Wasn't One Ocean
by J.R. Carpenter

WE WERE GIRLS together. The same hard pebbles bruised our running feet, on beaches and on driveways; the same trees gave us shelter. We ran together, in the same backyards, the same fallow fields of tall grasses. We swam together, you and I, in the salt waters of the Atlantic. We had the same ocean under our skin.

Except, it wasn't like that really.

We were not raised, except by ourselves; not loved much, except by each other. We learned to drive on the same cracked roads. We hated school together. People would ask us if we were anorexic, as if we were a unit, because we were so thin. We were thin like shale. Yes, we were brittle, but we were sharp and we were hard. And I thought that was a good thing. I thought that, in the right hands, a thin piece of shale could skip across the surface of the water for a long long time before it sank.

HOW MANY TIMES did we sing, as school children: "Farewell to Nova Scotia, your sea-bound coast, let your mountains dark and dreary be." I knew neither one of us would stay in Nova Scotia, but, when we moved to Montréal together after high school, I never thought that either one of us ever would leave. The city, or each other.

It took me years to notice that you didn't love Montréal the way I did. You never made many friends here the way I did. But then, you never lost friends here the way I did either. When you said you wanted to move to Vancouver I thought: Wasn't one ocean enough for you? At the time, neither one of us knew that no two oceans are alike.

Now you are far away on the briny ocean toss-a far ocean that I've never swum in. I know you never heave a sigh and a wish for me.

Where you are, you're not gone.

YOU TOLD ME once that memory stored in the back is like carrying stones. I used to rub your neck for you, when your arms were so sore that you could not play piano. I asked you to walk on my back once, and even the full weight of you could not undo the tension.

I thought that we had the same memories, because we had such similar collections of stones. Rocks from the same places piled up in our apartments: little pieces of Evangeline Beach and Rissers Beach, Cape Blomidon and Amethyst Cove.

It took me years to notice. It wasn't just Montréal; it was also me. You had to leave.

IN NOVA SCOTIA, lichens grow on stooped shoulders of stubborn grey rock. So slowly.

What if we could have just stayed put. Sometimes I imagine that we are back where we started, together, on a wide-open sun-windy beach of the Atlantic. Would we have flourished? What if we, like lichen, had had a stable surface on which to grow?

I used to think that love was just a stone's throw away, but that was because I wanted to think of myself as a stone, warm in your hand. I never thought about how many other stones there are. I never thought that, if I was sharp like shale, I might be hurting the hand that held me.

I never thought about what it would be like to be thrown.

I wonder: If love is just a stone's throw away, will I wind up one day, tossed into the briny ocean? I wonder which ocean.

J.R. Carpenter is a visual artist, poet and fiction writer originally from Nova Scotia, now living in Montreal. Her short fiction has been published in Blood & Aphorisms, Postscript and the Knight Literary Journal. She is a winner of the CBC/QWF Quebec Short Story Competition, 2003. Her writing and web art projects can be found at