a year in stories::eighteen

No time to talk today, only time for this, the story. It’s a story about not dying.

Return to me, Ocean

I woke up thirsty the day I was born. Sand filled my mouth and every other orifice, my skin stretched and bloated, soggy and loose. I tried to stand but my limbs no longer listened right and my bones felt askew. Pushing my hands into the sand, my arms simply wobbled and collapsed, hands flapping like beached fish. The waves lapped against me and the tide rose to my knees. The sun peered over earth’s curve pinking the fingering clouds and I smelt rain but also death.

The ocean was deathly and I was dying.

My body unresponsive and my thoughts clearing, I turned back to what came before but found only darkness. No, not darkness: nothingness. Only an immense absence, like a curtain without fabric covering a window that doesn’t exist. The waves lazily rolled in and their whooshing brought me peace despite everything, or maybe only exhaustion, and I slept, cold, wet, alone, deathly on the shore.

I dreamt of water. Drinking it. Its cold surge down my throat, sloshing in my mouth, dribbling down my chin. Rain, torrential. Hurricanes, water flinging in all directions, water rushing over and through me but always into my mouth, down my throat, a relief too brief. My mouth was made of sand and my throat of glass.

Opening my eyes to a crab crawling over my hand. I wiggled my fingers but my hand made a fist, tossing the crab off my skin and then it clipped me once, hard. A strange pinching that reached my brain too slow, the pain only registering after the crab left, bored, to do crabby things, in a crabby way. The purple sky oranged as the earth rolled away from the sun and clouds, thin and whispering, stretched over the sky in reds, like morning. Mourning. As earth turned from sun the waves rose and lifted me and I realised I was not where I was in the morning but much further inland and now on my back, and then I floated, my head pillowed by the gentle waves pushing me always further in.

The ocean doesn’t want me anymore. That was my only thought. I could tell fish and perhaps birds had taken parts of me, that the water had disintegrated even more, but all of that was submerged beneath the realisation that I was being castaway, not from land, but from water. Humans don’t belong in water and water doesn’t want us. It doesn’t want me, at least.

Still unable to control myself, I did what I could: held my breath. I kept from drowning the way I imagine I must’ve for months or weeks or days or years, however long I had been out past land. When the sunlight disappeared a light flickered further down the coast. A shadowy pillar flashing light into the nothingness of the oceanic canvas: a lighthouse. The lighthouse focused me as I battered against rocks and finally found myself again on almost solid ground. Sand rushing from under me as the waves crashed on top, in my face, and I wanted to drink, so deep was my thirst, but the ocean’s not for drinking, though I ended up accidentally swallowing my share.

I don’t remember falling asleep or dreaming, only the flashes of the lighthouse calling out to distance, to strange ships fearing the shore.

What is it?

A voice, so near. A child’s voice. A child and another, talking about me.

I opened my eyes to two little girls, tanktops hanging off their bony shoulders covering a onepiece for swimming.

Is he dead, said the short one.

No, I said, choking on the dry.

They jumped back and when I called for their help, they ran from me.

I felt the tears, the heat in my face, but so dehydrated was I that nothing came. Gasping, my tearducts rusting.

Sky clear, the sun high, and I was drier than I had ever been, though my skin still slogged, sagged. So much time in water dissolved the bits inside me, destroyed the connectivity and cohesiveness of everything, and I was a sort of human shaped blob. I measured time by the place of the sun in the sky and when it reached its highest, my skin was pinking and thousands of pins wandered over my naked sloughing skin and then the men came. They came with women and children. Circling me, they talked to one another but ignored my calls though we shared a common language. It was then that I thought maybe I was dead and just trapped in the husk of my body, but then there was the crab, so I knew I yet lived, but deathly. But these people, all crowded around me, studying, measuring.

Then they were gone. Earth rolled, turning over to sleep, and as the shadows spread and the water returned to lap at my feet, so too came the people. They built a fire further up the beach as the lighthouse flickered. While the fire grew songs were played and sung by many voices and in the darkness, several silhouettes against the flames surrounded me, lifted me, and as I screamed through warped vocal chords, they brought me to the fire.

But the did not throw me in.

They warmed me, gave me water, a place of prestige and prominence. Every one covered in paint but not warpaint: celebrationpaint. They showered me with gifts, braided my thin deathly hair, and kind words flowed in me, and as the fire warmed, my skin tightened, and as it tightened, my bones reknit, found their joints. The holes in my flesh from dissolving and being eaten by fish and birds remained, but I no longer cared. Hot wine passed between us, songs filled the air, and after hugs and tender touches of love, a man with a thick black halo of hair took me in his arms, kissed me on the mouth and said, You’re back. I knew you’d come.

From then on, they called me Shaman and it’s the only name I know, have ever known. I am loved and cared for, and so I watch over them by reading the waves and the skies. A talent I cannot explain or even understand, but I speak with sky and ocean and as they mate and birth storms, I prepare the village for what’s to come.

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