2 September 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 3

To Morning

Kaya is missing. She is nowhere on the beach and Steve is worried that she's gone swimming, and has slipped drunk into the ocean and drowned. But the tide has gone out since last night and he would have seen her race down the wet sand and into the water. He hopes he would have heard her splashing.

He slept on the porch of the boathouse, and woke when the morning sun pushed its way through the railing and into his eyes. The rest of the wedding party is sleeping on the beach. They lay sprawled like driftwood, limbs curled up against their bodies, toes stuck under the sand for warmth. Some are huddled in groups, their bodies melting into one another, bums against crotch, in clumps of three or four, their arms under their heads, over their neighbor's waist, between their own knees to keep the body heat going. Some are by themselves against logs, propped like puppets, heads limp, mouths open and snoring.

Some are still awake, even now as the blue light of 6 a.m. is crouching along the sand. There's a group of men sitting down by the water, four of them leaning on a log, passing around a cigar and skipping rocks into the water. One man has his pants rolled up to his knees and has begun to wade into the surf. There is foam around his ankles, thick as root beer. Steve shuffles over to them, straining his eyes to look across the water at the Stanley Park seawall. He can see the stones that hold the wall, and the dark blue-green trees that cover the land above it. On the left cars are already backed up on the Lions Gate Bridge. He wonders if Kaya caught a late bus to city.

"You seen Kaya?" He asks the boys with the cigar, and steals a drag himself. "Can't find her."

"She mighta gone home," says the one with pants rolled up.

"But I was her ride," he says.

"Check the tents. Maybe she crashed in there."

Behind them, on the grass, are three white tents with high ceilings, the door flaps left untied and whipping viciously against the tent sides. White paper napkins litter the ground. One boy is sprawled across three chairs on the lawn; he's managed to sleep with his bum drooping between them. Steve shakes him lightly, but the boy simply flips his body to its side and grunts, so Steve pulls away the chair that supports his legs and his feet fall to the ground.

"What?" asks the boy, angry as if he's been woken from a restful sleep.

"Is Kaya around here? You seen her anywhere?"

"I dunno man, I've been sleeping." He resorts to lying on the grass, and wraps his tuxedo jacket in a ball to use as a pillow.

It has been a long night. At nine they were clean and sparkling, women with glitter on their cheeks, their hair dancing in curls and smelling of roses. The men were like black and white shadows of each other. They all ate in sequence, together in a knot of noise and laughter and anxiousness. Pasta or chicken, everyone eating the same food different ways, the odd person standing to make a drunk toast to the bride and groom.

The happy couple has gone by now, swallowed by the ten o'clock chimes and by the white limousine that stole them from this party. Now it is nearly dawn and the party is over.

Yesterday he picked Kaya up at the ferry. She came down the escalator and into the lobby with a huge smile and bounded into his arms. Her skin was a dark summer brown, her hair streaked with fake blond and pulled back into a ponytail that whipped into his eyes when she turned her head to hug him.

"You have no idea how happy I am to see you," she said. "Without you, this night would suck, guaranteed."

This was the first time he'd seen her in two years, although they'd talked on the phone a few times, but she hugged him openly, handed him her purple backpack and took his arm. "I need about an hour to get ready, plus I need to take a shower," she said. "I smell like ferry food."

"That's fine," he said, surprised at her affection, and began to lead her to his jeep.

"So who's all going to be there?"

"Mostly high school people, I think."

"Gross. Why am I here? Do these people not have any new friends?" She waited for him to open the jeep door then started playing with the radio buttons as soon as he turned the ignition.

"Hey, they're alright. I still see a lot of them."

"Yeah, well if they had to invite me to flesh out this party, then that's just sad."

"I guess they like you."

"Enough to invite me to their wedding? I haven't seen them since grad."

"It's kind of a reunion too, I guess."

"Ha. They probably had to call my mom to get my new address."

"No, they asked me."

"You selling my personal information now?" There was sudden anger in her voice, and she turned her head to stare at him, her jaw clenched.

"No." He shrugged, and was quiet, concentrated on the road.

She put her hand on his leg, then punched him hard in the shoulder, laughing. "I'm kidding," she said. "Jesus, I'm kidding."

On the beach now, he retraces their steps, from their seats in the reception tent to their walk along the sand and onto the seawall, to the tiny room at the back of the yacht club. Her sweater is still there, balled up in the corner, crumpled and dirty. He picks it up and ties it around his waist, and the sleeves hang loosely, limp. There are sparkles smeared against the window where Kaya's shoulder touched. But Kaya is not there.

The sun floods his vision when he opens the door; it is already bright in the sky, and there is heat everywhere now. It is August and the sun is strong. His thin cotton pants seal to thighs, and her sweater from the night before seem ridiculous. A dribble of sweat inches its way down his back, following the spin as if it were a canyon housing rivers.

Driving from the ferry Steve became lost, took the wrong exit and drove toward New Westminster instead of to West Vancouver.

"I think we're going the wrong way," she said, turning in her seat to look where they should have turned.

"No, I think this goes the right way, eventually." He handed her the map from a pocket on the door of the jeep, and she unfolded it slowly, trying to find them on it.

"I can't read this," she said, "try turning off here."

"You sure?"

"No, but let's try it."

So they took the exit and suddenly were heading back to the ferries, and she laughed when they saw the signs pointing to Tswassen. He pulled into a gas station.

"Let me pay you for gas," she said.

"No way."

"I'm not paying for you to fill up, but I'll pay for fucking up the directions."

"You don't need to give me money." He stepped out of the jeep and started to pump gas.

But already she was fumbling with her purse, sticking her hands into pockets, checking her coat. She pulled out a leathery five-dollar bill.

"Ha ha," she said through the window. "Here, take it."

"No way," he said again.

So she waited for him to turn his back to put back the pump. Slowly, she opened the ashtray on the door of the jeep and slid the five inside, folded neatly into a square.

"I saw that."

"You didn't see a thing."

They drove to Steve's apartment off Lonsdale in North Vancouver. His building neighbored an adult video rental shop with red flashing lights and newspaper covering the windows.

"Nice location," she said.

"Hey, I only rent from Rogers."

"Yeah, right."

He carried her bag upstairs to his apartment, and she ran up the stairs ahead of him, telling him to hurry.

"I need an hour," she said again. "Hurry, hurry."

She was in the bathroom for forty minutes, while he dressed himself in a navy suit, gelled his hair, spritzed cologne from the bottle on his dresser. He listened to the water splash against the ceramic bath as she took her shower, then to the squeak of her wet heels as she stepped onto the floor.

"There's towels under the sink!" he yelled, then caught himself, embarrassed at the thought that she might know he was listening. He went to the kitchen, ran water to wash dishes. He had no soap so he let the water run as hot as it could, watched the steam rise to the ceiling, then rolled up his shirt sleeves and slipped plates into the sink one by one. He didn't hear the click of her sandals on the floor, didn't know she was ready until she punched him hard in the arm.

"Let's go," she said.

She wore a simple purple dress that clung tightly to her hips, and hung to her ankles with a slit up the side, high-heeled sandals and a thin blue sweater with bell sleeves that hid her hands.

"You're ready?" he asked.

"No, you twit, I'm dressed like this to go to sleep."


"Come on, I'm not going to be late."

So he rushed to get the keys and locked the apartment, leaving dishes to soak in water.

Now he sits on a log with the cigar boys, kicking his toe at a cigarette butt sunk in the sand. The beach is a grainy beige, clotted with butts, charred wood, and cracked Popsicle sticks. The rocks that border the sand are dry and bleached from sun. Last night they were dark and wet from the high tide, and seemed much larger.

Most people have stumbled from the sand, woken by the heat and the warm smell of baking seaweed, and driven home. One tent remains; the other two have been dismantled by a crew who arrived an hour ago. The thick metal poles that held the tents are thrown noisily into a pile, and the sound is loud and makes Steve angry.

He goes to use the beach washrooms. The wet concrete floors smell of urine, there is clotted toilet paper stuck to the ceiling, and sand scratched across the ground but he is too tired to care. He pulls some paper towels from the rusted dispenser and wets them with tap water, then wipes his face.

They arrived late to the wedding, and were ushered in to sit quietly at the back. Kaya read the hymnbook and doodled on the donation card, and didn't say a word until they'd left the church and followed the crowd down the street to the reception at the boathouse. One girl, dressed in a sparkling pink dress, ran up to them, and grabbed Kaya around the waist, spinning her around and hugging her before realizing her mistake.

"Oh, Kaya! I thought you were Dawn, your hair looks just like hers from behind."

"Sorry to disappoint you." She smiled a large, overdone smile.

"Not at all. How's it going?"

"Pretty much fine."

"Wasn't the ceremony gorgeous? They are so perfect together."

"Sure." She looked over the girl's shoulder deliberately.

"Well, come say hi to everyone," the pink girl said, then walked away.

"That was disgusting," said Kaya. "She said dick all to me in high school."

"Can we just go congratulate the bride?" asked Steve.

At the reception she was polite to people at her table, but these were his friends more than hers. He still goes out drinking with them, meets up with them at parties, snowboards on weekends with them. She laughed at jokes and drank to the toasts but there was no enthusiasm. When people began to filter onto the beach he took two glasses and a bottle of wine and led her away from them all.

"Thank you!" she said, putting her arm through his. "I can't believe I showed up to this thing."

"It's free drinks," he said.

"That's not nearly enough." She stumbled onto the sand, her ankles collapsing in her high heels, until she took them off and threw them down. "They've only ever dated each other," she said.

"Yeah, so?"

"Well, they don't even know if something else is out there."


"What? I'm just saying I wouldn't marry some dude I started dating in the fifth grade."

They walked up the beach to the playground. They used to come here and talk in high school, when she wanted to complain about her family, and the people at school. He would sit on one of the two red plastic swings and listen, or stand behind her, stretching out his hands occasionally to help push her. Once, he let her slow deliberately, until her swing was barely moving, then walked up behind her, put his hands gently on her shoulders and just held them there.

"Hey," she said, after a moment had passed. "Don't stop pushing." And she began to swing herself, until she swung out of his grip, higher and higher.

In the playground there is a yellow slide, and a little plastic playhouse on stilts. She climbed the stairs to the slide, then pulled the back of her skirt through her legs and slid down. A blue static spark pricked the air. She sat at the bottom of the slide, sunk her toes into the sand and sighed. "Well this is a shit wedding," she said.

"I thought it was nice, actually."

"Bullshit. It's the same dumb-asses living in the same town drinking the same shit they drank in high school."

"I wouldn't say that."

"Steve—half the damn football team's here. They haven't gone anywhere in two years."

"More wine?" he asked, frustrated with her criticisms.

"Of course," she replied.

By midnight she was ready to go swimming, and raced toward the surf, running in wet sand, unafraid of the heavy waves.

"I could swim forever!" she said, but he held her back, put his arms around her waist and carried her to dry sand. She laughed, and the bell sleeves of her sweater collapsed as she put her hands to her face, opened like petals on fast forward.

"Let me go," she said. "I know how to swim."

"You're drunk, Kaya, you'll get tired."

So instead she stood in water up to her thighs, her dress heavy with water and sand, and hurled stones at one rock sitting like a thorn in the water, sharp and curved towards the black sky. The water stretched in loud, rising curves and crashed onto the beach, sucking pebbles and sand back with it as it pulled out. Behind them, on the grass near the playground, cedar trees swayed like drunken men, stumbling from side to side. The sky stretched open around them. There were some stars but they were few, and the yellow, blue and red glints of the city lights outdid them. Down the beach, the tents were full of light and music and everyone had left the boathouse.

"I wouldn't be drunk, you know," she said, "if I didn't have to be here. It's all their crap that drives me to drink." She giggled.

"I think we should head back," said Steve, wanting Kaya to agree.

"Back to the damn party? Come on, I don't want to be there."

"Everyone's there Kaya. I want to see some people." He didn't want to babysit her, now that she was drunk and quiet.


"You shouldn't have come, if you're just going to sulk."

"Well, I thought it would be nice to see you. To hang at the beach. I thought it would be a nice change." She walked slowly, balanced on logs like a child. She stopped at the edge of one. Another lay a foot away. "Should I jump?"

"Try it," he said, and his voice scared him, it was thick and deep and felt like he had not spoken in hours.

She took a baby step on the log, inched to the edge, and measured the distance. It was too dark to see shadow, and she took a small leap, not as big as she needed, and her foot slipped, touched the rocks quickly before she pulled it up, hurt.


"Are you okay?"

"Shit, Steve, I fucked up my foot."

"Jesus, Kaya," he said, and sat her on a log, took her foot in his hand and saw a deep black cut under the arch. He ran his finger over it and felt the warmth of blood. She whimpered, slamming her hand on the log angrily.


"Okay, we'll go to the boathouse and find a first-aid kit."

Now, Steve leaves the beach washroom, wiping the paper towel over the back of his neck. The cigar boys are leaving, walking slowly toward their car in the parking lot. It is 7:30, and there is only their car and his own left.

"Hey!" he yells, and one of the boys turns around, puts his hand up to shield his eyes.


"No sign of Kaya?"

"I don't know, man. I thought she was with you!"

"Fuck this," Steve thinks, and turns to walk to his car.

At the boathouse he found the first-aid kit and cleaned out the wound, wiped the sand from the cut and wrapped her foot in bandages. He led her to the backroom to lie down. The room was cramped like a muscle, the walls an ugly orange color, the floor a dirty yellow linoleum littered with green daisies. There was a small cot without sheets against the far wall, and a tiny window that would not open.

"Daisies aren't green," she said, and shrugged her head towards the floor.

"Lie down Kaya," he said, and she did, rested on her back and closed her eyes.

"Thank you," she said, and touched one hand to his knee. "I need covers."

"There's none," he said, but he lay down beside her and rubbed her sides with his hand.

"Thank you," she mumbled, and rested her head under his chin. He kissed her forehead lightly and she sighed. Leaning down, he kissed her mouth, a sloppy, tired kiss that was not returned. But once again she sighed and snuggled against him.

He put his hand on her stomach and she moved on the cot, turning on her side so that he was spooning her.

"Kaya," he said, "Are you okay?"

"Hmmm," she replied.

Slowly, he reached his arm around her and unzipped her sweater, pulling it carefully off one arm and then rolling her over to pull it off the next. She turned then, to face him, and her eyes opened for a moment. She looked into his, and her eyes were cloudy and unfocused, but she smiled. He kissed her shoulder, and she shuddered slightly, then he pulled down one strap of her dress, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. He kissed her lips, slid his tongue into her mouth, let his hand follow the line of her hip and grope her butt. Her eyes focused, and she pulled away.

"You know," she said sloppily, "you're taking advantage of a drunk girl."

"I'm sorry," he said, and stopped for a minute, but then she was quiet again, and breathing deeply in sleep, and he saw the flesh of her breasts rise as she inhaled. He tucked his hand through the slit in her dress, and inched the dress up until it rested above her hips. He slid his fingers against the warmth between her legs. When he began to move his hand she woke up and gasped, and he pushed himself against her leg. She sat up then, suddenly, and ripped his hand away.

"No," she said. "Don't do that."

He tried then to comfort her, to apologize by reaching out to hug her and she jumped up, backing into the window, pressing against it.

"Kaya," he said, but she looked down at her dress still caught around her hips and her sweater balled on the bed.

It is 8:00 and he walks to the parking lot, where his white jeep remains. The water behind him is calm, the sand like a beige comforter thrown into heaps in the morning.

She is there, lying on the grass, barefoot, shaded by his car, still sleeping. In the shadow her skin is pale and blue, like death, as though she had been soaking in a cold bath for hours. He touches her shoulder and she shudders, her eyes open and she pulls away.

"I need my bag."


"From your car. I need my stuff."

So he unlocks the passenger door, picks up the purple bag and hands it to her slowly, reluctantly. She snatches it from him, unzips it and grabs her runners, then glares at him and walks away, barefoot.

There is a sweetness there, he thinks, a last little twitch of her head as she scowls at him and leaves.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 4, No. 3, where "To Morning" ran on September 2, 2004. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story.

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