The Squid

I was born in summer, under a sun that shimmered on the waves. I was never much into superstition, but these days I second-guess my beliefs, and I wonder if it was all set in motion by that day. I still remember joking around with my buddy Mike, loitering one night, playing a silly game where we parroted the old wives’ tales from the neighborhood in our best imitation of our parents’ voices: “Calm seas, stormy life.”

Watching Janna swim was spellbinding. Me, I had always felt uncomfortable in my own skin, as if there was too much of me. I’d catch my reflection and frown at my chaotic mouth, my clumsy arms. But Janna had an instinct for teasing out the rhythm of the water. With sure and measured strokes, she’d relax into that rhythm and be carried along. I wanted to be carried with her.

I was born with three hearts. She occupied them all.

On dark nights we would hunt together. Afterwards we would drift arms in arms under the rocks, where it was chilly. Janna would pull me close for warmth, and we’d rest, a knotty tangle of limbs, a glorious mess. Those times I never felt too big.

She made me feel invincible. It went to my head, and we weren’t as cautious as we should have been. One night, we swam up to the shallows to watch the moonrise. Wide shafts of light filtered down onto the sand. It was too bright; we were easily seen. The dolphin charged lightning-quick, a torrent of muscle and deafening clicks. We both inked and tried to thrust away. We were blinded in the sudden flood of dark, then thrashed by the massive body. She flung out an arm and I clutched it. The dolphin’s perfect teeth tore through, snatching Janna and my arm. Screams and searing pain. I sank, I lost all balance. When my eyes adjusted, I could only make out the murky mass of my red-brown ink, mingled with the deep purple of hers. It still held the vague duplicate image of her form.

I limp along these days, thinking of the things we heard growing up. I weigh whether my tranquil birthday triggered all my carelessness, my recklessness. My nightmares end in a stain of red and violet and refracted moonlight. All the waters in all the depths of all the seas won’t wash out the memory. I hobble along and try to give advice to my old hearts: keep moving, keep pumping—consider the shark.

No comments: