The Eye

Contrary to the other boys, Lito knew how to swim. When he was a baby, his family had been travelling by sea because of a family emergency. It was a calm sea but suddenly a wave had caught him, sleeping, and dragged him overboard to his parents’ horror. They couldn’t swim so they were yelling and screaming and pulling their hair out, but he bopped up, unharmed, to the surface, paddling his little hands and feet like a dog. He was wearing a beatific grin, his tiny brown body glistening under the sun. They scooped him up out the water and into his mom’s embrace where he proceeded to cry non-stop. He wanted more of the watery embrace. He was baptized in the sea and never reneged her.

From that day onwards, they never forbade him to rejoin the sea. Those two had an understanding. He didn’t gravitate easily to the other children. Always, he felt the pull of the sea. He could play all day on the beach and in the waves, the foam tickling his toes until he walked in to play. He went to the coral reef and spent time under water amongst his kind. Nobody would have been surprised if he’d grown fins or a web between his toes. He came back with the most wonderful stories of multicoloured fish and graceful plants.

He learned to keep some of his findings to himself, though he longed to share his passion. His parents were distrustful of the sea, and afraid of her. He visited her all the time and understood her many moods. He even stole out at night to admire her under the stars. He swam out to sea and lay on his back looking up at the stars, gently rocked by her. He learned to fall asleep on his back, the gentle breathing of the sea matching his own.

There was one place he was forbidden to go to. It was called The Eye, and was the deepest hole you could imagine, with a cavern and fish aplenty. There were currents there that sucked you down and never gave your body back. When he finally heard of the place, he started looking for it. It became an obsession. Everybody had carefully avoided mentioning the Eye in his presence as he was growing up, afraid he would go and explore it. It was in a little-known area. The beach was littered with warnings about the abrupt plunge a few feet from shore. A man had drowned there recently, which is how the topic had come up.

As was his habit, he sat and stared for days, drinking in the information. He looked for patterns, plumbed the depth with pebbles, analyzed the current as best he could.  He was not foolhardy and held the sea in deep respect. He talked to her, but more importantly, he listened to her, and thus knew to keep his distance when she told him too. He had been thrashed a few times when he hadn’t paid attention. She was an unforgiving mistress. He had grown into a strong swimmer, used to holding his breath and keeping his other senses on alert. The Eye was something he had never experienced. He went to it in all weather and under all conditions. He slept on its beach, in a sandy hollow where a few grasses welcomed him to bed for the night. The Eye did not sleep.

One morning, he awoke determined to go in. He brought his most beautiful conch and blew in it, a mournful sound that stirred the Eye. It blinked. He asked for permission to step in and The Eye granted it. His heart was at peace and his body relaxed. He trusted The Eye as his body was sucked down. He did not fight it, instead observing the changes in him with curiosity. The sea was his mother and he could think of no better end than to stay forever in her embrace.

His heartbeat slowed as the sea pressed down on his body. He was going deeper than he ever had, seeing fish that he’d never seen. He was in the cavern, glowing bodies intermittently lighting it up. Reluctantly, he turned around, fighting the pull. As the sea released its grip, the need for air became pressing. He gasped as his head broke the surface, his eyes still wholly entranced by the world he had been allowed to glance at.

The discovery kept him awake at night. He relived these few minutes over and over, feeling the pressure build-up and enjoying it. The second time, he almost drowned. Again, he blew the conch and saw the blink. He felt an avid bite, but discarded the warning, his curiosity getting the better of him. He loved the quiet and the silence as he dropped further. He came upon a rope which he followed down to weights. He was starting to feel woozy and followed it back up to the sun. When his head broke the surface and he lay on his back gasping for air, he was quickly surrounded by people wearing masks and fins.

They were getting ready to go down, to accompany a daring man who specialized in deep diving. He swam away, understanding why the sea had tried to punish him. She thought he had brought them here to desecrate her. He cried salty tears as he watched the rape he was unable to stop in his weakened state. The man was floating on his back, very still. The crew did not utter a word, letting the man focus and equalize his breath. In one fluid motion, he turned his body around and disappeared in the water. The others were already submerged, silently waiting for him below. It did not look like a violation at all. He stood up on the beach. The Eye did not give back bodies.

He was compelled to stay and watch. There was no agitation, no turmoil, just intent. He was holding his breath. A few had gathered on the beach, watching the man in the boat with one hand on the rope, the other holding a timer. He was calm, showing no restlessness as the seconds and minutes ticked away. It was too late, nobody could stay under water that long. Still, nobody moved, morbidly fascinated, wanting to witness the end of the story. The head broke the water, mouth open wide to gulp mouthfuls of air, the divers holding him solidly as he recovered then slapping him on the back with cries of joy.

He released his breath. After that day, he spied on the white man who loved the sea. Him and his wife did yoga, meditating through postures. He imitated them from the beach. One day, the woman was not there. She appeared by his side. He had not heard her soft steps muffled by the sand and was startled to see her. “Join us,” she offered. He didn’t know how to say no, so he followed her. The husband, William, nodded to him and showed him a place they had set aside for him.

Every morning, he joined them to breathe. He lingered after yoga, and they shared their passion for the sea. William was more than happy to have a free-diving partner. Lito was a natural. He was already going quite deep, and with the breathing techniques William taught him, the student surpassed the teacher. William explained that he was the current free-diving champion, and made a living doing that. Lito showed no interest in free-diving as a sport. He only wanted to deepen his relationship with the sea.

He fished with his father. The catch was always better with Lito around. Fish seemed to know him and want to please him. The family never wanted for food. The father asked a lot of questions about the white man. He did not fully trust him, but he trusted his son’s ability to make choices. The couple was invited to share a meal with Lito’s family. After that, the islanders smiled at the couple and stopped charging them like tourists.

The day of the competition, William was calmer, knowing that Lito was at the water’s edge. They had trained so well together that they could sense each other’s presence. When he plunged, Lito waited a few seconds then quietly lowered himself and followed him from the sidelines. He saw William in perfect position, gliding quickly and picking up a marker then slowly turning around and making the ascent. Lito did not go deep. He was just keeping an eye out. As William broke the surface, he looked for Lito as he was pulling off his mask and making the okay sign as well as verbally confirming he was fine. This done, he handed over the marker and swam to Lito, embracing him before being snatched away by his helpers.  Lito and William’s wife stood side-by-side, proud and happy to see him safe and sound, smiling to the world.

Careless Sea

I went out today on the careless sea
I needed something solid to pound
After our argument
My paddles hit you until I was spent
You mirrored my unrest with your tall walls of water

Towering over me
Crashing down furiously

It suited me fine
I screamed at you and shook my fist
My face wet and salty

When you tired of me
You tossed my frail skiff
Aside and under

I did not come back

The wind, the sea, the horses

It is a day of wild frolicking horses, droves of them crashing on the beach. There is nothing to be done but watch in awe as their hooves lift the sand in swirls that the sea greedily gulps. The wind is blowing hard. I am laying down flat in the dunes, sheltered in the high grasses, from which I watch the spectacle. The rain starts. It is pelting the sea’s surface angrily, prodding it, taunting it, but the giant pays it no mind. It is playing with the mighty wind and together they are creating horses. The rain’s contribution is to keep the voyeurs at bay while they unite and procreate. Yet I am here and see it all. When I leave, soaked through and through, the sand under me miraculously dry for a moment, grasses flattened under my weight, my heat evaporating from the ground as I get up, I can see that neither are spent and leave them to their night of passion.

The next day, the drove is still there but they are not as wild nor restless. The wind has died down, the horses no longer frenzied under its whip. I watch the sun rise under gray skies, the sea still moody, lashing idly to move the horses around. I am wearing a warmer sweater, dressed as I should have the day before, too warm for today. The horses are grazing, big liquidy eyes, fretful ears. Seagulls are calling from on up, seaweeds are littering the beach. Men arrive with boards. They are suited up in black. They lie on the boards and paddle to sea. They wait until a tamer horse comes close to see what strange beast lies in wait. They hop on the first tame horse they can catch, riding it safely to the beach and repeat with progressively bigger and riskier mounts.

The ballet goes on for hours, until the riders are exhausted and easily dismounted by an unexpected kick. Most head home. A solitary rider is still out there, one with the sun and the wind and the sea. He rests, lulled by their presence, then paddles and rides. Eventually, the horses want a rest and settle in for a nap, the sea cradling them and whispering sweet nothings. I want to ride the horses and I come day after day to watch. I get a cheap Styrofoam board, on which I approach the horses. I lay still on the sea, let them smell and taste me, until I am just seaweed they can safely ignore. I watch the young ones break and re-form under their mama’s watchful gaze. I am no threat. I lay for a long time, then sit, then stand. I ride my first colt and feel its skittishness under my feet. He lays me down gently on the beach.

I return again and again to my friends. On stormy days, mama opens her mouth wide, swallows me whole, tumbles me over and spits me out. I gasp for air, look for light, roll with the punches. They cannot rid themselves of me. I scour the beaches to discover new droves. Some like wilder, rockier terrains. Those are tricky and dangerous, exhilarating to master. Not that I strive to tame – that would be my downfall. I wish to feel the power, be a small part of it as the wind is, the sea, and the horses.

 

Luna

The bed beside him is cold. He waits.

Silhouetted against the doorway, eyes wild, seaweed hair heavily roped on her shoulders, white fish feet. “Little mother, come to bed,” he says softly. She lies down beside him, at a distance. She sighs a heavy sigh. He coaxes her gently, “And?”

Her eyes are moist. At long last, she intones, “The great sea has receded. She is showing her underbelly. The sand is smooth save for little breathing holes.” A beat. “It can’t all be crab down there! I saw the most hideous creature coming out of one of them, covered in warts, gelatinous. A large bird was waiting patiently for it to climb out. It didn’t blink. Someone will be eating.” She spits out, after a moment, “There’s loads of rubbish too.”

He can tell she relishes the sound of the word “rubbish.” It rolls off her tongue and crashes in his ears. “I wish the sea would stay on top, the waves hiding it all, waning and waxing.” Her hands going to and fro above her, in the air. He knows better than to speak. He must respect her rhythm.

“You know you can walk for miles out to sea? You won’t realize when it stops creeping back, and then rushes in, and traps you, and gobbles you up. Quite the monster really. A fake tame beast.” Her voice is flat as salty drops wet her cheeks.

They will not sleep. They never do under a full moon.

Love at sea

They met underwater, snorkelling. They were watching a grey-brown nurse shark resting on the ocean floor. They had spotted him from above and decided independently to dive down to get a closer look. He was not flamboyant, did not have interesting colours. Yet, here they were, like kids in a candy store, with that peculiar excitement that comes from seeing something alien and beautiful. The rest of the group had moved on, after a selfie or two. It was relaxing to watch him munch on a coral reef, sometimes catching a fish or a shellfish. The strong jaws crunched rock-hard shells. The pair did not stay long, could not breathe under water. When they surfaced again, eyes gleaming, they looked at each other curiously.

After the activity, the group was herded back to shore and given choices for the rest of the day. They did not exchange anything more than that glance as they were shedding their equipment. He was not so much tanned as weathered. She was bleached by the sun and the wind. They both wore wedding bands but had come alone to the activity. They met again a few days later, early afternoon, each by themselves again, wearing their wedding bands. She was watching a beached jellyfish with sorrowful eyes. He spoke like the rough seas, his words cresting white on the fringes. “Those things sting,” he said uneasily. She replied, abruptly, “They’re not things.” His shadow fell on the jellyfish. “Dead or alive, they still sting,” he said in a gravelly voice. She did not answer. He started walking away. She followed in his footsteps. He was taller than her, his stride longer. He shortened it so she would not need to hurry so much. He could hear her panting. He stopped. “Maybe you could walk in my shadow? The sun is harsh.”

She moved to his side and looked at him. She was using his shadow to shield her eyes and get a better look at him. His face was craggy, distinctive. He wasn’t young, either. She offered, “My girlfriends told me to wear a wedding band so I wouldn’t get hounded at the bar.” He smiled. “And, did it work?” She smiled back, “I don’t hang out at the bar.” They had been walking in an easy silence, trying to adapt their differing strides, passing seashells without giving them a look.  They weren’t good at small talk, decided not to try, were grateful for the quiet company. They parted after over an hour, sated.

The next day, she joined him as he was watching the sun rise on the sea. It wasn’t that early, she couldn’t sleep and had decided to go for a walk on the beach. He had found a spot and was watching expectantly. She stayed a few steps back. He motioned her closer. He was wearing a plain white cotton shirt and khaki shorts, holding his sandals in his hand. She was dressed the same but her white blouse covered a blue bikini top. She looked at his wedding ring finger which was bare and tanned. She raised an eyebrow. The sun was rising, an event that filled her with joy every day. She exhaled, suddenly realizing she had been holding her breath. They let the beauty of the moment fill the space between them, the morning light bathing their surroundings. She took off her clothes and went swimming. He followed.

It took some doing after the vacation. They exchanged emails, spoke at length on the phone. It was funny that they had spoken so little when together, and so much while apart. They enjoyed those leisurely conversations. They shared the minutia of their lives, they made each other laugh and cry. It was frustrating, all this technology between them when they longed to be together. He lived near the water, she in the city. He spoke of the sea like you would a mistress. He abhorred labels, did not consider himself a surfer but rather someone who enjoyed surfing. The sea brought him much joy, in all her moods, though he knew enough to ride her only when safe. He had an app on his phone that indicated where sharks were hanging out. He was still intrigued by them, kept a respectable distance from them.

She had a sister that needed looking after, with whom she shared a condo. He was as free as a bird, having little contact with his brother, and being estranged from his parents. Over time, he had dealt with the important relationships in his life and made up his mind about the time he was going to spend on them. He wanted to be with Stella, that much he was sure of. Uprooting himself to a faraway city, that he was not prepared to do. Luckily, Stella was as eager to be with him as he was to be with her. She came for a short visit, a long week-end to which she tacked a few more days. He introduced him to his surroundings, and to a lone friend. They met him at the pier, Diego a carbon copy of Charles, except darker. Charles had a catamaran and moored her there. His lodgings were sparse, Spartan even, except for the books. He had curbed that habit, as much as he could, being a regular at the town library. He surfed, beachcombed, sailed lived simply and fully. Was there room for her? For a future together? They both thought so and resolved to make it so.

She asked for a transfer at work and got it. Her sister kept the condo, but Stella kept paying her share of the condo fees until her sister’s boyfriend moved in. The transfer went well. She had worked remotely with the colleagues at this branch and they got along. She had a place to crash, furnished, boyfriend and all. The honeymoon phase lasted until she found herself unexpectedly pregnant.  She wasn’t sure about having a baby, but he was thrilled. He confessed to having amassed enough to last them a lifetime from his previous incarnation in high tech. He proposed by the sea, on his knees, with the sun rising on the horizon. Instead of a diamond, the ring held a black pearl. Her heart said yes, her mind held her back because she was much younger. Her heart won.

They named their boy Christopher, for Christopher Columbus said one, for the boy Christopher in Winnie-the-Pooh, said the other. Christopher was home-schooled and curious. The three of them sailed together with Diego on the catamaran. Christopher loved the sea. He loved music. His loves combined into a career in marine biology. He thought of becoming a sound studio engineer, after hearing whale sounds. Pragmatism took over. He wanted future generations to experience the beauty of these behemoths first-hand, not just through music. He became their champion, pure of heart and of tongue. He begat two girls, a replica of her mom’s family. He got custody of his daughters, and she felt lucky to babysit them.

They had grown old together, united by their love of the sea. She told Christopher that she had been attracted by his father’s voice, a mermaid’s call that had enticed her to run aground in his arms. Charles confided that he had been charmed by her quiet company. His temper would sometimes flare, like a stormy sea, but she navigated expertly around the reefs, until the calm returned. There was a buried treasure in his words, a lost childhood of gold and ducats that she was privy to. She always saw it shining, even when he lost sight of it.

 

Appropriately, Charles was lost at sea, on his precious catamaran. Only the catamaran was found, drifting, with no sign of him. He would have been happy to have gone that way, embraced one last time by his mistress. Stella’s eyes grew dim, her face lined, her hair lost their shine. He had been her beacon, and losing him she had lost her way. She remembered the salty taste of his sweat, the curls of his hair, his sweet tattoo. For their 10-year anniversary, he had gotten a nurse shark, she an oyster. She had joked, “You crack me up!” Now the shell hardened, the pearl hiding deep within, with no intention of being seen. She dreamt of sharks all the time. They were tender and shy, in turn unassuming and voracious. They cracked shells and spit out their contents or swallowed them whole. Once, instead of a pearl, a green fog had filled the shark’s mouth. She woke up uneasy, wondering if his soul was at peace, what message he was trying to deliver.

She found solace in her grandchildren, especially Sandy, who looked a lot like her grandfather. They spent time together, and she was happy to reminisce because the child did not interrupt, playing intently at her feet, looking up if she stopped. She was like a sponge, absorbing all this information, asking questions days later to clarify a point she could not make sense of. They grew close, the child her old age stick. Stella seemed to regain a bit of her youth, in the child’s presence.  Sandy never tired of hearing the story of the twin tattoos. For the child’s birthday, Stella had showed her another tattoo. It was a pearl, hidden behind her ear, under her hair. “Four people know of its existence: the tattoo artist, me, your grandfather and now you. Happy birthday, Sandy.”

Nobody could beat that present. Sandy kept pirates at bay, protecting the loot fiercely. She confided in her granny when she decided to become a geologist and study fossils. She would regale Stella with her field work and her discoveries. Without Sandy, Stella would have sunk, become a bottom-dwelling being.  It was not a surprise when Sandy inherited the house and its contents. It was hers from the get-go, a house where both grandparents were kept alive, finally able to end their lives together.

Ink Art

She mastered the throwing of the ink at an early age. Her pouch was supple and contained plenty. She dreamed that she had access to differently colored inks. Not that she wasn’t content doing black and white. It afforded her the pleasure of contrast, of crispness and vagueness, shadow and light. She had taken to sending splashes in quick succession. The trick was to use the tentacles to shape the ink. It tended to dilute before she had time to fully express her thought. Her art was evanescent.

She was dedicated to her craft. It was less a matter of physical survival than of emotional fulfillment. Other squids left her alone, thought her weird. One or two kept an eye on her, either for fear or curiosity, she couldn’t tell. They alternated bringing her attention to food. She always felt ravenous after an inking session. She also must eat to replenish her ink supply.

She enjoyed long sessions of reflection – lying in wait for her next meal, she watched her envelope transform to blend with its surroundings. It went against the grain. She wanted to stand out! Throw ink in people’s faces! Instead of only replicating her own shape to distract would-be predators and flee, she sought to reproduce the predators’ own shape, as in a mirror. She spent long hours perfecting her gaze, to catch a likeness instantly. She mesmerized her aggressors – they loved seeing themselves more than eating. Her work garnered reputation; predators unknown to these parts came from far and wide to get a glimpse of themselves. They sometimes regurgitated fish for her in a gesture of gratitude. Soon she had hangers-on, eager to benefit from the overflow. She sometimes ate them distractedly. Anything for her art.

She generously taught. The parents were incensed but some kids were really talented and developed their own style. Two boys, born of the same mass of eggs, lived as one. They took to floating across from each other. One would project the ink while the other molded it. The first had to guess at the creation. Other times, they played riddles. The first one sent out a splash of ink and the second one would try and guess what it was. In the early days, it was more Rorschach than skill, but they honed their skills over time.

The boys started collaborating on projects, each inking to complete the others’ thought. Their intelligence fused, their sculptures fascinated their peers. They were skinny. They were so immersed in their work that they would go without eating or sleeping, consumed in thought. That made them less appetizing and afforded them some protection. Feelings about them ranged from dismay to admiration. A lot of their peers just tried to ignore them, hoping their influence would decrease as the novelty wore off. It didn’t. Soon sharks came circling – the boys had gone beyond mere reproduction and flattery. They bravely expressed their vision of the world, living for the thrill of sharing it.

Squid

Hidden on the coral reef, merging seamlessly with my surroundings, I spy with my little eye a pesky lazy fish. He’s been tormenting his rival long enough. I extend my longest tentacles and drop him in my mouth. He squirms and protests as I swallow. Good riddance! I am a knight in camouflage…

Back to my trusty reef, where I again assume my watch position. I shiver – a small shark is back in the neighborhood. Conversations cease. Remoras latch on for a ride and a bite. The rest of us hide in crevices. I hide in plain sight. Sharks have poor vision but they are sensitive to every vibration. I think zen thoughts and stay motionless. The remoras have spotted me. One squints and whispers something to the other. I hope they weren’t friends with my earlier snack. I bet they were. The first one goes to the shark and points at the reef. The shark hesitates. He doesn’t know if he can trust them, doesn’t want to look like a fool crashing into the reef and possibly hurting himself. He shrugs and heads out. I start breathing again and subdued conversations resume.

Nobody hazards to swim in my area. I grow bored. I don’t enjoy the camouflage strategy – secure but dull. I decide to swim out, cautiously. I can see the sun shining brightly. It’s a beautiful sunny day – I may have more luck skimming the surface. I start up but see a large shadow. A ripple of fear follows the scream “Cormoran”. I throw my doppelganger in ink and swim back down. The bird goes for it, its beak clamping down on my shadow while I escape unscathed. That was too close for comfort. I would be sweating if I had sweat glands.

Oooh, nice, a few crabs. They crunch satisfyingly under my beak. I rip them to smaller pieces that I place delicately in my mouth. So focused was I on savouring this substantial dish that I react slowly to the attack. If the evil remora had not snickered, I would have been the shark’s meal. I flatten myself to the ground, cursing my luck. The remaining crabs scamper off.

A hungry shark is suggestible. When we both have eaten our full, we like to visit and shoot the breeze. But with the remoras in a mischievous mood, I better lie low. I decide to go haunt the wreck. I love to photobomb the divers or frighten them with an ink impression of themselves. That totally freaks them out. They’ve sunk that one intentionally. They even have a fake skeleton with an Elvis hairpiece. That’s just bad form. Polluting the neighborhood with tacky sculptures but, hey, the kids love it; it gives them a place to hang out.

School is out. They move as one. Their ballet is a feast for the eyes. I hardly ever break them up to eat any. It just feels wrong to destroy an art piece. I would rather go hungry.