It takes two decades for Frankie’s body to finally reach the sand. The tide pulls her out 14,010 times. She stays seated in the same position for three years, wondering if Grace is still with her. Wondering if her family of hermit crabs has forgotten about her yet.
She finally raises herself and walks back to the beach house without fanfare, or acknowledging Grace, or scraping the barnacles off of her eyelids. She passes her favorite seagull and doesn’t even say hello.
Grace follows her, eventually realizing that all the liquor is back in the house. At first she just walks, but after awhile Grace starts altering her steps to match Frankie’s trail in the sand. As she nears the house, waves splash over her feet making each indent more shallow and hard to follow.
While the sun sets, Frankie rolls a joint and puts the kettle on. Grace ascends to the back patio. When Frankie sees her she the kettle off the stove, and grabs a mug. With the joint dangling from her lips, she walks out to her studio, letting the door slam behind her.
It takes 3,557 brush strokes for Frankie to finish her painting of a semi-nude Ruth Bader Ginsberg stabbing Brett Kavanaugh with one of her own ribs. She spends three hours debating which artery Justice Ginsberg will go for, smokes two more joints, and finishes one wholesale container of gummy worms. The final drop of blood takes shape with an additional seven strokes. Frankie sits on the couch and wonders if she’d rather be in Santa Fe, but then she realizes that she isn’t sad about Jacob, she’s sad about Grace. Frustrated that the unspoken agreement between the two of them only seems to be important when she wants to try something new.
When Frankie reenters the house at three in the morning, she sees Grace asleep on the sofa next to a half empty fifth of Belvedere. Before heading to bed, Frankie pulls the afghan off the back of the couch and tucks Grace in.
Days roll into weeks, and it feels like they haven’t shared more than two words between them.
Grace remembers the last conversation exactly:
“Frankie, did you use the last of the milk to make Caker-Maché?”
Normally Grace would finish up such an exchange with something like: “Good. Because it doesn’t work, and it stinks up the house!”
And Frankie would retort something to the effect of: “I put it in my bong last week because we were out of Perrier and I was curious. Which reminds me, I need to clean out my bong.”
“You’ve been putting my Perrier in your bong?”
“It makes your lungs fizzy!”
Unfortunately whatever curiosity Grace has about where the milk disappeared goes unanswered. Later in the day, she opens the fridge and sees the milk right where she left it. In the back of her mind, she’d known it had been there all along. Things have been so dull lately that she was hoping Frankie would take the bait and come up with some crazy story to entertain them both for the afternoon.
One evening, Grace returns from a dinner with Nick, her husband, and sees Frankie, her partner, sitting on the floor eating spicy Thai soup and listening to Hildegard. After putting her leftovers in the refrigerator Grace announces her presence with a “Happy Sunday.”
“Thanks a lot Grace, now I need to start the Canticles of Ecstasy over again.” Frankie sets her soup down with a dramatic plunk. “You know how this works: I set out the crystals, burn some sage, and give thanks to the divine feminine while listening to the album uninterrupted. Start to finish. I was halfway through Ave…”
“Ave Maria, I know and I’m sorry. I was hoping we could...talk.”
The warm evening breeze covers the sunset with clouds, and droplets begin to land on the window.
“Oh, that’s perfect. You want to talk about how you’re abandoning me, or how you refuse to trust me?” Frankie takes a deep breath. “If this is about caker maché I’ll have you know I perfected that recipe in your absence. Along with a lot of other things!”
Before Grace replies, she bites her lip. Normally she’d ask Frankie to turn her music off—but they catch each other’s gaze for a moment and decide, for once, to let Hildegard bear witness to their disagreement.
“Nick asked me to move in with him.”
“Of course he did, you guys are newlyweds!”
“I said no.”
Frankie doesn’t know really what to say. Not one to wax poetic, she replies:
“What am I supposed to say to that?”
“I don’t know.” Grace thinks about how palpably uncomfortable dinner was. Nick’s been pestering her about moving in for awhile, and has continued to press the issue now that he’s noticed things have been tense between them. Grace rebuffs his offer with non answers. Finally, after barely touching her food, (and nearly half a bottle of red wine) she says no. Normally after something this momentous, she’d come home and Frankie would do something unexpected like insist they light sparklers on the beach. Force her to let the ocean come up to her ankles. Tell the first starfish they saw all about it. Grace knows that she deserves this bitterness.
The clouds rumble.
“How come we’re only partners when you want to be?”
Grace is quiet.
“You wouldn’t have asked permission anyway but didn’t even tell me. Why? Were you afraid I was going to fly you up in a hot air balloon?”
She stares at the floor, accepting her punishment.
“Well I wouldn’t have because I’ve been saving up for a kiddie pool’s worth of kinetic sand to see if it changes the consistency of the regular sand and it would’ve eaten too much of my money.”
“What, are you going to tell me that’s a stupid idea too?”
A loud crash of thunder startles Grace. Frankie sees it as the spirit amplifying her anger.
“How come nobody ever asks me what I want? I mean, really asks.”
“No you don’t, you’re always looking for the fastest way to shut me up then shut me down.”
“Frankie…” Grace wants to protest but she knows Frankie’s right. She’d be fighting a losing battle. Frankie ascends the stairs as Hildegard echoes:
Tu es etiam socia angelorum
Et civics sanctorum
Frankie slams her bedroom door and it shakes the entire house along with a clap of thunder.
Hildegard sings, Grace takes in the afternoon, then remembers the time Frankie translated each canticle for her despite her apathy.
“Flee the cave of the old betrayer,” she says, “and come into the king’s palace.”
Hildegard sings of God and Grace wonders if she just had temporal lobe epilepsy or some other ailment causing her to hallucinate.
Or some of Frankie’s peyote…
She chuckles. It then occurs to her that she, Grace Hanson, is the old betrayer. She is the darkness.
More thunder. It sends Grace to the couch without ceremony. Upstairs, Frankie pulls herself further under her comforter and hears titter of potato PikNiks hit the floor with the adjustment. She finds one hiding, and eats it before a strobe of lightning startles her. She wishes the spirit would calm down so she could get some rest. Sol always used to distract her during storms if they were at night. Now she was alone, chest tight with the air’s density.
Grace sits on the couch, her real face rising to the surface with waves of sweat and tears. The face she hides from Nick. She remembers the first time Frankie saw it.
“Grace, guess what!” Frankie bubbled over with excitement.
“Jesus Frankie, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning.”
“I had to get to the Screamin’ Bean before they sold out of my chocolate donut. Corporate finally got my complaint and they comped my coffee praise goddess.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I had them make you a flat white with nonfat milk.” Grace remembers exactly what happened next: Frankie left the coffee on her night table and went back downstairs. That was it. As though she wasn’t even aware that Grace was without her façade. After that day, it became much easier to walk around the house.
At that point she realizes what’s gutting her the most. Frankie sees her, the real her. Not just the Grace she allows everyone to see but the Grace that’s messy, complicated, and upset. Frankie’s probably the only person on the planet who knows that Grace is a whole person underneath all of that makeup and alcohol.
Grace had heard the sound of something hitting the floor earlier, but when she notices a clatter of pens hitting the ground after the latest lightning strike she decides to go upstairs.
As she climbs each step Grace counts the time between lighting and thunder, whispering each second under her breath. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. She reaches Frankie’s door and waits as the thunder passes to knock.
Frankie is under the covers wondering why her heart feels more broken than it’s ever felt. Each burst of lightning recalls her inevitable desolation. She doesn’t want to be alone but it appears that she never really has a choice in the matter.
Grace raises her knuckles.
“Frankie?” As much as it hurts, Frankie’s right. Grace rarely asks her what she wants. Still, there’s no answer. “Frankie, I’m sorry.”
“Do you want me to come in?”
Again, silence. Soon after, they’re both taken aback by more lightning. Frankie shrieks.
Grace opens the door slowly and walks over to Frankie’s bed, careful to avoid stepping on her collage of rainbow cereal glued together in the vague shape of Bobbie Gentry. She crawls in next to Frankie and they pull each other close, deciding to ride out the storm together.