Go Places: Sea Creatures July: Issue 5
Contributors Jesse Cataldo
Rachael Easterly Emily Higgins Eileen Hillery
Megan Hummel Tiffany Navarro
Amela Parcic Jackie Sherbow Terin Talarico Monica Wendel Cover Design by Simo Peretti Waltzin’ Jenny by Them Damn Hamiltons Them Damn Hamiltons write and perform original dark New England folk with a touch of gypsy swagger and sea chantey stomp. www.themdamnhamiltons.com Created and Curated by Hannah Raine Brenner‐Leonard
Whale Mystic, collage, 2011
Thank you to all the contributors for making it great! Hope you love this one.
Sea Burial Jackie Sherbow
list of beach life, Long Island Sound, 9/11/2000 snail, shell, weeds, ladybugs (note: check), one black arrowhead, small white crabs. Oceanside, CA, 7/4/2009 A Marine drowned in the middle of the day just down the beach might as well have been next to me: the way water flows. Requirements for burial at sea: must take place three nautical miles from land and in water at least six hundred feet deep. Certain areas require deeper water. All necessary measures shall be taken to ensure that the remains sink to the bottom rapidly and permanently. list of sea life from dream, 2012 a reunion of old friends tied up in ocean‐dwelling plants: the Marine from Independence Day weekend, red tide, my Aunt M.’s ashes, silver knotted fly‐fishing ties, skipping rocks, the girl my mother dove in to retrieve from the pool’s deep end, Maisie after jumping over the fence to the broken‐glass shore of the East River, the view of Lower Manhattan from the water, my toes skimming the tips of everyone's floating hair.
Mom's Bathroom, Northglenn, Colorado, January 2010 Terin Talarico
By Night With Torch And Spear Jesse Cataldo They spent their days on the beach and at night they argued. Quiet arguments, ones with rounded edges, where she would break a glass in the sink and he would murmur under his breath: for God's sake how many times? She wasn't working anymore and he was painting the things he wanted, dead canted trees and empty beds, their sheets gray and unwashed and sinister. Things that made the men in the little galleries on the hill tilt the frames slightly to their sides, bemused looks appearing on their faces. He wasn't worried. They didn't need the money. Summer ended and they stayed there, in the shore house with three rooms, on the beach each day in sweatshirts and long pants. The tourists went home, of course, and the ice cream man left his truck behind, parked on a sandy corner near the boardwalk. Before this he had imagined that there was someone to tidy up when the season was over, a cleaning man with a cart or a pickup truck, scouring the beach for trash and debris. But there was no such person. The cellophane wrappers and plastic bags sunk their way down into the sand or blew out into the sea. The waves were glassy and calm and there was seaweed every day. By now the water was cold enough that it didn't matter. “They say it’s full of tiny maggots, the seaweed,” Heather said “as if it wasn’t bad enough.” He made a disgusted face. It was another cold day. Like always they had woken at different times, eaten different breakfasts, taken their morning walks alone. But by noon they would be on the beach again, reading, or sketching, or just looking out at the water. “Cleaner maggots though,” he said, “at least relatively. Because of the salt I mean.” People were still there in town, somewhere. They would run into strangers in the corner store and say hello, forced into friendliness by the newfound emptiness of the place. But the beach was empty. There was one person, an old woman, who had set up a card table near the steps down from the boardwalk. She sold seashells, unironically, reading romance novels with surprisingly tasteful covers. She wore a Navajo chief's blanket around her shoulders, a heavy thing with a maroon and gold pattern. This must be one of those people, he thought, the ones Heather’s father had spoken about, the weirdos who clung to the town all year round, through cold weather and warm, like dead ants on old Popsicle sticks. This woman may well have been there during the summer, sitting out among the fruit sellers and the caricaturists, with their sample drawings of outdated celebrities. If she was they had not noticed. Now they saw her every day, her shells laid out messily on the table, as if they had washed up there. They were not the same kind of shells you would find on the beach. They looked foreign, with violent patterns, streaked sunset accumulations of purple, orange and red. The woman learned both of their names and talked to them when they passed, about the sound the waves made on the jetty and the island just off the coast, which they could see but had never visited. “It’s the kind of place where you see flowers everywhere. In the back seats of abandoned cars. Just growing. Year after year and the petals pile up on the floor. Falling down cottages all covered in ivy.” The woman kept her hair tied stiffly back and when she spoke her hands fluttered, as in the motion of some complicated dance. “When you see a house like that, a house with roots tearing up the cellar, things living in the rafters, dead leaves up to your knees in the old kitchen, you feel something right here.” She touched her chest. “And the dogs. There are old strays that have gone wild and at night you can hear them crying by the waves.” At night the lights on the near side of the dunes went dark first, then those up above, in the smaller bungalows where old couples had settled down for good, leaving only to watch the waves and pick up
groceries. There were still boats out in the water, and from time to time one would pass close to the shore, the glint of its lights reflecting in the window. Sometimes they would go by quickly; other times they might sit out there for hours, far off, like something painted on the sky. When he saw one he would walk over to the window, picking up the ashtray in one hand and standing there, the ashes wandering over the lip of the tray, his face smushed up against the glass. “She paints those shells,” Heather said later. They were playing Scrabble and he was surprised to find, hours later, that the old woman was still on her mind. He had just spelled the word 'fuzz' but now regretted it, how out of place it looked, the ugly blockage it put on the board. “They're convincing, sure, but I know for a fact she paints them,” Heather continued. He wondered now if the woman was still out there, if she spent all night under the boardwalk, sleeping wrapped up in that blanket. This seemed possible. He knew why she bothered Heather, who feared things that made her feel stupid or unbalanced. The woman likely did this, through the careful way she spoke, popping out syllables like soap bubbles, in the arch, measured tone of a Baedeker's. “Why does it matter what they are?” he asked. “It doesn't matter. That's why it matters. Who sells shells? And off season? What does she think this is?” This was how the arguments started. She would push him to defend a side he had would not normally have taken. From here he would struggle to get back, to escape the topic and the side he’d been assigned. In doing this he would end up taking on the argument. This was how he found himself defending nuclear arms, dog shows, Chiquita Banana, the old racist who owned the t‐shirt shop. Eventually he would realize that he was trapped. Then, slowly, the fight would wind down. They would go to sleep and in the morning when he woke up she would already be gone, a shallow dent in the sheets where she had slept. Usually he would lose the arguments, because his heart was not in the defense. Heather was a tenacious and wily debater. The reality of his loss would linger with him and to save face he'd be forced to start another fight later, picking at her for something pointless, the way she coughed or how she left the forks half‐washed, in the dish drainer dotted with grit and crust. “Did you wash these in the sand?” he might ask, quizzically. There would be silence from the couch where she sat with the light off and the TV volume on low. He knew these kinds of comments hurt her. She had no patience for dishes and it was always dark in the kitchen. If she did a poor job it was only partially her fault. So she would say nothing, walk into the bedroom and close the door. Or, if things that day had been more amicable, she might whine: “Morgan for God’s sake. You know I'm not good with these things.” “I know that. I do,” he would answer. “So why bring it up?” “Why not,” he would ask, “just clean the forks?” It was a vacation house. This meant it was filled with things, all the castoff driftwood of her privileged childhood: frayed stuffed animals, oven mitts, books that had been trapped between beds and walls for fifteen years. There was a 1987 calendar in the kitchen, a small yellow box with all the months on one page, high up above the cabinets where no one had bothered to take it down. He thought often about her and the house, the times that had been shared before he got there, what would happen after they had gone, the things the place meant to her that he would never understand. There had been weekends here when she was the grinning five‐year‐old he saw in pictures, when she had woken up early in the mornings and dove into her parents’ bed, squirming her way underneath the covers. Now it was their bed, with dark stains on the coverlet from lying on it with their shoes on. To him it was nothing more than a dreary place, one that seemed barely alive even when it was warm. There was a stink of dead wood and a griminess, an ancient must to the walls, that would have not come out even if they’d tried to remove it. He could not get past this, could not form a
sentimental bond with this sad little place that was not really a home or even a house. There seemed no reason to try. By October it was full of drafts, always cold, the reflected charm of summer completely stripped away. Its creaking woke them in the night. “The water looks like stew now,” he said, “In the summer it has that nice lightness, but now it’s like red miso. The seaweed doesn’t help things.” “I guess” she answered. “I don't know,” he said. “It's not the most beautiful thing in the world,” she agreed. Their chairs were facing one another for some reason. Hers looking out and his face up toward the hill and the boardwalk and the town behind it. He looked at the lines on her face under the sunhat she still stubbornly wore. She repeated something to him that her father always said, about never turning your back on the ocean. From the beginning he had thought of the house as something her parents bought, a wedding present from their parents or a purchase shared among siblings. When he found out otherwise, that it had been in the family since 1923, that several people had honeymooned there, that one of her grandfather's cousins had choked to death on an apple in the very same kitchen he ate his Frosted Flakes, he felt spooked. This oldness granted a confusing vacuity to the things here, robbing them of their context and place and loosing them to ageless limbo. The things lying in the hall and bedroom closets, the shuttlecocks and loose strips of netting, the lawnmower parts (although there was no lawn), spades and trowels, dark‐green tennis balls, hats, boots, bundled lengths of twine and string, boxes of handwritten recipes, Clue and Trivial Pursuit in outdated boxes, with mildew‐eaten boards that looked like the floors of neglected mansions. Where did these things come from? When had they been left here? There was the yellow raft that her brothers had taken out on the Atlantic without permission, rowing against the tide, so far that they disappeared beyond the horizon. When they came back, trudging up the beach with the boat held over their heads, her father went after them with his belt and later, after they’d been suitably punished, gored the raft with a steak knife. This was one of the stories he knew. She told it blankly, so that he wasn’t sure if it was meant to be funny or sad. But the raft was still there, folded up its packaging, brown and desiccated like an old cucumber. It was not all fighting, though it sometimes seemed like it, and he hoped that looking back one day they would not remember the arguments. There were nice times, even when it was cold and the wind howled, when they would find themselves sitting Indian‐style on the kitchen floor, feeling the old storm feeling, the one you could really only feel on vacation. Or in the hallways, their legs stretched out across each others. They would drink hot things from mugs and eat the old crackers they found wasting away in the pantry. “1991,” she joked, “beautiful vintage. Fantastic year for Saltines”. The pine smell of the walls came out when it rained and sometimes the smell of a wood stove would appear out of nowhere, wafting up the beach maybe, slinking into the bedroom where they lay draped over the bed. It was during one of these times that she told him about the whale. It was rare for her to speak about her memories of this place, and the things she did tell were not important, where the key ring used to hang and the way the bikes would tip over every night from the wind. How her father would lean them up against the wall as evenly as he could but each morning they would come outside and there they’d be, tipped over in the sand. But this story was different. “We must have been eight or nine,” she began, “well I was eight or nine. Clint was ten or eleven or maybe even twelve. We came back from somewhere in the car and it was lying there on the beach, dead. Just the mouth and the head or whatever and the rest of it was in the water. But that mouth. Jesus. There was this horrible crust of barnacles, black algae‐looking stuff around the eyes and mouth and I’ll never forget, for something to have eyes like that, like bigger than you could imagine.
Clint ran over and tried to touch it and my dad came and scooped him up. Which was good, he would have crawled inside, the way he was.” She laughed and went on talking, about the eyes, which eventually slid shut on their own, and the slack mouth, as wide as a garage door. After she told this story they went back out on the beach and walked, up along the high dunes past the old wooden shops, closed for the season, where one lonely house sat at the top of the ridge. This house always looked dark from their window. But close up they could see the frail blue light inside as a television reflected against the bay window. They did not hold hands. This was not that kind of situation, where the story reminded him of why he loved her in the first place, opened untapped depths of affection and broke through the crusted loam of misunderstanding. Nothing like that happened. Part of him was still annoyed, to be honest, that she had eaten the last three eggs that morning. They walked somewhat apart and sometimes his hand would dart closer, brushing the hair off her shoulder. Out of habit maybe, but with the hand clinging to the last fibers of hair and swooshing them backing behind her ear where he knew they would catch. The ocean was hideous and black, swollen, proud of the billion dead things rotting inside. “It’s selfish,” she said, “But I would love to see it happen again. The whale, tremendous, dead, lying there on the shore.” “What are you doing out there,” his mother asked on the phone, “and where is there exactly? What can you possibly be eating every day?” “Nothing,” he said, which was not true. He was painting every day, even when he didn’t feel like it, things he was not sure he liked because he did not look at them once they were done. There was not much else to do. The library in town was small and they had no television. So the paintings filled the house. Leaning face down, first against the back of the couch and then against the backs of other paintings. “We’ll be back when we’re back,” he said into the phone. When he was out or in bed Heather would turn the paintings over and examine them. There was something menacing here, she felt. The palette and chunky brush strokes indicated frustration, black moods, depression even, a morbid intimacy with shadows and fog. One painting was of the beach, covered in dead jellyfish. Another showed the dark water churning like sewage, an old rowboat listing near a dock, three dusty pelicans perched on a buoy. She picked at their frameless edges like a box of records, running her finger over certain parts, letting them fall back against one another. “What are you trying to say with these paintings?” she asked, one morning, when they found themselves both drinking espresso at the café down the street. He thought about this for a moment. His fingers pulled from his sleeve and drummed against the table. “I think,” he answered, “that I liked this place better when it was warm.” One day just before Halloween they walked up the coast toward the jetty, further than they’d been before, past the gray mossy houses where old friends of her parents still lived. He had stopped shaving and his beard had grown out unevenly, patchy in some places, scraggly in others. He cupped his hands and blew on them. There was a place here she had not seen in years. Far down the beach, past where the cliff walls pressed tight against the sea, where the water was full of boulders and shark eggs choked the sand in the spring. She knew it as the boathouse, although it did not hold boats and did not look as it ever could have. It was a small shack on the water, connected by a short pier, half collapsed, with snapped clamshells scattered across the floor. She told him that as a child it had scared her terribly, how her brothers would force her inside, bar the door and pretend to leave. Looking at it now she felt
nothing at all, watching the water lap against the open front of the shack, the gaps in the walls creaking as the tide slowly wrenched them from their moorings. “What a horrible place,” he said. “It used to be even worse. Or seemed like it. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic” She watched the narrow stare he gave the structure, his hand rubbing over his mouth. She wondered if he would paint this, and what it would look like if he did. They sat in the sand nearby for a few minutes and then walked back “It’s very cold,” he said. “It is,” she answered. Coming off the beach they ran into the woman, who had left her table and was walking barefoot in the sand. She talked again about the island, picking up, it seemed, where she had left off the last time they had spoke. “There were things there,” she said, “a town hall, a beautiful pet shop, and every summer there'd be fireworks. I was a girl here, years ago, and on the 4th we would come out to the beach and lay down on a blanket, eat fried clams from the shack down on the other side of the beach. It’s gone now. But the fireworks went up there, out along the rocks, and from what they said the island the most beautiful houses. Mansard roofs, widows' walks, the most glorious gardens you’d ever see.” “Goodnight,” Heather said, while the woman was still speaking. They walked back to the house. That night they made fish sticks and ate them at the table outside, in their jackets, the wind whipping her hair up into her face. When the fight started it was about Clark Gable. Whether it was him or Errol Flynn in the old Technicolor version of Robin Hood. It was less a serious argument than a joking debate and the movie was right there, in an old VHS copy, leaning against a few others on the living room shelf. They were laughing as they went back and forth. She grabbed his shoulders and shook them vigorously. But once they started they could not stop. The Gable discussion developed into something tangentially related, third‐world piracy, or his father, and then became about water pollution and finally the idea that the leak of the kitchen sink was fixable. They were no longer laughing and her head was pressed against her hand. It was not something that could be repaired, he maintained. It was, she was sure. But had she tried to fix it? Had he? She thought the leak could be fixed because she thought everything could be fixed, just like that, he was convinced; she knew, assuredly, that he was projecting, his hate for this house and all the things that lived within it. Standing up to refill his glass he knocked over the flag, which had sat folded on the end table since she’d taken it down on the 4th. There was a codified procedure for the folding, but he did not know exactly what that was. It was her responsibility, but when he held it out she shook her head fiercely. “Do it yourself since you know everything” she shouted. He threw it down on the couch in a ball. It went on like this. They got into bed, still arguing, and lay whispering with a space between them, back to back, pitched distantly to either side of the bed. “If you made an effort,” she said, “you’d see it wasn’t really such a big deal.” “Effort is a two way street. I don’t see why I’m being lectured on self‐improvement when you sit around here all day on your ass, like you’re the queen of everything.” Her response was thoughtful and measured. She was still talking when he fell asleep. When he woke it was still dark but she was not there. The sun was almost coming up. He could see the first glints of it out at sea, the edges of the horizon beginning to lighten. On the beach there were
seagulls, dozens of them, wheeling and crying and colliding with one another. He pulled on his pants and went to the window. She was out there, on the beach, standing over something. Again he thought, cursing her petulant revenge tactics, this distant morning ritual she carried out to punish him, the symbolism of these beach walks and the coffee she sometimes made, the pot left purposely on the counter so it would grow cold. But this time there was something in front of her. Something heavy, and long, big enough that the waves did not move it and it sat there like a rock, the water rushing over it. She was leaning toward the thing and he could see part of it moving, a fin or flap of flesh being tugged by the tide. It was a dolphin, he decided, or a huge fish, the way its back end tapered off and came to a point, as if the back fin had been snipped off or eaten by scavengers. There was something shocking in this pristine, lifeless pile lying on the shore. But he was more worried about her, both the quiet grief she would incur from this dead creature and the terrible diseases she might pick up. When he got outside she was squatting over the shape, the back of her jacket trailing in the sand. He walked toward the water, saying her name, looking for some definite sign: a bent dorsal fin, scales, a blowhole dammed up with mud. But it was not a dolphin, or a fish. The proportions were all wrong. He saw this now, coming up behind, where she held her hands over the blob as if warming them near a fire. She whirled toward him, losing her balance and falling forward on one knee. “It’s a dog,” she said. And it was: huge, half‐rotted, its coat smeared an anonymous shade of gray.
Light Creatures Tiffany Navarro
Other Islands Monica Wendel Here we are, in the great valley of people between the signs, and the police, and the fences. Bring me water: I would like that right now. And the night on the field with the grass and the eels and the planes rising above us from JFK a dozen miles east – no one from that night is here. It feels like I am the only one seeing what I see and at night I dream of the apocalypse, I am watching the ocean from above and the tsunami expands like a jellyfish so perhaps in the dream it actually was a jellyfish, blue with white edges of waves. The dream‐me checks her cell phone underwater, sends one last text. In the great mass of people, and then later, walking down Broadway with police vans stretched for a quarter mile, I feel very alone; I feel as though no one is watching: Yet the news ticker lights up again and again to say where I am and it is as though I am walking on the back of a whale, curved slightly, like a parenthesis, and what I thought was an island indeed was alive.
Rachel Easterly jellyfish, you sting like rain your body flails hook and sinker, run and hunker, milk needles don't feed her, nothing appease her jellyfish, they wash you up to dry, feed you beer cans on your first try. it's a sunrise you float through, they follow like they need you but they won't say‐‐ jellyfish, the water is wide for a hope, for a fever, for a sunrise you float through, no single believer‐‐ they pour out their hearts, denounce the container, ‐‐and i pick them over you, every day
Crabbing Emily Hockaday I lost the first few pulling too quickly or not quick enough. You reached for the string over my shoulder trying to man both string and net at once. We were left with empty lines—the rags of flesh less and less attached to the bone. I had helped you secure that string around the raw chicken, fat puckering up over the knots before dropping it down into the dark water. When I first asked you to take me crabbing, you took it as a joke, maybe, said the season starts in August, at dark, so day‐lit May was improper. I took your information rolled it between my fingers to feel around for pieces of your childhood amongst the knowledge
you’d gained living on the shore of an island. You were right. To go crabbing when there aren’t any crabs, it doesn’t make sense. I wanted to see one crab. It’s what I said at dinner that night— chicken legs—over the stiff plastic table cloth saturated in ugly floral print, Alzheimer’s, your familial ghosts. I promised your mother a poem so here it is: the dock jut out into a bay which I called the ocean because really if A touches B touches C—it smelled like the ocean. The salt stuck to my lips and pores, the spray misleadingly gentle, and I crossed the dock in the deliberate and exploratory way a child picks apart veins in an oak leaf by ripping out the papery and meaty insides.
The slats of wood, crusted with salt, speckled and stained with worm carcasses, bird excrement and burns led out into the water like a long tongue. Posts and hooks with grimy bits of string sticking up. The equipment made it an expedition. You, shaking the spiders off the plastic bucket, net held like a lacrosse stick, were in command. The crabs came early that year, would probably come again, too, a second wave. It was abnormal (though to be expected). You and I have precarious timing. We threw each crab back; all runts but the same pregnant female, so hungry, again and again.