“Halibut Point” by Molly Dektar begins There was a young soldier sitting at the bar, in those digital-print fatigues. I love reading about soldiers. If there’s a soldier in the first sentence, I will keep reading. And the last line at the end of that short first paragraph is My last boyfriend taught me that, if you have all the signs of looking good, it doesn’t matter if you really do or not. That sentence tells me so much about the narrator. It’s lovely. As a reader, we know she’s had a boyfriend, that she listened to him, that she believed him when he told her this thing. Him saying that gave her some confidence and she needed it.
She goes on to write:
He said nothing. It was clear to me that he was going to die.
“You look awful,” I said.
And something I love about stories is when the characters immediately dive in to talking to one another. No introductions, no real back story. We’re in the conversation and even when few words are said, we can see them and hear them and get a feel for who they are just by the words they choose to use or not to use.
We went to the beach, to Halibut Point. We could hear the Atlantic but not see it—a black, rushing void. The water glided up to us, then foam tore along its edge. When he held my hand, he rubbed it gently with his fingers. We collapsed onto the sand. He was like two men, or aided by ghosts. His skin felt cold and the water felt hot and I was shaking my head like no, that can’t be right.
Every word in that paragraph has a purpose. Nothing is wasted. I especially love foam tore along its edge.
“You must have broken a lot of hearts,” I said.
“What?” he said. I had my head on his heartbeat, in a spot-on impression of a gesture of love.
“Leaving like this. Did you break your mama’s heart?”
“Sure, I’m breaking some hearts,” he said.
I think this dialogue is so sweet. I think spot-on impression of a gesture of love is perfect. And oftentimes when I see a soldier, I think the same thing. Did you break your mama’s heart?
He was feeling his neat haircut with his drunken hand. The sea gasped like a person with a new limp. I could have told him all my hopes and fears: a soldier is just like a priest.
A soldier is just like a priest, again. Perfect to me.
I thought, this boy never knew his dad either. It’s the way he held up his head—that’s why I went to talk to him, not the uniform.
“You’re doing it to break hearts,” I said, smiling, but he couldn’t see it. I was using my cell phone to illuminate the ground, and the dark flung itself from us like a centrifuge.
When she writes this boy never knew his dad either, we get that the narrator didn’t know her dad and we get that she is perceptive or projecting, all at once.
And the ending. I love the ending. I had the feeling when I reached the end of this story. The feeling I like to get when I reach the end of every story. The feeling that I’m sad it’s over, the feeling that I want to go back and read it again, the feeling of being surprised at how the author took me from the first line to the last without my even realizing I was kinda holding my breath in the way I always kinda hold my breath (even if not literally) when I’m reading something beautiful. The feeling. This story gives me the feeling. I love it, I love it, I love it. I read it years ago and still think about it. I love Dektar’s light hand, as well as the exploration of these complicated emotions and the simplicity of the story. Absolutely adore.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker, a house cat. She is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press). Every Kiss A War was a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She is the editor of WhiskeyPaper/WhiskeyPaper Press and lives in Kentucky with her husband and babies. Find more @LeesaCrossSmith.com and WhiskeyPaper.com.