A woman stands a few yards away from the ocean with her toes neatly tucked into the sand, as if grounding herself to the Earth out of fear she’ll run or float away. The shadows cast by the setting sun’s alchemy with the dust in the sky make her stark nakedness hardly discernible until she gently sways with uneasiness and discomfort, breaking the illusory shadows of light, exposing her bare breasts and protruding rib cage. Her body moves with the purposefulness of a semi-sentient creature, subjugated by pain and fear; yet her eyes convey a machinic ennui, quickly absorbing her surroundings severed of any sentiment. The largely dry beach implies low tide, and low tide implies an imminently rising tide. She continues gently swaying back and forth as if she cannot stop, as if some outside force compels her.
A slightly younger woman sits parallel to her bedroom window. She convinced herself that sitting directly next to, or in front of, the window was gauche and desperate. She always casually sat somewhat near the window waiting to catch her boyfriend walking home. The glare from the mid-afternoon sun and the distance from his path to the window made it entirely impossible for him to see her anyways, and this fact made her even more opposed to sitting and staring out the window; she surmised that gazing at him through this one-way window was no less perverted and amoral than standing outside someone’s window hoping to catch a peek inside. She periodically glanced out at the rolling grassy hills, waiting for him to descend down only to ascend up the next one. The time between his descent and his ascent always seemed disproportionately long; she wondered what he did down in that little arcane valley. She forcibly pushed away disturbing daydreams of him being seduced by some contemporary Babylonian Whore, vindicating his infidelity by imagining that if she had never stepped foot in this chimerical valley, it may as well not even exist for her, and so his infidelity must not exist either. Attempting to distract herself and speed up the time, she fixed her gaze upwards on her dusty ceiling fan. The fan whirred implausibly quickly for hours, even days on end, and she wondered how this rotating force propelled the string back and forth like a pendulum, rather than catching in its interminable vortex.
She is closer to the water, unclear whether the tide rose or she involuntarily meandered closer. The colors of the sky continue to mute, blending and blurring like sludgy, murky water. She never liked the beach as a child because the breaking waves sounded like the far-off distant screaming of an impossibly large swath of people, just how she envisioned the sounds of hell to ring. But the heightened senses of a child dull over time, and she eventually outgrew this tendency to assign human qualities to all stimuli that rendered her world so grotesquely bionic. Tonight the screaming was back, but it wasn’t nearly as bothersome as it once was. She simply accepted that the black, minacious ocean may very well be a portal to Hell, and if Hell exists then it must serve some cosmic purpose, tending to its diabolicalness only to esteem Godliness by contrast with those poor people in Hell sentenced to holding up the Kingdom of Heaven for eternity. If she goes to Hell she is serving God, if she goes to Heaven she is serving God: this mantra pacified her.
She sees him start to descend and grins. She coyly lowers her head and tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, flittering her eyes as if flirting with a stranger across a bar. His distinctive features being hardly perceptible from this distance render him a mere archetypal figure, and she saw the entire history of the world in this tiny little figure. Time unfolded as he walked closer, individuating himself as his particular traits and gait materialized. Then he was gone. He had stepped down into this mysterious fissure. The state of arousal these few minutes put her in disturbed her. This physiological state was not akin to that of a potentially widowed wife during wartime, but that of a dirty old man wearing nothing but a mothball-scented trenchcoat. She could not know whether this valley was safe or ridden with seductive women, but she felt uncannily indifferent to all of that because regardless of all hypothetical details multiplying to create a hallucinatory fractal of possibility, he always made his way to the top of the hill, emerging out of the empyrean—or dreadful—hallow. Besides, she perversely relished in the unsavory prospects. She imagined his limp body being dragged up the hill. She would scream and cry and nobody could tell her to stop, not just because it would be incredibly cruel and inappropriate to hush a grieving woman like an unruly child, but because she would put on such an elegant display of grief, writhing as if in the throes of painful ecstasy, crying as to not contort her face too much, clutching her body as if she were her own lover. And if he was unfaithful, she envisioned herself tearing him away in a frantic fit of rage. Her pupils would dilate until her eyes were entirely black and her heart would be pumping so much blood throughout her body leaving her face entirely white and her head woozy. He would think she was a demon, and the palpable fear seen in his face and discernible in the way his tendons twitched would make her believe that she really was some demonic force. He emerged from the top of the hill as if rising from inside the Earth. Sometimes his last steps up the hill were so smooth he appeared to fall upwards. She never understood how he glided up such a steep incline so fluidly.
The moonlight plays with the contours of her body; the shadows cast by the reds and oranges of the sunset gave the illusion of her being covered up, but the pale moonlight nestles in the crevices between her ribs, accentuating the blue protruding veins in her hands, drawing attention to her nakedness. She is calf-deep in the water watching the lapping waves. The water gently curls around her body as if careful not to disturb her. The moonlight reflecting off of the dark rippling abyss, and the feeling of the icy water and oppressive warmth of the air was so beautiful to her; yet, this acknowledgment of beauty did not deter her from her plan: she was going to drown herself in the ocean, replace oxygen with water, life with death. The beauty of the world confirmed her decision. Beauty is not positive in the strict sense of the binary: positivity indicates a presence and negativity indicates an absence. Happy people are coined positive because happiness makes the body feel as though it’s being filled up, while sadness mimics deflation. Nobody ever refers to angry people as positive though, despite anger resembling the sensation of fullness even more so than happiness. When either by chance or by divine intervention – maybe these two are the same – the chaos of nature, for a brief moment, displays a harmonious order, and that is beauty. And in the balance of positive and negative, beauty lies in the infinitesimal period of time right before the scale tips; beauty embodies the feeling of imminent pandemonium, of blissful doom. Beauty lasting forever is indistinguishable from an incorruptible body, except the body is not a saint but rather the most abject of fallen creatures. The beautiful young woman is full of mourning and spite, she is the embodiment of lack, everybody pines for her while her insides eat themselves alive. She doesn’t even really want to die, she just doesn’t want to live. This oppressive melancholy, unbearably heavy, weighs her down, chaining her to the Earth. This feeling is not unbearable, but on the contrary, quite tolerable. And just as something that is falling will continue to fall, she wanted to sink even further. She wanted to let the fish nibble at her body and the maggots burrow into the chambers of her heart. She could not understand why deciding to die before time or disease caught up had to be such a grandiose, solipsistic display of despair. Just as animals have a survival instinct, we, so far removed from nature, pivoted towards a death instinct, and nobody wants to acknowledge that giving in to this proclivity is not always evocative of a malignant sickness or a grave metaphysical fluke.
She sits by the window. She allowed herself this pleasure because he was already back, fast asleep in her bed. The ease with which he fell asleep and awoke again disturbed her. The rapidity of his changing states did not at all resemble her inclination towards stasis; she stayed up late and slept late because the ineluctable acts of going to sleep and waking up felt like cruel afflictions, like mini-births and mini-deaths. She passively stared at the old giant oak tree—the tree everyone claimed had been around for thousands of years with such unyielding attention that she became entirely inattentive. She stared through, past the tree, unfocusing her eyes until a ghostly copy emerged. Honing her attention away from the general image of the tree, her eyes fixed on a swaying bundle of Spanish moss. Since she was a young girl, she always wanted to wear the Spanish moss as a scarf, but she was always told no, the moss is full of little red bugs, everyone would say. What does it matter? She doesn’t mind being a parasitic host. Just like having childbearing hips, wouldn’t the image of festering bugs feasting on her blood accentuate her vitality, reminding everyone that she is very much alive? Wouldn’t they want to rip off her clothes and have her right there in that shady patch of wet dirt at the base of the tree? She transcribed all her thoughts into this moss, just as wine transubstantiates into blood, every thread now embodied her present thoughts—him—despite his actual, real self sleeping right behind her.
The waves have picked up. The water no longer curls around her body, but aggressively tries to penetrate her pores. The moonlight now seems like an oppressive flashlight rather than an atmospheric necessity, catching her in the self-indulgent act of attempting suicide. She wades deeper, trying to reach a point where changing her mind was implausible, a point of no return, and this wouldn’t be difficult because she couldn’t swim anyway. The fear that she would change her mind briefly paralyzed her. This trepidation, more intense and bottomless than monotonous, everyday fear, incarnated a latent, primordial fear: that she does not and cannot make her own decisions. Metaphysical and physiological forces inside and outside, unreachable to her conscious self, controlled her as if she was led around by a blind, senile man. She clumsily wades until her feet barely grace the slimy ocean floor. And for a moment, she felt boundless joy because of the realization of how childlike she must’ve looked with her clumsy splashing and pieces of hair gracelessly plastered to her damp forehead. This joy subsumed her, and she never wanted to die more than in this moment, hoping this joy would imprint and carry on with her.
He was really very strange. Maybe that’s why she loved him so much, but she tried not to think about it. If she thought too intently about what exactly was so captivating, she may stop loving him. He often became overwhelmed with fear. The times when there was no object of fear was when his agitation peaked. Watching this wrestling with nothingness frightened her in a similar way to a child seeing a ghost in the dark corner of their room. He convinced himself that a metronome, the tool that produces a steady sound for musicians to keep a steady rhythm, could slow his heart rate. She told him that is not how that works, but what did she know. And the next day he showed up with a bag full of dozens, possibly hundreds of little black metronomes. He was pale and sweaty, oppressed by some unknowable, inconceivable doom. His surrendering to this primal physiological state made him seem like an animal, and for the very first time his facial features did not seem to belong to him, and he disgusted her. He frantically gripped her shoulders, and she averted her eyes upon smelling a characteristically inhuman muskiness. He said he knew it would work because metronomes will always sync up with one another. He aggressively emptied the bag, and with an abrupt shift of disposition, methodically placed each metronome equidistant from one another. She felt herself being pushed into the corner of the room, where she sat by the window, as he needed more and more space. He looked at her with an intensity that could shatter glass. Then he began—row by row, left to right, then left to right— to push each of the little hands. The irregular reverberating ticking initially greatly distressed her, but she quickly surrendered. The ticking felt as if it were coming from inside her own head, spreading out to her whole body, making her muscles spasm. This type of sensual overload would typically be unpleasant for her, but she reconstituted the sensations into orgasmic rippling. And gradually, after several minutes, the metronomes all ticked in sync. He instructed her to place her hand on her heart and her head on his chest, insisting the beats would be perfectly slow and perfectly synchronized. He was right, and for a brief moment, she thought her heart had stopped. She couldn’t tell if this made her feel totally and immeasurably safe, like a baby to her mother’s breast, or horribly aware of the fallibility of her body. He then asked her if she knew what it would mean if he gained complete control over the rhythm and movement of his heart—that the wind and the tides and gravity and everything else would be next. She began to sob violently, choking on her own tears and mucus and her diaphragm spasmed so powerfully she worried she might drop dead. She could not fully explain why this utterance took over her senses and induced such sorrow and horror, but she instinctively sensed a profound evil.
She struggles to make it past the rough waves, to break past the barrier that divides the shore from the actual sea. The waves were unrelenting, crashing in ever-increasing succession as if set out to punish her for disturbing their peace. She plunges underneath, only to emerge shortly after, coughing up seawater and mucus from her weak lungs. Even when drowning, her movements and general constitution were marked by such grace and muliebrity that she again became acutely aware that she must have looked like a child playing in the waves rather than a drowning woman. A particularly rough surge effortlessly picked up her small body and flung her back to shore. She lay there, with her tangled hair intricately interwoven with seaweed, and her body glistened a deathly hue under that punitive celestial flashlight. She lay face down, hands tucked under her breasts and feet crossed in an attempt to extract a remnant of warmth from inside herself. If a bystander saw her from afar they would probably think she was a lost and confused mermaid because of her otherworldly disheveledness. And for a moment, she thought she might’ve died until she jolted upwards to violently cough up more seawater. Her eyes widened, revealing white on all sides of her iris, and she shook like an animal in heat. She half-dragged, half-crawled back to the ocean, shrilly screaming with a frequency never before produced by anyone or anything of this Earth.
He never showed up that day. She incessantly checked the clock to make sure it was the time she usually catches him walking up the hill. The clock’s constant ticking especially irritated her today. And again, the ticking felt as if it was coming from inside her own head, spreading out to her whole body, making her muscles spasm, but rather painfully this time. In an attempt to stop this electrifying ticking, she threw the clock against the hall, but the ticking continued. She needed to leave. After walking for what felt like hours, but really only a mere 15 minutes, she reached the base of the first hill. Up close, the hill seemed impossibly steep, and she couldn’t conceive of how he possibly walked down this hill so swiftly and agilely without tumbling down. She made her way upwards, crawling on her hands and knees for fear that if she stood up straight she’d fall backward. She doesn’t recall climbing down, however—maybe sheer exhaustion darkened her memory—and she found herself at the base between the two hills. The air, as if suddenly gaining divine permission to take on the qualities of water, was synchronously transparent and iridescent, making her dizzy with its ever-changing scope. There was another woman, completely naked, and she considered asking her about the young man that frequents this little valley until she focused on her stature, her features, the way she balanced her weight by impishly shifting her hips and tapping her feet: they, she and her, were wholly identical. She wanted to call out to her, but she suddenly forgot how, just like an animal who cannot and will not ever speak, she couldn’t even conceive of how to begin. The mystery woman stood in a patch of tulips, all delicately swaying in unison. This swaying bemused her – she felt no wind, in fact, she had noticed the suffocating sultriness of the air. She tried to walk closer to the woman, but she never managed to get closer, and whether or not the woman simply walked away was nebulous; the patch of flowers wasn’t big enough for her to walk much distance within their confines. They continued to stay 7 feet apart, both facing forwards as if tethered to their respective orbits. She only ever briefly got a glimpse of her side profile—completely identical to hers—never granting each other the chance to compare their breasts, facial symmetries, or even spare a grin. The mystery woman let out a horribly shrill scream, and she ran away up the hill. She never found him and he never returned.
She plunged under the pressure of the tide and was pushed ashore once more. But this time she flung like a rag doll, her limbs completely limp, her head too heavy for her svelte neck. Her lungs gurgled, water dribbled out of the sides of her mouth and she felt the life evaporate from her body. There is an irrepressible quality of lightness that characterizes life; despite her lying in the exact same position as before, her death was palpable. Her, this body, incredibly dense yet deflated like a pile of sopping wet clothes, appeared as if it may dissolve through the Earth at any moment.
— Tade is living in NYC and currently working on her debut novel. Check out her other work