Purge and Binge

On  the floor, her note lays in dozens of ripped pieces. I can’t even glance at them. Each shattered word reanimates the sentence it belonged to; every reason she left echoed in her apoplectic voice. Without her things, the room barely changes. It lived as my representation; my confections, my ropes lassoed to the past. Hers wedged themselves between, found homes on the edges of ledges and the bookcase, and without them mine appear cozy.

I run through our memories together, pissing the good times away with the stroke of a thought. I’m a time-bender, and in each place I find her grazing, a bottle of alcohol smudges presence and she becomes blur. Her voice. Her voice. It lifts above the liquid. It does not drown. It stirs inside me, and the words I tore again come out to play. My hands curl to fists.

I want her things back. The bottle-opener from Peru, a wooden Incan tribesman, stares at me. Its mouth is drawn wider with a little more room to spare. Her little vial, some mysterious creamy liquid, is a hole in the dust. I storm over and rub against the ledge, rub away the dust and rip the tribesman from its peace. I don’t hear a voice in it, hers or anybody’s. Like her vial, it was a gift. It conjures the memory of one-time use and reshapes as wood. I don’t speak to him anymore. Its weight settles in the trash.

There are other spots, more vanished items. At each place I stop and stare, try to recall the piece that once mingled with other litter, and hoist the nearest object into the trash. Where is she right now? My things can vanish, too.

There’s no reward. No escape. Every book, candle, gift, and little joy is attached to invisible rope, bound around my neck. From the moment they found me, I them, I know what they’ve done; how they performed. Where they fell once. How they were replaced. The trashcan does nothing. It sits closed, with ropes oozing out and to me. I’ll know where they wind up. Not her. Throwing them away does nothing.

I catch myself before the floor turns mosaic, staring at bits of paper that follow me around the room. They’re bound to me, too. So stupid. Why did I rip it up? In the trash, too, they’ll follow me. I’ll think of them. It will break my heart. She’s gone. I want to scream, but for what? For who? She’s gone. I let the floor turn, and teardrops trickle off the ridge of my nose. But only for a moment. I stop without want. I cannot cry. My eyes well, but the tears remain with me. She’s gone.

On hands and knees I begin to ball up each piece of note. I like the feeling they have between my forefinger and thumb. I like the smoothness of their roll. Each tiny ball, I place lovingly on the bed. I feel happy for the first time since I walked into the room. Since I first noticed her vial missing, and thought nothing at all of it. Since I saw this damned note and let it, and all things, lasso me to this room.

26 tiny balls. I smell my inky fingers and count again. Still 26. I pluck one from the group and toss it into my mouth, swallow. 25. She can’t take this. 24. This one is mine. 23. And so on. After the last piece is stuck with me, I take the trash bag and pull the door closed behind me. I’ll never speak to anybody about this. She never left a note. I never had a bottle-opener. You haven’t seen her? Lent the book to a friend, oh, you don’t know them. A coworker. Think I’ll move somewhere warm. We just weren’t right for each other. Here’s a candle. You can have the ropes.

Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 3 of 3)

[Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 2 of 3)]

“Who are you, child?” A voice, deep and forceful, rumbled below. Its echo rattled Chelsea’s teeth and shot pain throughout her skull. Frozen, her arms became anchors dropping to her sides.

“What are you doing out here?” The shadow rose in a vortex, water fleeing before it reached light. When the shadow took form, Chelsea found herself before an immense whitetip—a shark known to Chelsea as a particularly nasty breed who makes little matter of eating shipwrecked survivors or women tossed from the sky. A rough fin stung the soles of her feet, slapping against them to prop her up.

“I…was…I was looking…” She stumbled through quivering lips.

“Your words are as choppy as these waters!” The whitetip guffawed, impressed by its own cleverness. “Speak.” It demanded.

“Dolphins.” She dribbled. At once Chelsea felt all her accomplishments, dreams, and expectations fade to the bottom of the ocean floor.

“A-ha! Dolphins? Why would you swim so far out here to see…oohh.” The whitetip nodded in silent settlement.

“I know your story after all. The girl who came from the sky and left with a wave—and here she is before me! Oh, what fortune indeed.” A slow grin unveiled mashed flesh between hundreds of large daggers.

“Tell me, girl of waves, what is that in your hands?” Its steel nose nudged Chelsea’s conch shell and cracked it, a ravine that slaughtered its complex details.

“It’s…dolphins gave it to me. It brings me happiness.” Chelsea held little command over her words, focused instead on thwarting her own reflection in the whitetip’s large, cloudy eyes.

“Well, what a gift! And how exactly does it bring happiness?”

“I listen…”

“I enjoy happiness. May I have a listen?” Her entranced arm stretched outward, barely able to hold the shell any longer. The whitetip studied its sound with black eyes staring into the sky.

“Well I only seem to hear the ocean. Which is to say, the ocean is the only thing I ever hear. So perhaps this shell does bring happiness, for a shark should surely find happiness when wet.”

Helpless in mind and speech, Chelsea responded as she did to all others. “It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.”

Again the shark smirked. “And yet it is far out in the ocean that you find yourself today.”

Settled dread mixed with years of conviction stirred deep within her. Everybody would know the power within her shell, this shark and all others—they’d recognize her importance. Like a flood her childhood story forced its way into the shark: dolphins and Marine Biology, beaches and despair. The shark bobbed along, stinging her feet with each thoughtless slap, digesting each word in silence. When she finished, it laughed heartily.

“Such foolishness!” It chided. “An enchanted conch shell? And for how long have you obsessed over this?” His barbed words stung as the dolphin’s soothed.

“It seems to me, child, that this shell’s enchantment is yet to be dredged. It seems to me you pursued your own desires before anything this shell offered.”

“Do you know where you are, child?” Its fin cut Chelsea’s feet as it slipped away and swam in circles around her.

“It seems to me you’ve guided yourself back here, child. Why even bother listening to the shell at all? Wouldn’t that just fill you with pain? Knowing how incredibly wrong you are?”

He tossed her a snarled grin and dove deep below before she could reply. Alone, Chelsea began realizing how true the shark’s words were. Her fascination did turn into an obsession. She did bring herself back here.

“The shark is right.” Chelsea thought, “I gave up everything for a childish memory I couldn’t even remember correctly.”

Sadness became her face and heart, longing for a different outcome. She stared at her cracked conch shell no longer moved by its intricate grooves or decorative shape. “What has this brought me? What do I have left?” Without a dolphin to vilify, Chelsea bowed her neck and whispered a curse into the shell.

Water shattered, exposing the whitetip. “Here, a gift—like your dolphin’s.” It nudged its steel snout towards her.

“I don’t see anything.” She said, confused.

“Precisely!” The shark rolled, its grizzled laughter filling the highest blue to bottommost black.

“Nothing!” It bellowed, “And this nothing is just as precious as your shell!”

Again proud of its cleverness, the shark continued in amusement for its own satisfaction, “My gift is just as enchanting as the dolphin’s child—more so, maybe! Though perhaps not as intricately detailed. Mine comes without delay—the nothing I gave you presents your past, present, and future at once, drifting before you now!”

“There’s nothing to misinterpret. Nothing to bend and break for your own selfish gain. It provides nothing to hold on to when unsure of yourself—nothing to listen to, to prove wrong. To make wrong. And most wonderfully, it provides nothing to save you from me.”

Chelsea gasped and released the conch shell as her arms and legs struggled to swim. When she finally found her stroke, the whitetip appeared coasting beside her.

“How foolish! How splendid!” It roared, “You’ve certainly been guided, child—to your own bitter end.” It watched the color leave her face and smiled as she struggled so far away from everything. Once bored, the whitetip opened its monstrous mouth and devoured her before disappearing below crimson waves, happy and full from its fortunate find.

Above, gulls cawed and laughed.

Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 2 of 3)

[Chelsea’s Gift (Edit 3: 1 of 3]

Close to her always, Chelsea’s fantastic shell conjured unbelievable memories of talking dolphins and open sea. Each year she recalled feeling more and more excited, shedding fear from her memory, focused instead on the moment the dolphin presented her most treasured gift. Her parents teased about her belief but as she grew, they spoke less and less of her obsession. Chelsea was left to her own interpretations.

She routinely nestled an ear into the shell, captivated by its symphony of sounds that brought life to thoughts she found trouble considering. Without instructions or a user’s manual, the shell’s wisdom was difficult to comprehend. In her heart she knew returning to the dolphins was essential to her happiness but each time her ear met the shell’s soft, velvety lip it mentioned nothing of sea.

In school, Chelsea found solace from thoughts through Science class. Though she took keen interest in astrology and weaving stories from stars, persistence beckoned her to a life of aquatic understanding. Through fierce dedication and hard work, young Chelsea grew up and graduated head of her class with a Masters in Marine Biology. In all her studies, Chelsea never learned of mysterious waves or talking dolphins. In fact, she’d learned that scientists seemed unanimous that language among marine mammals remained untranslatable, but such truths only proved that she was aware of answers where others only found mystery. The summer of her graduation she revisited the beach of her youth, shell in hand, hoping that her expensive knowledge would bring results so eagerly sought.

In water she mimicked her youth. She tossed herself into crisp waves and regained herself in hopes of witnessing a bent horizon that would sweep her far off. Instead, she stared ankle-deep at the cusp—lazy at the edge of the world—as gulls cawed and laughed overhead. Swimmers came and went as Chelsea changed positions from surf to sea, glancing towards the beach to decipher where mom had sunbathed that day. As the sun rescinded its golden rays, Chelsea came to understand that no wave would carry her back that day and so resigned to cooling sand.

With ear pressed to shell, she stared at twinkling stars dotting the night sky and wondered what she was doing wrong. The universe held secret meaning for her—she’d been told so. The dolphin said she’d come back, it said she had to—she recalled her figments so vividly. She’d reach them again, of that she was sure, but her incredible fortune brought impatience that kept thoughts submerged even when miles from sea. On the beach she sobbed into her hands as boys cast lines by lantern light.

Chelsea’s shell teased her, waded in her thoughts, beckoning her to steal another listen. Sometimes even Chelsea found her story as hard-to-believe as those she trusted enough to try convincing of her immaculate shell’s power. Just like her father, they too heard waves within the shell–barbed words that dragged against Chelsea’s heart with each utterance.

“It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.” She’d mumble in response.

Jealousy stirred within her and eventually those who spoke of hearing the gentle shhhhh that escaped her were tossed overboard. Friends became nothing more than reminders of what she wanted—knew awaited her. Nothing would stop her from seizing a vast understanding known only to dolphins from her youth. She had been gifted, and she’d become enlightened once drenched in her own unique sublimity.

Each year she returned more learned to the beach that swept her up so long ago. She’d enter cold water, conch shell clutched in wrinkled fingers, and wait for that wave to wash her out. Each year the midday sun met water’s edge and the moon settled in. The tide rose to regular depths. With a sigh Chelsea would toss the shell onto sand, dry off, and check out of the Showboat Hotel without rest. Those long drives home were the hardest on her ego, hardest to believe in the shell’s power. Time had eroded so much memory that she questioned the story altogether, “Maybe mom bought the shell at a souvenir shop.”

Chelsea’s career as a Marine Biologist peaked the next year, another painful reminder of her childhood destiny.

“What’s the use if I never make it back.” She’d think throughout award ceremonies, never far from the sea. Her peers envied her relentless quest for more knowledge and deeper understanding, unaware that it was meant only to enhance her own standing with a talking dolphin. Otherwise, accomplishments meant nothing to her at all.

“This is the last time.” She said next summer, reluctantly booking a room at the Showboat Hotel.

She stood ankle deep in calm sea and watched the sun again carve a downward path through the sky.

“Give it up, Chels.” She resigned with tear-filled eyes, turning her back to the horizon hours sooner than previous years. For her heart’s sake, Chelsea peered once more at the sea, the reason for all in her life, just in time.

The horizon shot into the sky and blotted out the sun—a monster awakened. It rose with fury and hurdled towards the beach. Creaking and moaning, its hostile march filled Chelsea with terror; her knees locked and teeth vibrated. A bedlam of crashing eruption, hisses, and groans kicked around her skull and threw itself against her temples. Her heart sank, a deep despair stirring within, and the conch shell became warm in her hands. A ball whizzed by her face.

“Sorry!” She strained to hear a boy shout, lapping past in retrieval.

“My god,” She thought, “He doesn’t see it.”

Within seconds it towered before her; a flexed, foamy neck roaring to the sky. The last she saw before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes.

“This is it.” Chelsea whispered as the wave hammered her down into inky black depths.

Much to her relief, Chelsea found herself once again in the middle of the ocean. A guffaw escaped her amid tears.

“Finally.” She cheered, finally living a memory nearly abandoned.

Treading water with shell held tight, Chelsea searched for the fin, “A stone,” she kidded herself, “I was so naive back then.”

With neither stone nor fin in sight, Chelsea kept herself afloat with one hand and held the shell to her ear with the other.

Shhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

“Waves!” It was her destiny, after all. A muffled voice, her own, trailed and dissipated. It was final. It was settled. She was meant to be out here after all.

The sun-glazed sea did well to disguise a bobbing white pearl, gone unnoticed until water dragged behind towards Chelsea.

“I’ve returned!” She yelled, so happy to find her dearest friend.

The memories, all of them, came flooding back at once. She recalled the fin that held her up and prepared for balance when the white stone vanished from surface and under her wiggling toes. So much time had passed since her last visit that she’d forgotten how big they were—the shadow beneath her enormous. Just then, the dolphin’s words came together, no longer fragmented by wishful thinking and forced fate. She had focused on some words more than others, changing others altogether, but now “much too dangerous for a child” repeated in her head, throbbed her temples, and refilled the dread in her heart.