Hector and the Sea

Issue 10 Editor’s Choice for Fiction

Hector was a man who looked like he owned a pit bull. A fiercely loyal animal, who padded by his side, and snapped and snarled at anyone he was asked to. Hector did not own a pit bull. He had wanted one, but Jenny wanted a big, fluffy dog with floppy ears. Hector, more than anything else, wanted Jenny to be happy. Jenny had a soft spot for shaggy, cute things, and the kind of knick-knacks that cashiers would give you an odd look for buying. She loved to love them, and Hector—the big, burly man that he was—often wondered where that left room for him. But for him, Jenny always had room. 

Rocky, Hector’s big, fluffy, floppy-eared dog, panted beside him as he made his way to the edge of the small island. Rocky’s collar jangled, and his tail wagged. Hector marveled at the amount of movement his dog carried within him, such a stark contrast to Hector’s newly settled stiffness. He was tired, always tired. Time moved slower without Jenny. Hector stood and Rocky sat, and together they watched the familiar tug and release of the ocean, the constant lapping of the waves as they met and collapsed against the shore. Hector bent and gave Rocky a few loving pats.  

“How you feelin’ today, buddy?” he asked in his roughened-leather voice. 

A warm bark answered him.  

“Don’t I know it, bud.” He sighed as he sat beside his dog. 

The man turned his head behind him, toward the archway of tangled white bark, reaching its arms from the sand. He remembers the day white fabric hung from its limbs and from his Jenny, the day they said their vows under the island’s embrace. Back then, he thought the archway was magical; it made him believe that perhaps Jenny was not the only divine thing in this world. It rained that day, and even the cold, harsh rain became beautiful. Now, the tangled bark looked more like bone, weathered and haunting. Empty. He turned back to the waves. 

After half an hour of staring at the waves, he rose to grab his fishing gear. Jenny used to call it his meditation, and though Hector never let himself outwardly agree, he knew that as usual, she was right. The fishing, too, was a kind of meditation for him. It was calm and practiced, needing just enough attention that he could relax without having enough room in his mind to think, again, of how much he missed Jenny. She always snuck her way in, though. In the end, he always had room for her. 

The week before, he had brought a large collection of Jenny’s knick-knacks to a flea market. It pained him to part with them, but even with all his enormous, bright-red love for her, he knew that the items were just items now; they were reminders of her, and he had plenty of those without each and every souvenir from their time together. He told himself he was being practical—clearing up space and making some spare change for the roof repairs—but in truth, he couldn’t bear to be punched backward in time with every look at his tabletops. The only thing he couldn’t pack in that cardboard box was her tea set. 

Jenny didn’t even like tea. But she was curating a full tea set from all the oddest, most broken-lipped, most unloved cups, saucers and sugar bowls she could find. Each item, she said, had to be from somewhere different. Each had to be perfect in their horrible imperfectness. She could never find the right fourth cup—her cup. Hector’s was, hilariously to him, a bubble-gum pink gnarly thing with bumpy edges, uneven glaze, and bubbly protrusions at every available surface. He could never decide if it was perfect because it was so opposite to him, or if Jenny truly did see him in a way no one else did. 

Hector left the tea set on the shelf that had become its home. It was unmovable now, an unbreakable memory in the face of unstoppable grief. He left Jenny’s saucer empty, never shaking the feeling that no cup would be enough for her, that no cup could hold her memory without spilling over. In this one last thing, he could not bring himself to disappoint her, and so the saucer sat, collected dust, collecting loneliness. 

All of this—this warm, wet, mass of memory—came to him while he fished. Usually, his mind was quieter; usually, he wouldn’t let his thoughts run this deep, this muddy, but today was different. Today he clutched at his heart, and tugged, and tugged to the rhythm of the waves before him. Today was his and Jenny’s anniversary, and the simple fact that today could’ve—should’ve—been happy, beautiful and bright, but instead was heavy and midnight-blue, made his mind a shifting and dangerous tangle. 

It was hard not to be angry with the world. Sadness was mostly easy now; it flowed constantly and steadily, and Hector could construct new things above it. Only the occasional tidal wave would flood him completely, and then slowly drain back down. Anger would boil all steadiness, send it into a bubbling frenzy that would take everything down. He looked at the waves, and at Rocky, and breathed, and imagined Jenny telling him he’d be okay. He wanted her to be happy, always, and it made her happy for him to be happy. If anything was holy and living on beyond this world, he could only believe it would be his kind, beautiful, lovely Jenny. And so, for her, he tried. 

Hector caught a few fish. He let them go. He watched Rocky dig up holes from the corner of his eye until the fishing became tiresome and his legs grew stiff. As he sat, Rocky joined him on his lap, tail swishing against the sand. Soon he was ready to head home, and with Rocky’s collar ringing behind him, he began to pack up his boat. “You really dug the place up, huh buddy?” 

Rocky panted absently beside him. Hector laughed quietly and bent down towards a cluster of shallow holes in the shore. He picked up a shining piece of sea glass, skinny, rounded, and curved. Almost like a half a heart, or a hook, or the handle of a perfectly imperfect teacup. Hector stared at it and laughed again, louder this time. He pulled a long, skinny branch from the archway behind him, pocketed the two items, and brought them home. He didn’t realize it until he saw a flash of himself in the mirror as he walked through the door, but he was smiling again. A soft, gentle smile, like the one he used to hold on his face whenever Jenny was with him. 

He ruffled through the box he brought home from the flea market (Jenny’s things, odd as they were, didn’t exactly sell well in the end) until he found a small glass jar full of scraps of many-colored sea glass. He headed out back, Rocky at his heels, to his now-dusty woodworking station. He was out of practice at the craft, but he knew that was for the better. He worked, and he smiled, and his mind was steady and clear.  

When he finished, he stared at it for a long time. He showed Rocky the mangled, misshapen teacup: an entirely unpractical wooden cup inlaid with mismatched sea glass, a fragile sea glass handle, and a rim of sanded white wood from the archway. It was ugly—very ugly—and would need sealant for it to have even a chance at holding tea, but it was perfect. Hector knew it, and Rocky barked in agreement. For the third time that day, and maybe the fifth time that month, Hector laughed. 

He went back inside and marveled at the tea set in front of him. With as much purpose as his tired arms could muster, he gently placed the new, final, glorious cup onto its cracked saucer. He felt tears brim in his eyes, and just as he was sure they were going to fall, he heard the light patter of rain begin to fall outside. Cold, harsh rain, he knew. And still, Hector looked outside, and he thought the rain was beautiful.