The Ones We're Meant to Find

The Ones We're Meant to Find

Joan He

For my mom, a sister in spirit.

And for Leigh. Thanks for loving Kasey most.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

—e. e. cummings

“maggie and milly and molly and may”


I WAKE ON MY FEET, wind tangled in my hair. The sand is cold beneath my arches and the tide is rising, white foam and gray water frothing around my ankles before fizzing through my toes.

My bare toes.

That alone wouldn’t be a problem. But I’m also in M.M.’s cargo pants, the softest pair in her moth-eaten closet. I wore them to bed last night, the same night, apparently, I sleepwalked to the shore. Again.


“Shit,” repeats a voice—monotone, compared to the waveforms rising from the sea before me. My sleep-soaked eyes swivel over my shoulder and spot U-me as she rolls through the morning mist enshrouding the beach. Her belted wheels leave behind triangles like paw prints. Her boxy head, perched atop a canister body, comes halfway up my thigh when she reaches my side. “Shit: fecal matter, noun; to expel feces from the body, verb; to deceive—”

“I locked the door.”

U-me switches gears at the declarative. “Strongly agree.”

“You hid the key in the house.”

“Strongly agree.”

The surf surges forward, forcing me back onto the beach. As I retreat, a glint on the ground snags my eye.

The house key, embedded like a shell in the gray sand.

I scoop it up. “Shit.”

The one-worder sends U-me down dictionary lane a second time. I barely hear her over the sea’s drone.

Every other sleep, I dream of swimming to the horizon and finding my sister at the edge of the world. She takes me by the hand and leads us home. Home means a city in the sky, sometimes. Or another island. Home could be here, for all I care, if she were with me. She’s not. I don’t know what separated us, just that waking up really sucks, especially when my body is hell-bent on miming the dreams no matter how many doors I lock. My solution? Turn dreams into reality. Find my sister, sooner preferably to later.

“Come on, love,” I say to U-me, turning my back to the tide. “Let’s try to beat the sun.”

I stalk up the beach. My shoulders still ache from the last trip inland, but recovery can wait. The first of my nighttime escapades never took me into the water. Today, I’m ankle-deep. Tomorrow? Finish Hubert today, and I won’t stick around to find out.

In fifty strides, I’m upon M.M.’s house. It sits daredevilishly close to the coastline, a squat little shack overlooking the ocean from atop a bed of rocks, half-sunken into the sand. Stuff’s everywhere. On the porch steps. The deck. Prized possessions, like M.M.’s fanny pack, must be stored above sand level. I tear the pack off the porch rail, then loop to the house side, where Hubert is lounging.

“Morning, Bert.” I shoulder the pack. “Feeling lucky today?”

No reply. Hubert’s not very chatty, which is fine by me. I make the small talk; he keeps me sane by existing.

You see, I’ve divided my time on this island into life-before-Hubert and life after. Life-before-Hubert … Joules, I hardly remember what I did to pass the days. Probably planting taro, fixing M.M.’s water pipes. Standard survival stuff.

Then I successfully completed my first journey inland and met Hubert. He was in pieces. Now he’s one propeller short of his normal self, and I have to say, I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Sure, bringing back his body almost broke mine, and a freaky situation involving his hull, some rope, and gravity nearly tourniqueted off my leg, but he’s relying on me and that gives me strength. I’m relying on him, too. I wish I could swim to my sister like I do in my dreams. The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.

“Just you wait, love,” I say to Hubert, nudging him with my foot. “You. Me. The sea. This evening.”

One propeller.

I won’t return without it.

U-me rolls over and together we set off inland. We outstrip the sounds of the sea and gulls, until it’s just the crunch of rock under U-me’s wheels, the squish of gray mud under my rubber clogs—compliments of M.M.—and foggy silence for kilometers on end. Eventually, the mud calcifies to shale. Pools of rainwater form little shallow, sterile ponds. Shrubs lean in the direction of the wind, their roots crawling like veins along the rock. This side of the island—shore side—is mostly flat in elevation. If not for the fog, you’d be able to see straight to the ridge. It bisects the island, a wall of stone that can’t be circumnavigated, only climbed.

In the shadow of the towering ridge face, I unzip my pack, remove the coil of nylon rope, and drape it around U-me’s neck. “You know what to do.”

“Strongly agree.” She rolls over the ridge’s crumbling base and up, shrinking to a speck. At the top, she sends the now-fastened rope back to me. All one hundred meters tumble down.

I catch the end and yank, checking that it’s secure before knotting it around my waist. I get as good a grip as I can around the slick nylon, breathe in, and push off the ground.

Foothold. Handhold. Repeat. The rising sun warms my shoulders as I hit the final stretch. I heave myself onto the narrow ridgetop, drenched beneath M.M.’s sweater, and catch my breath while surveying the land on the other side. Meadow-side. Grayscale like the rest of the island, trees growing in scraggly bunches. Brick mounds swell through the waist-high grass like tumors. I have yet to figure out what they are. Shrines, maybe. Very mossy, neglected shrines.

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