The funny things loneliness can do. Fully clothed, I strode through the waves to the land. The sky was white. Wet newspapers matted the beach, the ink running in wavy lines into the sea. Gulls pecked at piles of soggy rinds. Styrofoam cups frothed with iridescent bubbles. Rubbed by the wind, half-filled glass bottles piped fitfully. No longer able to contain myself, I exhaled several heaping breaths of water. The sand, then the dirt, sucked at my feet. A raven screeched from the horn of a driftwood cattle skull.
Nothing much had changed in the town where I was born. The yellow shacks had shrunk like rotten fruit, studded with mold and barnacles. Threadbare seaweed swung on collapsed porches; windows and gutters wept with rust. Sailboats and submarines lay wedged in the mud, scuttled and shipwrecked at low tide, with portholes and periscopes glinting in the sun and rudders creaking in the breeze. I called out a name I thought I knew. A lost dog shook its dripping fur in a spray of raindrops. When I whistled the dog chased me and licked my heels. The taste must have been unpleasant, for the dog ran whimpering toward a field where dying fish slapped the ground with their tails. Beyond was the derelict amusement pier, speckled by shards of funhouse mirrors. Devoid of riders the roller coaster had frozen midair.
For a moment I heard the band, still playing. Alas, it was only wind-chimes. I found a door I remembered, green with mildew. The rotting wood readily gave way. Once inside my throat burned with thirst. Spoons and knives were scattered in puddles on the kitchen floor, the cabinet doors warped shut. The refrigerator, though, was packed full of swollen food. I longed for something clean and crisp, something firm that would crunch, but the bread and cheese had soaked through, fell apart at the touch. Famished, I devoured moist sprouts from the earth and licked my salty fingers clean. Sand and grit ground between my teeth.
A subterranean knock startled me to lift the hatch beneath my feet. In the cellar a few survivors remained, munching on crustaceans from grubby pails. First I didn’t recognize them, wrinkled as they were, their skin pitted into coral reefs. They hunched and cowered, blinking and pitching in their rocking chairs. When they spoke I recalled their voices. Time wobbled on its heels, and once more I was a featureless faceless child, tugging on their coattails for guidance, climbing their well-worn knees for bouts of shiny love. They were not unhappy, they claimed, theirs was a life of ease. A lie, of that I was certain. Above clownish grins their tears spurted.
I closed the hatch and swallowed a last mouthful of dripping bread. The raven flew from a leafless tree, leaving its eggs to fall and break below the nest. In such a place, where would breathing get me? This time I would learn to choke. I turned the valve of every faucet. Foam churned between my toes. My kinsmen below sealed and plugged leaks to no avail. Water seeped between the planks and combed through the walls grain by grain until they were flushed from their hiding place. Crablike we dragged into the foam, chained in comradeship, to the beat of the distant Ferris wheel.