Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

The Mermaid
Evelyn Henry

Age eats you up. You don’t remember what it was like, being a child, having so much fear. So much of it. So little of you. The lunge under the sheet.”

I saw a mermaid the other day. The other night. I don’t recall, exactly, what time of day it was. Who can? The days shimmer and simmer like mirages and steam whistling from a pressure cooker. Not a bomb. Red flows in the veins, but they are dark, ensconced in that inky darkness. Who knows? How well the light penetrates the chest, does it light up the cavity like your hand held against a hot bulb? The smell of hot sweat and burnt hair. Raw skin and untethered yearning. Wet blood, warm then cold, dripping down the blade of a knife. Not on purpose. An accident. Shucking oysters. The muscle is thick and tendinous. Gurgling oysters.

No one believes me about the mermaid. Why? I explain it as thickly as I can, stating the facts as they happened. Plainly. As much as I am able. Some things fissure and ebb. Flow. Disappear. Smokescreens are surfaces to project images. A laser to the eye smells but doesn’t feel. Mushrooms and coconuts have the same texture. Not-desired. She was familiar, in a distant way, like nostalgia for something you haven’t felt in a long, long time. But you felt, you know, at some point. Vividly.

She handed me sea shells that day/night. Was it last week? She was distant, then near. Emotionally. She had no nose. Her voice, when it happened, rarely, was sing-song like. But without anything attached to it, no connotation or implication. Not sultry.

I hear that Van Gogh ate yellow paint to try to feel happiness inside his body. Was it the heavy metal laced cadmium kind? It must’ve been. Oils are so much more toxic than acrylics, but they’re both derived from the same source. In a metaphorical sense: death. People think dinosaurs, but it’s more algae. Is that less tragic? Crushing an ant and feeling its exoskeleton destruct under heel isn’t satisfying, but it is easy. I don’t care.

I mean, I dreamed of a mermaid. They can’t be real. She can’t be. To touch. I woke with salt covering my stomach like some piece of meat being tenderized for supper. My stomach hair swirled in that white crust. It isn’t worse. I whispered into the darkness that cascaded between dawn and dusk, cycling like clocks. I should clarify: I didn’t just see her, I touched her. Her skin was like a dolphin, slick and rubbery, a sliver of a dream coming up from the deep. The darkness. Those eyes, seemed to know more than I did. They glinted in the light. They oozed out of her face like cold magma. Hot steel. The difference is there.

Not like, eye gunk. Or wet tears with saline solution, one rub. The eyes themselves. The embodiments. Swelling with red ale like shimmer. Light penetrates something. The body. A bruise festering. A blissed blister. The eyes were like melted wax. Dried cake. Blue as dark as midnight, not blue at all. With lighter colors like the dark seas of the Moon, with sea-glass embedded in them. Not the object, the color. She was alive. Breathing. Not through her mouth, witch. Thickly. Her chest moved to match the swaying of the sea cast behind her, the setting, the theme. The swatch. The sand grated my toes, irritating. The seeds of ancient rocks, set in the future. Depending on your perspective. If you turn a sheet of map upside down it isn’t wrong. The shoreline was like an endless spine, scattered with pulverized bones. The shore’s rotted spine. Salt and brine on my tongue. Gurgling oysters, their raw sewage silk-like. A gash across my thigh, weeped dark blood. Oozing. Like the eyes, that is. Situated there in the dark cascades. Not on purpose. Her eyes, situated there, mimicked the moon, dropping into the sea, with its sharp incisors penetrating thick water like blued flesh, seared but not cooked. Vulnerable. Intimate. I shivered in the cold, but not from it.

Curdled milk-like clouds buffeted the scenery. I couldn’t really see them. I squinted in the darkness, robbing what light I did receive with grace. Not expectation. The opposite. Gratitude. Is that true? I don’t recall. An accident. “Should I be embarrassed right now?”

I don’t remember coming to the beach. I couldn’t have been dreaming. I keep a log. I don’t sleep. Not recently. Not anymore. At least five days. When I threw the sheets off the other day, in that abyssal dark, something clinked on the hardwood floor, besides the dust and memory. I grasped for the sound, and when I pulled my hand back into my sea-sick stomach, seashells were splayed between my digits. My webbing. They were wet. I was shaking. My hands were, the rest of me, still. Restless. Vibrating under the surface. A wave crests distantly.

She spoke to me, I should add. I should explain. I couldn’t understand what she said at first, a calibration was necessary. The words gurgled out of her mouth like a corpse. An accident; like a fish. Her lips were swollen a deep bruise. But, I could a hear sound inside my forehead, between my eyes. Where auras begin and migraines birth. I could sense a sound. Her words, like sharp crystals split between the folds of my mind:

– this is unique – she says, said. Will say.

Either way, those first things stayed with me.

Ever see a large spider or insect crawl behind someone’s shoulders? On a wall? It doesn’t move with a kind of urgency, a self-awareness. But when you point at it to show the person, it just then vanishes under some clock or some-such. As if it knew to hide at that moment. As if it felt your gaze, knowing your anxiety was mounting like piles of stacked stones, each barely balanced on the last. The moment is lost to some kind of gap. “What has been seen, cannot be unseen,” Nabokov finished his memoir, with a kind of persistent kind of horror – you cannot relive the present. That’s what I took from it. But in that case, less physical and more existential. This is a poor example. It has less to do with spiders and more to do with… something with a lot of eyes and less limbs.

The mermaid doesn’t have a visible tail. But it is there. Scattered among her ashy skin (that tastes like sweet, white wine, just before it turns to vinegar). There are scales. Her neck, her long slender arms. Longer than they ought to be. More lithe. Mannequin-like. Is that, an objectification? It wasn’t a figment. A dream. I don’t have that kind of faith in my mind to conjure such visceral nightmares. I don’t dream. Not because of the sleep, but because I don’t remember them. What’s the difference between a memory and a dream, besides conviction?

They’re thus detached. In a strange way, her movements are, too. They don’t mirror the sounds that produce them. As if they are somehow out of sync, out of focus. A lazy operator forgets to achieve crystal clarity on a scene, a director and editor miss it, and it becomes part of the living creation they all birthed together. It takes a village, flush with cash. It wasn’t an accident.

I am failing at description. It is a ragged destiny to do so. Written word conjures a lie that fizzles inside the mind and vanishes between the thoughts. Like sheets drawn over springs. The first utterance or scratched mark (digital or not), begins the cycle. How can you expect to describe anything with the least amount of detail? That isn’t understanding, it is giving up. Failing. Not an accident.

It is a cheat to rely on experience, understanding or implication to fill the gaps. To expect that. Gratitude is the opposite. Right? How do you describe the color blue without reaching for metaphor: cold, harsh, ugly, bloodless, empty, beautiful, disgusting, repulsive, rotted, fetid, cursed, moonlight, fucking disgraceful excuse for red.

Describing anything is a lie everyone participates in. Psychoanalytic theory, a la Zizek, focuses on this inherent flaw of language: attempting to lower any thought process into a basket weaved of language is robbing it of specific detail to grant vague wishes something else. It destroys it as it is lowered from a prism of brilliant flashing light into white, blue, red, rainbow. There is an aspect of understanding that is intuitive, incommunicable, unreachable, un-understandable. You fail as soon as your mind has formed words in the some-place in your folds, where researchers have decided is so-and-so region, if you believe everything you read. Do you? But they are formed, and it doesn’t mean they must be sublimated into a gas that evaporates through your mouth.

You failed before you began. Falling to your knees to beg like some passenger on a ride you never signed up for. No one asks to be born, it is a wish granted without the words to attach to it.

All you can do is traverse the waking fantasy, the daydream, the figment of something unutterable, unreachable, impossible. Erode yourself into that desert of realism and grow your bones into a white ghost. Something, she said.

– a crypt displays something / evaporating / that once / aspirated –

I can’t explain the meter to her voice (whatever voice that is, that sinks into you like leaded veins filled with acrylic that are extracted and hung to display in an exhibit: these are the arteries).

There is an ordered chaos to things. By describing all of human thought or idea that can flow through someone’s mind, it highlights the absurdity that anything can be real or accurate. I know I’m real. That is something worth considering, or is it… banal? Mundane. Extremely nauseating? Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a way they laugh.

Imagine trying to understand the transplant of someone else’s mind into yours. The chaos, barely hewn together, so unlike your own. Sticky. Gooey. Molten steel. The linkages and connections ragged. You couldn’t understand thoughts like, “this is red,” because however their mind produces such an idea would be wholly alien to your own. Your mind entombed in your skull. But it isn’t a corpse. It breathes through the small apertures it opens up, the eyes, the smell, the touch, the taste, and it understands the glimmer of a dream and a whispered thought without a voice. It tries.

– what does a dream / taste like –

I told you, before. Didn’t I? A dream tastes like ash in the mouth. It tastes like a glimmer of light cresting between thick, fog-like clouds. Like pines hanging heavy against the backdrop of a fire. Like whiskey swirled in a glass filled with too many ice cubes, making it overflow and drip, drip, drip onto your lap. A dream is just that — a nothing. And an everything.

The worst radioactive incident to happen to us was because some high schoolers robbed the radioactive source from a CAT scan machine in an abandoned hospital. A CAT scan machine operates by sliding open an aperture of radioactive material to decay for microseconds as it is spun in a large circle around the patient. It is through this glimpse, this sublimation, it understands and passes the information to specialists. High schoolers are not specialists. The accident began when they broke open the aperture and spilt the seed of the machine, and through that insight gained, exposed 2500 people to radiation poisoning. Two of the three died weeks later. Radiation can be a metaphor, if you pulverize it enough. Everyone has a way they cry.

– bursting light irradiating electrons / and moving at full tilt / c is the designation for the speed of light / because it is a / universal constant –

Mimicry shortens the lease on empathy, it doesn’t lengthen it to any degree. What psychosis have people unlocked inside themselves in their feigned belief that they are truly telepathic or psychic? That they can understand the glimmer of anyone else’s thoughts to the same verisimilitude as their own? Correctly guessing the lottery numbers exactly is the same as being given to them through divine intervention, no one can prove you wrong. You cannot know who anyone really is, there is a layer of crust that builds up between things, like rust or coats of paint, thick and dark. Yellow paint. What’s the implication?

She licked her lips when she handed the clattery and clinking shells like they were some kind of trade or purchase. What was I giving in return? Had I already done it? Am I failing? Did I actually hear them clink, or did I only imagine the sound carried along? The surf was loud, the water too irritating to focus on anything. My skin, like hers, burnt to a crisp (from hours before.) – I couldn’t actually hear the shells clink. As when you hear a muted movie because you’ve heard it so many times. The way singing music you know is like you’re creating it from the abyss. It wasn’t an accident. It was an accident. What was?

After she licked her lips (which definitely happened) she handed me the five shells. They were varied in size, incremental. Warm, radiant, but somewhat tacky like glue and wet. They won’t dry off. They clink with a sound as if they were dry, like keys trying to scratch the reinforced plastic glass of a phone. Front pocket. Right. My main hand. I find myself touching them without remembering when I started. Something obsessive. Reassurance. Affirmation. Validation. A talisman or charm. What other habits are manifested and hidden under layers of social engineering and obsessive compulsive touching? Regimented thoughts cyclical and douses an inner fire with ice cold black water.

– a leap of faith is something / you have never done / and will need to do / immediate / will you–

I’m not diagnosed with anything. Nothing important. Do schizophrenics recognize their illness, when medicated, or is it a strange befuddlement like tacky syrup, amber, or dried batter?

– wait inaction / through lack / erosion is movement –

I shake my head. No. Shut up. Stop. Fingers pressed against ears, silencing the surf but not the voice, like sharp crystal. What do memories mean if you remember them in third person? Is that only possible because of influence from media? Did people imagine scenarios in third person before cameras recorded, before visual storytelling could be easily disseminated? Have you considered how often you’re plugged into music and how absolutely bizarre that is in regard to human culture? That, people had to congregate to create or listen to music, and might not do it so eagerly without a constant IV flowing into them… ear worms breeding and festering in the folds of your brain? That you have distinct after-images and effects from watching video and film with cuts – that you divide events by passages like car doors, automatic glass, locks clicking closed or open? When you walk to a store, a rare event, and walk out, these divisions are fewer in number and more striking in their absence?

How much of your life is contracted time? The narrow passage in an hourglass? Present. Then past. Then future. Cyclical.

The mermaid’s hands weren’t sticky when I touched them, folded them into mine. Even though, they looked like they should be. A kind of salty brine was left over across the shells, but it didn’t come from her. She wore a torn and battered blouse, wind-swept and raged. It looked homemade. Seamade. Her fingers were slender and thinner than they should be, spider-leg like, with long pointed nails that looked like they could scoop clams dry of vibrancy. They had. Grime was encrusted under them, and the hands themselves looked smooth with a kind of porous quality like a sponge. They smelled of octopus and hope. Of dread and ink. That metallic twinge. Like dreams and reality.

When she tilted her head, her eyes shifted subtly. With a delicate mass, inertia to them. Were they following? Beckoning and yearning in a way that is not voiced but simply understood on a deeper level of comprehension. There was no distinct pupil to track. Were they figments of eyes, slivers of dreams, or something else? I could not lock eyes with her. It was like, being shaken awake. An accident. It tugs something inside you. Like from the deep recesses you barely could feel. That cavity in your ribs. Something peering into you, through you, raking its long fingernail of obliterating desire down to the stone-walled well of your soul and pulling you up by saliva and starch. Not like a puppet, less constructed, more whole. That sleep paralysis, empowered by fever, where you can feel something watching you. You were told that people don’t actually have eyes in the back of their head, but you desperately wish you did so you could see the surmounting fear. Is it a physical presence you feel, or simply a crackling kind of anxiety that roars like a fire in the background of your mind? An absence, not a presence. Your face is turned to the wall, your bed considered propped against a window with the glass pulled open and a trampoline smell of the screen wafting against the smooth summer air, you can feel a breath on your neck. Is it simply too hot to feel warm, or too hot to feel cold? You swear it. You build and build your nerve, finally wracking loose to turn in a flurry, terrified you’ll freeze up halfway and be trapped in a half-state of want and desire. A gorgon watching you disappear. Vexing white eyes glimmering in the darkness. There is no moonlight to reflect it, but they are glowing. They can only be reflecting something coming from within you, but there is nothing within you. The sensation of being watched fades like a de ja vu that makes you question if you even had it at all or simply created it by force of utterance.

No red color blushed the mermaid’s skin. Her flesh was ashy white like a corpse. A ghost, is what, a corpse aged beyond decomposition? The part that cannot flee. Shouldn’t there be trillions of ghosts? 99% of all life has died. Ink and swollen gums. Breasts and swaying height. Erupting looks and longer reflections. Dirges and Symphonies. She was familiar. Infrequent, but familiar. Something about the way she didn’t move. That stillness seemed to quake beneath my hands, holding them against a flame. Searing. Longingly. Yearning.

Dark dreams and weakness float to the surface of the water like ice, white and filled with air and aspirations. What keeps the water cold down below? Besides distance and ambivalence. For millions and millions of years, the only light at night was the moon, a pale reflection of the sun hiding beyond the veil. How many systems of biology are tied to that light? That flicker of something more distant and a thousand times brighter? A hand clawed from a cramp that won’t stop. The mermaid closes my fingers over the shells, tighter, tighter, until I hear one crack and feel warmth slip from my palm and drip drip onto the gray-carpet-like sand. Mercurial sway, a serum that pools at my bare feet. Her lips move, that out-of-sync over-dub making me nauseous, like too much yolk pooling out of an egg:

– were all the paths walked / chosen for you? –

I blink and find solace in that gap for a moment. Her hands, boned and long with cartilage of some kind of non-fish, release their grasp from me. White imprints linger on me, leaving bruises that last longer than memory.

– dozens hundreds thousands of miles what does it matter / roads are portals passages / if you focus long enough / you can create your own / if you dig long enough / your own tunnels will escape / if you swim far enough / you might just find your way into hell –

A laugh echoes across the churning sea-sick and then her mouth opens to mime it. The key of E fills the surrounding cliffs as wind howls against their choked and pock-filled chasms. The sand flattens around us, her feet or fin submerged in it, and the gray-pebbles and coarse grains turn to a solid surface. The waves crest and break their thresholds, ever-shifting and redistributing themselves with each pull and dead-weight tug of the Moon hundreds of thousands of miles away. “Gravity is one of the weakest forces in the universe; but it can trap light itself.”

My bed. The sheets loose and soggy. Gray and damp. Trampoline. Smooth air. The bed looks almost black against the blue-tinted light filtering through the open window. I peel open the covers, my right shin is wet with blood, my hands sweating with it. Shells splay my webbing. Broken fragments jut out from my palm. My face is knotted. Seawater, brine, saline, metallic, what difference? Rimed with encrusted gray crocks, I stagger to the bathroom and light switch is slow to decay into light. I wash my face. The sun is cutting its teeth on the horizon. Somewhere. Not here. “Maybe we’ll die one day, so what’s the point of effort?” I remember. “Because we will die: but not yet.”

– the shaking of adrenaline filled hands / the rustling of wind / the gap between dreams –

I shake the voice away like a groggy after image. I don’t actually sleep. I review the log. Five days. It barely counts, because it was only twenty minutes back then. Forever ago. I caught the end of an episode I put on TV. I’m still mad, because I wanted to watch it but when I replayed it I knew all the lines already. Psychic insight. Not an accident. It was an accident. I remembered the episode, but had no memory of it. Music can flood you just so when you listen to it, decades later, you’ll know all the words. Did you ever really forget?

I touch my chest and feel a deep rattling coat my insides like thick, dark water. Reverberation is muted and sullied by it, but it resonates anyway. There is a blue light that radiates out of the pools in nuclear reactors, caused by the difference in light speed in water and air. I tell myself the rattling means nothing. Anxiety? Restlessness. Sleeplessness. I’m not insomniac, its too infrequent. At least, what I read on webMD tells me so. I believe everything I read. Don’t you?

What does it mean to be categorized but you’re not even good enough at failing to make the grade? The cliché? The trope? What character do you become when you don’t sleep for four days? Have you tried it? Fears of schizophrenia fade with age because the window of opportunity closes, but almost everyone is scared at one point that they might never stop hiccuping. I talked with a man that sold tacky paper about it one day. Or maybe, you’ll forget how to sleep. How do you sleep? What’s the trick? What point do you… fall?

Your latent familial insomnia finally takes hold and you die, your death becoming your only monument, rather than your life. A king of a deserted land.

If you can make it past your fifties without catching the cancer, you’re golden. In studies that researched brown bats or land-rodents, the ephemeral “they” were able to lengthen the life spans of these vermin through caloric restriction and other methods. They found when these pests outlived their traditionally experienced lives, they started to catch a lot of cancer and disease. There was no factor in breeding the disease out of the populations because they never reached that age before. The darkness beyond the edge of the light. Figure it like Huntington’s, something that doesn’t take hold in people until their late thirties, just at the edge of their fertility. What’s the use in existing beyond that, biologically? A lot of reasons. Music. Movies. Love. Still, it is like by cheating death, the pests discovered new ways to die. Insight is an awful thing.

It isn’t death that scares people, it is old age. But they seem to connect the two, too easily. Ask someone if they want to live forever and they shudder at the thought, their minds automatically jumping to their aged grandparents and somehow living another lifetime beyond that shiver. Their hips shattered into fine sand and their voices decayed out of their throats and their teeth missing out of their jaws. Necromancers. Liches. No one thinks of vampires, ageless and timeless, frightening and seductive. I tell myself, that is normal. I swallow twenty seven milligrams of melatonin and diphenhydramine and hope the nightmares don’t take root before the sleep does.

Patience is key, but also the most degrading of all virtues. Time is a resource that cannot be retrieved, and patience basically demands it be given up willingly.

I still feel her eyeless sockets following me. How they don’t look through me, but into me, a shallow depth of field that permeates my self like a kind of vulnerability or intimacy breathed across your bare neck and tongue pressed against your ear lobes and a promise that says: don’t go, I know I won’t. You are intimate.

She beckons with her fingers, toward me. I don’t remember the melatonin or bar of xanax, if that’s why I felt a chord reverberate inside my skin-shrouded bones. Something lusty lingers. Lingerie. Something repulsive and arousing. Her skin lingers a scent. Rotting despising pleasure. She becomes something else, her arms spread open and inviting, ashen-milk and charred black contrasts mix and swirl. The char is bubbled against the surface, but when it is touched, it flakes away and reveals purity underneath. Blisters filled with bliss. Is gesso pure white, or titanium with a bit more bite?

She says, as she wraps her squid-length arms around me, their tentacles and itching fingers digging into my shoulders not with want but need:

– dolphins are / constantly drowning / crowning –

I shiver, her embrace is not warm, but disconcerting. As if that is a word that describes anything accurately.

– clocks are circular / you know / time is measured by how it repeats / until it doesn’t –

The water doesn’t froth with intent, but anticipation of my disgust. I cross the threshold in my mind and see a room emptied out of everything but scratching claw marks. Her mind is open to me. I step across, as if I were looking through distant binoculars. Surely the fever dreams taking hold inside my mind. The heightened sense of vertigo is a dead-giveaway. I choke back the surprising viscera and hold back a surmounting thrill that buzzes inside me like a long dip in an airplane that might crash if it wanted – did the engines just cut out or did they simply slow the throttle upon reaching cruising altitude? A dark sensation that I do not belong here. There is a shimmer across her pooled eyes, as if she has shifted her gaze away from me for the first time to something else. I appeared inside a beach with her, in her. There is a distinct feeling of cold absence on me when her eyes shine with that thick glimmer, and I feel a deep pervading loneliness I’ve never felt before.

– you absolve / time  / with your existence / it erodes / all of me –

I take a step further inside her, and feel myself go deaf. That howling muted sound. The vibration of sound does tickle my skin, but is muted on my drums. It doesn’t pierce anything but a growing mass of emotion growing thick in my chest like an illness. My prison of ribs, containing a heart and lungs, implying my ancient air-filled bladder that predated my lungs when I was a fish. Is the sea moving, or is that my imagination doing it? I can’t tell. I’m cloaked and ensconced in that hope and calamari smell, that despair that lingers, that repulsion and attraction that cakes my skin like semen.

As if you are being robbed of something outside of yourself.

– the rattling of any cage / is most distinct / from within –

The smell shifts to wet mud and I linger on the divide a little longer. The light beckons a distant ache and I feel my weight shift under me without my consent. Unsure of my footing, I can’t see where I place myself. I’m lost and hovering in a heavy atmosphere. The water crests and surrounds her fetid body. Cursed and destroyed, it eats at her like a crawling lust. Is this my fault? A riptide pulls my feet forward as I lose my balance. There is an obvious fluster of heat in this cavity and I feel self consciousness radiate through me.

– white weak brittle bone / is nothing more than scaffold / for something grander –

She opens her mouth again. I’ve heard her voice echo in the canyons of my mind for decades and over twenty six hundred days. Her pale lips are tinged with a scarlet shade, and rows of shimmering hello teeth glisten with wet want through the portal that is opened between us and her. I feel a dark impulse course me, grinding my guts like seven rocks against gravel and I swallow on a dare. I swallow a temptation that elevates my shoulders to match a vigor I didn’t know I could feel. A sensation I should be excessing. I was told not to be weak, to keep a strong upper lip, not bend the knee, not fall down and crawl on the stairs even though my legs were battered and bruised. My legs broke in four places, each.

Smoke rises like a fog from unseen recesses near her, the inky blackness exceeding some kind of physical barrier between us in my minds eyes. It is acrid and stings me like bruised egos or sliced onions. A sour taste invades my mouth and coats my tongue in bile. She is closer to me now. Her chest rises with a tempo I can’t pin point but can match. Blinkers in a line will inevitably coincide. If I am careful, we can touch each other.

But that’s the last thing I want. It felt like it’ll erode my body like time carving a canyon empty and dry. A husk. A temporary vessel filled with greed. Weather is a construction. A destruction. Lightning strikes the earth millions of times a year, but only innervates and slaughters dozens.

My tongue is then pressed against her milk skin and I taste the salted carbon of the earth before me. I can’t help it. My chest heaves and I feel like I’ll burst with need.

– he’s only my enemy / i’ll crush him with everything / i am –

The smell of curdled milk and breeze. It inverts my distaste for rancid. An arousal.

– you asked for this / don’t forget / you wanted it –

The jagged slobbery splinter of the horizon piles purple vomit like clouds as if they were bonded chains against white wrists.

– i’ll destroy him / like everything / i have –

Her vertical lips embrace my horizontal and I feel inverted magnetism demand sacrifice. Pinched skin turns purple and falls off like death. I’ll taste the salt, the bloodied thirst, the burning brine.

– you’ll tear apart the years / to burnt pages that divide / want from brittle need / your fragile skin flays / secrets aren’t clothes for everyone / tell me a dream / tell me what a dream tastes like –

I step back and feel the saliva strands that bind us together break like gossamer. A dream is … what? I told you while we were hanging it. The night we skinned, tacked above our bed with posts. Moonlight white drapes, mixed with grey, teased laughter from our sweating faces in the dark. The sound of a typewriter echoed throughout the dark wooden, sand-grey floors of the house.

– i don’t believe you / i can’t ever believe you –

Like eager decay desperate for revival. A thirst that crawls deep into your abdomen and further still. Its claws leave marks inside the well of your soul. Like a coast that looks like collar bone and arches. Long gulps of water, dregs pulled from a brackish sea. Like supple and succulent leather-like eyes that stretch longer than cobweb. Like I blame you for the gates opening and the child leaving. Like I blame you for stained porcelain and sliced open finger nails. Quicks don’t heal quickly, but slowly. Effortlessly.

There, in the crouched darkness of pitch and drooling ink, she pressed her fingers against my chest and pushed me backwards. I stumbled and fell. The frame collapsed. There is a specific kind of anxiety when you realize you are lucid in a dream and you try your best to not convince yourself too fully, because if you are too aware of what-is, you will wake yourself up in excitement.

I woke myself up. A dream, a delusion, a hallucination. What difference is there, except where you find your body, displaced in time and day? I remembered going to a beach, miles away, too far to walk or bike, when I was a child. The sun hadn’t risen yet, not that I remember it setting. I decided to take a bus.

The sand was gray as a dream. Sunset glistened residue off the gravel. The sand. Closer, it looks less like fine dirt and more like pulverized bone. Bleached and barren. Flat. Mounds of seaweed washed up on the shore, like long green silvery claw marks. Accidents. They didn’t want to be out of the ocean, did they? If they had a choice, that is. I did. That’s why I was here, sandals and shorts in the cold, heavy air. The ocean looked thick with ice. The eaves moved with frost. The wind dragged across dead clouds and fog hung for décor. Frosting is glazed sugar.

Standing out there. I could still taste her secrets on my tongue. Despair. Swelling veins. Embarrassment, regret, deep gratitude. Taste like salt, brine, long gulps of ozone. Everyone talks about sky diving and parachutes not opening, but no one talks about how suffocating it feels to have wind moving faster than a hundred miles an hour pour down your slackened jaw and sinuses. Going under at the surgeon is terrifying because you don’t remember it, and people get paid a lot of money to make sure you wake up – and you might not.

The waves crested higher on the beach. The setting sun pulled the tide out. That can’t be right. The sun doesn’t affect the tides as powerfully as the moon. Dead. A reminder of something more ancient than ourselves.

I’ve missed you for so, so long.

I don’t remember the bus ride. It wasn’t short, otherwise, how could the azure glow of the night be stalking across the sky already? Didn’t I just beat the sun to the morning? I didn’t bring a book with dog-eared pages to tell me I had read. I didn’t doze, because my neck doesn’t hurt from slamming against the slobbered window. I don’t remember talking to anyone. It feels like my vocal cords haven’t worked for ages.

The beach is desolate. Growing more by the night. The waves pound senselessly, ceaselessly, against the spine of the earth. Deafening. I can’t forget the sound. The taste of turned clams across my tongue, horizontal. Vinegeared wine. Dessert wine. Desert.

I shamble over to the seaweed, frothy scum sticking to it like persistent headaches. There’s something swaddled in it. I kick it over with my foot, my toe grazing its soft flesh that gives as my nail nicks it. A disembodied arm, the hand tanned in three places, where a bracelet or watch covered it. The hair slimed across it in the wrong direction, wrapped in seaweed. Dead, clearly. The owner? I push more seaweed off it, like ropes hanging from a ceiling fan in a failed attempt to succeed at something, and part a channel around it to give it room. The curled strands frame the portrait of life and keep it frozen in some stand-still. Water pools lazily on its matted flesh. It’s fingers are clutching at air.  I decide, and nudge it over with my other foot. Where the nails should be, watery bulges rest. I fall to my knees, racked with some kind of guilt, and clasp my fingers tight to my thighs. I bruise myself. The seashells in my pocket clink and one spills on to the sand like a clumsy drink. Anxiety brims over my insides and I squeeze my face to try and stop whatever emotion is barreling out of me.

Curling sobs erupt from me. Sending spasms to the arches in my feet into cramps. I grasp the edges of my pants to hold on as if I’m swaying against the horizon and could fall into the white churn, the teeth of the waves. Tears wisp my cheeks and drop into the wet sand. What is it? Why?

Why did I come here? In the first place?

I stare into the gouged out eyes of the seal and feel a chill crease my forehead.

– you needed this / you chose this / as if you forgot –

I didn’t. I don’t. I draw my chin toward my chest and push myself off the floor. The carpet. And stand again, swaying a little in the crooked breeze exhaling off the waves that won’t stop. That seem louder than before. The riptides jiggle the seaweed and drag it back across the limb, as if to cover it in a veil. I can’t bring myself to move it again.

– how roads did you walk down / did you chose any of them? –

I shake my head. I don’t even know who that is. I won’t, either.

– did the ghost tell the truth to the mourning sun / or did it betray him / as he suspected he deserved –

I inhale, sniffling. The smell of the arm hits me. Rotten. How long has it been out here? Not more than… a week? But not less than a couple hours. Was it here this morning, or has it always been here?

– taste it / you choose this / I’ll forgive it –

Forgive? The sound is listless, atonal. Not like before. Not when I could taste her, raw skin. Her joy. Her misery. It’s … turned now. As if it is my fault. There’s a venom to the feeling, to the senses, that wasn’t present in my… last encounter. My dreams. My thoughts. My waking nightmares.

– taste / what / you’ve / sown / seeds spilt / aren’t dropped –

I stare across the horizon, breaking my eyes from the decay for a moment. Gathering what thoughts I can. The voice keeps.

– drag out what you hide / what has been seen / cannot be unseen –

Didn’t I say that? To myself? At one point? When? Yesterday? Last week? What linearity exists between pages that are decoded weeks or days after they were written? It takes many more hours to create anything than it does to destroy it. To consume it. To flay it. A bag for a book, the pages scattered and unnumbered.

Night falls further in time. Black ink stretches out before me and the sea. The only glow is from the moon casting shade above. The seal is tucked back into the seaweed, parts of it have fallen off and bones are exposed. I cannot see it now, you have to trust me on this. I tasted bile last time I considered it. I can’t consider anything now. There is no way back to the bus, there is no way back home, there is no path to redemption. I have trapped myself mise en abyme.

The light shines a spot in the sea and it moves steadily toward me with a relentlessness, mercilessness. My eyes grow wider as if I can access something different, or see the illusion beyond itself. The solution to any maze is to follow a wall until you reach the exit. That is, if you want to leave. All bodies are simply toruses with a single cavity entering the top and exiting the bottom. Gravity acts the same. Time works the same. Einstein-Rosen tunnels in nature, if you can call the maddening chaos of outer space nature. It isn’t an accident. Programming entries mirror one another and the same protocols will excite the same pathways in others, even if they are illicit or taboo. What can you do to stop your curious mind from becoming ravenous? The mind reels when it doesn’t want to, intrusive obsessive thoughts plummet like darkened stairwells, plastic crutches, and titanium rods inserted through surgical incisions created by machines and doctors in adjacent rooms to protect them from the radiation, the grander truth, of whatever work they are tampering with.

When did I sleep last? What kind of ideas permeate the mind-space that exists between that half-sleep/half-dreaming state of being when you feel you are still carrying out the actions your dream-self would have wanted, as if you are supposed to?

– we stain ourselves / with colors that don’t mix / their purpose is / divination / at least / we have faith / as one –

The light from the moon moves closer now, something breaches the waves. It makes no sound, as it cannot overpower the ceaselessly dripping sea. If it could, I can not hear it. The tree in the forest does make a sound when it falls, because sound is a physical construct of vibration in a medium – your mind is an extension of something in space, not entombed in a coffin of off-white bone and sinew. The figure touches the beach and hovers yards away, the mermaid. She moves closer to me, a gender I assume, and wraps her elongated, elvish, disturbed, rod-pierced boney, arms around me. The warmth is satisfying, but also familiar and chilling. I gasp for air. But it doesn’t come.

You asked:

— what does a dream / taste like —

Like the loss of a limb. Like reading words that were pulled from you sometime before you were born, in that chasm, and recognizing them for what-they-are. Like, electric current jerking muscles in circles. Like, waking up in the cold sunlight, the sheets just wrapped around you in a way that is perfect, of drinking water in the early morning, and receiving a gentle phone call that doesn’t contain anything soft or warm, but pitted and rancid. Of remembering a voice mail left when we weren’t talking and having that as the only evidence you existed. Like the color quinacridone magenta: disgusting, repulsion. Magnets turned to similar poles. I will hold on, you will hold out.

— this is different. —

I remember: Her laugh was like sunlight, how it would pour through a room and fill it with radiant warmth. You could feel your fingers thaw in that kind of joy. Her eyes were like deep glaciers, and when they looked at you (they would, the whites so bright like coronas) they would carve across your insides and move so much Earth and bone.

Evelyn Henry has been writing since 2012. She studied Creative Writing at College of Idaho and completed her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing through Southern New Hampshire University. She has a keen interest in the grotesque, sublime, and the strange magic of the surreal when they mix together. She currently lives in Idaho.