This story was initially written for someone who does not deserve the dedication. Instead, this goes out to the people in my life who told me I deserved better, before I believed it myself. Love y’all. xo Aida
Fish-Woman broke the surface of the Pacific Ocean at 4:12 AM, just missing a passing schooner. As it was drifting away, a man on the ship thought he saw something, almost human, bubbling up. Huh, he thought, and thought no more.
Fish-Woman’s lungs, crystalline and fossilized from years of dis-use, began to crack open. Her first few breaths revived the long dormant organs. Air trickling, crackling and spurting through her. Dying, being born again. It was like the fire in the deep volcanoes of her homeland.
As the air continued to flow, she began to weep. She knew she could never return to the canyon she called home. Even if she could, she would not dare go back there, knowing that death awaited. Her exile had begun. She was still weak from her upwelling. Flippers tucked into her toes, she let the current take her. Soon, she saw the shore, and fell to sleep.
In the early light of the new year, a young woman sat on the beach alone. She was still drunk and very high from the previous evening’s party favors, watching the waves come in one by one. She imagined each wave coming toward her for an embrace, crashing just before they could touch.
Kinda like my love life, she thought. Always out of reach, unattainable. Daphne gave herself a slap in a futile attempt to stem the tears that were beginning to well up inside her.
“No tears dear,” she muttered to herself as they began to stream and smear anyway.
A hundred lost lovers washing up on the shore. Several failed romances in her very small town. Word got around about the tranny dyke. She took it in stride and came to bear queer looks as a point of pride.
“Watch the waves, dear,” she reminded herself. A hundred lapping lovers. Ha!
That’s when Daphne saw her on the shore. Arms and legs galore! Shimmering there in the wake of the last wave was a woman. She could not believe it, blinking through her stupor. A few more waves passed over the motionless figure before she believed her eyes. A woman! I wonder if she’s…dead? Gay? Single? Monogamous?
“Who are you?” was Fish-Woman’s first question. Her eyelids clicked open. Daphne blinked, unsure how to answer such a simple, loaded question.
“That’s a very pretty name, Daphne. What does it mean?” Her skin was a deep green, almost black if you weren’t paying close attention. Daphne was paying attention. She could not take her eyes off her. Feeling rude and somewhat self-conscious, she turned her focus on a small rock instead.
“I don’t know, um…some kind of tree or flower I think?” She was tongue-tied. Something inexplicable was happening, yet she felt mostly calm. Steady. Like she didn’t need to say anything. But why was she the one answering questions, anyway? Fish-Woman was grinning.
“I’ll tell you what you want to know, when you want to know, don’t worry.”
“We don’t waste our breath in our Mother. Important messages can travel far in the sea. When we are close, the smallest of gestures are enough.”
“I guess that makes sense. So, what is your name? Do you not have the need for one?”
Fish-Woman took Daphne’s right hand into her left, and gently put her own right hand on top. Daphne could feel the sand slowly melting into her skin and the blood in her head. A bead of sweat was running down her neck. In her stomach was the sea, churning in the crush.
“That is my name.” Fish-Woman stood up, steadying herself on Daphne’s shoulder. “Let’s go for a walk?” She took three steps before falling hard, as hard as you can on sand. Holding back laughter, Daphne hoisted Daughter of the Sea up and began to trudge.
“Let me help you with that.” The afternoon began to bleed as they went, arm in arm, step in step.
Her hair was long. Green. Like seaweed that you struggle with and throw on your friends to scare them, Slimy, slippery, salty and peppered with sand. Her hair was long. Green. Daphne felt her muscles slowly loosen, her stress and worries and lovesickness go somewhere else, somewhere far away from their conversation.
“Can I call you Coral? I know you don’t have a name like I do. But you seem like a Coral.” Daphne could not look her in the eye. It almost hurt to look; she was shining so bright in the late afternoon light.
“Okay, if that’s easier for you.” Coral was smiling, splashing her webbed feet in the tide pool. Daphne was starting to get nervous. It was almost twilight and she knew that a certain element came out at night. The beach freaks! The river dwellers, the marsh magicians. They had their own code of living, and if you did not follow it, you could end up in trouble.
Daphne recalled one day that she had gone down to the water, joint in hand, and met a man named Jonathan. He smelled of river-dirt and sweat and clothes that had been worn for too long.
“Don’t go in there at night,” he told her, pointing toward the riverbed. It was a kindness, a warning. How did he know that it called to her? That she often fantasized about casting away her past life and living in unity with the river. Perhaps it was something in her eyes, the way she so easily started a conversation with him, so easily passed the joint to him. Perhaps he had been like her once, perhaps he had heard the call, and answered it.
“With me you are safe,” Coral whispered. “We can go in there, if you want.” Daphne nodded slowly. She was under a spell. Every ounce of common sense she had was in shreds. She wanted to become wild. She wanted to impress her new companion with her bravery, even if she had to bleed.
“That way!” Daphne pointed past the harbor, where there was marshland and egrets and places to lie down. Off they walked.
Daphne had been there once before. With Fé. Fé, the wild one, connoisseur of chemicals and secret spots to fuck, up and down the coast. On their first date, Daphne brought a bag of mushrooms, and they ended up tripping until the full moon began dripping through the bamboo shoots, driving them wild with fear and desire. All they did was touch each other and cry softly as the night wore on, the shadows telling them stories of their ancestors who had taken refuge in marshes and estuaries and woods near the missions and plantations and freeway interchanges. Now the whole world is a plantation, Daphne thought. Where do we go now?
This time was different. It was a new moon, and very dark. Daphne was sober, the shock of that afternoon having wiped away last night’s buzz. She was tired. But she did not feel like she was on a plantation. She felt that she was floating. Coral was strong, and when Daphne began to falter in her step, Coral started carrying her.
“Living under tons of water pressure lets me walk lightly. Only air above me now.” Coral seemed please that she could lift Daphne so easily, a faint smile on her face. Daphne was blushing.
“Can you make love to me tonight?” Daphne was not afraid to say it. She was tired but burning for her.
“Yes, my dear.” They laid down in a sandy bank near the marsh. Crickets were chirping their ballad, louder than she had ever heard before. She wanted to come, she wanted to die, she wanted the crickets to drown out the sound of her heartbeat completely, which was pounding into her throat and chest and making it impossible to think about anything but being filled up completely by this beautiful creature. Head to toe, she wanted to be filled up from head to toe.
Coral moved slowly, rubbing her forearms against Daphne’s, smelling her hair and bringing closer into her lap by slowly nudging her thighs with her own. The symmetry, the smell of algae and sea-salt between them was driving Daphne wild. Coral’s skin was rough, slowly scraping her. She began to bleed where Coral was touching her, but it was nice, it was necessary. Like bloodletting, she thought. Love went on and on and on and on, a buoy in the still night.