A woman washes up on a lonely stretch of beach. The sun is barely up. Three men are passing by on their way to do some surf casting. She asks them what town they’re in, they look at her and quickly look away, she asks them for a drink of water and, of all things, a cigarette, they’ve got no time for female foolishness, they ignore her and walk on, their minds have gone on ahead to where they’re going.
Although the don’t-look-and-it-won’t-exist method of managing reality does sometimes work, in general, it’s just not good not to assist drowned women regardless of where they are or what they ask you for. If no kindness meets them on land, they are stuck there for years and years living again as ordinary women. More or less.
Give them wine, give them something to dry off with, be a friend, and they can go back to the water and you can go back to your life. But some men see a shitload of trouble when a woman suddenly rises up out of the sea. They don’t know what trouble is.
Later that morning, one of them reels in a fish with a sweet face like a baby and a mewling squawk. It’s hooked through the cheek but they don’t want to touch it, they cut the line, and one kicks it back in with his foot. That one has a pregnant wife at home. Two weeks later, she gives birth to a ten-pound boy with fins instead of arms, the baby face of that fish, and a big rolling eye that fixes him on the spot whenever he looks at it.
Though they’ve been friends for many years, the other two start avoiding him, as if afraid some untoward contagion will waft from him their way. Now they’ve not only neglected the sea woman, they’ve abandoned a friend who’s in need, even if he did bring his trouble on himself. One of those two gets home from work a few days later and his wife and children and his hunting dog and most of the furniture are gone. He starts drinking too much and getting into fights wherever he goes until he kills a man outside a rowdy nightclub on the county road. Then it’s off to the penitentiary for him where he’s housed with a whole lot of men who really know how to fight. Among other things.
The third guy dreams of the woman who came out of the sea night after night, dreams about her as if she’s some kind of nourishment he can’t live without, dreams things about her he wouldn’t even tell another man, not that men like him are much inclined to tell other men about their dreams. After many nights of this, he’s dreaming of her again and wakes up out in his yard. The moon is bright, he can see her standing under the mimosa tree, just standing, just looking at him, and he is suddenly awash with sadness, sadness so heavy on him he gets down in the grass and weeps and weeps, weeps for everyone in the world who’s been mistreated or lost every tie to family and friends or given up all hope of ever loving and being loved.
This sadness comes over him in waves, he feels like he’s drowning, he gets giddy, he can’t breathe. She kisses him on the mouth and his head fills up with big light that displaces what he has thought of as his mind. He loves her, he adores her, she scares the hell out of him. They live together, have two children, see the children off to live on their own. She’s a good cook, she loves the kids, seems to love him enough though he’s not much interested in where she comes from or who she is.
She disappears sometimes and comes back trailing water and sometimes seaweed behind her. He finds her in the laundry room, stripping wet clothes off, her skin luminous with dark inside it, a dim glow like swamp light falling from her fingers. It drives him crazy seeing her like that, he can’t get enough of her, even though he’s slowing down with middle age. Her, well, she ages but it seems to be an illusion, if he looks closely, she looks just the way she did when she rose up out of the sea and he turned away from her, when he thinks of this, the sadness hits him again, he’s not sure why.
One day he gets home from work, he can’t find her, he looks everywhere. There’s a pool of water on the driveway even though it hasn’t rained in weeks. He gets in his truck and drives down to the beach. There she is out in the water, naked, laughing, hollering out something, he can’t tell what, and never paid much mind to anything she ever said anyway.
He goes in, wading first against the waves, then swimming, but every time he gets close to her, she’s suddenly farther away. Now he can’t see her anywhere, he treads water and looks around and all he can see is the ocean, he doesn’t even know which way to head to get back to shore. There’s a glowing green light under the water, he swims down toward it and blacks out.
He wakes up when the waves are bumping him toward shore and pulling him out again. He’s exhausted, he can hardly move, he tries to stand and gets knocked down over and over, but finally he manages to crawl ashore. He rolls over on his back, struggles to catch his breath, tries to figure out where he is.
Three women are strolling down the beach. He calls out to them, but they don’t seem to hear him, they’re sauntering along chatting, laughing. They pause when they get closer to him. One of them leans down and grabs a stick of some sort, pokes him with it, says, it’s dead. For god’s sake, don’t touch it, one of them says, you don’t know where it’s been or how long it’s been out here getting ripe.
Another one of them walks over and squats down next to him. Yeah, she says, it is kind of crusty and wilted. He is thinking, thinking hard, trying to will himself to scream I’m alive I’m alive. One of them says, it almost looks like it has a face, a baby kind of face. Yuck, the first one says, we can’t dawdle around here discussing the appearance of whatever that thang is. They laugh and then walk on.
He can’t close his eyes, the sun wears away at him till he’s blind. He feels like he’s on fire for an eternity, then night comes, he can’t stop shivering, he’s never felt so cold. The stars wheel round in the sky and the waves start getting at him again, pulling him out, in, out and out, rocking him until there’s nothing his mind can hang onto, he can’t remember being a man or having a body, and he isn’t bothered at all when a big wave rolls him under and he’s gone.
altered image; original image from pinktentacle.com http://bit.ly/12KOTxO