She lives under a small rock on the side of a narrow channel, a sea monster they call her. Godly, immortal and captured there, chained as a prisoner of a feud between brothers. Cursed with an unquenchable thirst for the sea, she swallows so much sea water, she sucks it into whirlpools. For hours, she can contain more ocean than is possible, but with great pain it emerges again. An arrow’s flight across the channel, is a creature, once beautiful, now with twelve feet, six long necks, six mouths, and three rows of sharp teeth in each mouth. Seafarers prefer this creature to her spinning ocean navels, passing on the other side.
The walls are white, the hallways are the width of the length of a bed. All the fabric is stiff, and labelled. Sounds have become muted.
“Darling,” the doctor says.
The bed is plastic.
The skin of her hands is green and blue. She feels her body, pressed in against her chest, but light, as if it were about to slip off. This morning on the food tray, there was an orange, perfectly round and sweet. They left it whole for her. She looked at it while she ate her cereal, and drank her chocolate-flavoured nutrition shake, and the coffee from its plastic cup. Before cutting it, she rolled it down her thigh, pressed against her palm. For a moment, there was nothing more she wanted.
“Darling, it’s time to go… home.”
She pulls her hair behind her ears, smelling the sourness of zest on her fingers. The whites of her eyes are shadowed in blue.
Avoid smoking and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Light exercise is generally recommended. Avoid impacts. Move carefully through a world of sharp rocks. Do not over extend, avoid falling. Living may require assistance.
Behind the eardrum, three tiny bones connect to a spiral of liquid. Waves from outside cause turmoil, in turn creating electrical pulses, to be interpreted as sound. The middle ear where the three bones sit are dead air spaces, a cavity connected to the outer world by the sealed eustachian tubes running to the back of your throat.
In the increasing quiet, she reads what the nurses say with their bodies, hands, and faces. The space of the room draws closer, limiting itself to her eye view. She prefers spaces she already knows the shape of, spaces felt through memory.
Her bones are birdlike.
The blue contained in squares spills over. The curtains, patterned in blue, the sheets edged in blue, the smell of laundry powder on the sheets acidic, cheap, blue. In her dreams, opalescent teeth swim in people’s mouths. The floor blue, as if it were the sky.
He comes holding an arched fragment, almost silver with the memory of sea. She places it amongst the others, gathered from all surrounding surfaces into a paper bag. His chunky black leather lace-up shoes squeak alongside her tiny paces, touched by the hem of his loose black jeans. She has become older than her mother, held together by long metal rods.
She removes the sea from its bed, grounding her feet into the still-dark sand, grasping for rock beneath. Mouth open, water spiraling up, around and into her. The iron around her ankles has rusted, staining her skin, scratching with its flaking edges, but continues to hold her. Hand cast chains keep her stance narrow, vulnerable. On the links limpets have grown, and dark seaweed has caught. The water screeches in its spinning speed. She looks up, dripping, from the seabed to the blue of the sky.
She is looking over the ocean in a thin cotton dress, she is surrounded by birds, gulls. Fat has fallen off her body. In her hand she crumples oily newsprint. Sunset has already passed, and the gulls ask for more chips, even though they have eaten them all.
“Mum,” he calls,“mum.”
He is wearing a hoodie, stiff jeans, thick unmatched socks and sneakers. He approaches the shore.
“You need to tell me when you go out.”
She looks at him. His dark closely cropped hair, irises that leave no room for the white of his eyes, and the shadows around his mouth. Even as a baby he had dark hair, soft against his skin. She would trace his whorls, of which he had many — one at the crown, one above his left temple, and three at the nape of his weak neck, while the afternoons passed and both of them drifted between days which were unmarked, just the carpet getting dustier and the sunlight changing its angle. His hair would fall to the kitchen floor in little snippets she cut with the smallest scissors, or gather in the soft pools of his collarbones, until this was no longer allowed and she gave him tightly rolled $20 notes to take to the mall and return with short back and sides.
In her other hand she encloses a pipi.
“It’s time to go.” The wind catches his voice, sending it to the circling, white gulls.
She curls her toes into the sand, making small pools of seawater which circle with foam.
Was he young still?
Would he always come for her now?
He pulled his hood over his head, stepping closer.
They are at the southern end of the beach, where it slips underneath the sea and the black rocks rise in front of the road.
The foam circles. The moons of her toenails white against their purpling beds.
“It’s time to go home.”
The gulls fade northwards, the quiet of the evening attempting to settle in between car exhausts.
Her stomach exhausts, expelling the sea. The whirlpool slows, the sea gathers at its bed again, immersing her, lifting sand and pressing it back down. The great mass of the ocean fills itself, calms. She remains, chained and planted on the bottom, next to her small rock, thirsty, punished. A thick layer of sand covers her toes. Her shoulders slacken down her back, her hair following the currents of the sea. With the water returns darkness and its blanketed, low, growl.
He came to drive her to the city. Away from the oranges falling to the soft wet grass and becoming soft themselves, away from the bay where he once swam. The bay which was mostly rocks at low tide, some covered in dark red algae and littered with limpets. Every time they were there, there was something new to be found, something dead or lost or both. At home every surface was covered, small chipped paua shells placed by rubbery fishing baits and rose corals grown on tangled blue lines.
He tells her they will come back. On weekends.
She fills cardboard boxes lined in newspaper with carefully folded woollen jumpers and shells placed out and layered between shapeless dresses. He loads her things into the back of his car, but some things he refuses to bring. She folds linen and towels she has used for decades carefully back into drawers. Everything that means anything is put away, into boxes or deep cupboards, so all that is left is empty and clean. She turns all the glasses and tea cups upside down on the shelves, unplugging the toaster, kettle and oven from the wall. She makes them both chip and white bread sandwiches, with margarine.
“It’s time to go.”
Once he had slept with the window open, even in winter, even in storms, to be able to hear the sea. She had, for as long as possible, kept him sleeping in the same room, finding his breathing reassuring in the night. Through their open curtains, the moonlight would trace the rhythms of his chest. Now, he draws all the curtains, locks all the windows, and takes the spare key from underneath the flower pot. He stacks the outside chairs and pulls the hose away from the vegetables, coiling it on the concrete path by the house. She gathers spinach, parsley, and cuts the head off a cabbage, holding it on her lap in the car. The broccoli are yet to crown, just thick dewy leaves with pale stems.
Ears are the organs of hearing, and of balance. Damage can cause deafness and permanent feelings of falling. The snails of the inner ear are part of the bony labyrinth, a series of membranous cavities spiralling, hollowed out and filled with a clear liquid. It is abnormalities here, rather than nerves of the central auditory system, which most commonly cause insensitivity to sound in humans.
He drives slowly, with the music turned off. The dust of the road mutes the blue of his car, sits on his dashboard and inside the windscreen. In the cup holder, the gap between his dashboard and the windscreen, and other compartments, are dried parts of the sea. A crab shell, dried Neptune’s necklace, a lobster leg, a rusted fish hook, knotted blue rope, parts of shells. Brown leather shoes are carefully laced on her feet and placed squarely on the rubber carpet protector. The grey seat belt cuts across her chest.
At the end of the street, he turns the car right when the sea is to the left, down the hill. She turns left, down the hill, to the sea. The oranges ripen, fall and soften. He is small again, bundled in her arms with the towels and their pulled threads. The tide is out, amongst the gentler rocks and pebbles by the bank, broken shells, fish carcasses, and dark, warm seaweed are scattered.
Her organs have compressed, and yet her flesh is swollen with water, the empty space of her throat frothed with sea. The blue of the sky haunts her eyes. On pale and numb skin, unfelt grazes peel white. Deeper, her bones are crystallised, fine grains held together by the tight mass enclosing them, a solid liquid. Her chains lie in the sand. Ears emerge from plastered down hair. She opens her mouth.