by Michelle Elvy
They met on a mountaintop in the Pyrenees. When she slipped and he steadied her, his hand on her elbow, she jerked herself away. Got to keep moving. It was the truest thing she ever told him. He followed her around Europe for a year—floating on the Dead Sea so salty their afterward kisses stung; reviving their bodies in Iceland’s massaging mud baths; climbing ancient hills in Greece that made them giddy with history. By the time she started admitting they were a couple they’d been through three bedrolls. The other gear had held up well—their backpacks, and her tent, which had become their home.
Come to New Zealand with me, he said, for the third time. This day he thought she might say yes.
I have to go home. I’ve left things long enough.
Three months later she flew to Wellington but she didn’t stay long. Got to keep moving. She trekked across the South Island and camped along the Abel Tasman trail. She made her way from the black sands of Muriwai to the soft beaches of the Bay of Islands. It was when she was in the far north, at Cape Reinga, perched at the edge of a cliff off to the side of the crowded tour buses come to see the jumping off place for travelling souls, that she felt something move inside her. She didn’t call him for two more weeks.
When he found her, she took his hand and led him down a hill to a small cove. Her hand felt small but sure, and her fingers laced gently in his. At the sandy beach, she pulled a canister from her backpack. She unwrapped a green scarf tied around it, unscrewed the lid, and tossed the contents out to sea. The breeze caught the grey dust and swirled some of it back on them; other bits plunked into the water at their feet. They stood silent together for a long while, their heartbeats working in time to the waves breathing in and out along the shoreline. Some of the ashes stayed floating in the tide at their feet.
There, she said. It’s done.
You never said.
I never could. But my children belong here. That one and—she placed his palm on her belly—this one.
A fierce southerly blew through their tent that night at Taputopotu Bay. Tears finally came in the morning: at the ashes still streaking her jeans, at the Pacific which now rocked her first-born away, at the blood-orange sun already warming her forearms. She recalled what someone had told her: that the sun shines brighter here, that you must be careful not to get burned.
He found her swaying at the water’s edge. He was sure she would drift away with the tide or float back north on the wind if he touched her.
Finally he said, And now?
And she turned to face him and smiled, We begin.
"Wanderer" was first published in Microw 8: Luminous editions (Winter 2013).