Mister Seahorse

He hadn’t wanted to return to the beach

the memory swilled inside him like a poison, never far, ready to clench his body in remembrance of pain, lash its tongue across his life to let him know:

it happened

he hadn’t wanted to go back to work

but they would notice. weeks of gastric upset, of furtive glances and hiding his oozing nipples, but absence was the one thing he could not, would not be able to explain to his coworkers. to avoid clenching when asked the old saw: what did you do for vacation? to lie as he ran his tongue over his teeth, still tasting iron and salt, tasting her, and smiling blandly: went to the beach.

he hadn’t wanted to get out of the car.

he could see from the road the distance he had swum, and now the image made acid back up in his throat. so far, so foolish. there were signs warning of riptide, but that hadn’t been the danger. the danger had been his own misplaced heroism, his idiot impulse to save and be seen. to look up and see what looked like a woman out on the rocks.

he hadn’t wanted to go on living

but something made him do it. he considered taking his own life, before he even considered a doctor, but both trains of thought were abandoned. if he forgot about it, it was like it never happened

except it did

he hadn’t wanted to set foot on the sand

he supposed the first mermaid must’ve been Venus, arising from the foam of Uranus’s severed head to set one virgin white foot on the shore. born of sea-foam, like the later daughters of Neptune, immutable, intractable,

fecund

he hadn’t wanted to swim out

too far at first because he feared the riptide. now he missed the world where the worst thing he had to worry about was getting dragged out to sea. a world where the mass he saw on the rocks, far from shore, looked a bit like a woman lounging on her side. where he, caught up in a playfully mythic spirit, called out to her. a world that ended shortly before “she” shifted, and he saw that the figure was only the top of something very, very, very big

he hadn’t wanted to come back

but there was nothing left. it was harder and harder to hide his growing bulk from his coworkers, excuse away the frequent abdominal pain, the vivid red slashes that decorated his back and buttocks as if something had grasped him to stop him thrashing—

he hadn’t wanted to get back in the water

but he did. he shed his shirt and shorts, kicking off his shoes in the tide. he half-hoped there was someone around to see him, someone who would call the police and arrest this indecent exposer, but he was alone. as he began to tread water, alone. as he fell into a simple breast stroke, alone. as the rip tide pulled him not out to sea, but to a familiar gathering of rocks, alone. as the pain became unbearable, alone.

and, as he gave birth in a tide of red foam, he wondered if they would call it Venus.

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