by Jay Caselberg

“Touch me bright with the demons of your soul,” she’d said to him. Bright? Michael had sat back, tasted the word, wondering at her choice. She wanted his dark places to illuminate her, or so she’d said, and Michael had considered. Sometimes we go to strange locales in search of mutual understanding.

Around that time, Michael lived near the ocean, in a big wooden house, the sound of surf muttering and crashing him to sleep on those thick summer nights heavy with the heat, the faint salt breeze offering scant relief from the gleam of sweat across his chest. The semi-dark rooms full of the scent of brine and night jasmine. He lived alone then. After two failed marriages, he’d learned; it was better sometimes to have no one but yourself to blame. Bitterness is more than simply the taste of coffee in the morning. The house, a rambling, haphazard affair, came with its own memories, but Michael happily populated them with his own.

Claire filled it with something else entirely.

In summer, the beach thronged with tourists and holidaymakers. Even late at night, moon or no moon, there’d be couples strolling hand in hand along the water’s edge. But in winter, it was a different matter, the broad, empty stretch of sand, the cold wind whipping tufts of beach grass back and forth, scattering grains in its wake, a few sun-bleached shells staring white like bones from between the hummocks in the crisp daylight. In those times, Michael would walk, alone with his thoughts and the grey ocean stirring and muttering beside him. Claire had been the last person he’d expected to meet there, along with the body that lay beside her.

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