[Image: “Pink Island, White Waves,” by Milton Avery]
Dense underpinnings waffle beneath your back, shirt gone scrunched and reckless, no big deal you think, but it bothers you. The little things are itching against your surface, igniting ripples of stress. You have never done this before. You hope he can’t tell. You take comfort that he, too, is wearing a rain jacket over sweater over V-neck tee, adjusting his own misaligned corners. This weather, daily careening from swampy, wet skies to a cheerful parting of the cloud curtains above. Before you are ready for the sun’s show to be over, back they fall again, dark, reach for your Patagonia. So many layers this time of year. Thinner shirts beneath the thicker, wool against sheer nylon, nipples ricocheting between soft and hard. East Coast springs. Spring anywhere, really. The lions and lambs entering and exiting at breakneck pace, circling each other, blending into one bleating, bellowing cloud. It’s always struck you how regardless of place, people everywhere seem to bemoan outlandish springs, sudden winters, unbearable summers. And you think to yourself, The wonderful world all over is bleeding, rattling the sorriest of death cries upon deaf ears. What do they expect? Snarling pandemonium from the elements is the new normal. It’s 2028. Typhoons and landslides are the new black.
Beneath your layers you are sweating despite the icy AC wafting out of the vent above your head. Across from you, gray-green eyes rimmed in long, watery lashes. Even the people here look like the sea. You wonder if, as it rises, it has nowhere left to go but to creep inwards, as if these coastal dwellers were sponges who could try and keep the inevitable at bay as long as they each absorb a fragment of what is given. It is impossible. The scope is too vast. You are at Curly Cones Ice Cream Shop, where Ocean Eyes is the manager. It’s closing time, and he’s locked the door, ‘ensuring your privacy’. You hope he stays on the other side of the counter, which is laced across with nonpareils and melting driblets of rocky road.
“So you interested or not?”
“Uh, yes. Interested.” Jesus, you think. Yes, me interested. Pull it together.
“You know what’s up, yeah?”
“Yeah.” You do not know what’s up. You know the rumors of what’s up. The pink pearls that melt beneath the tongue and dissolve the misandry of the outside world while you blaze in a celestial euphoria. Completely. For months. The most durable of highs, one that heightens productivity and blurs the contours of memory. Yes, you know the rumors. People waking up after two months to a tingling sensation and an extra ten grand in their bank thanks to their industrious brilliance over the past weeks which they can no longer seem to tap into. You hear that you don’t forget…you just don’t remember. What does linger is the awareness of a full sense of calm and bliss that had temporarily rendered your world suddenly manageable, prolific, bright. You’ve never really used before. Only pot, kratom. A couple of unsuccessful microdoses of ketamine in college. Never any hard stuff. But, according to the rumors, the pearls are not hard, exactly.
“Hey,” Ocean Eyes says, “this stuff’s for real. Look, I’m the only one who sells this far north. I know I never sold to a type like you before, and I’m sure as all hell guessing you’ve never doped.” He gives you a pronounced once over, taking in the primness of your attire, the little bits of you that whisper, “nerd.” You feel the need to defend yourself, show him he cannot render you two dimensional with a pair of elevator eyes, show him you are dope-worthy and very, very down.
“Well I…I’ve done pot.” Jesus. Christ. He shakes his head, gives one sharp snort-laugh.
“Girl, damn, don’t make me…” His head drops and he breathes in a way that sounds frustrated, sweaty. “Look, you my first virgin pearler. Don’t make me regret this shit. You need to understand that this knocks you out like, for real man. For real for real. You’re gone. For months. It’s not as simple as a bowl of crystal or H, and it definitely isn’t like a joint. And no cash. Virtual currency only. Ethereum or Neo. That’s it.”
You lick your lips, stand straight, “Hey, I got it.”
There’s a pause and you wonder if your connect was bullshit after all, but then Ocean Eyes delivers, “’Kay, take out your phone, transfer funds while I watch.”
You take out the lightweight plane of glass that embodies every categorically stored shred of your personhood, open the app that keeps track of the value of the Neo you purchased last night. Your first time getting into crypto. “Congratulations,” Janey had said, “everybody’s in it. How’s it feel to finally pop the cherry?”
You transfer. Ocean Eyes nods, and finally, gives you what you want.
Rockland, Maine. Five months until the 80th Annual Maine Lobster Festival. You, 24 years. You, new around these parts. You, desperate for the safety net of the pearls. You won’t take them now, or maybe ever. But in the event of a violent swell or bubonic incineration, you will have them. Reinforcement.
One month ago you moved away from Portland, Oregon with Janey, your friend and life-blood. All about the streets there, people were sniffing, on high alert. The word about town? The legendary “Big One” (see “The Really Big One,” Kathryn Shultz, The New Yorker Magazine, July 20, 2015, or see your mother’s text messages for frantic periodic warnings of what looms). Nobody had talked about The New Yorker article in years, it’s initial punch having worn off after a long span of quiet fault lines, but then a magnitude 5.2 quake hit the Cascadia Subduction Zone in January. 5.2, a mere ripple compared to what Shultz had prophesied. Yet if the panic weren’t real before, now the hysteria was palpable. Homes on the market, college grads moving back in with their parents in Reno or San Diego or Boulder, preschools double checking the shock absorbency of their foundations. Only 5.2. But surely, people whispered, it was just a murmur, the earth passing a slip of gas before it really blows.
So you and Janey, here. Rockland Maine. Your mother’s texts heeded. You, another post-undergrad listless in the slip between one phase and the next. The earthquake was as good an excuse as any to just get on with it already, move and see what else may be out there. But what if something really happens? It’s not just Portland that’s on high alert. All across the country, people are taking the pearls, guarding themselves. Dissolving themselves. Awaking brighter, better, more prepared. Nobody knows what happens when you’re down, the science is still new. But so far, no gross mutations. Only a handful of deaths. With catastrophe looming on all earthly horizons, a handful of deaths do not scare you.
As you’re walking home from Curly Cones, Janey calls.
“Eliza, what the hell? I was trap hunting all day and Carl was pissed you didn’t show. I had to make up some dumb excuse, told him you got food poisoning from bad clams. I know it’s not glamorous, but this isn’t a guarantee you know. You need to actually show up.”
“Yeah, god, Janey, I’m sorry. I had that…Curly Cones appointment today? It sounds shitty to even say.”You wince internally, realizing you forgot a day of work. “Fuck. I’m sorry. I’ll absolutely be there tomorrow though, promise.”
Janey’s mad, took the fall for you again.
“Just don’t make me feel stupid for getting us this gig, all right? I know it’s not much cash, but damn, dude, it’s just a few days a week.”
Janey, always direct.
“Yeah, I know. Listen, I’m not gonna miss it again. I swear by the whole sea.”
Silence on the other end of the phone.
You: “Hey, you want Popeye’s for dinner? I’ll pick some up on the way home.”
After a pause, “Yes.”
Later, over boxes of chicken, you ask, “How many dead ones you find today?”
Janey’s dark eyebrows knit together as she bites into a thigh of crispy meat, “A ton. It’s really sad actually. Their carcasses are all…I don’t know, withered or something. Carl said they just starve in there once the trap goes missing and keeps hunting. One had four husks in it, and I kept picturing them all huddled together as they slowly died.”
“Carl told me they’ll eat each other eventually.”
“What? No way! God, that’s dark.” A small ribbon of chicken skin hangs off the edge of Janey’s lip.
You think, It’s normal, this dark world. They’re crustaceans. Arachnids, almost. Insects, almost. Sometimes, in the insect queendom, like dines upon like. Even sisters. Even friends. Twisting against one another in the dark, all claw and shell and the fleshy bits beneath. Something has to give. And then they’re ghosts. Just lobster ghosts.
It was never a question, the togetherness of your move. Part and parcel, chosen kin. The two of you latched together the first week of college, recognizing a common core. Never had you felt so fiercely attuned to another person, so synced in heart and mind. She is your truest and deepest friend. So when Janey wanted to move to coastal Maine for the crashing waves, the dense brine in the air, the winters thick with snow and void of tourists, you searched for the part of yourself that could want that as well. She waxed into dreamy speculations of four bright seasons percolated with clam chowder bread bowls, upwards twisting lighthouses, simultaneous sun and frost. You struggled at first, arguing that all coastal towns are the same, and reminded Janey that seagulls make you cranky. But besides moving from Des Moines to Portland for school, you’d never relocated across states, and why not move from one Portland towards the other, how silly it would be.
Besides, Carl was the former college roommate of Janey’s father, and out of good faith to an old friendship, he promised the two of you a gig if you moved this way. Nowhere else would a job be waiting for you, and in the current landscape of crushing debt, impossible payments, and the shift from manual labor to bots, clogs replaced with more efficient machines, the prospect of easy employment sealed the deal. The saving before the move, the months of doubles at O’Henry’s and Janey bartending seven nights a week, a feat to conjure the sums needed. The two of you barely saw one another at all, and now here you are. Immersed in the dream of salt fortified winds and rocking, ocean-soaked piers, two grinning peas in a pod. Of course, Rockland is not any safer, not any less prone to the mess of tsunamis and nor’easters that loom in the shadowy places of the mind, but at least here you will not be crushed by toppling cinder.
Carl did not tell you specifics. No crash course or gear demos. Just outfitted you with life vests and took you aboard. Told you to throw away the banana you’d brought along for later, said they were bad luck on boats and to never speak of them while on the water. You and Janey were already on the small vessel, designated the sternmen, when Carl announced you three would be ghost hunting.
“Well, hunting the ghost hunters,” he’d said, taking out a pack of Stoker’s and wadding up a pinch to pack against his cheek. “Back in, shit, I don’t know, 2020? Maine had something of a crisis. It’s goin’ on elsewhere too. Been building for decades. You see these traps we use? Mostly they’re wood, but some are mesh. Well us lobstermen, we drop ‘em down right? And pull ‘em back up, bam, lobsters are caught and ready to bring to whoever your lobster dealer is.”
Carl paused, releasing an arc of brown juice over the sheerline. On shore, two seagulls were wrestling over a writhing crab, its claws pulled in two directions reminding you of a medieval torture technique. Tie one leg to one horse, one arm to another, slap them on the butts, giddy up.
“Problem is some of these traps get lost. Rigs break, ropes rot. And they keep hunting. Call ‘em ghost hunters. The critters think it’s shelter, even after the bait is gone. Other places got similar problems. Crabbing places, fishing places. This has been going on for over one hundred years, really since the industry began.”
Janey interrupted, “Don’t traps break down though if they’re mostly wood?”
“Well sure, but not quickly. Those mesh ones, boy they linger. And in the meantime, hell, our catch is dying! Fewer living lobsters, fewer reproducing lobsters. It’s bad for the sea; it’s bad for the economy. Guess you could say there’s something of a bounty on ‘em. Rockland’s mayor announced a program to pay folks for each ghost trap they bring ashore. And I’ll tell ya, the rate’s good.” He winked at you, grinning through the mess of ochre chew between his lips. “So here we are, ladies. Ghostbusters!”
The boat is hooked up with GPS, sea floor roving devices, aquatic mapping technology, all mumbo jumbo that Carl won’t let you touch but that you side-eye and learn how to use from watching him fiddle with it. You studied topography in school, after all. If your degree is proving inconsequential in getting you a job in your field, at least you can show Carl up the next time you hunt. After a week of trial and error, your little crew finally hauls a dozen ghost hunters, and after bringing them ashore to claim your prize, makes a couple hundred each. To celebrate afterwards, Carl takes you and Janey to Neptune’s Nook, where he knows the owner and manages to get three brimming lobster plates on the house. You poke at the steaming tail, watching the pearly flesh buckle beneath your fork.
Pearls. You’d heard back in Oregon about the pearls making their way this far north. You mentioned it to Janey once, in passing. She told you she wasn’t interested, but then again, Janey always was a preemptive optimist, before reality began its long sink inwards.
Neptune’s Nook is decorated with ropey nets, lighthouse memorabilia, a wooden ship’s wheel that looks like an artifact from a time bygone. Everywhere you turn in Rockland is a reminder that this is a sea-faring place. Coastal with the Moastal, you saw on a bumper sticker and wished you had a seashell to hurl at the bumper. Even the post office has a plaster mermaid standing on guard at the doors. Sitting beneath a decoupaged portrait of a lobster, Carl is on his fourth pint of light beer, and fancying himself poetic with the rhapsody of cheap booze.
“Girls, way I see it, this really is a missed opportunity. All these traps we’re collecting—you know what they are? I’ll tell ya. They are…material! Yes, plain and simple. Material!” Each time Carl says the word “material,” his mouth undulates around it, tongue wagging, mah-teer-ee-ahhl. “Now listen to this idea of mine. Mayor Graves is funding this endeavor, right? Incentivizing locals to reclaim the sea and along with it the economy, blah blah blah. Just getting us to do his grunt work if you ask me, so he doesn’t gotta pay the wages of a whole public works crew to come in and get the job done. Whatever. Well, so I got thinkin’, what else do mayors love besides a citywide clean up? Hell, the arts!”
He is grinning widely; ruddy cheeks stretched ragged around two long purple lips. You lean over and whisper, “We really need to get new friends,” in Janey’s ear.
“Shh!” She stifles a laugh, puts one finger on your cheek and nudges your face away.
Carl slings back the dregs in his glass. “Sure as hell. So I had this idea, right, all these traps? Well, I’m just gonna build something outta them. Weld ‘em together or stack ‘em, who knows. But it’ll be a sculpture, one that could stand in the middle of the 80thAnnual Lobster Festival. Pitched it to get funding through an arts grant, and Mayor Graves ate it up. Cuz you know what Mayors love most of all? Arts meets conservation! Looks real good for that stuff to be goin’ on with him up for reelection and all.”
Janey sits up, “Wait, so we’re pulling these traps for you and you’re cashing in at the end of it all by stacking them on top of one another?”
“What the hell!” Janey spews once you get home. “He’s getting a 3,000 dollar arts grant to play Legos with what we haul for him? He’s just fiddling with the GPS the whole time!”
The two of you are standing in your kitchen, having made a quick getaway as Carl transitioned from the topic of Mayors and began warbling about the owl and the pussycat on a beautiful pea green boat. Janey is working a stubborn cork out of a bottle of two-buck chuck. Her face is contorted with effort, with irritation.
“Ha! The arts. My ass! Seriously, I mean Eliza; you saw the way his chest puffed up with pride when he started proselytizing to us about what gets mayors off and his big idea. His fucking “idea.” It’s gross, it’s so incredibly dumb. Good, another dude stacking huge metal things on top of each other. Eliza, you know I am a sculptor! I lived and breathed that shit for four years and look what good the degree has done me. And he just saunters up, plucks that grant from thin air, meanwhile our broke asses smell like seaweed all day from hauling traps for him. 3,000 dollars! 3,000 dollars Eliza!”
The cork comes loose, and with it a driblet of wine that spills onto Janey’s wrist. She wipes her arm on the rear of her jeans and hands you a glass. You hear Janey, of course. You also don’t want to do someone’s grunt work so they can cash in at the end of it. But you aren’t mad at Carl. Carl had an idea. Carl, who has spent his life in wind-whipped salt and brine, twisting gnarled crustaceans out of traps, landed an easy 3G. So what? Besides, it’s 2028. 3,000 dollars won’t fatten his pockets for long, and Janey should know that a degree hasn’t guaranteed anyone shit for a long time.
“Hey, look,” you say,“it was his idea. And he’s poor too. Really, Jane, he is. 3,000 is probably more than he’s seen in a while. It’s not such an awful thing for that to come his way.” You’re itching to say, “Calm down, it was a shitty gig regardless,” but instead you try to clear the air with a less accusatory, “Look, fuck it. He can hunt his own traps from now on. I’ve been wanting to try and get a waitressing thing anyway. I’ve seen a few restaurants still using real people here and there.”
Your mind drifts to Curly Cones, maybe you could use Ocean Eyes as a reference…but something in the way Janey is holding herself shakes you from any future scheming. Your friend stares, unblinking, into the sheen of red in her glass, eyes shifting from brown to a deeper silt, something ocular and distant, another force. “You’re right. Fuck him. Let’s go fucking rogue. Let’s rent a boat and haul traps ourselves, I mean, we’ve basically been doing it this whole time. I can hold my own. You can hold your own. It’s stupid, thinking we need him.”
The back of your neck tingles. “Janey, no, come on. Renting a boat? That’s like, fifty dollars an hour. Not worth it. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“But what if we did?”
Outside the wind is whipping in raucous gusts, sending ocean water splayed into the air where it hovers briefly in strands of beaded wetness, crisp spheres of stolen sea, before it flattens and bends, crashing back into the romping foam of waves below. Such is your horizon, and such is how you see, for all visibility is muted in the storm about you. It was Janey’s suggestion, the rentals would be nearly free today because of the treacherous skies, and hardly anyone else would be at sea, searching the way the two of you are. Certainly not Carl. Certainly he would take a day like today as an excuse to curl inwards with a cup of earl grey and maybe a good porno. Lucky him, you think.
The two of you are staying closer than usual to the shoreline, as a safety precaution, but still the amount of traps you have wrangled today is curiously fruitful. Janey insists upon working the gear, and she squats in a banana yellow rain parka on the deck over the acoustic mapping equipment you’ve found in a pinch online, alongside a rudimentary aquatic metal detector Janey claims Carl has “given” her. The whole of it feels bogus and a bit sad, not to mention riotously dangerous, but you can’t deny that the stack of ghost traps hauled to the rear bow is higher than ever today.
After five hours, finally, “Hey,” you say, looking at Janey and wishing the yellow of her jacket didn’t remind you so viscerally of Carl’s boat-forbidden fruit, “this is awful. I feel like I’m actually breathing water and I can hardly stand straight, and, as a friend, that coat is one hundred percent ridiculous on you. Look, this is a total haul. We’re good. This is some real cash! It’s rent for each of us and then some. Janey, I’m serious. We need to get out of here.”
But the way Janey peers up at you from beneath her golden hood sends a beam of electricity down the quick of your spine, and you notice for the first time that Janey’s eyes are edged with silver, shot through with fleeting streaks of violet, and reflect outward as glassy orbs.
“We stay,” she says, her voice visibly wafting from her throat, an urgent mist before you.
By sundown, again on land, your palms are rusted over with dried blood and welts from the hours of hauling, cranking, pinching, pulling, swatting against the beating gusts. As night falls and you and Janey finally trudge up the length of your driveway to the waiting cradles of your beds, you hardly notice at first how Janey’s skin appears opaline tender, like a newborn’s that has been swathed in the preternatural remedy of unicorn blood. At first, you barely absorb the luminescent field that seems to spill from her pores, her cheeks and palms tinged with a lavender blush that pulls your exhausted mind back to fairy tales of lore. As the shimmer of her form dissolves through her bedroom door, you begin to see, and understandings creep into the folds of your tired psyche. And then you crash face forward into your unmade bed, soul content from the knowledge of a body’s keep earned, while your very human corpus buckles with the creeping pain of cold and rope and wind.
“Wake up,” says Janey, her face nose and nose with your own as you lay comatose in bed, barely able to perceive the morning’s light streaking through your bedroom blinds.
“WAKE UP,” Janey repeats, more forcefully this time, her hands curling into the arcs of your shoulders. Your waking consciousness shudders against the pulled curtains of your eyelids, beats against like moths in a jar, tired, tiny muscles, open please.
“Yes, hi,” you manage. Her breath, hot against your face, smells like blood and lilacs.
“I rented us a boat. We need to leave in ten minutes to secure it. Meet me at the car by then. I took your credit card and cosigned. If you’re not there I’ll have to do some explaining.”
Janey leaves your room briskly. Normally she might hop in your bed, curl up against you and together you’d scroll through a feed of gifs acting as newsreel of the most recent global disasters. Or Janey would bring you a cup of coffee, maybe water and ibuprofen if you were hungover. This Janey is curt, fatherly almost. Admonishing. Meet me at the car by then. You’re not even mad about the credit card, though you should be. But no, you are not angry. Instead, you blush undercover at what you perceive as her rebuke of your supposed laziness. But of course, that is what you tell yourself. Really, you blush beneath the covers at what Janey might have done, the tool she may have yielded in a perhaps less than necessary circumstance. You cannot bring yourself to check the deodorant bottle.
Shuffling downstairs while struggling to pull on your rain gear still wet from the day before, your body seethes back at you with the pain of swollen joints and stiff spine, and you marvel at those who spend their lives upon the sea wrangling catch from the waves. As you hop into the Lyft Janey has called, you slather the back of your neck in tiger balm and offer the small jar to her.
“No thanks,” she says, staring straight ahead. “I feel pretty great.”
You wait for her to crack a smile or even sigh in the way Janey does when she’s flush with contentedness, but there is no indication that she does, in fact, feel pretty great. She stares towards the dashboard, stoic, barely breathing. Her lips are dry and rimmed with the white of dying skin.
After a week of constant, timeless trap hunting where hours slipped and time became mutable as the sea itself, you find yourself in the kitchen with Janey cooking eggs for dinner. She has been more frugal than normal lately, eschewing every drive thru burger for scrambled eggs and frozen spinach. “For the body, for the mind,” she recites blankly. You are sitting on one of the two counters in your cramped kitchen when Janey swats you down, brushing quickly against you with the backside of her hand and saying curtly, “Off.”
That is it. That is the moment. You hop down, square your feet, and demand of her, “When did you take them?” Janey is scraping furtively against the pan, well scrambled eggs reduced to burned shreds, nails on a chalkboard.
She is silent for a moment, then, finally, “When did I take what?” The tone in her voice ices over the air, words dripping frosted from the roof of her mouth, the whole room transformed into an icebox.
“When…when did you,” you are stammering in spite of yourself, unused to such a chilling reception, “when did you take the pearls that I bought, huh? Three under the tongue? I stashed them away, Janey, in my underwear drawer. I checked last night and they’re gone. The fuck were you thinking?”
Janey stops scraping, turns the heat on the stove from High, to Off, divides the burnt eggs between two waiting plates. Finished, she turns towards you, spatula in hand. Her eyes are gleaming with the same shimmer of nacreous chrome you’d first seen on the boat, streaks of violet colliding with the black of her irises.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about you lunatic cunt,” she breathes towards you. Her words seem to emerge as vapor, something you almost see, grasp. But not quite. The chill sinks further inwards.
“Hey, what the hell! I’m trying to see if you’re okay. I’m only asking because I’m worried about what’s going on.”
“Worried?” Janey laughs in a way that is abrupt, tight, mannish. She slams the spatula down on the counter, scattering fragments of egg about her. “Go to bed, Eliza. You look like you need some beauty rest.”
The quick of your marrow retracts and freezes. You go to your room. Before shutting off your lamp, you reach towards the drawer, remove the emptied tube of Lady’s Speed Stick, and hurl it against your window before you recede to the waiting darkness of your bed.
Two months. Seven days a week. You wake to Janey hunched above you, her long hair brushing against your eyelids as she announces, “WAKE UP.” Her sentences these days are void of emotional ebb and flow, and all her words spill forth with the same dry continuity. Her voice reminds you of cardboard, of a straight ruler taking only the necessary measurements and never bending to the curve of feeling. These two months you have mourned. You have mourned the relief and warmth that you have come to anticipate from your friend. Janey is as a husk, her body a flimsy sheath, with all the spirit having evaporated outwards in milky streams. There is no longer a person inside to commiserate with. You wonder if others notice. But if anything, Janey’s zeal renders her interactions sterile with a bleak professionalism. Perhaps others think she is merely disinterested in anything but the matter at hand. Which is of course, the case.
Twice you shook her off, denied her your help and companionship at sea, and twice she charged ahead alone and fear rose inside of you at the thought of Janey’s delirious drive pushing her somewhere deep and dangerous and irretrievable. And so each time she wakes you, you follow, trusting that someday soon the pearls will wane and Janey will return. There are moments where you are relieved it is she, and not you, that swallowed them after all, and this strikes you as a gross betrayal.
It is true though, the things they have said. You, by proxy, have benefitted from Janey’s relentless momentum to collect ghosts and retrieve funds. Your bank account has been gleefully fattened, and you know Janey’s has been all the more, for while you sleep, you notice she does not. Once, at three in the morning after fourteen hours hauling traps, you woke and wandered into the living room to find Janey perched in front of a screen with rows of cards displayed before her. “I’m doing quite well,” was all she said, and fearful of disturbing her, you got a glass of water and returned to the coma of your sleep.
These days you think about the others, the other pearlers. Would you recognize one were you to cross paths? The prismatic irises, the shallow breath, the monotony of tone, would you recognize were you to see? Do others know what to look for? You think about gallons of water and canned food, earthquake readiness kits. You had one back in Oregon. Now, it feels paltry in comparison to the security you feel from this, your savings. Impossible to achieve through waitressing while the loans and insurance payments and bills scraped and scraped against the ceiling of your earnings. It’s true, even though Janey’s turning has plagued you, there are moments when you sigh sweetly at night thinking of what you have cushioned away, and no, gallons of water have never given you this feeling. Janey herself, well now she barely talks, except to murmur slight awws, at sea, after a day’s catch has been accounted for and sums paid up. She has not addressed you by name in five weeks.
Yes, these days, you think about the pearls and you think about the rich, how they have always enjoyed this swaddling of security. Shall you now count yourself amongst them? You resist. No, you think, I am not quite like them. I have given in the taking. And yet, you hesitate, and wonder wherein lies the separation. You think about the moments where money fails, when all is broken, and there is no saving. And if all is poisoned or rendered as rubble, will funds really float you to the top? And then, what about those who sink, and have been sinking deep down for a very long time? You think of those souls buried beneath the weight of scarcity for whom especially the pearls are out of grasp. Pearls, beneath the tongue. Pearls, roped around the neck. You understand now, there are many ways of drowning.
“Girls!” Carl shouts, waving at you and Janey through the crowd of lobster cracking, foam claw waving festival attendees, drunk on the plenty of melted butter and the sea’s riches. Janey’s arm is linked through yours, and you catch her rolling her eyes behind oval sunglasses. In the past days you have felt fragments of her seeping back in, little glimmers of affection and interest in how you, Eliza, are feeling. The past weekend, she slept the sleep of death for three days straight, and for the first time in months the two of you did not venture out upon the water. You haven’t since. Janey is still largely absent, but if need be you can call her forth. An improvement. Unsure if she will return in fullness, and reeling from having stayed through the most grueling peaks of her frenzy, you’ve been unable to tell Janey that with your newly acquired funds you booked a ticket back to Des Moines. You have a month. With time, you tell yourself. With time.
Carl lumbers toward you, a spherical red hat upon his head with large, bouncing eyeballs rising out of it atop twisted wire. An approximation of a lobster, you guess. He grins at the two of you, even goes in for a brief hug. “Hey,” he says, “I sure am glad you decided to come. Wasn’t thinkin’ you would, seeing as how things kind of fell apart there. But look! There she is! Isn’t she a beaut? I call her, The Phantom Maker.”
You wonder why men insist upon deeming things they twist together with their hands she,like sculptures and colonies and ships, but you are exhausted, and too distracted by Carl’s butter soaked lobster bib to raise this to question. At the center of the 80th Annual Maine Lobster Festival, stands the behemoth Carl has wrestled together over the course of the summer. You have to admit, its presence is an indomitable one, and alongside it stands a plaque speaking to the ills of ghost traps and the danger uncareful lobster hunting brings to the sea and coastal economies. Truthfully, it is gathering attention, with children running about and staring, transfixed, through the interlocking cages. One shouts, “I see it! I see the ghost!” and for a second you turn your head to try and catch a glimpse of whatever it is you’ve been hunting all along.
Kelsey Gray is a creative writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Nashville Review, New South, Litro Magazine, The Rib, Metatron Press, Cagibi, and elsewhere. You can find more of her writing at www.kelsey-gray.com.