“Healing winds with all their might reveal an eight arm gift of ancient sight.” -The Secret Guide to Ocean Magic
Tracing the dark blue waves stitched onto the white comforter with her pointer finger, Meri takes a deep steadying breath. There’s nothing to do right now but rest. She did everything she could. It’s not her fault.
There’s a sense she’s forgetting something, but the smell of peppermint tea distracts the feeling away. Dressed in warm, soft pajamas of pale pink, she rises from bed and slips on a pair of matching fur-lined slippers. Her arms and legs feel heavy and weak.
She’s in a small, square room with no windows. There’s a large blue octopus painted onto a white brick wall. An unknown wind blows her thick brown hair about her face for a moment before sticking to her damp, pink cheeks. She closes her eyes tight and a murky image slowly comes into focus.
There’s a golden chandelier, a dance floor of soft brown wood, and a jazz band playing in matching maroon suits. She’s wearing a midnight blue silk dress with her hair piled in ringlets on the top of her head. She feels far more grown-up than ever before. This is what her life will be like now. A life she can create all by herself far from the reach of her abusive parents. She gets to call the shots.
“There’s a forest of life inside your green eyes,” a young man says while holding Meri in his arms. Handsome and tall, she can feel his strong heartbeat against her palm. His lips are plump and pink and his hair is long and golden. “I’m lost when I’m with you.”
Dressed in a sparkling silver dress, a beautiful woman bumps into the young couple and drops her cocktail drink to the floor. Its pink liquid sloshes all the way to the wall, pooling along the edge. The floor tilts further sideways and someone screams. Meri opens her eyes.
There’s a delicate teacup covered in tiny pink starfish steaming on a wooden end table across the room. Beside it sits a thick book with a deep blue cover and a pair of golden brown reading glasses. She takes a wobbly step toward it.
“Well, I suppose I could do some reading.”
Her voice sounds crackly in the quiet room as if her throat is swollen. Has she been screaming? Questions waft away before answers can be formed. The sound of waves lapping against wood can be heard in the distance.
Meri sits in a white cushioned chair and covers her legs with a heavy wool blanket which smells faintly of saltwater and is the dark green color of wet seaweed. Her long brown hair feels matted and dirty, but when she runs her fingers through it she’s surprised to find it silky and soft.
The book has no title and no author. It’s a picture book of sorts but seems unbound by the conventions of normal storytelling. Instead, it meanders between two stories, both of which Meri finds herself getting emotionally invested in within moments.
The first story is of a tiny piglet, the runt of the litter, who lives in a petting zoo in the middle of a noisy town. This plump ball of pink with a curly tail dreams of running away to attend a summer camp near the ocean so it can swim with dolphins. He tries various ways to escape but the evil zookeeper always catches him and throws him back into his metal cage.
The second story is of an immortal being living in the deepest, darkest part of the ocean. A creature of eight who spends its days hiding alone within a cave of bright silver coral created by collecting bits and pieces of shipwrecks and hammering them together. Annoyed by the noises and pollution of the world, it lives a solitary and peaceful existence. It floats gracefully in the icy waters often dancing among its garden of tiny phosphorus plants cultivated through years of careful nurturing.
On a particularly busy weekend at the petting zoo, the piglet sneaks into the backpack of a small girl with bouncy blonde pigtails. Within hours, the small animal finds itself off on a grand adventure aboard a giant white ship headed into the vast ocean. Its happiness, however, shifts when a terrible storm rolls across the glittery water, turning the soft smooth surface into terrible walls of white that crash hard into the sides of the ship. The girl tries to hold onto the piglet, but it slips from her grasp and into the choppy sea.
Meri shuts the book with a snap. Her body feels terribly cold and she looks around panicked about the wall of white and the piglet. Instead, she sees the muted lights of the room blink softly and feels the chair beneath her roll from side to side. It’s only a story, she tells herself. She stares at the white brick wall with the octopus. I’m in a room.
The number one hundred and twelve flashes golden along the wall and then disappears. Meri rubs sand from her eyes. Terror and sadness flush through her and then quickly dissipates as her eyes fall on the teacup beside her. The pretty cup with the tiny starfish.
Meri takes a sip and tastes strong herbs with just a hint of honey. She’s amazed to find the glass remains hot and full no matter how much she drinks. Feeling warmth return to her body she picks the book up and thumbs through the pages until she finds where she left off.
Yes, the piglet was in the water. Its piercing cry for help echoes through the deep blue waters, a sound that reaches the very depths of the ocean where the creature of eight resides. Immediately concerned by such a plea, it moves toward the surface with flickering quickness. After several minutes of desperately searching, it finds the source of the sound—a small piglet paddling frantically for its life.
“What are you doing here?” the creature asks.
The piglet has tears in its eyes but brightens at the friendly voice it can hear but not see.
“I wanted to swim with dolphins. Are you a dolphin?”
The primordial creature is moved by the sweetness of the young piglet. It’s been through so much already and it doesn’t want it to suffer further. With magic as old as Earth itself, the creature morphs into the shape of a dolphin with a sleek grey body, a pointed nose, and a wide crescent tail. Surfacing, it swims in a circle splashing the tiny pig’s snout and ears.
“Yes! I am a dolphin and I’ve come to rescue you.”
The piglet squeals with delight.
“A real dolphin is saving me! Wow!”
Working together the piglet climbs onto the back of the creature. They swim through the foggy remains of the ship; twisted pieces of metal, empty orange flotation devices, dinner plates, and splintered wood. There are other shapes in the water. Shapes that the piglet finds scary.
“Where are the people?” the piglet asks.
Answering with a series of whistles and squeaks, the creature of eight leaps out of the water skipping from wave to wave as if it’s flying. The piglet giggles and feels the sadness of the moment before fleeing in a rush of warmth and love. It’s going to be okay. There’s nothing to be done right now but rest. You did everything you could. It’s not your fault.
Meri sits the book on her lap again. Sunlight shines through a crack in the ceiling and the calls of seagulls break through the silence of the small, warm room. One hundred and twelve people died on the ship. She was saved by something she can’t see but can feel. Its presence radiates around her like a warm hug. So much was lost, but this creature saved her and gave her a moment of peaceful rest. Gratitude brings tears to her eyes.
Her voice sounds stronger now. She takes another sip of the warm tea, stands, and drops the book to the floor. The door opens a crack and she hears voices calling across the sand. Her body suddenly begins to shake as she falls through the door of room 112 and onto the cold, wet sand. Her true love has perished, but she’s still alive.
“Over here!” a voice calls.
“We found a survivor!”
Author’s note: I’ve started a lot of my short stories lately with a made-up quote. It’s becoming a bit of a calling card for me and might prove useful when I begin organizing the best of these stories into a collection to publish next Spring. As I’m looking at healing and transition right now, it felt right to center my story around an octopus as they have long been symbols of renewal and regrowth. I hope this story brings you comfort if you find yourself needing the reminder you did your best and you are going to be okay.
*The photos above were taken at the Lamplighter Inn in Bandon, Oregon. It’s a super cute place to stay with ocean-themed rooms. I’m afraid they don’t actually offer free tea, super comfy pajamas, and magical books. Not yet anyway.
Short Story Challenge | Week 36
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story that takes place in one room. We had to include the words petting zoo, handsome, unbound, annoy, weekend, invest, immortal, piglet, cocktail, and camp.
“Where the rolling sea meets the sand you will find the ancient ocean man. Sit still and listen if you can to broken sea shells in shaking hands.” -Old Sea Proverb
Vanora squats beside a rotting pile of kelp to examine the tiny insects buzzing around it. The golden tinge of sunset makes their wings appear delicate and translucent. They must be a kind of fly or gnat and she wonders how long their lifespan is. Probably days or perhaps only hours.
A wave of nausea hits and she falls forward in the sand on aching, aging knees. When did she last eat something? Breakfast was a large bowl of fresh strawberries and a cup of weak coffee in an off-white mug with a slight chip along the rim. She’d almost cut her lip but noticed at the last second and turned the mug.
The rest of the day is blurry and Vanora doesn’t like when her memories aren’t clear. Her grey hair smells of coconut shampoo and it’s braided back so the wind doesn’t tangle it. She must have showered and taken a nap. She feels clean and rested in black leggings and a loose purple sweater, but awfully hungry. She probably forgot to eat again.
For most of her life, she’s been a writer, always scribbling herself notes, poems, snippets of song lyrics, and endless to-do lists. Her novels were never on the New York Times Best Seller list, but she’s proud of how they reflect her as a mother and a woman. In the last few years, however, the words won’t come. The notes she leaves herself now are cryptic and upsetting. It’s as if she speaks a different language each day and there’s no global translator.
It’s hard to accept such a drastic change within herself, particularly as most of the time she feels like the same person—viewing the world through a lens of flowery words, colorful contrasts, and abstract connections. Yet her mind doesn’t hold everything at once anymore—sand running through a sieve collecting only the bits and pieces large enough to not fall through. It feels terribly unfair.
Sitting back, she touches the slimy seaweed with her pointer finger and sadness suddenly ripples through her chest, making it hard to breathe. This plant provided shelter, food, and protection to generations of sea life only to be ripped from its foundation and deposited onto the sandy shore like a banana peel thrown in an overflowing trash can. Or like an old woman who gave everything for her family only to find herself living alone in a travel trailer moving from town to town.
Waving her hands frantically to scare off the bugs, she lifts the limp plant up by the bulb, runs to the edge of the water, and tosses it as far as she can. The roaring waves mask any plunking sound but she imagines it’s similar to dropping dumplings into a boiling pot of chicken broth. Bloop.
Her children always loved soup night sitting around the large wooden table throwing crusts of bread at each other. It’s been years since they were all together—scattered now like sand in the wind. Maybe she should call them all to meet her by the sea. Would they come? Life can be so busy for those in the thick of it. This she remembers.
Vanora stands and brushes the wet sand off her clothes as best she can. There’s nobody on the beach except a few seagulls and a scraggly-looking crab missing a leg. She watches him scuttle sideways, struggling to cross the sand, and is struck by how similar they both are. Unable to move as they like. Pondering what’s next. Needing help.
Grabbing the large reddish shell with both hands she lifts the terrified crab from the sand and carries it into the icy water. The cold seeps into her pants and it requires all her focus to keep balanced, but she doesn’t stop until she’s certain the crab won’t be dragged back instantly to shore.
“Good luck, little fellow.”
With a flick of her wrists, she lets it go and it immediately disappears beneath the bubbly white foam. Vanora feels a pang of jealousy and wonders if anywhere will feel like home again. It’s been years since she’s felt the comforting feeling of belonging, but it feels more like decades. Lost memories and lost time. When did loneliness become her only constant?
Finding a large piece of driftwood to use as a backrest, Vanora sits in the sand with her legs out in front of her. The blue of her nail polish has chipped and she’s shivering from the cold. The sun continues to inch toward the water, painting the sky with thick, vivid brushstrokes of pink and gold. Nature’s nightly masterpiece always changes and surprises her.
“Every starry galaxy morphs and sings caught within its own orbital rings, but it’s humans who have the power choosing how to spend every hour.”
An eerie deep voice crackles beside Vanora and she turns to find a tall, wrinkled man sitting in the sand beside her staring at the sea. His limbs are long and crooked and he’s dressed in only a pair of tattered brown pants. There are tears falling from his pale green eyes, cutting a path through his weathered, sandy face. Sadness, the great connector, erases all traces of fear from Vanora and she’s left with only peaceful curiosity.
It’s as if he’s simply another creature found along the shore—nothing less and nothing more. There’s a slick wetness about him as if he crawled out of the water moments before and perhaps he did. His feet are covered in sharp, white barnacles and his long, grey hair and beard are peppered with pieces of dark green seaweed. His speech is slow and careful.
“Skulls of restless men do lie beneath the choppy waves and sky, searching for what they already know love transcends the moon’s bright show.”
These words are followed by a blank expression and silence. Vanora feels as if she should respond but the man has now opened a tiny burlap sack he pulled from his pants pocket. He unties a thin brown rope and withdraws several shells with long, pointy fingers. Grasping them loosely between his palms, he begins shaking them.
The colorful sky swirls and tilts until everything is cloudy and grey. All sounds are muted except for the shells within the ancient man’s hands. Vanora sways to their rhythm finding herself falling into a sleep-like trance. Images appear dream-like and cloudy swirling for a moment until they flash into vivid, sharp focus. One after another.
Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.
Thirty-five seconds are left on the timer before the roast is ready to be pulled out of the oven. Vanora wipes her hands on her faded flower apron and watches the children rushing around setting the table. The older boys carry the glassware while the little ones help with napkins and silverware. Her husband kisses her on the cheek before washing his hands for dinner. The baby fusses in the high chair.
Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.
Turning off the radio reports announcing another deployment of troops, the family gathers in the overgrown field behind the house in the late hours of the night. Using a borrowed brass telescope they take turns looking at the moon, Venus and Mars. They eat banana pudding and vanilla cookies from a thermos. The little ones pick flowers using a flashlight. Vanora wipes a tear from her husband’s cheek with her pointer finger.
Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.
Walking through the empty house Vanora checks one more time for anything left behind. She doesn’t want to leave her home, but the war isn’t stopping anytime soon and without her husband, she must do what she can to protect her children. Her youngest just learned to walk and he waddles across the clean wooden floors giggling at how much space there is to move. The oldest children fold their arms and scowl. Nothing she can say will fix this for them.
“What you have always given free I have taken from the sea, stolen from the ocean’s dark abyss a broken memory shell to reminisce.”
Minutes pass into hours as the chilly night gives way to foggy dawn. Vanora sits stiffly with her eyes closed, locked in a slideshow of the past. She watches echoes of herself and her children grow up and change through vivid snapshots of her 70 years of life. Meetings and partings. Happiness and grief. Love and loss. Fullness and beauty transform into warming gratitude that radiates like flashing sparks through her tired body.
A hawk swoops across the sky calling loudly. She opens her eyes. The strange ocean man beside her is gone and the world looks bright and hopeful. A broken sand dollar sits beside her and she holds it close to her chest and smiles. Walking back to her small trailer the words flow as they haven’t in years, almost singing themselves within her, weaving with memories unlocked and free.
“What once was taken far from me hidden inside the Tumtum tree, this broken shell gimble gave for might memory now to wave.
With burbling breath and flowing pen I return back unto myself again, for within my beating beamish heart truth whispers of another fresh start.”
Author’s note: I’ve been working all week to get my house ready to host my mother-in-law’s memorial this Sunday and I left myself no time for writing. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the words would come at all. I stayed up late last night, far into this morning, and this story is what developed. While it may not have stayed entirely on topic, I’m kind of proud of this one. Let me know what you think in the comments below and I’ll catch up on reading everyone’s blogs next week. I miss all your words!
Short Story Challenge | Week 35
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a conversation between artists. We had to include the words skull, galaxy, expression, trash can, deployment, visitor, brushstroke, decade, forgot, and ponder.
She closed her eyes. She drew her shoulders back. She took a slow and steady breath. There was tension in the air. A weight. A wait. There was no wind. She did not speak. The world grew and stretched tight.
-Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things
There’s nothing quite like standing on the beach at sunset and watching the sky and water play together with a dance of reflection and light. On our recent trip to Oregon my daughter and I sat apart from each other in complete silence watching the sun slowly descend into a bank of clouds. It was slow and sudden—a beautiful, fleeting moment of peace.
Today’s photo selections are of the place my father lives in Oregon called Little Whale Cove. It’s a hidden and magical gem we feel incredibly grateful to visit each summer. I hope you enjoy them!
Stay tuned: Next week I’ll be sharing photos of our visit to the West Coast Game Park Safari.
clinging to rocks with five arms the starfish thrives under the sea bounded by thick seaweed forests and surrounded by free creatures living complex underwater dramas and grasping tightly for survival
diving under I hold my own survival like a bawling baby tight within strong arms made tough by fighting external dramas created through daring the churning sea of man to see me worthy among creatures; equal to those hiding within its dark forests
with wide womanly hips, I dance in forests singing of my own truth, my own survival while being told I’m weak among creatures, unworthy of spinning with wide open arms spread like wings deep into the sea of truth you’ve churned into polity dramas
you try and create new elaborate dramas within the shadowy, political forests telling me my body floating in the sea isn’t worthy of fighting for its own survival; instead, you must tie my wide-spread arms behind me like all wild and crazy creatures
for you know better, you zealot savage creatures bent on pushing single-minded dramas held in your pure, pious, and holy arms; while I must run into the dangerous forests without protection, fighting for survival in your newly created shark-infested sea
with wide breaststrokes, I swim out to sea feeling one with the wild salty creatures who know the sacred truths of survival; watching breezy seaweed dramas dance before me in underwater forests, hugging myself tightly with loving arms
the tempestuous sea hosts maddened dramas of all God’s creatures within wavy seaweed forests filled with starfish arms reaching toward survival
untie my sweet womanly arms as I float in the sea or dance in forests with its many feral creatures; let me control the myriad dramas of my own survival
After spending a few days at the ocean I wrote this sestina to process what’s happening to woman’s rights in this country and ready myself to fight back. I’m not interested in debating the issue and any comments attempting to do so will be removed.
I’ve spent the last few days with my writing partner Anna, her daughter Bella, and my daughter Lola at Dillion Beach. While it’s over 100 degrees back home it’s been cool and overcast here. We’ve had several days filled with talking, relaxing, and writing. Considering the state of affairs in the world right now it felt extra special to be together as women near the healing energy of the ocean.
I struggled to photograph the beach in ways I haven’t before and I’m not sure I was very successful. I included a photograph of a fire truck as yesterday we came across a woman who broke her ankle on the hiking trail down to the beach. Anna held her leg and comforted her while the rest of us flagged down the first responders when they arrived. Watching how everyone came together to help this woman was a wonderful example of kindness in a world that feels a bit scary at the moment.
Thank you, as always, for your support of my blog. I hope you have a wonderful day.
Here’s a bonus photo my lovely and talented friend Anna took of me. You can find her incredible artwork and writings at loscotoff.com.
Ruth stares into the bright pink drink and wonders if the dye used on the lemon slice will make her stomach hurt later. The tightening pain in her lower back hasn’t loosened yet, despite three glasses of champagne and two rum and Diet Cokes. Maybe this “Pink Panther” drink will do the trick.
Taffy waves at her from the black-and-white checkered dance floor. Her long blonde hair hangs in ringlets down the middle of her exposed back. Her floor-length red sequined dress hugs her hips and exposes several inches of her breasts. She doesn’t look 60.
The young man pressed close to her, nuzzling her neck, has slicked-back hair and tight black leather pants. Ruth wonders if he’s paid to dance with the women here. Maybe it’s like a “Dirty Dancing” situation, part of the resort package. Then again, nobody has asked her to dance.
It’s close to midnight and Ruth wants to go to bed, but she knows Taffy will stay until the band packs their shiny instruments back into their cases and the staff escorts them to their 8th-floor suite with apologies and promises for new adventures in the morning. It’s been three days of this and Ruth’s ready to go home. She’d much rather be laying by the pool all day than following Taffy around.
The two of them have been friends since high school, meeting through the shared trauma of marching band uniforms and having both dated the drum major at the same time. He had terrible acne, but could play the hell out of the trumpet and knew how to sweet talk a girl. He was Ruth’s first love.
They dumped him together at the annual Jazz Festival downtown. He’d just finished playing on the main stage with an adult band from Louisiana, a huge honor for a high school junior. After the applause, Ruth and Taffy slowly walked toward the stage. His face dropped when he saw them holding hands. Taffy slapped him and loudly told the entire audience he’d been dating them both.
“Let’s go for a night swim!” Taffy says, slipping into the turquoise booth beside Ruth.
She takes a drink of the strawberry margarita she’s left sitting out for the last hour. It’s melted and separated, but she doesn’t seem to notice. There’s sweat on her face from dancing giving her a shiny, youthful glow with slightly pink cheeks. She reapplies her red lipstick and smiles at herself in her gold compact. Ruth wonders how they’ve remained friends when they are both clearly wired so differently.
“Night swim. Night swim. Night swim.”
Taffy’s pounding her palms on the table with each word and the few people still in the bar look over. Ruth sucks down the remainder of the pink drink with a few loud gulps hoping the alcohol will give her the courage to stand up to her friend and cease the never-ending party which is hanging out with Taffy. It doesn’t.
She allows Taffy to grab her hands and pull her from the farthest corner booth where she’s spent the last several hours silently drinking. As they pass the matching black-suited salsa band, the drums and trumpets swell. Taffy grabs Ruth and twirls her three times in a circle. Her tropical flowered sundress floats out exposing her Spanx-covered thighs for a brief moment, but Ruth doesn’t mind. She allows Taffy to guide her around and around the dance floor, marveling at her friend’s energy, her fast footwork, and how good it feels to be with her.
With a flourish of her dress and a wave to the band, Taffy guides them out of the bar and into the wide brown-tiled lobby—a place of bright neon colors, seashell chandeliers, egg-shaped chairs, and an abundance of driftwood artwork. At the far end is an ornate brass archway leading outside covered in tiny gleaming depictions of sea creatures. Ruth touches a penguin with her hand thinking how out of place it is among the sea turtles and starfish. Maybe it’s supposed to be a pelican but the artist forgot the legs.
Once outside, the music fades into the soft lapping sound of the ocean dancing along the jagged shoreline. Ruth and Taffy walk hand and hand along the wooden walkway swinging their arms like children, their high heels making matching clicking sounds. When they reach the sand they sit down to take off their shoes. Despite being in the tropics, there’s an autumnal breeze and a light mist.
“I’m so glad you are here with me,” Taffy says.
“Me too,” Ruth says.
Taffy squeezes Ruth’s hand and holds it for a few minutes. She’s considering all the things she wants to say to her friend, but it never quite feels like the right moment. They’ve grown so distant in the last 30 years, living lives very different from each other. She’d really hoped this trip would be a chance to be together and talk, but her friend hasn’t stopped moving. In fact, Ruth isn’t sure Taffy has slept the entire trip.
The quiet moment is broken by the low sound of a fog horn coming from the old lighthouse. Its beam sweeps across the dark waters illuminating large black rocks far from the shoreline. Ruth wonders what dangers lurk in the ocean late at night.
“What are we waiting for?” Taffy cries.
Taffy releases Ruth’s hand, strips off her clothes, throws them in a heap and runs naked into the dark ocean waters. Her aging body looks remarkably the same as it always has, beautifully curved and covered in freckles. She swims quickly away from the shore with a practiced steady breaststroke.
Ruth scans the beach for late-night scuba divers or couples looking for a place to be alone. She’s also thinking about sharks and jellyfish. 30 chest compressions and then two breaths. Clear the airway. 100-120 per minute.
“Come on, Ruth!” Taffy calls from the water. “It feels wonderful!”
“I’m not sure…”
“When will you ever swim in the ocean at night again?”
“No! Don’t think. Come on! Night swim! Night swim! Night swim!”
Ruth carefully takes off her clothes, folds them, and sets them in a pile far from the water’s edge. Naked, she’s aware of the folds and sagging skin of her aging body—a softness and heaviness all her own. She touches the stretch marks on her stomach and smiles. Taffy whistles at her.
“Hey, hot stuff,” she calls.
Ruth spins in a circle and laughs. There was a time, not long ago, she’d have let hoards of self-loathing thoughts take over a moment like this. It would have turned into a full-blown invasion of shame and anger mixed with the kind of jealous-comparing it took nearly 50 years to finally be rid of. She’s proud of how far she’s come and wonders if Taffy’s confidence is true or if she’s trying to mask her own insecurities. If they were different friends, maybe she could ask her.
“Are you waiting for a merman or something?” Taffy calls from the water. “Come in already!”
Ruth laughs and walks into the water. It’s brisk and cool, but not enough to make her shiver. She dives under the low waves and swims out to where her friend treads water with graceful fluid movements. Her fluffy blonde hair looks dark when wet and is stuck flat to her head. The heavy makeup she wears has faded making her look even fresher and younger.
“Hi,” Ruth says.
“About time,” Taffy says. “Want to race?”
“No. I do not.”
“Are you afraid you will lose?”
“No. I will lose. I don’t care.”
“Let’s see who can dive down the furthest?”
“No. Let’s just float.”
Taffy dives under anyway as Ruth allows her body to float on the mostly still saltwater. The white half-moon peeks out from behind the clouds along with a milky sky sprinkled with tiny, bright stars. With her ears under the water, Ruth concentrates on her own breath. In and out. In and out.
Water sprays Ruth’s face and she returns to an upright position to find Taffy swimming in a circle with hard, splashy kicks. She scans the water for any signs of danger, and finding none, feels annoyed at her friend’s behavior. There’s no reason for her to use such aggressive movements in the water.
“What’s that about?” Ruth says. “You okay?”
Taffy stops and treads water a few feet from Ruth. For a few minutes, the friends say nothing. Taffy turns away from her and Ruth has the horrible feeling her friend might be crying. Ruth’s always done the crying for the both of them and she doesn’t know what to do. She swims a little closer.
“The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. You dream about going up there but that is a big mistake.”
Taffy’s singing “Under the Sea” in her very best Sebastion voice. She’s trying to make Ruth laugh, and it almost works until movement in the dark water makes her stop. There’s something swimming in a circle between them creating a small whirl of movement right below the surface. Both of them freeze, terrified.
“Did you see that?” Ruth says.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
A silent eruption of bubbles floats to the surface around them on all sides. Ruth covers her mouth to stifle a scream and Taffy swims beside her. Leaning close together they watch as the bubbles pop and leave behind tiny balls of light pulsing, circling them. The churning water below them stops.
“What’s happening?” Ruth says.
“I don’t know.”
Taffy reaches out her hand and grabs one of the slightly rainbow-colored bubbles turned solid. It’s heavy, squishy, and warm. The muscles in her body relax, something like a bell ringing fills the air and she can taste the oatmeal cookies her grandmother made her as a child. She looks into the eyes of her friend and truthful words pour forth with fluid ease.
“I’m so lonely,” she says. “I don’t let anyone in and I’m afraid if I stop moving I’ll die.”
It’s as if the words have been waiting behind a wall and the bubbles pressed them through. Taffy stares at the thing in her hand feeling uncertain about what to do next. Ruth touches her friend on the arm and smiles at her. She’s got tears in her eyes.
“Thank you for telling me that,” she says. “You can tell me anything.”
Taffy grabs Ruth’s right hand out of the water and drops the ball into her palm. It dances through her fingers and Ruth makes a fist to keep from losing it. She sighs deeply, tastes fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, and hears the sound of doves cooing. Her body feels loose and the words come, like magic, from deep inside.
“I’m lonely too,” she says. “I haven’t told you the truth about so many things. I just couldn’t.”
The balls around them glow brighter and press into them illuminating their faces with a soft white light. The women gather them into their arms, letting the sensations of memory wash over them, freeing up truth and vulnerability. They spin connections sharing stories back and forth as they float in the dark ocean water. One after another the balls sink below the surface.
Night turns to day and the sun makes its climb out of the water and into the morning sky. With the rays of pink and golden light comes the awareness of time and exhaustion. The friends embrace each other.
“I think I’m ready for bed now,” Taffy says.
“You think?” Ruth says.
Side by side the old friends swim back to shore.
Author’s note: A lot of my stories take place in and around water. I’ve been lucky enough to have some powerful moments with friends at the ocean—connections forged through the beauty of vulnerability. This story is dedicated to those in my life who have trusted me with their truths. I see you and love you for being fully yourself with me.
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about adult friends on vacation in the tropics. We had to include scuba diver, champagne, invasion, archway, hoard, strawberry, penguin, autumnal, cease and mist.
“The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.” -Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
I was fortuate enough to spend my birthday weekend at the beach. There’s a part of me that can only be filled by returning to the magic of the ocean. I feel introspective, peaceful and altered each and every time my toes touch the sand. This trip was no exception. The hours I spent walking the beach taking photos were some of my favorites in memory—just me and my camera. I hope you enjoy my selections.
If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.