Tether in hand and eyes forward, Jonathan angled his heels into the horse’s flanks, and she began to move.
It’s what she wants.
Hot tears dripped down his cheeks, fell from his chin. He was glad the three of them were alone. Just him, the seal mare, and Joceyln, all quieter than churchmice.
The salty waves splashed up the meet his ankles, their aroma stinging his nostrils, and the horse—her favorite—slowed, questioning.
“We have to, girl. It’s what she wants.” He didn’t want it. How could he possibly go through with it?
As he urged the animal forward further, the sun revealing itself over the eastern horizon, he put his head down and pulled the brim of his hat down, protecting his eyes.
The thrum of the sea, soothing in its way, pulled them out until his boots were submerged and the burden behind him came along easily.
Tying the tether to the roughened saddlehorn, he unbuttoned his front pocket and pulled out his red plastic lighter. He looked at the bundle of kindling secured to the front of the saddle, felt the hardness of his knife pressing against the outside of his thigh. I can’t do it. Forgive me, Jocelyn. I can’t do it. If I … I can’t.
As he returned the lighter to his pocket, he heard the slam of a car door.
His breathing quickened, and his heart, slow and reluctant a moment before, jumped in his chest.
Over the crash of the waves, he heard the voice of a young woman struggling to be heard. “Jonathan! You can’t! Come back! Please!”
He kicked the horse, and it took five more steps before stopping, the waves now licking its broad chest and his own knees.
The burden floated up next to them, and the sharp odor of fuel fought with the ocean’s tang. Jocelyn spoke, her voice a bare whisper, but somehow he heard her above the tumult of the ocean, above the cry of her younger sister. “You must, love. It’s time.”
“But I …” The words came out as sobs.
He could never say no to her. It’s what she wants.
He forced his gaze into the small aluminum boat next to him as it bumped his thigh. Joceyln was there, curled on her side in a ball between the seats. Her cheeks were gray and sunken to the point of sharpness, but he remembered the bright blue eyes, the full lips that melted when he kissed her, the skin like velvet.
“Please.” Her voice a cracked whisper.
His throat closed against his reply, but he nodded and reached again for his lighter, the kindling.
Shannon’s screams turned strident. It didn’t matter. It was too late.
“I love you, Joss.”
Jonathan dropped the bundle of burning kindling onto his wife’s gasoline-soaked nightdress.
He cut the rope in one swift motion and kicked the boat out to sea. Tears blinded him as he watched.
It’s what she wanted.
“What She Wanted” © 2017 J. Elizabeth Vincent
*This story was inspired by the photo shown at the top of the page and written for a mini contest featuring this photo prompt.