Academic journal article Hecate

Miss Cuttlefish

Academic journal article Hecate

Miss Cuttlefish

Article excerpt

In a cube between sea and sky a waitress in silk evening dress serves a man a simple sole unadorned on a white dish. The glass walls are sticky with salt spray. Outside wind becomes water inside the air is still and the room smells of shellfish. The waitress is tall and faded she moves like a ribbon in a current; the tips of her hair brush her fleshless buttocks gently, to and fro. A man with a receding hairline says he will not eat a sole ungarnished, his voice comes from deep water but she only mumbles and moves over to a woman sitting on a footstool in a corner. The waitress holds out a hand to her, it is bony and colourless and the woman follows.

They pass through a wall of glass into ocean and drift and swirl within the light-filled liquid without effort or breathing, their dresses bubble and billow about them. There is no time limit to it or pressure, their hands join and separate. The woman is euphoric. The waitress moves and removes, she is dissolving: strands of her hair twirl here and there like tentacles like seaweed. The man's voice comes from deep water, he has always been there. The woman is suddenly fearful, she pushes urgently upward but it is difficult. At last her head pops to the surface, her eyes sting from the salt and she squints.

Under the hard sun the water glints like tinfoil. No one else is in the bathing enclosure. The boardwalk is bone dry and by the change room entrance an ice cream trolley stands unattended. Its pink and white umbrella faded by the sunlight cannot shade it. There are no chip packets or paddle pop sticks half buried in the sand, just two sets of footprints. A solitary school girl sits on a ladder dangling her feet in the water to cool them. She stares mindlessly at her reflection. The woman calls out a warning but her voice evaporates to steam. The school girl picks up her satchel and stands slowly dizzy in the heat. She looks down at her wet feet on the hot boardwalk. Her fleshy ankles sprout thick black hairs but she is unconcerned. The woman screeches she sounds like a boiling kettle.

The woman's name was Gwen and on dreaming of screeching she awoke but except for a suffocating feeling she did not remember anything. At once she got another griping pain and had to go to the toilet. She had had diarrhoea for a week now, they said it was most likely from the seafood. Secretly she didn't care, squatting in the cool dark bathroom she observed her pain with strange satisfaction. Voiding her bowels gave her an almost ecstatic relief. She climbed back up the stairs.

Cocooned in a mosquito net she lay awake in the still night and listened to the gheckos clucking and the insects. She felt pleasurably tender, her hip bone uncushioned on the hard board bed. She waited for the next attack and could not get back to sleep.

Gwen had first felt the pains on the island of Kho Samed. "Oh no, not diarrhoea," her friends said. "You poor pet." But she had thought to herself, "at last I'm having an indisputable illness." It made her feel more real, more feminine and like a bona-fide traveller. She joked about it with the other two and for the rest of that day insisted on being involved in everything. "No really, it's just what everyone sometimes gets," she said stoically.

She hiked to Paradise Beach and struggled through the scrub and spiders' webs without complaining. "Are you allright?" her friends called back to her. "Of course I am," she said. It was dry and hot and the water at Paradise Beach was clear as glass. A fishing boat was anchored in the bay and sun-darkened sailors in underpants watched the girls burning pink on the white sand through binoculars.

She liked the way the heat and her ailment made her feel weak and pliable. The coconut trees provided shade and not too far away there was a lavatory. Her friends frolicked and swam, delighting the sailors who called out across the water. "Hey American, you want to make love?" She lay on her back, watched the orange spark and splash beneath her eyelids and imagined herself melting into nothing. …

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