The sea air has wrought changes in the past year. Bright blue paint peels off the front door, a rotting window frame dangles.
The sound of the surf remains.
Jacob loved the sea. “Mommy, I’m going to walk on the water, to the other end.” He wiggled his six-year-old, pink-painted toenails into sand.
I hugged him and laughed―then. Now, I shiver and zip up my light jacket.
The rose bush in the pot is dead. I lift the container, rummage for the key.
Our summer house in Rosarito, Baja, offers views of a glassy sea; steel-gray water reflects scudding clouds. The home smells salty, musty.
I open the French windows, step onto the deck to a commotion below; men and women shout, a cacophony of Spanish wafts. They pour bucket after bucket of water over a massive, dark creature.
“¿Que pasó?” I ask.
No one responds. I inhale and yell my question as Roy, my soon-to-be ex-husband, would have.
Juan, a neighbor, squints with a hand over his eyes and hollers, “¿Hola señora?¿Cómo estás? Come, we have beached baby whale!”
Seven-year-old Jacob adored sea creatures. “Why can’t a whale come to the beach?” he asked.
“Whales need to be in the water,” I said. “If one came up to the sand, the animal’s body weight could crush its organs,” I said.
He’d fill the bathtub and teeter on the rounded edge. “Look, Mommy, I’m walking on water!”
“Son, no one can.” I explained the physics of surface tension and gravity.
Above my head, Jacob’s wind chimes dance in a frenzy. I close the windows.
Jacob’s chocolate-stained apron hangs on a chair back. I hold it up to my nose―craving a whiff of stale deodorant, of his teenage sweat or apple-flavored lip balm―before wrapping it around my waist.
He baked brownies, crispy around the edges, moist in the middle; he baked cupcakes, puffy treats covered in a riot of purple icing.
Jacob had his quirks. He pulled his long hair into two ponytails, shaggy dog ears on either side of his head. He ate his cupcakes upside down, savored the icing last.
Roy shouted, “He’s spending too much time in the kitchen.” I waited for him to add, “. . . with you.”
This house will be sold. I remove my son’s shirts from his closet; they are white, gray, blue. Roy called Jacob’s favorite sunshine yellow and crimson shirts inappropriate, and tossed them in the trash. I find them hiding their splashes of color in a corner shelf.
I put Jacob’s possessions into a bag: wind chime, bright-orange towel, cookbooks. I linger over eyebrow tweezers, magenta flip-flops, a collection of buttons, nail polish, hair ties, and the boot he wore while his broken tibia healed.
“Jacob doesn’t tell us everything,” I said to Roy.
“So, he fell down the stairs at school. He’s clumsy,” Roy said.
My ex-soccer-player husband didn’t want to complain to the authorities. I didn’t want bullies to push him down stairs.
I lie back on his bed as Jacob used to, limbs splayed. The pillow is uneven. I stick my hand under, encounter a hunk of hair.
Two summers ago, Roy chased Jacob around the house and hacked off our son’s ponytails, leaving uneven straggles.
I pull my knees into my chest, curl into a fetal position. The emerald pillowcase emits the faint odor of hair gel.
Jacob drove here a week after he received his driver’s license, didn’t return. The police found my eighteen-year-old’s keys, phone, wallet, and a note. His—no, her—written words: “I can’t pretend to be male anymore.”
The officer on the case said, “Most likely, Jacob walked into the sea.”
Juan knocks on the door. His smile reveals gaps in nicotine-stained teeth.
“¿Señora? Why you not come see poor Dolo?” he asks.
“Dolo?” I untie the apron.
He ignores my question. “Whale come tell us she watch over our dead in sea. So, our duty to help her go back.”
I want to ask, “How do you know the whale’s a she?”
“We push and push and a tug boat pull her,” he says. “She in el mar now.”
I wrap my arms around the portly neighbor. His hands remain by his side.