This story appears in my collection A Creature Wanting Form. (E-book 50% off at OR Books through January with code: NEWSITE50)
We were sitting in the sulfurous hot spring rubbing the mud they have there on our faces and going like look at me I’m a mud man I’m going to kill your entire family haha and laughing even though it wasn’t that funny. Just to be somewhere else made everything lighter at first. I said the guy at the front desk had told me that there’s a place not far from here where you can dive down between two tectonic plates and you dunked your head under to wash the monster off of you and came back up and said you had to piss real bad. I looked around and said it’s probably fine it already smells weird.
There was some kind of earthquake that was a big thing in the 1700s the guy said and now there’s a hole in the earth and the water that rushed in to fill it is all silvery and there’s one part they call the Cathedral I imagine because if you get down there it probably gets you to start believing in God.
The majesty of creation and so on.
I said the continents drift a little further apart by like one inch every year according to what the guy told me and then I started thinking about how small you are and how very small all of us are and how we’ve been drifting apart too because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves. I thought about tectonic plates grinding against one another and it made me think about the pain in my knee which was more real to me than geology.
Are there any sharks down there you asked and I said I don’t know probably. The guy didn’t say anything about sharks one way or the other.
They had shark penis on the menu at the place we went the night before and everyone thought that was pretty funny so you ordered it as a gag but then you had to follow through and eat it because it was honestly very expensive and on top of that you didn’t want to seem too American.
What does it taste like I asked and you said it tastes like shark penis.
It never really occurred to me until then that sharks would have penises although I guess that basically checks out. It’s not like sharks just spontaneously emerge into existence. Not yet anyway.
Then I was thinking about sharks fucking for a minute.
On one of our first dates we went to see a movie at the Kendall Square cinema called Open Water. It’s about a couple who go on a scuba diving vacation somewhere in the Bahamas I think. Somewhere near there. Near enough to there that it doesn’t matter. They go to the ocean anyway. At some point ocean is just ocean.
Due to a miscount by the person leading the scuba expedition the couple emerge from the depths to realize the boat has left them behind. At first they presume that the mistake will be rectified in the way that we all do when something goes wrong. Well this is fucked but certainly order will be restored presently we think.
“Other people go on vacation and spend their days just laying around,” the husband says at one point. “We have a story we’re going to be telling for the rest of our lives,” he goes and indeed they did it’s just that their lives didn’t end up being as long as they had imagined they would be.
A day is so long but a life is very short.
As they float further and further away from the original dive spot they bicker and blame one another and grasp for something different they could have done that would have saved them from this ordeal.
As if logic is a shield against chaos.
Eventually the realization that there is no order to things and that two people can in fact be left behind like this dawns on them.
I guess it’s partly based on a true story about a couple in Australia this happened to although I don’t think that matters for the film or for our purposes here. It’s true either way.
So thirst sets in quickly and the sun burns their faces as they bob on the tide and swarms of jellyfish sting and sharks begin to circle. All that’s left is for the two of them to continue living borne along on the waves for as long as they can not knowing which of them is going to die first.
To watch it happen and to describe it makes it sound horrific which it is but it’s also just a sped-up version of how life works as a matter of course. There’s no rescue boat coming and the sharks have spotted us. You hope you go before the person you love because you can’t bear to watch it happen to them when there’s nothing you can do.
It made me think just now about how a million Americans have died over the past two years from the sickness. Their loved ones sitting by helplessly watching and waiting for a different kind of drowning to begin.
It’s probably not a spoiler to tell you how the film ends anymore so than it is to spoil how any life ends which is that it ends.
It’s the waiting though.
Every moment thinking even now even now even now someone might be coming over the horizon to save you.
Surely I am blessed among all others.
Later we went for a hike along some craggy mountains and a black sandy beach along the coast and I goofed around like we were in Game of Thrones. I’m gonna kill the White Walkers I’m gonna fuck my sister haha I said and you pretended you didn’t hear me.
Someone told me they filmed it here I said. That’s why I said the thing about fucking my sister.
Ok you said.
I wasn’t going to fuck my sister I figured that was obvious but who knows.
When we got back to the place we were renting someone had left a baby carriage parked out front on the sidewalk with a whole baby inside of it all wrapped up warm like a burrito and I was about to shit myself but you said that was normal to do here you saw another one earlier when you went to get the coffee so thankfully the baby wasn’t my problem like I imagined it was going to be. A whole hypothetical thing averted.
You looked at the baby a little longer than I thought necessary like it was a baby you knew from somewhere. An old friend from high school or something.
Also like this baby existing instead of another one was something I had engineered.
The baby looked back up at you like you were someone he knew from later on.
There was a Subway across the street and I got depressed about that for a minute then I got over it and thought about going in for lunch. I didn’t go in though I thought it would represent a failure of my character of some kind.
Did you know there are no American chain restaurants in Bermuda I said. I think they think of it like an invasive species type of thing. Once you have one they multiply.
I’m going to fuck the guy at work you’re worried about you said.
You didn’t actually say that but I imagined you saying it in your head so then I was mad about that.
The next day we got in a van to ride out toward the mountain we were going to hike and I pretty much wanted to cry about how beautiful it all was the entire way. Not only no stores but no nothing. Lots of nothing I mean. All of nothing.
All of old. Nothing else ever.
Green and brown and white. It’s too bad we didn’t get to come during the aurora borealis the guy driving said and I said I’ve heard it’s very beautiful. The sky and what have you. You should come back again some time and I said that I definitely would. I pictured the colored star mist or whatever it is in my mind and thought about how very small you are and how very small all of us are and about how the stars are like how someone can be right there but also very distant because it’s impossible for humans to think of anything but ourselves.
We were going to see the site of a memorial they had set up for a dead glacier called such and such that we had watched a documentary about. They said it was the first named glacier here to melt and lose its status as a glacier. To be demoted. It wasn’t the first glacier to melt but the first one that had a name which is meaningful because when things that have names die it fucks us up more than if they don’t.
The hike up basically fucking sucked and I wanted to complain the whole time but I kept it to myself.
After an hour or so we finally made it.
“Memorials are not for the dead, they are for the living,” one of the scientists in the movie said about the glacier. At the rate we’re going all the glaciers are pretty much fucked they said. They had a little plaque there recognizing the spot of the glacier that had died and it said something like “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
I wonder if we end up doing it or not but I guess that’s not my concern.
Then the guy told me to be careful and not to get too close to the slope there because it was a steep drop and I looked over and for the first time realized how high up we were. I never wanted a parachute so badly before in my life. They should have given us all a parachute.
We should have all been born with wings. We were at one point but you know how the one guy ruined that.
It seemed like a person could fall for forever from this height.
All of a sudden nothing was beautiful anymore.
I thought about what would happen if a person fell into a pit that was deep enough that the bottom never arrived and if after a while you would adjust to the dropping and have time to reflect on how screwed you were or if instead your heart would give out after a minute or two of the falling.
If you would have phone reception and time to call everyone you loved.
Or what if we all fell into the hole as a group at the same time. Would one of us die first right there in midair next to everyone else in the descent? The living accelerating at the same horrible velocity as the dead and unable to ever leave any of them behind.
Screaming into the face of a corpse you once knew plummeting into the silvery chasm.