I stand as one upon a rock

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

You are sitting in a bar. You have been here for hours, drinking and dragging your nails along the table top leaving tiny hatch marks in the finish and still tinier slivers under your nails. There is no pain, only a hot numbness all over your body. You fight the instinct to press your hands to your cheeks - your face feels like its burning. You stare instead at a long wood relief mounted above the bottles of liquor. You hadnt noticed it before, distracted by the other relics of the bar - a ships stern jutting out over the clustered tables, a taxidermic merman wielding a massive trident, the bartender who should by all rights be old and creaking, but is somehow young and judgmental - yet it captivates you now. Its edges are smooth and round, the entire thing finished with the same dark stain. It depicts seals resting upon rocks, some draped, some curled, some with backs arching. It is dark in your corner of the bar, but it looks as if the seals, farther down on the relief, are becoming women. 


Yes, you are certain they are. They shrug off their skins and toe their way carefully into the water. One of the seal women is swimming through the waves. When she reaches the edge of the relief she climbs out. She twists the water out of her hair, shakes droplets off of each long limb, and begins walking towards you. Suddenly you understand that you are a stranger here, intruding in a locals dive, and the seal woman is meant to make you leave. You are too drunk to run, your tongue too numb to scream. She grabs you with both hands and sinks her teeth into your torso, tearing apart your scales. You tail wriggles desperately, but your tail is gone. Instead you have two thin naked legs. You kick your legs, trying to escape, trying to cover yourself as the bar watches on. Your gills flutter open and closed uselessly, youre dying. Then you wake up.


You are upright still - mouth open and wet, pressed against the window pane. It must be an act of divine intervention, you think, that has kept you from waking up on the floor crusted to a pool of your own yellow vomit. Your face pulls away from the glass with some resistance, not vomit, you are relieved, just drool. Outside a storm is raging. The thunder must have woken you up, or the rain clattering against the windows or maybe a flash a lightning flaring behind your closed eyes. What are you still doing here? Its been hours.


There is a bus somewhere, weaving along a stretch of county roads all heading away from the coast. You imagine its windows are black, all the lights off inside, all of the passengers are asleep. You were supposed to be one of them. They rest peacefully despite the storm at their heels. You imagine tidal waves coming in and in until they drag this bar into the bellows below. You imagine all these strangers and the seal woman trapped there and you on that bus meandering safely away.


You are drunk. You tell yourself this because you are drunk. You reach this stage sometimes, plummeting past the initial buzz of liquor and into a sloppily layered level of consciousness. There is your sluggish inebriated body, your sluggish inebriated brain, and your sober, rational mind. A few drinks in and this mind begins coaching your actions, walking you through your drunkenness. You are fine, reach for your glass, slowly, dont knock it over. Lift it, no dont lift it, just hold it. Breathe, no, not too loud, theyll hear you. Youre drunk. Theyll know youre drunk. You let go of the glass and climb to your feet, nails digging into the table as you stumble.  


The bartender is looking at you. What does he know? You feel your way to the bathroom. You check your phone. Someone must know youve missed your bus. Someone must be calling you back. Your sister? No, no messages. Its just as well. Youre too drunk to call anyone. Dont call anyone. You stagger to the floor of a stall and expel the contents of your stomach - two packets worth of half digested saltine crackers and how many drinks? You aren’t sure. The bartender has your credit card. Dont forget it. 


When you are finished, you wash the sticky mass of rum and saliva off your chin and look up into the mirror, past your bloodless face and over bright eyes, at the opposite wall. There is a painting mounted above the paper towel dispenser. Half of a fish, half of a person. It has one big lolling eye, three fins and demurely crossed legs. Mermaid? Or merman? Its impossible to tell. In your dream too there had only been flailing legs. The humiliation of being exposed, but exposing what? You must have seen this before.


The seal woman of your dream had skin shining and black, hair white and frothy like sea spray. Her teeth were long and curved where they pierced into your fish body, but somehow shed looked like your sister. Not now. Go back to your seat. You let the metallic water from the faucet run into your mouth, sometimes swallowing, sometimes just feeling it, and then you go back to your shadowed corner.


Once when the two of you were young, you and your sister, she got it in her head to do a backflip into the deep end of the community pool. She had been fearless, your sister. So she climbed past the springboards and onto the tallest of the diving platforms while you watched from the water below. It had looked like a death trap to your small eyes back then, like it could collapse at any moment, crushing you all beneath giant blocks of concrete. You thought of it often, that monolith crumbling. But in your mind that day was another tragedy; your sister stumbling in her flip, falling and on the way down smashing her head open on one of the lower platforms. You wept pitifully as your sister reached the top and stood on the edge, clinging to the side of the deep end, eyes and throat stinging with chlorine. Your big sister was going to die. Of course she didnt make the jump. One of her friends pointed to your trembling form and she climbed down.


She didnt climb down this time. Why didnt she climb down? Dont think of it. Not now.


You have been here for hours. It is easier, now, to heave yourself out of your chair, away from this place full of strangers. The liquor bottles, just below the seal women, catch your eye. One day, you imagine, they will turn into sea glass and it will be you and your sister combing the beach like children, picking up the relics of this place. The bartender tries to wave you down (your credit card?) but what does he know? The seal women are sleeping on their rocks. There are more buses leaving into the night and there is a voice calling you home.


Outside the waves are breaking.