Text writes them on the beach collecting sea glass from black sand. The sand encases her toes like a cast until she lifts her foot once again and the mud falls off, mixed with fragments of glass, brown and green, tumbled by the ocean. She picks them from the dark sand and puts them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.
Agency is tall and broad-shouldered, but with a somber and serious demeanor, like a line-backer in mourning. His brown eyebrows knit together in concern.
They met in the grocery store—Toddy’s Market—in the toothpaste section, scoping out their options in dental health—Aim with fluoride, Crest with baking soda, Tom’s with nature. Text tossed a tube of Crest into her basket and stole a look at the man standing next to her. His dark hairline met his skin at the soft place at his temple. He wore a black shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. He stood out in the grocery store, with its fluorescent lights and rubber tile floor and when he looked her way, Text smiled at him. He smiled back.
A few minutes later, they ran into each other near the make-up-and-Band-Aid aisle.
“Do I know you?” he asked. He held a box of Band-Aids.
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay,” he said. “I thought I did.”
Text didn’t know what else to say, so she turned back to the nail polish display. She figured he would walk away then, but something made her turn back and see him standing there.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I swear I know you.”
“Pretty sure,” she said, but then suddenly, she realized she knew him after all and she felt herself scooped from the ocean and held up to the sunlight. He smiled at her and she smiled back before dropping the first bottle of nail polish she saw into her basket and walking away. Purple, the color may have been, or even green.
When she turned the corner of the aisle, however, the man had gone.
Text ran into him at Toddy’s Market again later, near the orange juice. Agency bought “no pulp,” which Text noted and preserved for later. He also didn’t say anything further about how memorable she was. He just put his no-pulp orange juice into his basket and shuffled away, as if he didn’t recognize her at all.
Later, Text found herself in the checkout line behind him. She inventoried his purchases: Brown free-range eggs, pork ribs, strawberries, no-pulp calcium-fortified orange juice, and Crest Whitening toothpaste. Eclectic. Full of contradictions. She wrote it all down. Writing it down became a habit.
He shopped at seven o’clock every few evenings and once she realized this, Text adjusted her schedule accordingly. He bought sunscreen in the summer. He bought Campbell’s soup and Irish Spring soap on cold winter nights. He bought Ajax tub scrub, canned tuna, and chicken breasts. Twice a month, Agency bought a case of Iams dog food. He bought ant killer. He also bought beer on a few occasions—Rolling Rock, which indicated simple and tepid tastes, entirely in keeping with his pattern of purchases of Cheerios and an occasional container of store-brand vanilla ice cream.
She wrote it all down.
She also wrote about the day they once spoke as he barreled past her, practically running that day, carrying a basket filled with green and red peppers, onions, steaks, and whipped cream in one hand, and a bouquet of cut flowers in the other. This time, he smiled at her again.
Her heart skipped.
“Good luck,” she said after she inventoried his basket.
He nodded and hurried into a checkout lane.
Text imagined Agency sautéing the peppers and steaks, pouring the wine, but all the while in the back of his mind, he would maybe think of Text, the small brunette with a spray of freckles across her nose like so many grains of sand. Someone he had met only on a few occasions before, someone whose path he had just crossed, but who might, later on down the road, change his life forever.
In the space of her apartment—a small space, recently painted fuchsia—Text sits on the floor with her legs thrust under the coffee table. On the table, she has spilled out the collection of sea glass rescued from the waves and now she sorts the pieces, extricates them from clumps of dried sand and brushes them clean with her fingertips. She feels their realness, the ridges smooth, the fine layer of sand, which is made of still smaller shells crushed and tumbled together in the ocean. Text knows there is an answer in this, a message, but instead, she can only stare at her now-sandy coffee table and gaze at the pattern made by this new and random collection of shells and sea glass.
Text sees him running down the street with his big white dog who eats Iams. He runs across the grass of a park and across the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lives, past twisted trees that gnarl at the low hung sky and scrape it with their fingers.
Agency’s hand is a warm, callus-covered paw over her own. Text wears a pale pink skirt and her hair falls like a single parenthesis down her back. The air is heavy with salt.
Text writes his arm around her waist. She writes her face pressed against his cotton shirt. She writes their drive home in his blue Ford with the leather seats that bounce. She writes his lips on her forehead, warm and salty, across her sea-tangled hair, and across her eyelids. She hears his heart beat. She breathes his oxygen.
Text writes their life together. They watch American Idol on TV and eat McDonald’s and shop at Palais Royale which does, and always will, remind Text of that song by the Kinks, and they will take their own walks on the beach, but these will include beer and naked sex and there will be no sea glass for them. Text writes them getting married in a little church in East Texas and the preacher will spit out a sermon about the grace of God and fate and love and commitment. She writes their children plump and fat and sees Agency with his eyebrows concerned for a bit once again as his daughter totters into her first walk, her arms outstretched.
He will tell her she his beautiful.
Text has lost Agency, but she sees him from time to time.
In the grocery store, he walks past. He smells like beer and stale cigarettes and only sometimes, Text wonders why she never noticed that before. Why she never noticed how he doesn’t walk with his head tall, but rather scuffs his worn tennis shoes. He wears t-shirts and buys food. He lives, he breathes. He never visits the ocean or walks on the beach or picks up sea glass. He stays home. He plays Modern Warfare on his Xbox. He may or may not be married. He may or may not drive a truck. He may or may not have kids. Only once since then, he has met her eyes, over by the milk in Toddy’s Market. Text grabbed a carton of skim milk and he, a gallon of whole, and she looked up to see him standing there.
His eyes were green.
The color of sea glass.