Nine Months after Joyce Rose, Aged 67 and Expected to Die from Cancer, Moved to the Seashore to Make One Last Attempt to Write the Good Novel

Mornings usually meant sipping unsweetened iced coffee on the porch of the abandoned bungalow and watching the Immortal Beast grope with its tentacles along the beach. They squirmed blindly and snatched at living things: crabs and snakes and clams. Sometimes, mornings meant scavenger hunts in a ghost town grocery store for imperishables.

But this morning, back hurting and hands itching, she planted herself where grass gave way to sand with her 153 accumulated pages. She waited for a gray-green tentacle to slither up from the water. It made a squishing noise as it raked the shore.

She looked down at her pages, failed little children who would never move out of their mother’s home. But now that she was here, at the limit of the Beast’s reach, nothing in her mind’s eye seemed satisfactory. Setting them under a rock and leaving a tidy Aztec sacrifice. Sailing paper airplanes down to the water’s edge. Tucking the pile into her armpit and walking into the sea. It all seemed trite and melodramatic. Perhaps that had been her problem all along.

The sheriff came by about an hour later, sporting Aviators, Bermuda shorts, a stained T-shirt, and a bathrobe with a gold six-pointed star pinned to his chest. He had a bottle of Jim Beam.

“Well, aren’t you feeling brave today,” he said.

“If you say so,” she said.

“Mind if I sit with you for a little bit?” He kicked off his sneakers when she didn’t say no.

“You ever wonder what the big bastard does with the stuff he snatches?” the sheriff said a few minutes later.

“Eats, I suppose,” she said.

“I thought so, too, for a long time. But I’ve been thinking for a while now: What use is eating to something that’ll live forever?”

A fair point, one she hadn’t considered. She coughed a little blood into her fist and wiped her hand on the top page.

“Are you going to kill yourself?” he said.

“Honestly,” she said. “I’ve thought about it.”

“I really hope you don’t.”

He clutched her hand, the one she’d just coughed into. She felt his blisters against her palm. She imagined it made him feel useful to hold her. Maybe now he envisioned the tentacle wrapped around her leg. Maybe he saw himself bearhugging her and pulling back, fighting and digging his heels into earth, wishing to have brought his weapon for once. Not that he expected to hurt an opponent that couldn’t die, but that made it all the more important to fight, because the big bastard could have whatever he wanted any other day, but not her, not today.

She squeezed his hand back, imagining him imagining it.