Off the shore of my island is a smaller island: a mere speck of land, white shells shattered into sand. In between, a land bridge emerges for an hour or so during the month’s lowest tides. I try to avoid urchins in the tide flats as I make my way across. Sand dollars hide under eelgrass and crush beneath my boots. On the white sand, I stand with a man who doesn’t love me and we watch a bald eagle–big as a boy–bent over something bloody. The bird’s eyes dart up to ours as we feel, through the air, ligaments tear in its hooked beak. A seal, we decide. No one has long on Baby Island; already, the land bridge is narrowing again, water filling our footprints. I take a picture of the man as he walks ahead with his long, sure stride.
A storm has ripped through Saratoga Passage with gusts over fifty miles per hour, dark orange on my wind app when I’ve rarely seen the meter reach green. Massive bulkheads were uprooted by the weight of water, concrete carried away, buried in sand. From the bluff, trees fell onto power lines. From the beach, a high tide surged through basements, flooding the road. Now my water-facing windows are etched in salt, and one–only one–is covered in black dots, visible when I adjust my eyes. Hundreds of smashed flies, a mystery I cannot solve.
After the storm, a barge parked itself in the water just off my deck. Each night at low tide, in the dense dark of late fall, a machine drops huge rocks into place to protect the compromised properties. Every time a rock is dropped, it crushes countless crabs. My cat cowers. The house shakes from its foundation.
I sit on my couch and wait for the rocks to drop. In the distance, at the far end of the passage, multiple lights hover in the air off the military base, unmoving. Today I’m worried about abortion rights. Today I’m sad about Paul and John’s falling out. In my tabs: Dental insurance. Ivan the Terrible. Lennon lyrics. Signs of schizophrenia. Not my own—a friend, recently diagnosed. I don’t understand how I missed it, living so closely for so many years. I want the internet to tell me I could have changed something if I’d been paying attention. My friend lives far away now, in a state I’ve never been to.
I invite the man who doesn’t love me over for drinks. I have added the picture of him on Baby Island to his contact information on my phone. He looks giant. Baby Island is disappearing. A hundred years ago there was a fishing lodge and multiple cabins on the elevated acre. These days it hardly takes a minute to walk from one side to the other. While I wait for the man’s response, I look up an ex-lover who is moving to England. I look up the woman he left me for. I look up the daughter of the man who doesn’t love me, who has posted a series of images: an iced coffee; a California sunset; her mother, laughing. I click the drop-down menu on my search bar and clear all, then the man texts that he is tired. I am so lonely. I am so lonely that I make a performance of dinner, eating salmon while standing at the kitchen counter with all the lights on, flipping my hair for the men outside my window who are dropping rocks.
Across the water from my cabin, in every direction, there are bluffs—on this island and others. The man who doesn’t love me likes to watch the taillights from cars on opposite shores as they climb the hills and then descend, blinking through trees. In the middle of a thought, we’ll stop, point, watch. None of the bluffs slide away as we stare out beyond the water, drinking wine by the bottle. But when my family visits, my dad says to my nephews, “These islands were carved by glaciers. There was once a mile of ice above our heads.” And we all look up, where the bluff looms, and I know it will slide soon enough. When the rain lasts for days, clay boulders tumble onto my street. I swerve around them, tires tracking dirt, until someone comes along and shoves them back towards the hillside.
I must be drunk because I startle awake to find, smiling on my screen, the former roommate of the woman that my former lover left me for. I really did love him. I exit the tab. I must be sad. A rock drops. My house shudders. The cat nudges her nose at the blanket and when I lift an edge, she hurries under, eyes wide and dilated. Next door, the pile of rocks grows higher in the yellow flood of a mechanical light.
Bulkheads are bad for the beach and we know it. The forage fish need finer particles of sand to spawn, the ones blocked and diverted by vertical slabs. Everything else needs the forage fish. It won’t take much for it all to collapse. My bulkhead was built before water came high enough to breach the concrete cap, before windstorms were dark orange. I could try harder to atone for it, but I don’t. “Storm of the century,” my neighbor said when I moved in a year ago and salt water splashed over the street, but there have been two others since. This time, the pier at Baby Island was lost. Before the storm, it shadowed the sand, extending into the water on three dozen solid posts, a shelter for shellfish. Then the waves whipped up and the whole structure broke away, floated off on the tide like a kite catching the wind.
Today I’m anxious about the new variant. Today I’m somber about my friend. It is her birthday. “Next time we meet I’ll not be on the quest for love,” she texts. “I’m a bride of Christ and I have a ring to prove it.” I love her; I tell her this. I want someone to sit with me. I consider texting the man who doesn’t love me, but instead I stay very still and watch the weather move over the water. In my tabs: Synonyms for sad. Turkish economic crisis. Twenty festive cranberry cocktails. How to survive a landslide.
The man who doesn’t love me tracks ocean traffic on his phone. All year we’ve counted the container ships that crowd the small harbor near my house, engines thrumming through the night just off Baby Island’s white shell beach. No one, it seems, can do anything about this—not the government; not the nearby families, kept awake with the noise; not the whales that migrate through the passage. When four ships line up one weekend, the man who doesn’t love me texts to let me know, sending a screenshot of his tracking app, though I’ve seen the ships come in. Later, loose limbed at the bottom of the bluff, the man’s teeth knock together as he drifts to sleep, and I watch him, and I’m lonely, and my own teeth ache.
But I have the night sounds. Sometimes, ship engines thrumming. Sometimes, a low rumbling—military planes in training, but each time they fly overhead I brace myself for the slide, glance up at the bluff, think this is it. Tonight, the constant clatter of machinery, rocks that crush and crush. Beyond the barge, Baby Island, with its hidden urchins, its bloody ligaments. And across the water, a single taillight—climbing, blinking red.