Under crystal neon lights, in a darkened club on the shoals of some distant world, she dances. Her hips move like the tide and her neck extends and cranes about as if she were reaching upwards to drink from some tall hanging bloom. Her feet, though delicately burdened with sandals, clap against the floors. The club’s foundation sits upon the sand; her whole world is sand and sediment dumped into the ocean to make space for apartments, condos, restaurants, and of course, the dance club. Her arms shoot out in front of her, her forehead drips with sweat. Outside the sky is clouded with detritus.
“I’ve never seen a person dance like that,” a man dancing alongside her comments nervously.
She laughs. “I’m not a person. I’m a flower.” Her eyes are glazed by the disco lights.
The man cocks his head. “What’s a flower?”
She laughs again. This person does not know — cannot know — about the beautiful dreams that overcome her, not just in sleep. She dreams of being an anemone, a mollusk, a jellyfish, undulating and beautiful, repeating the rhythms of the tide, colored by pure translucency and radial symmetry. At the bottom of the sea she eats krill and seaweed and sunlight just like she does tonight in the club where her hands are petals and the soles of her feet are roots pushing downwards.
She disappeared once from her friends and the bar regulars — she said she does this every so often. This time it lasted five days. She could not leave. Her feet could not bear to touch the hot sand. She put herself to bed when the sun started to rise and reawakened after midday. She spent her days on the hardwood floors and in the evening looked at the bruises on her tailbone in the mirror. She could not find a reason to leave until one afternoon when she was leaning on the railing of her balcony, looking out at the town, a scorpion rattled up to her hand and tapped her twice on the finger with its claw.
“Who sent you?” she asked.
She assumed the scorpion was beckoning her to the beach, as scorpions tend to do, and so she went without thought or without changing out of her comfies. She let the ocean water run over her like bathwater and looked out over its emptiness. The sea contained nothing. The bramble and the bottomfeeders that she dreamed of had left it behind, just as she had. The sky looked down on her through the rubble. Time on the island was marked only by the monstrous heat of the sun and the notches on human vertebrae.
She moved her torso downwards, extending her spine out and across the beach. If you let it, it will stretch. She let the arms and the legs twist around her body, circular and spiraling. There was no music, there was only the moaning of the ocean crying out for the return of its monks and its mystics, the crustaceans.
And then the noise of bustling humans stirred her heart. Their souls and bodies poured out of the nightclub doors like tea from a kettle. She retracted her torso back into her hips and her face beamed with recognition. She saw the barkeep stumble out the door and suddenly the seconds slowed. Following behind him was a man holding a gun, a pistol, like grasping a black hole with everything being pulled in. The gunman fired one shot into the barkeep’s shoulder and he fell face down. She let out a scream and then he turned to her, held the pistol up towards her, his cold eyes infested with fear or hate or mania. She closed her eyes to hear the shot, but when she opened them it was the gunman on the ground, a trickle of blood from his mouth.
Shaking, she fell to her knees and crawled to the body. The barkeep was sitting up and watching her, a gun of his own in his right hand, holding his wounded shoulder with his left.
“He’s dead,” she whispered. She held her hand over his head, allowing sand from the shore to trickle down from her sleeve and onto his forehead. The crowd returned, lifted her up, and pushed her back out into the streets alone.
In death the body supposedly relinquishes in careful order the senses as they are no longer needed. It begins with taste and smell and completes the cycle with sight. In death the eyes open wider than ever before, as if from behind a secret eyelid, ending the symphony with a burst of great light. But at what point does the body abandon the sensation of appreciation? At what point do the dew and the reflections of the natural world lose their meaning? And does the soul take the time to repent if it hasn’t already in its completed lifetime? So she stood in the middle of the street, under the lanterns and neon signs, lifting one foot up and tucking it into her chest, raising her eyes to the sky, and became a flower. Not a sea flower or a mollusk or a worm, but a new thing with roots and an under layer and a feeling of sunlight beneath the firmament of skin.
I should like to think that I, like the dancing woman, might heed the call of the scorpion and know when precisely to be summoned to a place. I remember once when the whales were called to the shore and began to walk like dogs, and the dogs were called upright by the sky and by the axis of the planet and began to stand. And the humans made the desert, and they brought it out to the boiling sea.
She told me her story over a tequila sunrise. It tasted like the mainland — the real land, like Colima under the volcano, and a life I had already lived. And she took me out to the shoals again and we waded through the waters, and she reminded me that at night people used to see a thing called stars.
“Do you think this land started as an archipelago?” she asked me, and I told her that I don’t know. The dots are fading away and becoming difficult to connect. The sky is filled with debris, the fossils of the fools who thought they could escape.
Amanda Depperschmidt is a laid-off bookseller from the PPR zone at Powell’s City of Books. Her writing focuses on archival theory, climate destruction, and animals.