Electric trees flash in the velvety darkness of my mind. The zaps come more frequently when I move my eyeballs from side to side, even behind my eyelids. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh, brine-scented air, and I try to forget about the crackle and sparks inside my skull.
Fifteen meters ahead, a wave breaks with a languid whoosh. Beyond the Cantabrian Sea that washes over the bay, the ocean burbles and hisses like the stomach of some leviathan that swallowed a whale. I would have thought that after millions of years of unabated hunger despite having gulped down one giant beast after another, its belly would have bulged with blubber until it exploded, which would have drowned the entire planet in black sludge.
The beach is covered in bits of rotting wood, sun-bleached bones and blistered flesh. Torn, traumatized ships that have drifted from the oceans are stacked in a floating graveyard that gets rhythmically pounded against the rocky shore like driftwood. The wreckage and their dead crews are shrouded with a layer of muck and algae. Colossal squids propel themselves around the hulking carcasses to gnaw at the rotting corpses, leaving trails of coagulated blood and viscera in their wake.
When I open my eyes, a bright world assaults me: a pitted, banana-colored carpet of sand slopes down to the opaque, teal seawater; nearby, four students have gathered their backpacks on the sand and are lounging with their backs to us, although they are wearing coats and jackets to protect themselves against the October chill; and in the distance, a town-sized island stands against the horizon like a rocky, green sideways boob. The island’s tiny spit of beach, jutting out from the rocky shore, must be littered with bones: the destination of an arduous pilgrimage where every traveler is bequeathed a bone by a weary skeleton that has stood sentry for millennia.
I start rubbing my temple, trying to relieve a tingle of pain. A hand strokes my left shoulder tenderly. The sea breeze ruffles Jacqueline’s raven black hair as her skin glows faintly in the afternoon sun. She’s wearing a chocolate brown, suede trench coat over a white turtleneck blouse. Her scarlet skirt has a tapering hemline and is decorated with white dots; a cum-stained tulip.
Jacqueline deepens the creases at the corners of her eyes in a warm smile.
“Are you getting a headache?”
“Brain zaps,” I say wearily. “Even worse than I used to get years ago, when I stopped taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”
“I don’t know what that is. A drug?”
“Uh-huh. The kind that a psychiatrist prescribes to you when you say that you regret being alive.”
Jacqueline’s eyebrows come together in concern. My throat tightens, and I avert my gaze to the apartment buildings that are clinging to the forested face of Mount Igueldo, past the far end of the beach.
“I guess I was using them to suppress my existential dread,” I continue, “but they didn’t do shit. At least not remotely enough. Once I dropped them, the withdrawals taught me how it feels to experience short circuits in your brain, and I’m getting an echo of them now.”
“Do you think they are stress-related?”
“Who knows? I’m always bobbing in an ocean of anxiety and stress, and I can’t tell when I’m going to start drowning in my own mind. It’s a bit like thirst: by the time you feel it, you are already dehydrated.”
The strap of my bulky backpack, filled with clothes I grabbed from my apartment, is pulling down on my right shoulder, but as I shift the strap, it gives me the chance to avoid Jacqueline’s gaze; if her expression suggested that she’s getting sick of broken old me, I would start wading through the sea until I reached Iceland or I drowned, whichever happened first.
But could I admit that my recent spike of anxiety may be related to the self-murder that I witnessed yesterday? That horsey scoundrel’s only crime was looking for love in the wrong places. Who would have suspected that I, a creature that otherwise passes for human, was born an unlikely abomination: a living being with a cavity instead of a heart? I knew that my unwieldy backpack would burden me throughout our date, but what will I be for Jacqueline as her girlfriend but a humpback whale draped across her shoulders?
The students lounging nearby laugh, and their exuberance floats to our ears along with the lapping of the foamy breakers on the shore.
“So… this may turn out to be an abysmal date,” I say guiltily. “I’m sorry.”
Jacqueline raises my chin gently so I can meet her cobalt blues.
“Come on now,” she coos as if dulcifying a child, “you don’t need to apologize for having a brain meltdown. Why, I am pretty much used to it by now. And look at those waves rolling in. The sea’s alive here. We all are, in fact.”
“Oh, really? Well, I’m sorry then,” she says with mock annoyance.
I gulp to ease my growing sense of dread. My memory flashes with an image of my grandfather’s face back when the rusty shard of a ship’s anchor impaled it, because he bludgeoned his skull against the anchor during a psychotic episode. He had daydreamed that he was steering his beloved battleship to fight against evil spirits that were trying to destroy the world. When the ship ran out of fuel, he ordered his sailors to murder everyone aboard so he could set sail in a great voyage into space. His final words before he threw himself off the stern deck were, “Take me to the stars, men!” I never found out what made my grandfather snap, but I was transfixed by his gruesome act of self-mutilation.
“H-have you ever felt that the island over there has been unduly haunted by the restless souls of drowned sailors and abducted mermaids, who are longing to break free?”
Jacqueline grins as she gazes out at the island with a captivated expression.
“Neither do I, but it’s what they say,” I mumble, aware of the desperation in my voice.
Jacqueline pats my back.
“I’m not sixteen years old anymore, you know.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” I say as I dig my sneaker into the sand. “But what do you mean?”
“You don’t need to impress me by organizing some mind-blowing outing. I just want to spend time with you. Maybe even do some necking.”
I rest the side of my head against her shoulder, then I sigh.
“Don’t you think you pamper me excessively?”
“Don’t you need to be pampered to that extent?”
Maybe so, but I don’t know why you would want to, it’s what I was going to say but didn’t dare utter.
It’s far easier to pull someone down than to pull them up. Those misguided souls that want to help the depressed should flee and save themselves.
Jacqueline slides an arm around my shoulders. Her warm breath tickles my earlobe.
“I happen to know just what you need to shut down that self-harming mind of yours,” she whispers.
Jacqueline turns my head towards her, leans in and kisses me lightly on the mouth. I close my eyes; the warmth of her silky lips and of her face lights up in shades of red against the pale blue of the autumn breeze. Her tongue finds mine, and I turn into a kid standing up to my waist in a strong tide that’s receding from the shore. I step closer to Jacqueline, bumping my hips into hers, and I wrap my arms under her coat, around her lower back, while her hands move down to cradle my ass cheeks through my denim trousers.
My heart thuds against my ribcage, my blood becomes electrified, my brain turns to jellied oatmeal. I long to be swallowed by my woman, to dissolve in her insides and become part of her.
I’d love to let myself fall backwards onto the sand and pull Jacqueline down with me. Instead, she pulls back a few centimeters, elongating a catenary of saliva between our lips.
For a moment we had constructed our own universe, an impenetrable bubble of spacetime, but now my brain is absorbing a flood of prickly sensory information as if the outside world was trying to reclaim me. The breeze is cooling my exposed skin. A salty scent tickles my nostrils. The distant shrieks of gulls pierce through the noise of the sea. Two of the students, both girls, are looking over their shoulder to pry into the private affairs that we’ve conducted in public. One of them, petite, with short-cropped auburn hair and ivory skin flushed pink, makes a point of holding my gaze.
My cheeks burn, and I’m forced to dilate my nostrils to pass enough air through them. I let go of Jacqueline’s hips and I step aside. I feel like a tween again, back when I was caught masturbating in a public park, a misadventure that concluded with me passing out in a puddle of my own pee.
Jacqueline wipes my lips with her thumb.
“Oh, come on now. Don’t look so shy. Does it bother you that others may find out that you are mine?”
“I… dislike when strangers stare at me for any reason.”
“They are thinking how nice it would be to join us, you know.”
“It’s none of their business,” I mutter.
Jacqueline chortles, then she shakes her head.
“You are an incorrigible nutjob.”
“And you’re a diva!”
Her grin displays a row of straight white teeth that glisten against her rosy gums.
“How about we move somewhere else, huh? Do you want me to treat you to an ice cream?”
“We could take a nap in some quiet cove until sunset.”
“You do sound tired,” Jacqueline says, and wraps her hand around my nape. “I know a nice place nearby to sit down for a cup of coffee and an appetizer. How about some spicy potatoes?”
I open my mouth to answer, but my stomach interrupts me by gurgling loudly.
“I just have to mention food with you, huh?” she asks, amused. “Let’s go.”
When we turn around, Jacqueline runs her hand down the back of my jacket and grabs my ass. I flinch.
Author’s note: These last few days I’ve been listening to The Stone Roses almost exclusively, particularly to ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and ‘This Is the One’. I’d like to leave the country / For a month of Sundays / Burn the town where I was born.
I intended to upload this chapter and the following as a single part, but I got carried away with nonsense, as usual. Although this chapter by itself is far gentler than I’m used to writing, it was a nice change of pace. The next chapter is mostly finished, just needs another pass, so I’ll likely upload it tomorrow.
I’ve been in a bad mood recently. I grew even sicker of human beings and ended up doing a spring cleaning of contacts both on Goodreads and on WordPress.