Rule Number One Is That You Never
Turn Your Back On the Ocean
said the waitress at the Old Bath House restaurant after it happened, after my new bride and I had both ordered the Turkey Avocado Panini with salad, not fries because we were in California, after all, not Lubbock, and we’d noticed things were lighter, healthier here, and the waitress, an older lady, told the press all of this afterwards: “I could tell they were on their honeymoon because they both kept looking at their rings and holding hands. We get a lot of that here,” which was, as far as I can remember, probably ten, fifteen minutes before it happened; we were so young then—Samantha just twenty-three and ready to start med school, and me, twenty-six, still painting houses but going for my realtor’s license, soon, we kept saying, but Sam had us busy every minute with the wedding—and I remember after lunch we walked to the edge of the cliff, Lover’s Point, and stood arm in arm looking at the churning, gray water, and since it was the last day of the honeymoon, I said, “Sam, stand over there—let me take your picture,” and she was so pretty with her dark blonde hair curling from the sea salt and her little orange North Face jacket she’d bought just for the trip and her brown lace-up boots and to be funny she fanned her left hand over her chest to show off the wedding ring and I lifted my phone to take the shot and right then a giant wave rose from behind and swallowed her, sucked her down the twenty-foot cliff, and the next thing I knew I’d jumped in the roiling water, calling, “Sam! Sam! Over here!” which was apparently when the waitress at The Old Bath House saw us struggling in the cold water and called 911, but when I finally got to Sam and grabbed her hand, she slipped away and I shouted, “Hang on! Just hang on!” but the currents pulled her away, and I fought the water myself, gagging and thrashing, which was when, the waitress reported later, “a huge set a waves came up, one after the other, and then I saw her floating,” and when 911 finally came, they picked me up first and went farther to find Sam: her eyes were open but dark; they told me she had a chance, but I knew by the furious way they pounded on her chest, she was gone;
sometimes, still, when I order eggs and toast at Magnolia Café before work, I think about that waitress, wonder if she ever thinks of us, wonder what my wife Jen would do if she found out my secret, which is stuffed hard in my heart, bears too many strings for her and the kids to untangle, though I do worry they might someday Google and find the clips, “Couples’ Honeymoon Tragedy in Huge Tempest-Tossed Seas,” but they’d have to search hard to find the one remaining wedding photo of Sam and me buried in The Lubbock Journal—Sam with her yellow roses, lacy veil and curled bangs, me with my dark goatee, crooked bow tie and shy smile.
Anne Panning’s novel, Butter, was published in 2012 by Switchgrass Books. She has published two short story collections: The Price of Eggs and Super America, which won The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and was selected as a New York Times Editor's Choice. She has also published short fiction and nonfiction in places such as Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellingham Review, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, New Letters, The Florida Review, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, The Greensboro Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kalliope, Quarterly West, The Kenyon Review, Newsweek International, The Laurel Review, Five Points, River Teeth, The Hawaii Review, Cimarron Review, West Branch, Phoebe, Clockhouse Review, Thin Air Review, River Styx and Brevity (4x). Four of her essays have received notable citations in The Best American Essays series. She has also published poetry in 32 Poems, Hotel Amerika, Fugue, and Room Magazine. Her forthcoming memoir, Dragonfly Notes, will be published in 2018 by Stillhouse Press. Her next book project is a novel, All-You-Can-Eat, about a competitive food eater. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, Mark, and two children, Hudson and Lily, and teaches creative writing at SUNY-Brockport.