Baptism

She didn’t know there was a man in the lighthouse. When she peeled off her white halter, wiggled out of a denim mini, and slipped flat, straw sandals from her feet, Kylie Stevens didn’t know she was being watched. The descent to shore was long and familiar. Her heels and toes slid along the steep sand drifts, leaving behind broad grooves instead of scattered footprints.

It was by those wide swaths that the watchman led two coroners down the beach hours later. And it was from that shore that four local news affiliates interviewed them  the next morning, crediting them with finding the body of former child star, Kylie Stevens. Her trademark blonde tresses were splayed and limp like wheat after rain. Seaweed tangled itself around her neck and ankles. The more highbrow reporters referenced Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. The more sensational ones spared cultural reference in favor of overblown coroner’s photos and jarring headlines like, “Once-Beloved Star Takes Own Life.” The watchman was on record as saying it was a “definite suicide,” because he’d seen her with his own two eyes, and she walked straight out there, naked, like she was sure she could walk on water, and no matter how high the waves rose around her, she kept on, not even bothering to swim. She just… walked until she was under. When he saw that she wasn’t bobbing back to the surface, that she wasn’t kicking or splashing or flailing, he rushed down the beach, stumbling the whole way. He dove in, but there was no light. He groped the circumference of water around him and came up empty. He would not see her again until he returned to the lighthouse.

But what none of the people gathered at the ocean that day could have guessed was how fiercely she had, in fact, struggled. They couldn’t have known how salvageable a bad life appears as one’s losing it or the mystic despair that rises behind the breasts in those overlong minutes before the lungs decide to burst. She’d walked in of her own will, just as the watchman said. But in the time it took him to tumble down from his vantage, no one was there to see her but the spirits she’d only half-believed real, those unseen devils and angels that scholars labor to disprove and theologians insist are there, dispatched by heaven or hell to engage in a celestial tug-of-war for men’s souls. Kylie herself had nodded through many a sermon declaring the existence of unseen forces, but her agreement was superficial, never taking root between benedictions and wholly informed by her arduous, clumsy infatuation with the married man preaching these sermons.

That was years ago. An uncrossable chasm had widened between her and those flowery beliefs since then. She wanted no more of the fear that accompanied those churchy convictions. Nothing was out there, battling for her soul. She’d been certain enough of that to walk under the waves and sit cross-legged in the shallows and her confidence strengthened as she sat there, eyes closed, mind crystalline. There were few things so simple as suicide, a quiet passage into the larger nothing. She’d watched enough of herself. It was time to tune out. “This is what happens when you never emerge from baptism,” she thought. “This is how it is when they push you under and just… let you go.”

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