Too Far the Sea
LESLEY C. WESTON
Until her terrible toothache, there were times Mara almost forgot she was half shark.
On a clear spring day, for instance, she’d stroll through the park like anyone else, breathe through her nose, smile, and incline her head toward people she passed.
And on winter nights when she roamed the street unable to stop, she sometimes admired her sleek, silver-clad reflection in shop windows. She’d study the hats on display and imagine one perched atop her pale, bald head. Winnowing side to side, some glimmer of her mother’s aquiline profile, close-set, black-fringed eyes, and graceful neck would appear superimposed on the reflection of Mara’s forward thrusting face and muscular neck.
Such moments, enjoyed in solitary contemplation of a trick of light, an illusion, made Mara as happy as possible for a landed fish.
Mara’s neighbors seemed to believe she had cancer, or perhaps some rare blood disease. Though they averted their eyes, moved with small, cautious gestures on those rare instances of encountering Mara, they were good people. Perhaps because of their unease, believing it born of an unconscious bias against the unfortunate, they left offerings outside her triple-locked door. Fresh squeezed juice and warm, buttery croissants, leftover Thanksgiving turkey, and mushroom stuffing arranged on plastic dishes, and once, an old issue of Vogue magazine.
Mara understood these gifts were meant as a kindness, and they gave her a strange feeling of pleasure, a sense of belonging to a community.
The magazine she kept. Unable to part with the glossy images of long-legged women and bare-chested men secreted within the slick covers, she set it atop her gigantic aquarium where it gathered salt and spume during the day. But in the deep of sleepless nights, when she allowed the moon to spill its blue-white light through the rarely opened window, she held the magazine close to her eye and fanned the photographs, making the models appear to swim past her, tantalizingly out of reach.
Those nights took a toll on the aquarium’s population as this pastime made Mara ravenous.
The food offerings Mara carefully wrapped in paper she saved from the butcher, the better to discard without her neighbors’ knowledge. This activity stirred another peculiar feeling.
Mara had no vocabulary for feelings, or she might have recognized the hollowness in her gullet, the fluid filming her eyes as yearning. Instead, she attributed it to a keen hunger raised by the residual scent of steak tartar that rose from the butcher’s paper. Sometimes, the sensation became so acute Mara pressed her snout inside the paper, rustled it against her nostrils and tried to smell beyond the blood scent to the heart of fruit, flour, and dairy.
One summer day, on a foray to the building’s trash receptacles to dispose of her recent treats, Mara miscalculated. It was so hard to tell the time of day in the unchanging, dank light of her blinded windows and she mistakenly left her apartment before her nearest neighbor had gone off to work.
When she bumped into him, she was ever so careful not to stare at his hands or feet, not to grind her many teeth, or snap her jaws. He backed up, startled.
He kept backing away until he was distant enough for Mara to see him clearly. Tall and muscular, ruddy cheeks, close-set seawater eyes surrounded by thick, sunlight lashes. His hair a mass of glinting waves under the greenish florescent light.
The same hollow feeling Mara associated with the food gifts made her throat tighten as she, too, backed up. She looked off to the side, the better to see him, and muttered, “Sorry,” in her strange lock-lipped voice.
The man stared at her, blinked then smiled, baring perfect white, gleaming teeth. “Hey! Didn’t mean to scare you! Isn’t city life funny?” he said. “Right next door all these months and we’ve never seen each other!”
Mara took a step toward him.
“Come on. I’m going to the elevator, too.” Still smiling, he extended his hand. “I’m Sheldon.”
His long, slender fingers were so like a family of eels rippling toward her, Mara turned and faced the wall, afraid to focus on his pretty, well-made hand. Her rows of blade-sharp teeth made a queer, grinding groan. “Please, go on,” Mara whispered. “I’ve forgotten something.”
Confusion softened Sheldon’s features. “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t mean to—” He withdrew his hand, stuck it into his pocket.
As Mara darted around Sheldon, she caught another, close glimpse of his blood-flushed face. “Burning,” she said. “Something on the stove is burning.”
Before she slammed the door, she heard him call out, “My friends call me Shellie.” Inside her apartment, Mara quivered as if a gaff had pierced her.
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,” Mara moaned. Her back arched, her legs kicked out and she leaped into the air. Her jaws snapped in a blur, chattering teeth.
Trying to stun herself calm, Mara threw herself against the wall. She banged her head into the plaster.
It didn’t work.
Each concussion only pounded the image of Sheldon’s fingers further into her brain: whirls of fine black hair across the bony, delicious knuckles, wide, meaty mound at the base of his thumb, the near-transparent web between each finger, so elastic, so vulnerable.
Mara wanted those hands to stroke her silvery skin, to caress her poor bald, bullet-shaped skull; she wanted to eat him.
Her head thrashed side to side. Her jaws slashed open and closed. In a biting frenzy, she leapt and leapt again until her mouth clamped onto a gilded picture frame.
She hung suspended from the painting until twelve teeth broke off in the wood and she flopped to the floor.
Her wide mouth bloody, she cried out, ``Why? Why? Why?”
Turmoil, more wild than a chum-dump, drove Mara back onto her feet, sent her torpedo-fast around the perimeter of her dark cage. She ripped the blinds from their rollers, shattered the windows with the trash can. Still not sated, she shoved the aquarium off its stand.
The Vogue magazine floated across the room on the tide from the overturned tank, followed by a flailing stingray, two sea turtles, and an anguished squid.
Broken glass glittered in on the rug like cast-off gems.
She gnawed the ray then tossed it aside. Snatching up the magazine, she ripped the pages, shoved them down her throat. She grabbed a tortoise and smashed the shell into her mouth. Spitting more teeth, she tromped the squid, reduced to a gelatinous mass.
Her feet, lacerated by the glass shards, mixed her blood with ink. Her nostrils flared. Blood and ink, scents she knew intimately, that finally brought Mara from her seizure.
As she came out of the trance, Mara looked at what her delusions of belonging had wrought. Her head hung limp. She gasped, shook her head to gather air.
Her mother’s parting words as she’d stroked Mara’s head with a fingerless hand then pushed her into the sea at Montauk barely one year ago sliced through Mara like a gutting knife. ``There is nowhere else for you. My poor daughter, my poor little fish, you do not belong on land. Your nature is too strong.”
Mara went into the bathroom and stood in the shower. With the evidence of her madness sluicing pink down the drain, Mara thought of Sheldon again. His beautiful, beautiful hands.
She ran her fingers down her boneless sides, splayed them like starfish over the dome of her head. Finally, she put her hands in her mouth.
One by one, Mara gnawed each of her fingers off.
The city being what it is, no one paid particular attention as Mara walked down her stairs and to the park, naked, blood pouring from her stumps.
She slid between the trees and bushes, ignoring the paved paths down the hill. She moved fast, no sound of footfall, yet there was a sibilance in her shadow that made slumbering sunbathers sit up, frightened. Chilled by her wake, they clutched arms around legs, and shivered.
Mara was unaware.
A small blessing, perhaps.
Her only thoughts were, Freak. Freak. You don’t belong. Go home. Where? Go home. Where? I have no home.
She sped toward the sounds of the river lapping the shore where it bordered the wild edges of the park. So blind was her descent of the bank, Mara tripped on an exposed willow root and tumbled the last hundred feet.
Battered by rocks, peppered with dirt, Mara came to a halt where land and water met. Her body on shore, her head submerged, she lay momentarily stunned.
Minnows played across her snout, darted in and out of her gaping mouth.
The water tasted foul.
Mara flapped her legs, pressed her palms into the silt and raised herself up like a seal. In the hard light of day, she stared down at her reflection. No glimmer of her mother appeared. She lowered her head, slapped her chin against the image, breaking her reflection into small ripples.
She longed, yes, longed, to slide in and swim, to open her mouth and sift water through her ruined teeth.
But saltless water held no cure for her wounds and the sea was too far.
Rolling onto her back, Mara lay beached. She could not see the sky, the path, only the water line as it rose and fell against her ever-open eyes.
Lesley C. Weston lives and writes in New York City. Her stories have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Per Contra, Ars Medica, Night Train, Opium Magazine, Mississppi Crow, MiPoesias, The Pisgah Review, and as a Narrative Magazine Story of the Week.