The Blue Moon Review


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Like This, Only Fathoms Deeper

by Christiana Langenberg


You will remember it eventually, just not right now. First, give yourself the task of walking to the market for lemons. Give your body something to do so your mind can concentrate. This has worked for you in the past, and you have no reason to give up now. Ignore that today you are uncertain, only partially convinced that by the time you come back with the lemons you will have remembered where you put that picture. It remains nowhere you've looked and you have looked deep. You are not so sure this walking thing works anymore. You are beginning to think it is lost forever.

You decide to go to the neighbor's and do your job. Kate and Chris are gone for a month and have given you a ridiculous amount of money to visit and feed their enormous goldfish named Sushi. She swims in their fountain out back. Every morning when you get there you can hardly believe the size of this fish. Kate told you she thinks she weighs close to 50 pounds. This is what you weighed when you were eight. Sushi is sleek and huge and entirely gold. She is glad to see you and wiggles her tail as you scatter her meal along the top of the water. "Have a good day, girlfriend," you tell her as you leave and head for the market.

When you return to your front door again, your hand poised on the knob, the key in the slot, you realize you forgot the raw sugar. You are unbelievably upset. You don't believe this. You already went back one other time for purified water, thinking the extra walk couldn't hurt, might do you good.

Now you pull the key out and set the bag of lemons down. A tight elastic of panic works its way into your throat. You cannot believe you forgot the raw sugar. If this keeps up, you are going to lose faith. All you wanted was to keep your feet busy, have them walk you to the market so your mind would be free to remember the image you woke up with, that last picture in your sleep that slipped, then caught, then slipped through the net of your consciousness. One more trip back and forth and maybe then you'll know, you'll see it again. Take a right at the first block instead of the second and inhale the flowering hedge that smells strongly of nutmeg. Maybe that will help loosen the picture from wherever it is lodged in your head.



When you were a child you used to spend the summers at your grandmother's house, only a block from Seal Beach. She had a hedge like that in her backyard, but you were never allowed to pick the flowers. Your mother would drive you there the day after school let out and then drive back to Reno the day after. She said the atmosphere at grandmother's was close, that she felt like a whale in an aquarium. "You go, Lucy," she said as she waved you away from the curb. "You go and swim like a fish."

When you turned eight years old, it was determined you were big enough, and Grandmother let you walk to the beach by yourself in the afternoons while she took her nap. You would stand in the surf with your back to the ocean, your eyes half-closed, more listening than looking for the right-sized wave to push you forward onto your stomach and follow you in. The water was shallow for a long way out which made it easier to pretend you could be sucked out to sea and become a mermaid, unless the right wave came along to give you a reason to go home and stay mortal.



Being with Jill now makes you feel immortal and yet warm-blooded all at the same time. When you first met her at the market it was because she had taken your groceries by mistake and was half way down the block before you caught up with her and said so. She looked in your bag and then at you through eyes so dark they seemed to have no pupils. She had one streak of grey in her hair like a plume. "Well," she said. "Since you paid for the groceries, the least I can do is make us dinner."

It was as familiar as falling into step with your own shadow, and you asked her more than once, "Do you suppose we've met in another lifetime?"

"Without question," she answered and smiled broadly. She had small, even, white teeth and a large mouth.

Just before you fell asleep last night, you buried your face in her hair, still damp from her shower and flung across her pillow. Your hands found hers in the dark, resting on her hips.

She whispered, "You know, Lucy, sometimes, when I look at you when we're making love, or sometimes when I just look at you, I see everything I've ever known or wanted."

"I couldn't have dreamed this if I tried," you mumbled.

"You hold me, " she added, from the edge of your sleep, "and my whole body and self feel like we're home."



Home was a strange place in the summers with your grandmother. She was quiet and read a lot and would say, "I love you," with the same tone and frequency as when she said, "We're out of tuna." It wasn't awful, you'd seen awful and this wasn't that. Awful was your friend Beverly's house where Beverly's dad hit Beverly's mom and said, "I wouldn't get so mad if I didn't love you," but absolutely nobody talked about that before the one Tuesday night in July when Beverly's mom put the kids in the car and drove them all right off the end of the pier.

Your grandmother's home was not like that. Something about her just felt like she'd been missing from herself for quite a while, as if she wasn't in the room, even when she was. You longed for her when she was right there in front of you. And while you waited for her to come back into her life, you held your back to the waves and squinted your eyes toward the shore, like you could push the heat rising from the sand back down, and you learned to stop your infernal crying.



Eventually you got good at waiting. You taught yourself to walk backwards, even to skip backwards with ease, oblivious to everything except the width of the sidewalk, and how far before the end of the block. And to anyone who saw you, you were just a girl, small for her age, skipping backwards down the boulevard. But there was more to it than this. There was something more to you than childhood.

You saw things other people didn't see. You knew things. You knew two red cars would pass before a green one did, and that the neighbor's dog would break its leg tomorrow when the St. Vincent de Paul truck would back over it, accidentally; you knew your grandmother's flowering hedge would stop blooming this year, even though it had for the past twenty-five.

You told your grandmother what was about to happen to Tuffy the beagle and she said, "You mind your own business and leave that dog alone. We're out of tuna, would you mind running to get some?"



You collected empty soda bottles you found in the alleys between the beach and home and cashed them in at the little grocery store on the corner for a box of nonpareils you held in your mouth until the little white beads of sugar dissolved to reveal the mound of chocolate underneath. And you would play the ordinary games children play like Hide-and-Go-Seek and Mother-May-I, but all the while you were seeing things, pieces of the future that bobbed in front of your face like those apples in the barrel of water on Halloween. Martha Bloomer would get over her acne and become a television news anchor, your mother would divorce your father two summers from now, your last year of college you would fall crazy in love with a woman named Simone and she would leave you three years later to marry a man, and you would fall in love after that, though your days would be fringed with a vague kind of yearning. You figured these things were just ordinary parts of your world, what you lived with like each day's tide patterns. That you knew them ahead of time didn't make them good or bad. Besides, sometimes you even forgot you knew.



Once in sixth grade, before the last summer with Grandmother, Laurilee Hawthorne called you a retard during lunch recess because you wouldn't trade lunches without looking. You told her you didn't want her nasty ham sandwich on stale bread with no mustard and she asked how you knew that's what was in her box and you shrugged and said you just did.

"You're weird," she said. "You're abnormal."

"No, I'm paranormal," you heard yourself say, never having used this word before in your life. Then you got an image, like a postcard, of your father getting married to his secretary while skydiving on the last day of summer.

Later, during Reading class, Laurilee tucked a note in your sweater cuff. It read "Your a parashoot."

Miss Ramon asked the class if anyone knew a synonym for soothsayer. She was always trying to broaden the class's vocabulary by having you all investigate strange new words that felt like lozenges in your mouth when you tried them out. Soothsayer. Something about the word seemed slippery and dark. "Do you all remember what prophet means?" she hinted, "like in the bible?"

Toby J. answered, "It's where you make money."

Miss Ramon said it was the other spelling of prophet and wrote it on the board and asked again if anyone knew another word for, a synonym for, prophet. She would give you all another hint, it began with "Para-."

Your palms felt damp.

Laurilee blurted "Para-bull," to which Miss Ramon responded, no, this was not word association, this was a lesson in synonyms and she was looking for a word that meant the same as, say, clairvoyance, and Claire Butler sat up straighter in her chair, thinking she'd been called on.

"Maybe," offered Miss Ramon, "someone would like to take a guess?"

You positioned your head to be exactly behind Buddy Jenkins', but she called on you anyway. "Paranormal, " you said quietly, toward the back of Buddy's head.

Miss Ramon looked around the room at the random, blank faces. "Can you give us another synonym, Lucy?" she asked and her heels clicked sharply up and down the aisles between the rows of desks.

Buddy turned around and whispered, "Go ahead, Miss Braino. You drink Draino."

Julie Hathaway, who sat in front of Laurilee stuck her tongue out at you. An image floated by. You could see that next winter she would get that very tongue stuck on the bumper of her family's car on a skiing weekend in Tahoe. You knew what it would look like with a patch of the tastebuds torn off and you stared at her wondering if you should tell her. You also knew, however, that she wouldn't believe you, though she'd wonder if she should. And Grandmother had looked at you differently after Tuffy lived on to have puppies and you got to take one home and name it Joy.

Laurilee glowered and mouthed "Abby Normal" and swung her head back and forth as if to music.

"A seer," you said to Miss Ramon. "Someone who knows things."

"Like what?" asked Miss Ramon, actually surprised.

"Like that you're going to have a baby at Christmas and there is no Mr. Ramon." And before you could stop yourself, " I think you should name the baby Jesus."

You spent the recess period writing "I will not lie" across the black board 100 times. For some reason, this did not feel like an unjust punishment to you, though you didn't know why. Miss Ramon kept her arms folded across her chest and sniffed against the chalk dust but didn't say a word. The following Monday a substitute teacher, Sister Mary Jonah, was spinning the globe to get everyone's attention. "Who can tell me where we might find the island of Sardinia?"

It wasn't until months later at the grocery store when you saw a slim Miss Ramon with dark circles under her eyes that you knew. "It was a girl, wasn't it?" you asked her, a sudden unruly piece of you breaking away from your quiet center and rushing out of your mouth. She stared at you. She nodded, and her eyes reminded you of those on the kittens in the news last night, the ones whose owners had pried them open prematurely. Then you looked at the floor where the lemon she'd been holding had rolled, and you felt sorry that you ever knew anything.

Later that day you got your first migraine and threw up and screamed until your mother called the doctor and the doctor said for you to lie down in a dark, cool room, where you thought about Miss Ramon's baby, whom she'd named Mary and given up for adoption and you realized you knew too many things like this, too many things that were, after all, none of your business, and for some reason you neither knew nor accepted, they passed through your brain on their way to their destination.

So you stopped looking at everything as though it was yours. You stopped letting everything in. You tried to turn your back against the waves forever.

The doctor said the migraines were genetic, that your grandmother had had them, too, and they would probably get worse before they got better, but you knew different. They would go away completely if you just stopped paying attention to every scene that drifted through your head. That would be the only way.



By the time you graduated from high school, one year early, you had all but perfected the feeling of controlling a little dimmer switch in your head. That muted the sightings to mere outlines, nobody you could identify if you had to. And the only one you saw clearly after that was Simone in a green sarong, behind you and pulling on your backpack, saying, "Excuse me, I wanted to ask you about what you said in class. How could The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin be your favorite book? I think that's the weirdest thing I ever heard." You saw that one like a little movie, after which you went to the library and got the book.

But there was nothing after that, not a glimpse, not a speck, not an eyelash in your eye to warn you you'd be sitting at the kitchen table in your apartment three years beyond that, after Simone left with Pete for Tampa, and you were there sitting alone with your propane torch in one hand, and the two 7-up bottles with their necks wound around each other like swans, in the other. You were going to try and undo this.

You remember how you felt that day as if you forgot everything else.



But today you want the rest. You want access. You want to see again the image you woke up with, where you were in your sleep before it stopped. You pace around the pool. Something about this is important, though you don't yet know what. You think maybe it was the edge of a long coat being pulled through a yellow cab door that had just been closed. No, that's not right, you decide, or maybe this is just because it's dissolving faster now that you've had to walk it this long, but you still decide it wasn't a coat, not a distinct thing. It was more like looking at the surface of something, then through it to the thing underneath; so, not a coat covering something else, but maybe a scarf caught on a branch and pressed against a window?

You call Jill at work, tell her it's like you're having precognitive feelings rather than images but you don't know about what.

She asks, "How long have you felt this?"

"Just since this morning. I had some kind of weird vision right before I woke up, but I can't remember it now."

"So what are you thinking, that it's something bad? Something bad is going to happen?"

"More like a narrow escape of some sort."

"What?"

"More like a - "

"No, I heard you I just meant like what kind of escape."

You can hear her trying to be quiet about running her adding machine while she's listening to you. "Jill?" you start.

"What?"

"Could you please just listen to me for a minute without doing something else? Focus on me?"

"Okay, Lucy. Sorry," she says and you can hear the squeak in her office chair as she leans back in it. "Go ahead."

"Okay."

"Wait," she says suddenly. " Are you doing that thing where you slip your pinky in and out of the spiral of the phone cord?"

You are. "Yes."

"Have you ever noticed that if you spread your fingers apart, they really are slightly webbed?"

You smile because you really do love her ability to startle you. "Thank you. I love you, too."

"You're welcome. Now on with your situation."

"Do you remember - " you begin.

"I love you," she whispers.

"Yes." You stop, as you sometimes have to when you hear her say this like that. You shiver. "Um, so, I told you about that time when I was crossing the street by the place where they train the seeing eye dogs? And I cut between two parked cars and then this truck came out of nowhere and almost hit me?"

"Yes, I remember because you said when you looked back at the gated area of the seeing eye dog school, there were a bunch of German shepherds in the yard staring at you, one with a paw up on the fence like it was waving at you."

"Right. And should they not have barked or warned me or something?"

"Maybe it was recess," Jill says and laughs. "Sorry."

"No, I mean it's like they knew or saw the truck was coming, but they just watched it bear down on me, didn't warn me, like you would think they would have this trained obligation to alert me."

"Maybe they didn't think you would listen. Or maybe it was a moment you were supposed to face and deal with on your own."

This comment strikes you as completely un-Jill like, though you remember you are still learning each other after only one year together.

"Jesus, I have no idea where that came from," she says and laughs. "I mean, I don't think I even understood what I said. What'd I say again?"

Suddenly you don't remember. Like that little slip of an image this morning, it washes past faster than light.

"Nevermind. Look, I think I can get out of here after lunch," Jill says. "How about you sit tight and wait for me and we'll go do something to celebrate our mutual escapes from our pasts without each other. I'll think of something to surprise you. Meanwhile, you be your own seeing eye dog and don't go rushing out into traffic, okay?"



You are back at the market and you see Danielle in the deli shake her head at you as she watches you walk past. "You'd forget your head if it wasn't attached" she offers, tossing croutons in the air in a vast bowl. Marcy next to her is slicing stale bread in short, hurried strokes. You toss the box of raw sugar between your hands and contemplate the fresh smelt. Jill would love that for dinner.

Danielle puffs her bangs back from her forehead like she's blowing smoke.

"Think," she says. "Is there anything, anything else you need? Think now."

She watches the sugar like a tennis match. "Hey, Jill got a box of that this morning," she adds. "Do you guys guzzle that stuff or what?"

You look at Marcy and manage to say "She's about to slice her thumb off."

Danielle looks at you slowly, as if you're thick, and turns to Marcy who right at that moment screams "Shit!" as the blood from her hand leaps over the cutting board and into the chipped ice. A piece of her thumb pad, like a sliced red grape, lies on the knife blade as the two women wind paper towel after paper towel around her hand.



Three blocks from home, at the intersection with the odd Y in the road you stand at the curb and wait for traffic to clear. You remember your grandmother telling you to mind your own business. Maybe if you wouldn't have said anything, Marcy wouldn't have cut herself.

The sunlight at this hour of the morning is difficult to see against and it has hit the traffic lights just so that the red and green signals look equally illuminated. A woman in a white Jeep moves cautiously into the pedestrian walkway before she rolls down her window, shades her eyes and asks you, "Excuse me, can you see the light? Is it red or green? I can't tell if I'm supposed to stop here or go?"



Later in the backyard, while Jill is still at work and you are supposed to be designing the invitations for the Ferguson-Santos wedding, you get the feeling again, the feeling of looking at the surface of a thing and then through it. You are sitting in the chaise lounge with your back to the pool, but you turn around and scan the fence line. There is that knot in the fence you can see through, as large as a human eye, or rather as small, and from your spot across the yard you look at the clean lines of the fence panels, and admire, for a moment, the near perfection of Jill's carpentry skills.

Then you see the knot in the fence blink. It blinks. Like an eye. And you feel droplets of water land on your face.

You scuffle for reasons, shift the chair to make loud scraping sounds on the concrete, and slip your sandals on. For some reason you feel the need to assert your presence, put your feet down. There is that rubberband clench on your throat again and your rational self begins pacing. You unlayer the possibilities. It must have been a bird flying by on the other side. A blackbird obscuring the light for one second or something. There are lots of birds in the neighbor's yard, one nasty bluejay, a few hummingbirds quick as blurs, and a handful of sparrows that flit and scatter when you clear your throat.

You focus on the slim gaps between the fence panels and wait to see anything more. A solid movement, an escape, anything whole looking to hide from you. Then you tell yourself this is absurd. There is nobody over there. There is no reason to panic. There's no reason for this. You most likely saw nothing. You lean forward and push your chest into your knees, listen to your heartbeat in your lap. Let go, you tell yourself, let go of the suspicion that if a reason ambushes you, it somehow makes it more compelling to believe.

But you can't. Not today. So you go back in the house and find the key and walk next door, let yourself in after nobody answers the bell, like you knew they wouldn't because nobody is there, and you walk through the house to the french doors by the patio. You could've sworn you locked these, but the knob is loose in your hand. Outside you look around the pond and fountain. There is some water splashed onto the pebbles near the edge where Sushi must have turned over, but otherwise everything looks fine. The grass is moist under your feet, but it's humid out today and everything feels like it could be wet.

You notice the fence, where the knot is. There are two damp spots, one on either side of the knot. Now wait a minute. Think about this. See how close the birdbath is to the fence, that there are two sparrows in it right now, cooling off. Clap your hands and watch them fly off, skirt Jill's privacy fence. They will no doubt head toward the edge of the pool, where they love to splash. You listen, because from where you're standing you can't see through the fence. They land and douse themselves, you can hear this as if it's true. So there you have it, there you go, everything makes sense. Go home.



You didn't used to have this life. You spent a lot of time waiting for it without seeing what it would look like. Now look. The nail polish on your toes looks like tinfoil in this color of sunlight, each toenail, a little package, a little gift from Jill. Yesterday after dinner she took your feet in her hands and rubbed lotion into them, pushed back the unruly cuticles and slid a tiny brush across the surface of each nail, leaving a patch of Deep Blue where there used to be clear and white.

You get up and go sit at the edge of the pool, extend your legs over the water to check the color of your toes against this other blue. The little grey wind-up shark you bought for Jill floats by on its side, and then you remember the image. This morning, before you woke up, you had been seeing slides in your head of you and Jill at the beach, at Grandmother's beach, and the two of you were in a small boat in a bay somewhere. Jill said, "Watch this," and slipped over the edge of the boat, into the water without a splash. Then she was a dolphin circling you, her dorsal fin moving in and out of the water. You had the feeling that you should get in the water with her, but as you looked at her, held the slide up to the sun, you weren't sure she was a dolphin after all. You couldn't see under the surface and you'd always felt sharks and dolphins looked alarmingly alike. You listened and couldn't hear those comforting, human, little dolphin noises and the water was much too dark to see through to the rest of her body. Still, there was a slide of you lowering yourself into the water because you had to know.

At this point the pictures stopped. It wasn't an image after all that woke you up this morning, but the sensation of slipping into cool deep water, naked.



You realize you've been looking at life with Jill as some sort of accidental bliss, like something you slipped into rather than evolved toward and because it felt as close to you as your own skin, you didn't question it.

But a question catches on your lip now. What if there is something about the future of this you've failed to see? What if you got so good at ignoring all those pictures along the way before this, that now you've failed to see something you need to for your own safety?

But on the other hand, what if the possibility of a love like this is something you may have trained yourself against? And now it has become something more to solve rather than feel. You swallow hard. You go on.

What if it's true what your grandmother said, that relationships are more often based on mutual fear rather than mutual respect? What if the truth of all of this is that you began your life with something longed for and will end it with something less than that, simply because you're afraid?



You walk to the market for the Saturday evening edition of Sunday morning's paper and start reading it on the way home. You like to read the side bars first instead of the main articles. On page one you read that scientists now believe walking preceded rather than followed, the enlargement of the frontal lobes of the brain.

And on page two you learn that dolphins and killer whales are in the very same family and the same bones that form your own hands can be found in a modified form only in the front flippers of a dolphin.

You remember this morning Danielle said "Think. Is there anything else you need? Think now."



You are home only five minutes before you hear the front door open and Jill tosses her keys on the table. "Hey Lucy, I'm home," she yells. "You going for a swim? I'll join you."

"Thinking about it," you answer and splash your legs in the water until the wind-up shark comes within reach.

Jill walks in the backyard whistling softly, wearing her swimsuit and carrying a small grey kitten. "Look at this," she says. "I got us an idea. I want to name her Flipper. I'm going to teach her to swim." She heads toward the shallow end of the pool. You stand up and put your arms around her sleek body as she walks by. Like this. You look her over, look in those eyes and say, softly, "Let me see your hands."


Christiana Langenberg writes: "I've been teaching Creative Writing and Women's Studies at Iowa State University for 14 years and am faculty advisor for the student-run literary journal, Sketch. " Her story "Bourbon," was listed in Top 25 Winners and Finalists, Glimmer Train Short Story Award, Spring 2000. "Cut Away," "Navigating Limbo," "She Walks the Wire," are songs, cowritten with folk artist BeJae Fleming, and were produced on BeJae Fleming's cd, Navigating Limbo, released June, 2000.

 

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