Tonight I notice a brand new set
Of stretch marks, running red and jagged and angry
Across my thighs
My tiger stripes, my battle scars, but they
Will only ever be ugly to me
I can’t stand the touch: the raised skin, a shudder of disgust
An embossed card
With none of the elegance, instead the message—
I don’t fit into my own body anymore
The more I struggle with the number
The higher it gets
The smaller the gap shrinks;
The gap closes.
And I daydream of tattooing Shame
Across those tired lightning lines
So they’ll stop the rain coming
Time to leave. To let go of it all.
He closes his eyes. The sky is so full of possibilities that when he reaches out, they tinkle against his hand, delicate and glassy and beautiful.
Someone is sending down soft pastel shades. They settle on the clouds, on his hair, on his open palm.
There is more light than he has ever seen before. He wonders how he could have missed it.
Everything flashes gold as he touches a possibility. The feeling reassures him. Nothing can be right or wrong. He is just moving onwards.
He closes his fingers, and the sky flashes again. The new world opens around him, and he steps in gladly.
Life goes on, even when it doesn’t. And he is just moving onwards.
Sally sold seashells
Sally, smoothly singing soft sibilant songs, sadly sipping salty squash soup, sold superb seashells Saturday sitting still; supervising sunny sand, sustaining skin sunburns, supplicating stellar sky sincerely, she soon surpassed Sunday, soon spring, summer: seasons slipped slowly, scurried strangely—still she stayed strong, seeking slim sanity, seeking sooty sin; seeking shining silver scales, sapphire scarlet silks, selfish sundering Sumerian souls, ships sailing silent seas, ships sorrowfully sinking, so she should see success some super scorching Saturday; seventy slight seconds, seventy sentimental Saturdays, seventy scornful seasons, seventy sparkling shooting stars, still sad silly Sally stayed steadfast, selling sighing seashore seashells.
Excerpt from “Everyone I Ever Loved”
Livy was dreaming of the bone ship again. Sunbleached white, it towered over her and drenched her in shadow. When she tried to reach an arm out, the shadow stayed, pulling her back with sticky viscosity. She was trapped until she boarded, she realized, but she would not, could not, board the ship. As she opened her mouth to scream, the black liquid poured in.
She stood there as the shadows drowned her whole.
It was a good thing real life was a lot less predictable, Livy thought as she watched moonlight play on the glass of water before her. Two goddamn months of the same dream. She tipped her head back and finished the glass, setting it back on the table with a clunk.
There in the cottage, at night, the air seemed to hold a calm that belied the horrifying regular nightmares Livy had come to expect. Something about the cool salt-tinged breeze and silver light helped her relax temporarily, though ironically it was their advent that always signaled the time to sleep and the subsequent dreams.
Now she could try to sleep again; either she’d wake up after another episode, or be lucky enough to pass the rest of the night dreamless. Other times she simply sat at the table until dawn, watching the golden-red streaks rise with the sun, fingers curled around the empty glass.
She was exhausted: tonight would hold more sleep after all, either way it went. Uncurling her fingers slowly, she stood and looked out the window at the dark sky. Time seemed to be passing slowly as she turned away and walked back into her room.
The next night she woke again with a gasp, heart beating wildly. Old habit pulled her feet out of bed and into the kitchen, where she poured a glass of water and sat down to brood.
What did the dream mean? And why was it coming so persistently to her now, at this point in her life? She had come to the cottage several months back as a much hoped-for escape from her tired, frayed life, but it hadn’t brought her the peace she sought.
She knew what her mother would say: that the recurring dreams meant something important. That they were a signal that something was astray, out of balance, and should be addressed. Vague enough that Livy didn’t really know how exactly she should be going about addressing things. Definitely less helpful than a fortune cookie. Her family had always believed in that kind of mystical stuff; following instincts, staying in touch with their inner selves—things like that. Livy had never quite been an avid believer.
Not that her mother could really help her, anyway. She was long gone and her daughter was used to fending for herself. It wasn’t really abandonment, Livy thought with a tinge of bitterness, but it felt close. She sighed: on nights like this she missed her mother terribly.
A breeze wafted in, stained familiarly with the smell of salt. The ocean was just a short drive away—one reason Livy had picked the cottage. She loved the idea of the ocean, stretching and endless and eternal. The salt air carried with it a sharpness that often helped clear her mind.
The air was especially strong and clear tonight. The scent seemed to imbue itself under her skin, and she closed her eyes, feeling the pull of waves. The lure grew more intense as she breathed deeply, in and out. She wanted to go to the sea, answer the strange call.
Her practical self told her to go to bed: it was who knows what time in the morning. She had always been a rule-follower, so this reminder was familiar and true. But some other part of her that had always been quietly there spoke up and somehow rang true—echoed her mother’s words in her ears.
Follow your instincts.
That night of all nights, Livy was ready to listen. Just this once she would follow her instincts.
She stood up straight, filled with a sense of purpose she hadn’t felt in a long time. She went to her room and threw on a jacket, then headed for the front door. Keys in hand, the other on the doorknob, she hesitated. She had the strange sense that she was going to be gone for a long time.
Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. It was an impulsive trip to ocean and back. Still, after another moment in suspension, she went quickly back to her room. Pulling open the drawer next to her bed, she reached into the very back and withdrew a gold ring. She looked at the ring for a second before sliding it onto her index finger. Then, shivering slightly, she turned and left the house, closing the door gently behind her.
The drive to the beach was uneventful—yet Livy was filled with a tense, nervous energy. Her hands felt jittery; she hummed along off-tune to the pop song stuck in her head. Dark shadows and occasional lights blurred through her window in streaks as she drove. At last she arrived, feeling as though she had waited forever though the drive should have been brief.
She stopped again with her hand on the handle, anticipating... what? Something she didn’t even know herself. Once prepared, she pushed the door open and stepped outside. The wind hit her first, blowing her hair out behind her wildly, chapping her cheeks, pushing her head down. She looked up—and beyond.
The ocean was waiting for her.
It was alive. She could not see it fully in the dark but she sensed it, the vast pitch-blackness of it, its deafening roar, its monolithic body. It was monstrous and primeval, and she felt something atavistic in her awaken as she stood there, simultaneously revered and repulsed.
The sand was gleaming pale in the moonlight, and as if she was drunk, she went forward and stumbled down the shallow slope, heart pounding in her ears. Suddenly the water was lapping at her feet. The sight shifted into the bone ship and its pooling shadows, and she felt sick. She wanted to leave, but somehow—just as in the dream—she couldn’t.
Her foot lifted against her will. Slowly, as if pushing through peanut butter, it came down in the water and was instantly swallowed up. There was no more sluggishness after that. With a tug, the rest of her body was pulled into the water.
Darkness closed over her.
Closing my eyes
Never to be heard again in person
With his dark searching voice,
Twisted and piercing lyrics
Man who laid his soul bare in music
That made generations feel
A little less alone
A great loss
A great man
I bow my head in grief
Put the song on repeat
Rest in peace, Chris
You will never be forgotten