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Between Enrapture and Abandon

Emory R. Frie

          Do you see this, dear? We are sea and sky. Sea and sky.

          In heartbeats, my bare feet slapped against the seafoam and lilac petals that blanketed the edge of our hovering island, trails of bright sugar and sticky salt – like the hot streams down my face. Mama would be taken soon. The Cetacean, those great fish who passed through air and water, would come up from the depths and take her away from me, just as she said they would. Nothing stayed on this island forever. It was in between, a temporary haven, a grant of mercy for the sake of a child. For the sake of me. Yet the Cetacean would take her before she was gone and leave me abandoned with her voice a mere echo within.

          They will take me home.

          “This is her home!” I screamed as if they could hear me from here. But the knotted docks were barely in sight, and from this distance I couldn’t tell if the Cetacean had arrived yet. How close was the sea? I could never fathom the drop from our island, how far the lagoon waters fell into the endless expanse below. Was it down so far that I could never reach it? Was it as far from me as the sky?

          Mama had told me of the place she’d come from on the ocean, of silk rafts and driftwood bridges, of shelled ankles and seagrass hair. She still wore her hair like that: long and free ebony waves reflecting blue in the sun. Silver shone too, bright as moonlight. I didn’t have her hair, but she assured me I had her eyes: deep grey, a stormy sea, more terrible than the sky could ever accomplish. I hoped mine were beautiful like hers.

          And when they come, you must be ready.

          She was fading now like my father. I couldn’t remember him, but I still knew. Her skin grayed, eyes sunken, the wrinkled rivets smoothed from the pads if her fingers. If I couldn’t cure her, she would be taken from me forever.

          I plunged forward. Petals scattered into feathers and wings, flying from me in a hurricane. I clutched the barnacle necklace I made for her, the reason I wasn’t with her now as I should’ve. I thought the sight of it would make her smile. She’d have color in her cheeks again and light in her eyes. She’d push on longer. She wouldn’t slip away yet. But the island had stirred when I retrieved it, a quake in its levitation, and I knew the Cetacean were coming.

          I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

          Look up at the stars, Kailani, beyond the sky. That is where your father looks down on you.

          Mama showed me the map of gravestones in the stars, a gleaming cemetery, souls in astronomical assembly. And when she was gone in turn, she would look up at me. She would lie beyond the sea to watch me from below where there was light to rival the stars and darkness deeper than that expanse. But I would not let her go so soon. I would fend off the Cetacean despite my smallness, and in so doing I would make her laugh, and she would stay. The more she smiled, the longer she’d stay. I was sure of it.

          I never asked her where I would be after she was gone, though in fear she once told me there were those who would reject me no matter which choice I took: sea or sky. Mama came from the sea. It was a place roused in my imagination with wondrous clarity from her stories. A people of the water, whose bloodstream flowed with the currents, whose mood shifted with the tides. They rode porpoises and danced with seahorses. Floating cities strung together with seaweed and silk, driftwood underfoot. A place as wondrous and treacherous as the ocean.

          My father came from the sky. There was nothing but mystery shrouding his home. I knew nothing but for a hazy image of the man Mama loved, and that was enough to make such a place compelling.

          No, dear, they will not let you stay here.

          Water washing from our island tumbled over into the sea below. The dock jutted from precious stone and fine grasses, hovering over the falling water and into open sky. Breath burned in my chest. I was certain she was there waiting at its tip, drawn there like a summons. She said my father would have gone similarly if he had not faded so soon. She said she’d placed him at the dock’s edge when a swarm of cranes and kingfishers, storks and pelicans descended to claim him. She said it was a mass of seabirds so great that the wind from their wings caused the palm trees to bow. But I had dreamed of ships in the clouds floating home – the path of the wayward unaccepted by sea or sky.

          No matter what you choose, you must hold it in your heart...

          I screamed. She could not hear me. Waves exploded from below where she stood. I tripped, rolling, knees and palms skinned over the coarse soil beneath the petals and seafoam. Tears burned my eyes. I looked up in a swirl of lilac wings as the colossal creatures protruded from the depths. There were two of them, one grey as stone with a swooping lower jaw and a wing-like tail, the other pearly white with a short round snout and wide black eyes. They swirled upward, swimming through the air. Mama waited in a trance.

          I scurried to my feet and stumbled forward, but never found the speed I had before.

          We chose a side we were never meant to take. And so you were born of opposing worlds, harmonious but separate. You are sea and sky. Never forget the rebellion of your existence.

          The Cetacean reached her as I reached the dock. My throat was too tight. Screams faltered to croaking sobs. The white one nudged her weak body onto the grey’s back, and I knew I wouldn’t reach her, and I knew I wouldn’t stop running. Pounding footfalls rattled the floorboards. “Take me with you!”

          You must choose, but you must not forget.

          She had shown me how the dewdrops gathered on our fingers at our will, how the current changed when we passed our hands overhead. Water could dance around her feet and play with her ebony hair, slick over olive skin. I couldn’t make the water dance. I could make the barnacles sing. They dug into my raw palms now, a shrill whistle vibrating through. A similar note came from the Cetacean, long and clear, vibrations in the air that made my spine chill. It was as if they called for me to come no further. It was too late. They had taken her.

          Your spirit is too free to be weighed down by the sea, Kailani. You cannot drown.

          I hugged the post at the end and watched them descend into the shifting blue below. She grew brighter as the Cetacean took her lower, like the light caught her soul and glistened. The barnacle necklace hung from my fist. Salt stung my skin, wetness sliding down my chin to my chest. I couldn’t understand. How could she be gone? I was going to make her smile. She was going to stay. If the Cetacean had waited a little longer, they would’ve seen that. I wasn’t ready to choose. Breathing came harder, frantic, jilted. I slid to my bleeding knees, holding tightly to the post that anchored me to this spot between sea and sky. I wanted to feel her warm arms around me, tell me all was well. The wind chilled my arms.

          When she was long beyond my sight, I tore my gaze from below. On the horizon there came the ghost of a wayward ship like the ones in my dreams, and I wondered if they would take me away too, now, to be a vagabond between opposing worlds. Rejected by and belonging to sea and sky. The island wasn’t home anymore.

          Be wary of the sun; I cannot teach you its ways.

Spring, 2019 Issue