Wake Up Call
The ocean is a vast and beautiful thing, you think, a little nervous standing alone on deck, as the yacht speeds west to Maui. You hear the waves crash against the side of the boat. It wets your face and jacket, and you taste the salt from your lips. It was nice that Jesse invited you on this adventure, away from toxic cubicle land with its top-down management style of a corrections warden.
You marvel at the sunset, and the way it has created a cheerful display of colors, reflections echoed between the sky and the water: splashes of magenta, orange-pink, and purple. The colors are random like your grandmother’s zinnia bed back in Ohio, and you smile about the last time you saw her. She was clipping bouquets to put into blue mason jars for your sister’s bridal shower, muttering, “This one is for lasting affection and this one is for consistency. Dear God, Alison needs these flowers.” Grandma was always on the mark when it came to Alison. Alison was unpredictable and disapproving, and you felt sorry for her fiancé. You frown remembering that lost bet with your Uncle Karl. Seven years later, Alison is still married, living in a suburban house, with two kids and another on the way. You take in a deep breath of salty air to clear away the Alison thoughts, and push back the familiar longing for what she has.
You’re forty-six and it was years ago when you thought love was everlasting, only to be told you were boring and dumped for an entomologist. You stood waiting, stuffing the void with things your lover wished for: money, a house and a collie like Lassie, hoping that the termites and roaches would provoke a rampage back to you. Now your night time dreams feel more genuine than real life, and you get up and go to work, and do it again. The vessel turns south, the mast now cuts the sunset in half, and you think, Maui tomorrow.
You take a quick peak off the side of the boat and you blink hard, twice. There is something strange and shadowy, and it makes you uneasy. Your hands are cold and trembling and you have this odd craving for potatoes and brisket, and a healthy slice of coconut cream pie, with a two inch layer of meringue. This thing is real; its coral pink tentacles, each with two tapered rows of smooth suction cups, creep up and over the hull. The boat rocks right and harsh left, and it slows down to half its speed, even though the motor drones and pulses. Its tentacles steadily move across the deck, and are within inches of you. You glance towards the bridge; no one is there. Where in hell is Jesse? Now afraid, your mind repeats Where the hell is Jesse? syncopated between the menacing tuba notes from Jaws.
There is a soft popping sound as its suction cups release, and it edges forward. You try to step back, turn and run, but your feet stay anchored into place and knees tremble. It wraps around your leg, and you call out for Jesse to help, but the sound catches in the back of your throat sending out a silent exhalation. An image that comes to you mind, Disney’s Kraken, who engulfs the ship with Peter Lorre and Kirk Douglas onboard. You saw it on late night TV when you were a kid sitting at the edge of the couch, scared and munching through bags of chips, left over brisket and Grandma’s cream pie. Did Jesse get swallowed? The tentacle moves up your leg.
You have the sensation that it is reading you, down to your soul through your skin, tensed muscles, erratic pounding blood, and it knows your longings that have been tethered away. When you bend down to tear it away, your touch changes its color to a lighter pink. You look up and you’re staring into the dark, gentle eyes of this creature, and you feel calm and your shoulders soften as you do next to a dear friend. It continues to hold your gaze and wraps another tentacle around your arm, gently like a lover, gently like a mother to her child. You lay your other hand on it, and begin to caress it. Something light flutters in your chest, a tangible affection that satisfies your clamped up hunger and radiates out to your whole body. Nothing is what it seems, something has shifted, tilted. You feel whole next to this being, and you bend down kissing it on the cheek. It is soft and tastes of salt. The creature alters its color again to a soft white, the color of the caps on the vast ocean waves.
Beth E. Malchus-Stafa has appeared in SpringStreet. She is an MFA student at Spalding University, Louisville; and she works as a gender and health advocate. Beth lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio next door to her local public library.