It’s been over six months as far as I can calculate since I got stuck in this fog. Without the sun or the moon it is hard to know a day from a week or a month. But it has probably been six months since I left. Most of what lies between me and that early morning is hazy, but the morning itself I remember. I’d woken up exhausted. My bed was a rumpled mass of sheets and popcorn crumbs and melted smarties. I hauled myself upright, stumbled against the dresser, and stared bleary-eyed at my reflection. The man who looked back at me was a stranger, cut, stitched, wrenched to life like some unholy Frankenstein. I laughed. The sound gurgled from my throat, bounced like a hyena over the walls, and died when it saw the wedding ring. My wedding ring. Sitting there on the burnished wood. You were right to leave me.
“I think,” I told the mirror, watching in fascination as that other man’s lips moved “It’s time I moved on.” I shuffled through piles of dirty clothes, and stepped warily over a mousetrap, a half eaten potato, and the crinkled shells of chip bags. The paint on the wall flecked off beneath my hand and floated to the floor.
I turned and walked into the kitchen and took out a knapsack. I packed, among other things, 42 tuna fish sandwiches, several bags of Oreos, a jar of peanut butter, a water filter and a bar of soap. I locked my front door, walked past all the dawn-grim houses to the port, got in my rowboat and started out to sea.
The oars splashed and my muscles strained. The water was brown. Milky tea. The salt air tingled in my nose, reminding me of tacos. I tried not to think. The skulls of other ships passed as I rowed through the harbor, their swaying masts standing like teeth against the sky.
My muscles began to burn. I clamped my teeth together and counted softly to myself until my arms grew numb instead of fiery. They boggled and bounced like jello each time I swept the oars. I worked at it all day, chugging down water and a sandwich every now and then so I didn’t pass out. When night came I felt the boat tilt and settle—it had caught a current. I tried not to look at the stars before I went to sleep.
Time was swallowed into insignificance. Like stepping into a void, flitting from hour to hour, midnight to morning. Catching or running from the dawn. At first the vagueness was disconcerting. I fell asleep, woke and ate, shivered and sweated.
I got depressed. I was lonely out there on the water, lonely with the pain I had hoped to escape. Seagulls flapped down and pooped all over the sides of the boat, pecking at my ears when I took a nap. Sunburn. Fire sandpapered into skin. I thought I’d be blinded, get cancer. Maybe, I thought, maybe this is the answer to the cruel joke. Life—hahahaha. Guffaw, guffaw, gag; eat another tuna sandwich in three bites. Spit the crumbs at the birds.
Boredom set in like doldrums. I invented word games. Creative sentences. Crispy, clopping words on my tongue. Easier this way, didn’t have to think. I didn’t use any of the letters from your name. I told myself I never loved you.
It took me a while to get thoroughly lost. I’d studied astronomy. Had a good head for directions. I kept track of where the sun rose and set. The stars finally got unfamiliar. The sun rose where it had set the night before and set where it rose. Some days it disappeared altogether. Or maybe it was me that disappeared. Lost. Delirious. I saw visions–waking dreams–flamingoes spewing snot-like colorful glass from their nostrils.
I talked to you, leaning with my head cocked in the prow, one hand trailing in the water. The sun glinted down on me, turning my skin into a mirror, blinking in and out of the clouds. I passed an island full of palm trees and coconuts. It reminded me of you; of our honeymoon. We walked the beach with cold glasses of piña colada and laughed. Your teeth sparked, and your eyes—I breathed you in like exotic phosphorescent stars. “One day,” you said, “one day our dreams will come true. We’ll be scooped up by pelicans and fly over the waves. All the brittle in us will be crushed. We will be left only with our flesh, our two hearts, beating together in the wind.”
We didn’t know what we meant, but we thought it was beautiful. It was beautiful. It is. Blooded organs wrapped in a bond of pelican saliva, flying free over the ocean.
Too bad we made one wrong assumption—neither of us had hearts of flesh. Yours was lumpy; a ball of dough still rising and full of air. My heart was hard and brittle as a teapot. Filled boiling and gone cold.
A fish jumped out of the water and hit me in the head. I nearly passed out. My eyes blurred and glinted like a kaleidoscope. Then there it was, flopping and thrashing in the bottom of the boat. I wrapped my fingers around its tail, dug in my nails, and bashed it. Blood and guts splattered my cheeks. That was fun. It tasted okay once I got past the gag reflex; then I ate too much and threw up anyway.
Then I did it. I reached the fog at last. A place where the outside matched my insides. At first, it was just a light mist that clung about the surface of the water in the mornings. Gradually it grew thicker, from vapor to cloud to dark as a thunderstorm. No clouds, no stars, no sun…just endless grey. The morning it hit full force I stood up and did a jig, nearly capsized. I sat picking pieces of my clothes off where they’d rotted to my skin, and grinned.
It took a couple months for the fog to get old. It didn’t go rancid like the last of the tuna, just kind of stale. At least before there was a bit of scenery. Even if it reminded me of you. I kept myself occupied by collecting fish scales. My clothes had completely disintegrated so I stuck the fish scales to my skin until I was covered in flashy light. Sometimes my legs would get sore so I’d stand up and waggle my butt in the air and cackle.
Then one night I dreamed of you. It wasn’t like before, this time you were really there with me: the breath of hair, a shimmer of vanilla. I knew you were there because of the way my teapot heart sloshed and clinked against my ribs. I woke in a cold sweat to hear something scraping against the wood of my boat. A skeleton hand reached out and grabbed the gunwale and a face stared at me with giant eyes. I screamed.
“Shut up.” said the face. His eyes were sunken, his skin taut as curing leather.
“Who are you?” The words rasped over my tongue.
He laughed. “Does it matter?” Then he peered into my boat and scratched the last of the soap from the wood.
“Why are you here?”
His mouth widened as if he were trying to smile. “I couldn’t love anymore.”
Something jumped inside as I thought of you and me.
My lip cracked as I said, “Is there any hope?”
“Of course not.”
I touched his cracked fingernail and felt tears roll down my cheeks. “I wish I’d never come. I want to get out. I want to go back.”
He laughed at me, a hoarse bird laugh. “No one ever goes back.”
I shuddered, gasped, “What do I do?”
His lip curled, but he didn’t answer. He pushed away and began to disappear into the fog.
“Stop! Don’t go!” I clutched the edge of my boat, grabbed for his gunwale, felt it grind the tip of my finger.
He laughed again, his voice fading away, “Isn’t this what you wanted?”
My heart was racing, flapping against my ribs. “Don’t leave me out here!” I grabbed the oars and tried to row They splashed in the water, wobbled, and set the boat spinning in a slow circle. I lay down panting, grainy tears squeezing out of my eyes. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to go back. I wanted your hand in mine. Our hearts beating together.
A fish hopped into the boat and landed on my face. I let it thrash for a minute or two before I killed it. I stuck my finger up its vent and along the backbone, spreading it into a fillet to dry. I stared at it, laid open, its guts all over my knee. Then I thumbed through to find the heart and held the flesh between my fingers. I wondered what my heart looked like. I wondered if it had changed at all. Maybe if I could find it I would know what to do.
I dug in my toolbox and found my pocket knife. I cut flaps of skin away from my ribs, then I grabbed a couple and broke them off. The bone splintered. I craned my head and looked inside; but there wasn’t much to see: just a dripping, bloody blackness. Perhaps it had been displaced. I inspected my spleen and liver, I ran my fingers over the whole long length of my intestines until they were piled up in front of me. The fish scales stuck to them. Maybe, I thought, licking my finger over an old scar, they took my heart out with my appendix.
The loss of blood made me dizzy, so I pulled my canvas blanket up over myself and fell asleep.
I dreamed of you again. This time you were calling my name, frantic, as if there were a crisis. I tried to explain that you couldn’t want me back. My love was cold tea, bitter with sludge. If we flew together in the pelican’s mouth I would be swallowed up. I would break into shards and tear open the pelican’s throat. “Come back.” you say, “Come out of yourself. I forgive you.” “
I can’t do it,” I say to you. “I can’t. That man said I can’t go back, not ever. I couldn’t find my heart. It wasn’t here.”
“You gave it to me.” You hold out your hands and I see it there, beating noiselessly. “You can’t undo what’s been done; we can’t go back.” You say, trying to come closer, “but we can go forward. You can change your course.”
I tried to roll over, turn my back and ignore you, but my pile of intestines got in the way. I scratched my eye on a dried-out fin.
When I woke up there was a little sunshine. I groaned and pulled myself to the rocking edge and stared out. My eyes were irritated; like somebody had packed cornmeal under my lids. The world was still foggy, grey all around and above. Where was the light coming from? I looked down at the water and gasped. The light was down there, the sun. It was as if I had been floating over the surface of the earth with my head down towards the ground and my butt towards the sky. Upside down and backwards. The water was so clear. It wasn’t milky like the water I’d set out on. It was turquoise. I leaned towards the water and called your name. The light came out of the water, heated and moist, burning up my reflection, burning up those stranger’s eyes. There was something solid down there, I couldn’t quite see it. But I knew it was true.
I laughed. A real laugh, and stood up. I teetered in the boat holding my organs, stuck all over with fish scales. “I’m coming,” I say, “Here I come!”
Then I stepped on the gunwales and dove into the light.