The mountain slips into its wig of clouds and steps into the moon’s blue spotlight. She knows the words to this song, the static of the ocean fuzzing softly against her lips. She wears the glittery gown of night. The whales roll over in their water beds, clap softly their fins against the water. Their calves want to grow up to be this beautiful, to sing this song, the feel wig shimmer with rain and sweat and city lights. The song goes on until there are no more words to say. The mountain, triumphant, bows until the wig slips from her head like fog.
It’s a common misconception that humpback whales leap from the water as attempted acts of suicide. In fact, these leaps are purely bravado. From the boat, we listened to their simple songs that, in another context, might be runaway pop hits. To the aft, the moving cloud, the flocked water seemed to make the island wring itself up like a rag. If a fin breached the water, the woman in the homemade hat would shriek Show us your body! It was like the Superbowl of Whale Watching. The rest of us on the boat silently decided to vote her off, Survivor-style. Shocked, I said, I haven’t seen this much tail since the 70s. In the water, dozens of whales made like they were waving hello. But any whale will tell you, when you’ve only got one finger, that’s what they’re giving you. They swam 3,000 miles to give you that finger, and you paid $30 to see it.
The writing has never been so clearly on the wall. So to speak. With all the rights they’ve taken from us, this one was just an eventuality. Despite our flaws, we hit the beach early on, and the sun held us in its mouth haphazardly, like a dog. It seared our flesh. The waves crashed in like a series of drunken uncles nobody wanted to see again and threw their foam around like slurred profanity. It was embarrassing for everyone. I followed you through the beachside while the sun berated us, interrogating us with its naked bulb. Although I was scarred, I felt invincible. Nothing could ruin me now. I could hear the waves lapping at the shore in desperation. That’s when I knew I had won.
Before dawn, the crashing waves popped like fireworks, snapping and fizzing out into raucous birdsong that ultimately woke us. Then, a leaf blower. Then coffee. The beach rolled out ahead of us, as soft as Berber carpet, and we laid upon it while the sun, like a god, made us bronze. Near sunset we scaled the craggy rocks that broke the beach in two and, for a little while, observed the human animal in its habitat au naturel. When we snorkeled, we saw a single fish–it was alone, skimming along the scalloped seafloor, its body so clear you could see right through it. It wasn’t any kind of metaphor–I assured you of that, and as the sun fell behind the island, I memorized your face in its honey glow.
The soapy-clean scent of lavender thickens the air here. In the woods, a rooster crows again and again, but no one answers. Our car exhales a long breath of smoke into the nearby clouds and we let her rest from the long ride up. Cars snake along the switchbacks to the mountaintop slowly, like toys. Below us, the island’s waist tapers where the north and south shores long to touch one another. Beyond that, I can’t really say what there is. Some water, then nothing.
Surfing is the oldest form of matrimony known to humankind. The surfer’s relationship to the wave is one of interdependence: without the surfer, the wave has no purpose; without the wave, the surfer has no purpose. It’s a precarious but happy marriage. Beneath this lurks a secret. For while the wave will lift you up and carry you to shore, it does so because it knows more often than not, you’ll fall into its open mouth. It wants to taste you, even for a second. Even though you taste very, very salty.
The horizon dissipated into fog, the way an Etch-a-Sketch loses its marks with just a simple shake: the island was there, then gone. Then the ocean was gone. Then the trees fuzzed in and out of clarity like uncertain ghosts. And then rain: thick braids of it rolling in the street. When it stopped, we’d found the lava fields where the red stain of lavablood had long been dried. In the tide pools, crabs assessed us guardedly. They were wise to be so cautious. When the mountain goats appeared on the path, they pretended we weren’t there. In another context, a workshop participant would claim this metaphor was too heavy handed to come at the end of the tale.