Phases, or, to Faze
There is something about water.
Five-hundred-and-one billion, twenty-seven million, six thousand and thirty-four years into the past, voluminous white wisps of evaporated liquid from the oceans are blown eastward by a westerly wind. As the wind blows, filaments, hirsute tendrils of micro-condensed droplets of water toss and convulse in fractal chaos, cast in interlocking vortices. The cotton candy machine, archetypal piece in any regional funfair, had been blown up to enormous proportions, had been yielding its pithy product in a rogue-like manner from above, not really caring about ethical consequences or petty things like human concerns for the weather, small-talk material for small-town folk with a distrust in elevators, things of that sort—or of any other sort—for its chrome and brushed steel exteriors—and its wiry, intestinal, cupric interiors—possessed neither a central processing unit nor any emotion that could possibly precipitate from the activity of existential questioning. Cirrus fibratus & uncinus, cirrostratus fibratus, cirroculumus floccus stencil perfect white brushstrokes against a sky powder-blue at the horizon, ultramarine at zenith, true blue in a gradient between. But nobody really knows or sees any of this, as nobody really cares to look up. All those years in the past, I mean, we approach this planet from the darkest depths of the cosmic void, from near-absolute darkness. Imagine thusly: close eyes, place hands over eyelids, imagine the blackest of blacks, now blacker. And not quite there, but beyond. That black. That black begotten by taking the negative of a photograph of a nuclear blast. The blue, then, from the outside, is an ocean.
Lost somewhere in a mass of land is a white spot. Approaching this white spot at thirty miles per second, the cloud cover breaks. The white spot is etched all over by contradictory labyrinths of penciled lines, a borough sketched here, a ward there, and the cyclic, pulsating movement of a city well oiled bursting everywhere. Approaching at hypersonic speeds, any sounds of the descent are left behind, not heard until a rude stop five feet and three inches from the plane on which the white spot and its innumerable intricacies of black lines exist on a three-dimensional Euclidean subspace of higher-dimensional realities. And so the spot reveals its identity as not a spot, but a span. At five feet and three inches from its blinding, white surface the view shifts to the face of a singular inhabitant of the metropolis, standing at a crossroad of the financial district. All is black and white in the truest sense—not grayscale.
Stickfigure outline of a man stands six-feet tall with a revolver in his mouth. Nobody bothers to look up because stickfigure outline of a man has a revolver in his mouth, a revolver whose barrel he caresses with his one-dimensional tongue, revolver loaded with bullets of zero dimensionality. A bloom of carmine and sangria rose petals blasts forth from stickfigure outline of a man’s head in a sudden spray suspended with deafening silence. And there time stands still.
The water in the central pool of a YMCA is glaucous blue, a quality attributable to the faded tiles laid down sometime in the mid-‘80s. The water in all pools in that same YMCA is infused with the acridity of chlorination, which makes the swimmer’s and the diver’s eyes brilliantly red after three or five plunges. The swimmer, at least, is sensible enough to wear goggles, goggles which never work unless significant pressure is applied to the ocular cavity, which gives her the sense that her eyeballs will be somehow either pushed into her brain, snowman-like, or, conversely, that, when she attempts to remove the goggles, that the sudden induction of a vacuum will suck them—the eyeballs—right out, perhaps comically plopping down into the water with a plink and a plunk, or something like that, in between. The diver simply knows enough not to keep on diving. He sits on a vinyl Adirondack-like chair, sketching with 4B weight graphite and a single, well-sharpened carmine colored pencil.
The swimmer raises her head from directly under the surface of the water and pulls her hair back tightly, and for a moment it appears as if she’s wearing a glistening sealskin cap. She overcomes the dread that always precedes the removal of her goggles over a bombastic internal monologue dealing with the consequences of potentially becoming blind. This thought process takes thirteen seconds of her life, and the stress induced by it chips away an extra two or three minutes from her overall life expectancy. If the average human female in this idealized world is expected to live to her early eighties, and assuming the swimmer to be either twenty-two or twenty-three, how many such internal monologues could she still ponder while having time yet to cook dinner when she returns home at 7:45 every evening from her job at the largest publishing house in the nation, taking into consideration the possibility that most vegan dinner preparations take about half an hour?—Enough. She removes her goggles and the vacuum yields with a depressing sigh. It is the sound of opening hermetically sealed jars of hearts of palm or kalamata olives, which she will hear again in preparing a salad after she returns home later that day. She steps out of the pool, walks up to the diver, and says, “Whatcha up to? Drawing.” “Yup,” the diver says, and the swimmer takes the vinyl Adirondack-like chair next to him. The diver, too, is young. He is also either twenty-two or twenty-three, and he occasionally draws existential comics when he is bored, or when his eyes sting from the chlorine. He, too, has a position as an intern in the largest publishing house in the nation. Aside from this, neither the swimmer nor the diver are related in any way, aside, that is, from their mutual agreement to be fuckbuddies until the end of the program, or until the end of this short story—whichever comes later.
The sketch the diver had been working on featured the exciting span of a pristine sheet of A4, all-purpose paper. There is no particular reason for why he decided to use A4, and it does not make much sense to me—as A4 is a gross, awkward shape—but such was the situation. In the center of this sheet of paper, the diver had some minutes prior begun outlining a flat, topographical map of an evidently bustling metropolis. At the center of this sketch was a crossing point between the main avenues of the city, and at the center of this crossroad was a stickfigure outline of a man holding a revolver in his own mouth. The swimmer asked, “What’s up with that?” and the diver answered, “Iunno,” or something of the sort, and took his single colored pencil and pressed a spray of red messes and tangles into the central portion of the A4 paper, directly adjacent to the stickfigure outline of a man’s head and directly opposite, directionally, from the gun’s barrel, which itself was concealed in its phallic, metallic blackness somewhere deep in the figure’s throat.
A drop of water rolls from the diver’s wet hair and falls onto the red scratches, spreading the color outward in a thin smear. It was a watercolor pencil. An older woman with blonde hair, sporting a one-piece swimsuit and a belly, claps her feet onto the wet gutter under the diving platforms. The lifeguard’s whistle breaks cleanly through the air. And here the diver finishes his sketch and the swimmer succumbs to sleep by the pool.
The click of an unlocking door is an extremely satisfying sound, unless the unlocking is being performed by a third party one does not desire penetrating the barrier set up by said locked door. An older woman with blonde hair returns home from spending the day at a YMCA swimming and diving and unlocks the door to her suite. The Royal Caribbean duffel bag she carries contains two items: a one-piece rayon/lycra hybrid swimsuit and an unopened ‘maple sugar’ granola bar. The first thing the older woman with blonde hair does when she enters her house is place her right foot on the floor of the atrium. Maybe the thirteenth or fifteenth thing she does after that is push the door shut with her left hand, or gaze at the bag of recently-purchased denim still peeking from the shadows of the coat closet, a closet that contains one coat.
The woman remembers in a non-sequitur kind of way that she quite loathes the scent of recently-purchased denim, and that the only reason she had yet to ‘break in’ her new jacket and (purposely-, factory-)faded jeans was the indigo scent the pieces emanated. Her friend Odette had once mentioned that the best means by which one could remove this undesirable, noxious nuisance from new clothing is to wash the criminally blue garments in a solution of coconut bar-soap. Taking heed of this indispensable advice, the somewhat blonde older woman had years before purchased, or amassed, hoarded, a supply of coconut bar-soaps. She still keeps them in the laundry closet.
She walks toward the laundry closet and retrieves two bricks of coconut soap. She walks into the kitchen and places a large stewpot filled halfway with water on the largest, frontmost heating element of the electric stove, which she sets to ‘9,’ whatever that means in this context. The woman drops the two bricks of soap into the water and starts stirring, until the water boils and the soap melts into an onomatopoeically gloppy mix of sodium laureth sulfate and essential coconut oils. If her glass eye had fallen into the mixture then, it would most definitely have made a sound like plop, or something closer to it than plink or plunk, for instance.
Anyway, the scalding syrup is ready. The older woman with relatively blonde hair raises the pot from its two side handles, raises it higher, and wobbles. She is shifting and shuffling her feet from the kitchen to the laundry, where her hopes lay in dumping the mix into an already-filled washing machine. Deux ex machina-esque, she slips on a plastic clasp on the shoulder-strap of the Royal Caribbean duffel bag and falls back, dumping the superheated coconuty icing onto her face and neck. The way the steam rises from the moisture still cooking out from the suspension of detergents and stabilizers, fragrances and essences, the way it whisks up with the heated air currents crawling out and freeing themselves from the viscous goo, hovering slightly above the old woman’s melting face, the way it cycles back into the endless span of the universe silently, deadly, reminds us that there is, indeed, something about water.