Sometimes, when it’s late at night, I get the bright idea to stash my clothes behind an oleander and go swimming in the ocean. The ocean is beautiful late at night, and all the stars crowd together to see. I imagine all the creatures of the ocean swimming with me: fantastical sailfish, ribboning eel, softskulled squid dancing their deep-sea dance. Eyes shut fast, a dark upon another dark, I remember the time I got stung by a jellyfish when I was ten. The inner part of my left thigh burned a bloodshot red, and a long scarlet mark like the cast of a whip stood in raw relief on my skin. When nothing would stem the pain—no ointments, no ice, no Orange Crush siphoned through a straw—I did the only thing I felt I could: I peed on the inner part of my left thigh. It wasn’t the first time I wished I was a boy and it probably wasn’t the last. But after the logistical difficulties were over, I slowly began to feel a cooling sensation spread across my thigh. Little by little, the pain gave way and a mild, tingling feeling crawled in its place. I emerged from the bushes triumphant, tranquilized. When mom and dad asked what did it, I decided to keep my secret to myself. Perseverance, I might have said. A deliberate application of mind over matter.
The ocean has a special glow to it at night. It’s not like the glow of the ocean at day, with its layered bands of glows, the strata of blues that stretch away into the horizon like a Lowe’s paint color chart. It’s not like that but all one color, a black so dark it flickers, something all-consuming, something vaguely sexual, something immense. I get up from my desk in the motel bedroom with the Bible chained to the lamp, and I slip out the window because the motel owner’s beady eyes give me the creeps. If the bike is still there leaned against the fatlipped aloe plant I take it across the parking lot and pedal past the plastic bags ghosting by like tumbleweeds. Some people think the shopping outlets lining coastal Florida are a crime against ecology, a sight they’re only willing to put up with in exchange for public beach access and the World’s Whitest Sands For 10 Years Running. But to me they’re just part of the landscape; artifacts of human industriousness and willful attempts to eke out a sincere and more or less stable happiness. In twenty minutes I’m past them and onto the darkened beach landing. I shimmy out of my dress. The dark water cups me in its palm like a coin.
Rick called again yesterday and I told him to stop looking for me.
“I can’t run away from you if you’re constantly calling me,” I told him.
“I’ll come find you,” he said.
“No you won’t. That’s the point of disappearing.”
“I’m serious, Louanne. Don’t test me.”
“How will you find me?”
“Got your 20 already, babe. You’re cornered.”
“Called GPS, what it’s called, babe.”
I hung up. I refilled my glass from the Franzia in the cooler. I got an image of him tearing through the door with a jackknife and a demented stupor in his eyes, and for a second I got the shivers. But then I remembered that Rick was likely oozing into the La-Z-Boy at the moment. I used to think Rick was the best available prospect, what I would go for as a kind of recouped opportunity cost for having no one else around. He was agreeable because he mostly was away on the Ocala-Winston Salem Panamerican Foods route. Then I found out that Rick was caught up in a Red Bull Ponzi scheme that got the attention of the FBI a while back, and now he was laying low for a bit. I overheard this on the phone one night. I was in the bedroom, nursing a box of Franzia. It was the night I discovered you could lie perfectly still on the floor next to the air duct and catch a play-by-play of any conversation that happened over the landline, owing to the landline’s being superglued onto the shelf in the living room, beside the La-Z-Boy. Considering the accidental nature of the discovery, I didn’t think it technically counted as eavesdropping.
Rick didn’t agree with me. He pulled me up by my ear and threw me onto the bed. “You know what the fuck you’re doing?” he demanded. Rick has a dirty-blond Clay Matthews mop, pulled back into a bulbous pony tail. He gave my cheeks a talking to and then I heard the bedroom door close and the lock groan, then hush. The time before, he lasted a full three days on the other side of that door before he got tired of not fucking me. But I was no fool. I won’t pretend like I didn’t know Rick was hopping the fence into the trailer park at night and seeing all those Margaritas with tattoos of beer bottles on their thighs. I can’t say I tried to stop him. Love is a strange thing. Love is like a rescue dog that cowers at your feet when you don’t want its attention. Love is an eighteen-wheeler careening over the Smokys, late summer, dead of midnight, when all the invisible pines snore in the pitch black. Except there’s no one at the wheel. And the pines are a long black ocean and the snoring is the silence of a thousand hidden fish. I don’t know if you follow me.
I had decided I didn’t love him anymore, though, and luckily there were pliers. They were moored against a Berry Blend Skoal on the dresser. With one swift jab the window gave. The metal screen, like a second grated window, the kind you see at prisons or at schools, put up a bigger fight. Rick was still M.I.A. a couple hours later when I’d forced a big enough hole to crawl through. I fell to the ground with a thud. The Ocala grass was warm and dewy on my skin. The Florida night, embalmed in a loose fragrant breeze. I took a last look at the double-wide, its two screened-in windows, one punctured, one still in tact, winking at me. Or weeping. The banyan grove hummed. I started walking west. I had a ghost to find.
-Some general guidelines for disappearing yourself-
1) Do not shower without sandals.
2) Do not call your editor at the “St. Petersburg Sun.”
3) Clutch the obit in your palm, its pungent newsprint musk.
4) By the time it gets light out, hitch a ride to Celebration.
5) Get off at the bus depot to Disneyworld.
6) Note with a wistful glooming of the brow the kids in their Mickey Mouse caps bearhugging the school bus.
7) Forget to be sad that you never had children.
8) Ride all the rides until the last booth shuts down.
9) Hop a Greyhound to Sarasota and sleep against the windowpane.
10) Wake up among the homeless men in their aviary of pigeon shit.
11) Barter for clothes at the non-profit shelter.
12) Don’t ask for directions—they’ll know what you’re up to.
13) If your editor who consistently misuses air quotes happens to leave you a “message” on your “cell phone,” neglect to charge your “cell phone” until it “runs out.”
14) When the beady-eyed motel owner doesn’t look you in the eye, assume it is because he is frail and taciturn by nature.
15) When in public, do not run your finger over your talismanic starfish.
16) Keep the starfish in your pocket, where it belongs.
17) Sleep in the room with the chafing wallpaper.
18) Do not answer phones.
19) Do not make conspicuous teas.
20) Do not tell them you are “here on vacation.”
21) Don’t answer especially landlines, as they can be traced.
22) Call your editor from a payphone; tell her about your “lead” on the “Turtle Beach rapist.”
23) No, you haven’t gone off the deep end again.
24) No, there is no need to call the authorities.
25) Yes, you’ll have her a draft by week’s end. No, you are not lying through your teeth this time.
26) Hang up.
27) Do not cage a smoke from the guy with the honky-tonk gums, Bi-Rite corner bus stop, late afternoon, sun bespritzing the parking lot with the mirages of broken liquor bottles like flecks of Ponce de Leon’s gold—
28) Be womanly, be aloof.
29) Present yourself as the cold exotic suicidal vixen you suspect yourself in reality to be.
30) Inhabit this persona at every opportunity whether in public or before bathroom mirrors.
31) Note through the fisheyed pane of your binoculars that the girl who gets out of the shakti-red Civic looks every bit to be as beautiful as you’d imagined.
32) Don’t cry. They’ll know.
33) Establish boundaries with prospective men of interest.
34) Don’t hold their hands.
35) Be womanly, be aloof.
36) In the end, if you do hold their hands, make no outward appearance of enjoying it. Make no pretense to yourself regarding enjoyment.
37) In sum: Do not enjoy it.
38) Under no circumstance should you return your editor’s calls.
39) Don’t spend $12 on crappy knockoff sangria.
40) Don’t wake up with night terrors in the moonlight.
41) Strip off your clothes and go swimming in the ocean.
42) Make your body heavy; sink into the dark ocean’s belly.
43) Remember that you cannot stay there forever.
44) Slowly come back.
45) Now slowly come back.
46) Come back to the shore.
47) Are you there?
Rick said if he ever caught up with me he’d drive a stake into my eyeball and then into my throat, in that order. I usually don’t take Rick’s threats lightly.
“Well, Louanne,” came his voice through the deprecated landline.
“I don’t know where you got this number, but you’re clearly hallucinating,” I objected. “This isn’t the Louanne you’re thinking of.”
“You can’t just disappear yourself like that,” he said. “Not that easy, Lou.”
“Besides, how do you know where I am?”
“Cause you always pick up.”
It was true: every day, for nearly all of my 14+ tenure here. Every time that beige-colored hunk of plastic intervened to contradict the silence of my vitiated motel room, I found my hand reaching for its oblong shape, drawn to the deadly possibility of what might be waiting on the other end. And yet despite my willing it otherwise, each day I found the same voice on the other end. Now it took on a deflated drawl.
“Why’d you have to run off like that?” came the drawl.
I did that thing where I hang on the line and count my breaths.
“You’re not right for me, Rick. I’m not sure you ever have been.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.”
“You’re seein another man.”
I thought about that. I guessed I kind of was.
“Now you just git yourself on home now, babe.”
“You’ll never need to disappear yourself again.”
“If you’re so convinced of where I am, why don’t you come and get me?”
A chilling silence crept through the line.
After what seemed like an interminable pause the voice came back. “You have a nice day now, Louanne.”
I heard the line go dead, as only landlines can.
Late at night. I dried off and made my way back to the street, back to my bike, back to the empty road to the motel. As I pedaled into the parking lot, I saw the owner standing there alone with his arms slack at his sides, head craned back like a Pez dispenser, mouth open at the night sky. Immediately I jerked the bike the other way. I smashed headlong into a mailbox.
From the ground, the sky stretched in all directions: a wash of booger-green light pollution and the speckled space snot of stars.
“Number 166,” I heard the owner’s voice say.
I pretended to examine some cuts on my knees. Upon further review it turned out my knees were indeed cut and indeed bleeding liberally.
He came forward, not saying anything, and produced a packet of tissues from somewhere. Before I could protest he was quietly dressing the wound.
“Do you always carry gauze around, just in case?” I importuned, if that’s the word.
His look was dubious. “In case?” On second thought there was nothing importunate about it.
“In case a beautiful woman crashes into a mailbox?”
“You’d be the first,” he said.
“Don’t be so offended.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Well thanks,” I offered.
The owner has extremely beady eyes and they’re set between his extremely narrow cheeks, behind a pair of thin-rimmed glasses.
“You have a name or something?”
He thought about that. “Rolf,” he said at last.
“I’m the beautiful woman who crashed into your mailbox.”
“Number 166,” he said.
“Louanne,” I corrected him.
“Louanne,” he said, rolling the word around in his mouth. “Pretty.”
“Help me up, why don’t you.”
He did. Blood trickled in gentle spiderwebs down my shins.
“We should clean that,” he said.
Inside, I saw he lived in a penitent little cubby that fit a cot and a one-eyed burner for a stove. A sullen microwave rounded out the offerings. He sat me down on the cot while he retrieved a stool. He filled a dish with cider vinegar and daubed a sponge around in it like bread in olive oil. He applied it to my knee. I was rubbing the starfish in my pocket against my palm. I asked him where he was from.
“Topeka,” he said.
“As in Topeka Kansas?”
“Is there another?”
“You’re right. Although maybe you’re wrong. I wouldn’t know.”
“It’s a dump.”
“Maybe it’s a dump just where you grew up.”
“Does this hurt?”
“Is the pope Catholic?”
“I’m not religious.”
We sat there in silence for a while, him daubing my knee with vinegar, me daubing my fear that he would jump me at any moment with a kind of rash universal positivism. I like to think the best of people.
To my surprise it was him who broke the silence. “Are you uh, fundamentalist or something?”
I must have been craving company, because I replied with a “No, but I am into spirits”. His beady eyes spun like compasses at that. He divulged an interested “Well”.
“I look for them,” I clarified. “It’s a hobby.”
“Like ghosts and stuff,” he proposed.
“Yeah, like ghosts and stuff.”
“I’m not crazy, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a columnist.”
He looked away superquick and narrowed his brow back to the daubing. I saw that he was just rubbing mindlessly in a circle. He asked if there was a ghost here or something.
“Not that I know of,” I said. “But I have reason to believe there’s one nearby.”
“What kind of reason?” He was really very curious.
“Enough of one.”
“Are you afraid of ghosts or something?”
“I never met one.”
“I doubt that. You just didn’t know to look.”
He stopped rubbing for a moment and stared absently out his one corner window.
“Now I’ve gone and put my foot in my mouth,” I said to no one in particular.
“From this angle, that would be hard to do,” he replied.
The little windowpane ached against the clawing of the wind. He was really staring a hole into that window.
“You shouldn’t be going out at night like this,” Rolf said after that. I laughed. He looked hurt. “You don’t watch the news, do you.”
“I work at a newspaper,” I replied.
He stared dreamily into the dark window. “They’re calling him the Turtle Beach rapist…one of those suburban horror stories.” He went on. “Five or six victims so far. Some so bad they can’t speak.”
“We’ve all heard that story before,” I averred. “A rash of rapes breaks out in a gated community, and in a several week period you hear about five or so different housewives come forward with grisly stories of a hooded man breaking and entering in broad daylight, enacting the same twisted fantasy, leaving the same fetishized lingerie behind.”
“They say he hangs them up from the ceiling.”
After initially throwing a fit, my cut seemed to have seethed over into a kind of blood meringue. I neglected to tell Rolf that my putative alibi for shacking up at his “establishment” involved following this very same Turtle Beach rapist, or whatever he was called.
“You shouldn’t be going out this late,” he concluded.
“You’re right. It’s pretty late,” I concurred.
He spun his erratic gaze away from me. I was thinking about the last time I saw Lawrence Tabers, in mid-plunge, upside down, knuckles white against the steering wheel, moments before the icy water broke through.
About that: about the time that semester. Let’s get out of here, he said. How I packed the back and went. And how for weeks or for lifetimes later it was just me and him along the bearhugging highway. In the car we sometimes talked. We stopped at bars sometimes and he bought me whiskey gingers. I remember a filling station and a rocky strand. I’ve always felt an affinity with the ocean.
Well okay so I took it a little too far maybe. So maybe I did. Well have you ever been in love? I mean not lifelong love, but impulse love? The kind that comes out of nowhere. As in whiplash-style. As in jellyfish-like. Like that.
We disappeared. I wrote a letter to the authorities and I told them not to look for me. I told them, “please do not look for me.” I was very explicit. I think that’s when L started to freak out, when he saw that. And in the paper and all. We were somewhere in Maine. But I was a very thorough person back then. I contacted the university rector at the women’s college. I told her not to worry, that I would be back to finish my term. I contacted the mother superior. They all told me the same thing. That God reserved a special place in hell, etc. I don’t think they knew. About impulse love, I mean.
The whole country’s looking for you, L said, and he recited Hail Marys into a pair of ice cubes. I watched him reach for the glimmering bottle. Little flakes of gold floating in it. We saw all kinds of things. New Hampshire, the pines, all of that. As far south as Nashville, even. You’ve never seen something like Nashville. All around that city the land is hills, the whole thing ringed with them. You cross through Leiper’s Fork, you stop at the Battle of Franklin memorial maybe, and the hills sprout out of nowhere. Hills, hills, hills. Hills and basins, alternating like that. Then you get outside the county limits and after that the land just falls on its face. It’s the strangest and the most uprooting thing, that city rolled on a quilt of green. Who thought to put a city between all that hill?
But I’m not naïve, you know—it was a tryst, okay, it was nothing more, fine. The guardrail sliced by. The New England coastline heaved.
We can run away forever, I went. He stared into the dashboard.
At the roadside bar the lights were cool and inviting. He tore at a leg of chicken, then stabbed his pockets for quarters. Hey, aren’t you…? said the barkeep. No, I’m not, he said, visibly sweating. I was worried, I’ll admit. His whiskey trembled all the way to his lips.
I’ll get a job as a waitress, I said. You’re fucking crazy, he went.
So I took it too far. There, I said it.
Well you know how impulse love is. You keep trying to make it right. The further and further it strays from that ideal, you thrash and flail to right it again.
The house was all crystalful. A glittery mansion on a cliff. Well you can imagine. The kind of party where the guests have fatwas on their heads! I giggled all the way up the hill. This was a mistake, he said. We fumbled with our centers of gravity. Liquor-gold stuck between our teeth.
...Did I take it too far? I took it too far, didn’t I.
Warm gin in the belly, a nine-piece band, the verandah and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, the pines lining the cliff, the moon above the verandah, the waves clapping the strand reminiscent of a seminal German Romantic painting, the house a balmy glitter-lit pageant, the dirt road curlicued around the hill like a Russian onion dome, exactly like that, exactly as you’re imagining it… ,
Well you know how it is. You stray and you stray. Little by little it all gets chipped away right under your nose—little by little until you see the mess it’s left for you.
All of what, you ask?
I don’t know. All of it.
Day 16. What disquiet assaulteth the heron, posed on its sybaritic branch? I asked this question through the myopia of my binoculars. The rooftop of the Mermaid Motel affords the ideal roost for reconnaissance. From the roof you can see the house and all the comings and goings. The yard looms. The pond yawns. Sunflowers and azaleas, lepidopterous hibiscus. I couldn’t figure it out—why, after all these years, would he come to this house on the fringe of a random Amish community in Central Florida? Some hours earlier, I pored over the obit for the eight hundredth time, searching for some kind of clue, any clue. I had the word “propinquitous” written on a random Bible page and I kept trying to find a way to use it in a sentence. Sex advice, that’s easy. I can write that Ask Alice crap in my sleep. Ghosts, though. Ghosts are different. You have to put yourself in the mind of your subject. Pretend that part or that all of you, too, is no longer there. The page is a perfectly gleaming tombstone, but each time I bend to carve his epitaph into it, I’m seized with an awful clairvoyance: a gangrenous hand bursts through the soil, sending frail dirt flying, clawing at the page-slash-tombstone. Well I know the dangers of my line of work. I knew it meant certain death to pretend I didn’t harbor a personal stake in finding him—that this wasn’t just any ordinary séance I sought to stage. Rule numero uno of hunting ghosts is you have to be vigilant. Second is equipment, which is related to the first. I dug deep into my purse to retrieve the paranormoder and turned the knob until it crackled and hissed. These levels are off the charts, I said to myself. I took a swig of Franzia. The majestic heron was busy plucking mites from its cloud-white plumage. There was no denying it: if Lawrence Tabers died here, he was still here. The paranormoder cackled in agreement.
I went down and put on the scarlet hijab. I got to the payphone on the Bi-Rite lot corner and fed it quarters until it started ringing. Rolanda’s whingeing voice came whingeing through the line.
“Well?” Rolanda whinged.
“Bear with me,” I rejoined. “Two, four days. Six at most. Plus or minus.”
“Louanne, you’re wearing me thin here. And you’re already on thin ice.”
“There’s a whole lot of thinning going on.”
I had to admire that line.
“Tell me you at least have some quotes nailed down?”
I shook my head like people do on phones. “Oh, tons. The neighborhood watch rep, and a principle investigator in the case. Just off-hand.”
Rolanda wasn’t buying it. She sighed her big, aggrieved sigh she sighs when she’s letting you know the weight of her disappointment. “Just get something on paper, will you? Christ, Louanne, you say you want to branch out from your column, but I give you a little latitude and this is what happens.”
I watched an Amish family waddle by in single file along the sidewalk.
“Which, I keep saying this, but I don’t know in God’s name, quote-unquote, why you’d abandon the number one regionally syndicated column in the Kissimmee/Poinciana area. For some hysterical story about a rapist?”
“Just gimme a couple more days,” I adjured, if that’s the right word.
“Call me, Louanne. Don’t make me hunt you down again.”
I ripped a blackberry zinfandel from the beverage aisle and made my way back to the motel. As I came through the chafing stucco entrance, Rolf regarded me from the front desk behind the February issue of Guns and Ammo, and I played that game where I pretend to be invisible. Back in my room, the phone squatted on the table. I wondered if Rick had called when I was out. I stared absently at the phone, trying to feel out each passing moment for its potential auspiciousness, sending the phone the kind of inviting vibe that might induce it to ring. For a second I nearly convinced myself that it was ringing. A disembodied ring, a ring from somewhere far off. I bent a trembling hand to answer it. But all my hand could do was hover over the receiver. I laid down and watched the sun purl the windowsill.
The ring was coming from far off. It was slowly calling me back awake. Night cloaked the room; the receiver found its way to my ear. On the other end, the fuzzy drawl of white noise hummed through the line, and the mournful sound it made felt like I was beached on a long, dark strand. Are you there? the voice said. I’m here, I said. Good. I was beginning to worry I’d never find you. No, I’m alive, I conceded. I’m barely here, but I’m alive. Take a dip, he said. He motioned toward the pool. The water was so clear I could see the tiles’ chipped edges at the bottom. I imagined tucking my outstretched arms behind my neck. I imagined bounding into the air, the perfect swan dive. At once the entire world rushed away, as though I’d plunged into a vacuum. A funneled-like sound swooped in to replace it. It was the trapped, gusty howl of the ocean whirling inside a conch shell. The hum of the dark, entropic universe encasing me. Are you still there? he said. Yes, sorry. Still here. Did that feel good? It felt really good, thank you. I’ve always known what’s best for you. I know, I went. I know you have. If you’re ready, then, it’s time we got started. I’m ready, I said. Good. Then listen to me very, very carefully.
I came back from the beach with my bike. I decided to go the long way, to cut through the Amish yards. This is a gloomy idea if there ever was one. Nothing is creepier than the anachronism of an Amish yard at nighttime.
As I neared the point where I could cross the creek and walk the bike up the smallish hill to the motel, I paused before the big house cul-de-sacking the view. The suburban backroad I found myself on makes its final pass at the sunflowers, then stumbles into a dead end of gnarled and imbricated cypress forest. I watched in silence for a moment. The house was dark. In the quiet I could hear the pond murmuring its nocturnal soundtrack.
Just as I turned to go, I heard the sliding door to the porch squeak open. A sliver of pale, orangish light sliced over the pond—and in the new light, a single bare leg, extending a cautious step onto the porch. I dove behind the pampas grass. I lay frozen on the ground. It took a moment before I dared to lift my head. When I did, the figure had already set off silently across the grass. The figure’s back was turned to me, but I could see that it was a woman, someone with long, trestled hair—what color, I couldn’t say. She had a longish, slender object in her hand. I watched her glide across the grass in the direction of the woods.
What happened next, I could see clearly from the way the moon was lighting her path. She struck her brisk, elongated strides across the grass until she neared the edge of the woods. Right at the edge, she paused before a massive live oak, and no sooner had she paused before it than she hurled herself against the grass and began stabbing at it furiously. The dirt went flying as if to prove the object in her hand were a shovel and not some other, less implicated instrument. I found myself transfixed. I felt my legs moving before I told them to move.
Soundlessly, I crept from the bush and left my bike where it lay. The moon was so bright it turned the yard into a silver-tongued sea. I passed the gaggle of tangelos beyond the porch, and beyond that, more vegetable plots, foliage enough to hide behind. I found myself at the edge of the cypress forest. Here all the light got swallowed into the tangled forms of the cypresses. The vista was prohibitive. Gnarled aerial roots like contorted snakes writhed in my periphery. Fighting back the tightness in my throat, I ventured a step into the darkgnarled forest.
My foot crunched ground. Not thirty yards away, the woman stopped at once. She swung her head back and forth like a crow, the shovel gleaming in her hand. I swallowed my breath and held myself against the cypress root. For some minutes this standoff proceeded. The woman—she was too obscured in shadow, I was busy commanding every cell in my body to halt—she stood before a gaping hole in the ground, mounds of dirt piled around her, in so little time. I saw that the hole gaped before some kind of stone, glittering in the moonlight. I don’t think I dared to breathe. Then the woman set to work on the ground again, and in a second or more the dirt was piling back up. By the time it was over, the woman cast aside the gleaming shovel, her long dress flowing, her long hair still. She bent to the freshly opened hole. She lowered her legs into the hole, one leg at a time. A moment after that, and she was gone.
It’s a curious thing, a hole. The way you spend your life avoiding one and digging another. I closed my eyes. I put my nose up to its clammy dark membrane the way you press your nose against the walls of an aquarium. I thought about the time I died in the ocean. How the car roared around the curve, how the guardrail gave, all of that. We were fleeing something back then. We were fleeing something together. Whether or not the feeling was true, we were fleeing it. The past, maybe. Or the future. Gatsby’s green orgastic light.
What happens next, you wouldn’t believe if I told you. Surrounding me is a pitch-black ocean, nothing around—nothing but the prehistoric squiggles of amoebas, their bioluminescent halos. And above them: jellyfish. They gather in my vision like the spots behind closed eyes. They percolate above me, whole congregations of jellyfish, watchful seers or stillborn ghosts. Somehow, I’m suspended in all this goop; I’m one of them, but I don’t feel like one of them—I don’t know how it is we all got here. By design? By a dream? By a designated probability? Everything around is a sea of black. Only the soft, ballerina forms of the jellyfish and the paisley galaxies of amoebas squiggling away in the distance. I feel the shivers crawl through my fingertips and work their way down my spine. Kelp fronds spindly as fettuccini grasp at ankles like lovers they wish would stay their life. The why I left is a mystery—but I’m beginning to think this dream is no less unreal than the dream of that original shore—what shore? I didn’t know either. It was so distant now. The bowed strand receding, the obscured shapes of clouds, night creatures of the deep with bulging eyes slavering. Then I wake up with a start, the window taut with moonlight, so much of the stuff, so close to the sill. A minute later and I find myself on the shore, and a minute after that I know I won’t be coming back, not this time.
That’s how it’s been, crawling into holes, not coming out again, ever since that night.