Posted on: January 22nd, 2012 The Relative Densities of Seawater and Blood
by An Owomoyela
I went a little crazy when the squid washed up on Mission Beach, and not for the reasons everyone else did. I wasn’t bothered by the oil-tanker size of the thing, or the eyes that kept roving even as it rotted. The tentacles, twining in and out of Euclidean space, gave me a headache but not the usual night terrors. No, I lost it because when I saw the squid, when I wandered, sleepless and caffeine-deprived, onto the morning-cold sand, I felt like I’d stumbled on the corpse of a cousin in an alley. Staring from a familiar dead face.
My plan had been to get some fresh air, go in, start coffee, and wake my latest new girlfriend, Greta. But the fresh air smelled like rotting squid and Greta woke me, slapping my face while I lay on the cold sand. I shook her off and sat up. I was soaked.
“Kelly,” she said. “What the hell is wrong with you? You ran into the Pacific Ocean and punched a dolphin.”
I said I didn’t think that was something you could just do. For one thing, I couldn’t swim.
“Well, just look.” Greta grabbed my hand and showed me the split knuckles. A couple were bruised dolphin-blue.
Yeah, but that could have been anything, I said. That could have been a weird masturbatory accident.
Greta gave me a long, strange look. “The two of us are never sleeping together,” she said. “Ever.”
That was the first time I’d been to the coast. My family moved to the Midwest generations ago â€“ the farthest point they could find from a body of water. I never went sailing. Kayaking. Swimming. We never went to SeaWorld. A water park. A lake. My mother vetoed every class trip that could put me within a day’s walk of water.
I got here and I wanted to walk into the water. Walk until the surf closed over my head.
My mother said the water would mess with me. “Family curse,” she said. Want to guess how many of my relatives have been lost at sea?
I went out again while cleanup crews were sawing the squid up to be transported for disposal. Their chainsaws whined until they got gummed up with flesh, and the workers with their splatter masks retreated up the beach to clean out the chains. One of the tentacles fell off while I was watching, plopping into the murky water, and curled once or twice. The damn thing was beckoning to me.
“It’s something, huh?” a worker said. “Unreal.”
Too real. Too familiar.
You ever seen that messed-up Japanese woodcut? The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife? The first time I saw it, I felt like I’d walked in on my grandparents having sex.
I could hear, from the house’s balcony, dolphins chittering in the waves. I swear they were laughing as the squid rotted, and the squid’s eye rolled up to look at me. The dolphins wouldn’t leave the beach alone.
My theory? There’s a war going on. The ocean vs. the squamous elder things. And the elder things are losing â€“ there’s the airport-sized stingray that beached itself in the Cardiff Bay, the kraken-whale rotting in the ocean by Micronesia. They say it was covered with shark bites.
That’s a good thing, right? The good guys are winning, if you want to call the most vicious ecosystem in the world “the good guys.” That squid probably didn’t. It was probably brooding in some sunken city for centuries, not hurting anyone, before it washed up here. And it needed me. It called to me. I wanted to walk into its tentacles, like I’d walk into the Pacific, like I’d let it close over me.
What would you have done? I mean, I’d read Lovecraft; I know I’m supposed to fear those things. But there were slaves who fought for the South in the Civil War, you know, not because they liked being slaves, but because that was home and you had to find belonging where you could. I’d never found belonging anywhere.
I took a knife from the kitchen. Greta was in there, making coffee, and she said “Oh, you are not.”
I told her, enjoy the beach house. I’d call her. I had something to do.
I went out into the waves.