“Seashell,” by Will Walawender
In one month I will cast myself into the sea. There is an ocean growing inside me, and it pours out at night. Out of my eyes like tears, yes, but out of my ears, my nose, my mouth as well. Some nights my ocean swells and it leaks from my pores. Melissa tastes salt water when she kisses my neck in the dark. She says, “Erica, I’m worried. What is the matter?” I don’t want to concern her. I whisper that I am warm, too hot, I am sweating, I have been eating too much sodium lately. She can feel the chill of me like a breeze when she wraps her arms around me though. Of this I am sure.
I visit my doctor in the morning and she still doesn’t know what to do. She takes samples of my blood and it comes out clear. It’s foamy like a wave. We meet every few weeks. She has my samples lined up along her shelves. I sit in her office, staring at the vials in front of her books. They are dark, almost black, at the farthest left. Their color filters out, making red, pink, until they turn green to the right. My doctor shakes the greenest one and says that I don’t have much time. “I see maybe a half a year, maybe a bit less.” She kneels in front of my chair to take my hand, flips it over to run a finger across my palm. Her nails tread across my flesh, making ripples all the way up my wrist and forearm. She flips my hand again and kisses my knuckles. I don’t know how to react. Her lipstick washes away in my flesh. She says, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do.” She says, “Come back in a few weeks, please. Maybe I can help then.”
I return to Melissa’s home, more damp than ever. I can feel the bubbles of fish in my stomach when I tell her. “An ocean?” she asks. Yes, an ocean. It’s growing. It’s like I’m made of ice and I’m melting. We are sitting across from one another on top of the blankets of her bed. When I stand up, I will leave a puddle where her foot will rest later tonight. See, I say, holding out my arm as if to hold her hand. I flick a finger across my skin and splash water on her face. It drips down on her lip.
“Maybe,” she says, “I can keep you in the tub. Or I can fill all my empty beer bottles with you. I can keep you forever.”
That’s sweet, I tell her, but I can’t.
I don’t say so, but I fear her anger. Getting mad at me for changing this way. She could lash out and drink me. Laugh as she pisses me out the next day and flushes me down the toilet.
I tell her that I can’t see her anymore. I’m sorry, I can’t leave this burden on you. You’re too sweet, too kind, but how can you bottle this much salt water?
I leave her then, apologizing for the wet trail of myself as I walk out the door.
I begin to spend my time walking the streets in the rain. I sit in the bleachers at the county pool watching college students do laps. I drink two gallons of water a day to sustain myself.
There has always been an ocean in me. It’s deep. If you fall all the way in, I’m sure you couldn’t get out. Fish bobble up to the surface, and predators wait down in the depths.
My one month is up. I take a long walk down to the beach.
I call my father and take my time as my feet sink and mix into the sand. For one long second, I listen to his breathing on the other end, long and raspy. It sounds like a beached whale’s cry.
When we talk, our voices trail off at the end of our sentences. My father gulps and exhales in a slow, tragic kind of way. He asks me about Melissa between gasps of breath. We don’t talk about his divorce. I tell him about my brother’s new adventure overseas and he coughs in excitement. He tells me how beautiful his nurses are.
The tide is rising as I talk to him. Seagulls call out and fight over fish in the slosh. My ocean is seeping out of me. I’m dripping into the receiver of the phone. Drip, drip, drip. If my father can hear it, he doesn’t say anything.
I remember once he told me, “You will find a nice boy soon. Your ocean will calm and smooth over like glass and all will be well.”
Of course I got angry. I said, You know, maybe it’s good that I am dissolving into my ocean. Maybe lots of people have done this before and that’s why the Atlantic is so damn big. Each wave is another sad girl like me. Can you imagine swimming across that many people?
I listen to the sound of his snores, his breath, his sobs, his I don’t know what again at full volume pressed to my ear.
For a minute, neither of us says anything. Then he says that he can hear the ocean on my side of the phone. “It sounds so beautiful, I wish I could see.”
The tide is kissing at my toes in the sand. My father and I are listening to each other’s breathing through the phone.
I take one cautious step into the water and press the phone tighter to my ear.
I want to really hear what my father is saying in his exhale. On the other end, the cave of his throat sounds empty, but I know otherwise.
If I concentrate hard enough, I might be able to hear.
About the Author:
Will Walawender is a student at Sarah Lawrence College pursuing his MFA in Fiction Writing. He has taught Creative Writing at Exploration Summer Programs at Yale and Baccalaureate School for Global Education. His fiction has previously been published in The Bookends Review and is forthcoming in NANO Fiction.
This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Ashley Farmer.
Image Credit: ©/ Dollar Photo Club