Selection from “Women Float”
Watching the waves in the dark draw and pull, rise and fall, I imagine my journey as I finally leave Carpinteria. I’ve left before but this time I don’t know if I’ll come back. I’ll miss the ocean the most and that’s why I walked here after Mia and Cedric took off. As the day extinguishes, I imagine my journey, which is still only an airplane ticket to Rome and a Eurail pass and a savings account.
I walk through my adventure to an imaginary paradise, Agua Sante, in my head. As always, it’s a beautiful, exotic woman I make my main character, but this time instead of Janie in the female lead, it’s me. As the mental cinema plays out, the ocean pulls me in and I stand up and walk into the sea. The water doesn’t even feel that cold on my bare legs. I wade into the whitewater of little teeny waves at the shoreline. Ankles, shins, nearly to my knees. I’ve never walked this far out by myself and definitely not at night. I trip on the smaller waves, get to my knees, don’t fight the waves I can’t see until their white foam sneaks up onto its toes. Phosphorescent plankton squeezes together into rings, and holds candle lit vigils with clear, green flames whenever the water splashes, collapses onto itself.
I look up into the vast black sky diving head first into dark sea, where the only horizon markers are the sparkling oil platforms. The sea murmurs tricky gossip, deep within thewaves, almost whispered. The ocean at night is pure movement, sensation.
I want the water to cover me. I want to be immersed in the ocean. As a wave approaches with its gentle pull, I slip my shoulders, chin, mouth, ears, nose, eyes, eyebrows, hairline, all of me underwater carefully until the wave’s crest sucks the hair over the top of my head. I’m totally underwater. Wave passes, I push up on my feet and I break the surface and breathe deep. My heart beats normally and I feel like I’m home.
Instantly, I have to try it again. This time, I burst from the bottom like a rocket. I fold down to the bottom, and my pale red hair floats up like seaweed. After a moment, I explode through the water screaming, “AAAAaaaaaah!”
The surface of the water rocks when I shoot out but I duck under again, this time giggling for no reason. Laughing underwater is just blobs of air, no sound, and Sandra’s right about sinking. I can’t do it. I have to work to keep from floating up. I can only stay under for a few seconds before I boil up, in the bubbles, to the surface.
I keep dunking and jumping, and I push all my weight to my feet to stay under longer. Fear dissolved like a sugar cube in coffee. Gone. Under the water, there is no loud sound, and I become super aware of my skin, the water streaming over me, and how everything looks black. After a while, the waves fall flat to catch their breath, and I suck in a hundred year gulp of air, and really try to make myself dive under, my body sopped over by the ocean.
Without blinking, I rise to the surface, drift on the water, and feel the air turn cold on my face. Floating in the dark, I hear a voice inside my head, maybe a memory of one of Janie’s stories, ask, “What happened to the tale told by a mermaid whose words turned into water when she spoke?”
Then an answer in my mind, “She bottled her story, and sent it adrift. Now, it washes up on exotic shores, and people read it, add changes, before they cast it back into the sea. The story recycles forever, repeats like the waves. Sometimes, young women who read it disappear. Their final footprints lead to the sea, stop short at the shoreline.”
Imagine that you’re floating on an ocean, and you’re the last person on earth. That’s what it’s like for me tonight.
Maureen Foley is a writer and artist who lives on an avocado ranch by the sea in Southern California with her daughter, stepson and husband, writer James Claffey. She is the author of a chapbook of poems, Epileptic. Her writing has appeared in Wired, Caesura, The New York Times, Santa Barbara Magazine, Skanky Possum and elsewhere. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Prose from Naropa University and now teaches creativity, English, writing and more in Santa Barbara County. She is currently working on a new novel and developing a series of illustrations and text for a children’s book.
Beth Couture is an assistant editor with Sundress Publication and the secretary of the board of directors of SAFTA. She is also the fiction editor of Sundress’ newest imprint, Doubleback Books. Her own work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, Yalobusha Review, the Thirty Under Thirty anthology from Starcherone Books, Dirty, Dirty from Jaded Ibis Press, and other publications. Her first book, a novella titled Women Born with Fur, is due out in the fall from Jaded Ibis Press. She teaches at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.