“Penance” by Lillian R. Handleman (2009)

The paunching of Dan’s belly that once sported lean muscle exposed a doughy adipose mass protruding from just above his belt. One could say his belly was a monument to all the fallen heroes of love gone wrong—those weary soldiers adrift in marital limbo who seek comfort in swigs of Hammer’s White Ale. Truth was, Dan had been desperate to save his marriage. Yet, despite the depth of his remorse and the endless mea culpas—the sleepless nights, the therapy sessions, the relentless mental flagellation —Diane could not forgive his betrayal. At one time their union had been blessed with a sort of sacred alchemy that defied discord. But Dan’s brief and unremarkable fall from grace would reappear in her head in her head, now, like a tumor from remission, sabotaging the strides they had made toward a final healing.

Dan watched as storm clouds gathered over the horizon like battle-ready troops awaiting a signal from the front lines. The shoreline edge of Donnegan’s Reef was barely visible from the picture window where he stood and the cloying August heat hung heavy in the room like a stubborn fog. He heaved a sigh, grabbed another beer, and sank into the sofa as if to cushion the memory of last night’s drama that played before him like an instant replay.

What the hell do you want from me, Diane—blood? He had screamed it at her, just before pulling a steak knife from the kitchen drawer and slashing his forearm—a foolish, symbolic gesture meant to demonstrate the sincerity of the plea. A thin line of red surfaced instantly and Diane watched the crimson trickles roll from his arm onto the white kitchen floor like the drip of paint speckles on a palette. You’re an ass, Dan, was all she had said at first. Then before slamming the door behind her she added …and by the way, I want a divorce. He lied and said he didn’t care.

Today, the tender edges of the gash were slightly separated and sore. Dan could see the swollen tissue inside the cut where blood had congealed over night. He thought about Donngan’s Reef, of how the salt water might sting at first, then soothe the wound which looked to him like a narrow island might look from an airplane high above the Atlantic.

As he hurried out the door, his head was still athrob with the buzz of beer. He drove across the bridge past Beggar’s ferry then out toward the reef where he quickly stripped naked and dove headstrong into the cool oasis into the soaring swells that crested before him. He closed his eyes and heard the water slam across the ocean like the mighty hand of Poseidon. And soon he could see Diane floating to the surface in a flowing white gown, the ebb and flow of her body rocking over him like waves against the shore.


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