavior, they could dream again, they could make a new happy ending and even have a baby. And it was those self-deceptions that anchored Anthony, despite the truth Janie was trying to show him.

But even in his delusions, his hope was beginning to wane.


“Anthony, Janie can’t have a baby. Look at her,” his sister told him after dinner one night. Tish was visiting from Boston for the week.

“Don’t talk like that—” he whispered across the kitchenette. 

Janie was sleeping in the living room—curled up like a child in the corner settee.

Tish lowered her voice. “She needs help, and you know it. What does she weigh? 100 pounds?”

“Tish, I’m telling you to let it go. Janie’s going to be fine. She always comes around.”

“Listen—I love you. But you got to stop lying to yourself.”

Anthony shifted his Malbec left to right across the knots in the table’s finish. He couldn’t take the silence. It felt like drowning, and he had nothing left to say. So, he pushed himself back from the table and stalked out of the house for some fresh air.

He ended up at the dock—and sat and stared for a long, long while.


Several weeks had come and gone since Tish’s stay, and Janie’s overall mood and appetite had buoyed. It seemed his sister’s company did Janie some good. She was taking her meds as prescribed, never forgetting like before. Anthony even noticed she had more energy and took interest in cleaning and gardening again—as if company was coming and everything should be in its place.

See, Tish, Anthony thought. I told you.

But if he was being honest, really honest, Anthony knew he wasn’t just trying to convince Tish.

It was that same convincing-act—the lying to himself—he performed when he found the 23 words scrawled across Janie’s stationary several mornings later. 

The note was nailed to the dock post and flapped in the wind like a white flag of surrender. Dampened by the mist, the words bled and smeared, but they said everything he needed to know.

                    “I am going to disappoint you. But you knew that already…
                    Please don’t look for me. I’m sorry I can’t. I love you.”

So, when Anthony saw the sheer white fabric push up and trace across the waters, as if a body was attached, he lied to himself again.  

Photo by Jannis Lucas on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Kimberly Phinney

Kimberly Phinney is a national award-winning AP English instructor and professional photographer. She’s been published in Ruminate, Ekstasis, Fathom, Wild Roof Journal, The Dewdrop, Amethyst Review, Calla Press, and The Write Launch, among many others. She has her M.Ed. in English and studied at Goddard’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She is a poetry editor with Agape Review. After almost dying from severe illness in 2021, she’s earning her doctorate in counseling to help the marginalized and suffering.