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g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
Sea and Stars
The chunks of fish littered the dark and damp sands of the beach like an offering, covering the foamy rocks and shells with viscera of many different kinds. It wetly glistened by the light of the moon as the townspeople gathered to whisper about the phenomenon. Rumors flew as they often do in situations that are not easily explained. Someone said that the fish were not native of this place, of this far north; others said that some did not even belong in the ocean at all. It was a silly thing, a hysterical thing, but it kept the people of the town company on the lonely night.
Her lips parted to taste the salt of the sea as she stood to face the ocean; the wind whipping her lips dry and raw. Her husband gently touched her lower back, using one calloused hand to point out a still living jellyfish washed up at her feet.
It glittered like a pulsating jewel, all pinks dyed purple in the gloaming of early morning dressed as night. Owen drew her away while she stared. She could see the delicate tracery under transparent flesh, a map leading to destinations unknown.
“I could probably get it back into the ocean,” he told her.
“No,” she replied.
She watched the waves crash against the rocky shore.
It felt like singing.
The only thing the people in her office could discuss the next morning was the newfound arrangement of the stars, and she busied herself by taking the fish out of their tanks to watch them gasp in the air. It had been a slow day at the suicide hotline.
Their casual chattering filled her ears like shattering glass, filling her brain with jagged fragments of bone and balls of cotton.
She placed her headphones on to cover the sounds of the talking as she gently caressed the glittering gold scales of a gasping goldfish. She smiled absentmindedly as she listened to the voice the other end. She couldn’t understand the words yet, but she knew that one day she would if only she were patient. All she knew was that the strange sounds made more sense to her now than anything else.
“I can’t find Sirius anymore,” one of her co-workers complained. “I look through my telescope every evening and it simply isn’t there.”
“Maybe you just aren’t looking hard enough,” someone else quipped, and there a nervous tittering passed through the group. No one was working. It never occurred to anyone to work. The phones kept ringing.
The fish gasped and gasped and no one noticed. No one cared. No one told her that her headphones were not plugged in.
“Yes,” she whispered to the voice in her ears. “Oh yes.”
It was over a dinner of chunks of cod and flounder that she had carefully picked off of the beach days before and carefully salted and mixed with vegetables, that Owen asked if she wanted to have a baby. She paused, forkful of kelp and pale fish halfway raised to parted lips as she considered this prospect. She imagined years by the sea, with two little girls that shared the same strawberry curls as their father. The same sprinkling of freckles. She thought of Owen’s hand briefly touching hers years from now as they stand in a doorway. A little girl running towards her down the beach.
She looked down at her plate, and noticed among the kelp, sand and fish, a perfectly formed baby squid cowering on her plate. It was near transparent and glistened wetly. She picked it up with her fingers and placed it with her mouth.
“What do you think?” His voice was gentle. Insistent.
She could swear the thing was still alive as it clung to the inside of her cheek. She thought of the tentacles nestled in the hollow of her throat like the insistent kiss of a desperate lover.
She kissed back.
That night when Owen made love to her it felt as though he were following an unspoken agreement, an outline to a life that she could picture so clearly. She thought of the movement of the waves. She could hear them through the open windows of her bedroom. That night when it was over she dreamt of dead cities, of long, pale tentacles wrapped around her naked waist and thighs like heavy belts and bracelets. Pulling. Devouring.
She awoke that morning with a smile on her lips as though a secret lover had visited her into the night. It was to Owen’s credit that he noticed the change in her and would not touch her again.
The changes came gradually but steadily as the stars aligned, and yet she could not stop herself from dreaming. For hours she would stare at the waves, quietly picking apart dead things as though they were toys. She began to write with her left hand in languages that did not belong to her; strange words that could not be pronounced by a human mouth.
“Soon,” she told those who called the hotline at work. They were looking for help in desperate times but what she knew to tell them was that the times were not nearly desperate enough. She pined for the damp coldness of an embrace she had never felt. She yearned for the hungering blackness that she hadn’t even dreamed about.
Owen wondered if he should move in with his parents. They were quiet folk who lived by the Cape. They had never approved of her. She had always been too dreamy, too wild. She had been the kind of girl who never wanted to paint the walls one color, and would make him stay up until all hours of the night painting great murals on the walls of flowers and animals. It was of a life he could no longer recognize, a dream that he could not have no matter how many times he slept.
He was steady. As a carpenter he could build beautiful things from simple wood and nails. He did not understand a woman who screamed at the stars and often locked herself in the study. He did not know what she did there, he did not want to think about it. He could only hear the keening at that moment. All he had wanted was a family. All he had wanted was she.
He knocked on the door.
He said her name.
He could hear her words, words that could not understand, spoken in an ecstasy that he had never been able to give her.
The door was unlocked.
So he let himself in.
It was a puzzle.
A bit here. There. Spread on the floor.
The insides. They looked like dreaming.
The inside looked like what she wanted.
She pressed her lips to the floor to taste the salt of the sea, red behind her eyelid
An offering like he had given me just an offering, like I was promised.
You sir, should unmask.
I promised you an offering and here fine filaments of pink faded purple fine so fine like what you have given
Indeed it is time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
I made a puzzle of him.
Indeed , she knew.
They talked about it after for many years. It far outshone the spectacle of the unfortunate sea life that had washed upon the rocky shore three weeks previously and what else had there been to talk about, but the stars, which grew tired in the talking so soon after it had made the news. The people of the town, such a small town by the sea, all watched in horror from their windows as she staggered out into the sun.
None of them knew what to make of the blood that painted her cheeks and fingers. That lingered on her lips like a child’s make up.
It had seemed such a normal day. Of course, the talk had been all about stars lately, a rare phenomenon, they had said. Seldom seen in the skies in our time. Harmless, they had said. Harmless.
Yet there she stood, for three hours it seemed, the waves lapping at her ankles.
She looked as though she were waiting for something. How particularly odd it was. No one felt comfortable calling the police at the time, how were they to know what waited in the house she had shared with her husband? Instead they all watched behind antique lace curtains as she stretched her arms wide.
And she walked into the sea.
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