The Edge – Katrina Carrasco
in the green-threaded shallows I swim forward swerve forward swerve forward until I begin to see my own shadow in front of me wait other wait self wait / how did I lose my waters how did I slip into this squeezing cup of life how did I begin to feed on sour things dropped from above that barely quiver before giving up their bleeding escapes / in the brightness it is too hot in the dimness it is too hot I scratch against clumps of rods that burrow toward bottom and for an instant the scratched flesh is chilled but then it is too hot again forward swerve wait
In this desert plants are made of glass. Leaf-green bottles looped to posts form trees that whistle an afternoon coo. Milling petals snap back the sun. There is no dew, but the marble lawn sparkles all cat’s eyes, clearies, shooters, nubs of quartz. In this desert animals are made of stone. Ducks and granite dogs and toads sit cracking beside knock-hollow skulls: this was a deer, this was a steer, this for a time carried the scent of clover. In this desert she is made of lonely. Salt lick in the ribbed dawn. One pillow, one bedroll, one tongue touch to each extremity her mouth can bend to meet. Monthly a dead egg gums her underwear and she dreams her body as an hourglass, life slipping out, skin loosening. She waits for the morning when her underwear egg is just a grain of sand.
he said he was going out to catch another one
maybe a ten-footer
hey, how much would they pay to see that
he stuffed a cooler with sandwiches and beers said don’t wait up it might be a long stalking
he’d knuckled my eye shut so I did not watch as he loaded the boat
or as he hooked up the towline though I heard the winch’s squeal
or as he guided the boat along the dug-out ramp thirty feet to sea level down
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….down oh don’t come back
At the edge of land soil crumbles like hard cheese. It tastes of salt, of lime. Stone chaser. Moving east she’s heard the dirt changes colors. One mile in: hard-packed yellow crust, crisped by sun. Four miles in: dark, rich with iron, a rusty clumping that when cleared of rocks swallows seeds whole to make fragrant trees: mango, plantain, dragonfruit, fire-sapped papaya.
At the edge of land only spindled roots take hold. Ice plants. Crabgrass. Nailed-down boards. The farm’s cash crops grow in saltwater. Three sheds of scrap iron throw corrugated shade over plastic tanks. In the tepid water turtles feed, float. Murray cod breed, eat their daughters and sons. Eels uncoil into limp black tubes so close in shape and stillness to the water pump system threading through the tanks that when she reaches in to check the outflow and the pipe wriggles, she jerks her hand out of the basin and counts to ten, then again, sucking in the hot funk of the aquarium.
At the edge of land she is forgetting before and that is good. Salt, lime, fire- sapped tequila. Put your [noun] here. [Verb] down her [ …..]. [….. ] she [….. ]. But before’s place (all those white-out marks inside her chest) now drips with green-pea algae, scaled bodies, the taste of brine. She begins to pause at doorways, preparing for the one she’ll walk through to discover a kinder ecosystem.
Twenty miles from town. In the aquarium (foster home) (pocket for dying flesh). She and a tourist stand beside the turtle tank. The tourist fondles a wilted bunch of money.
—How much for the cod—Twelve dollars each—And for the turtles—Today they are thirty dollars—You must be joking, do I get the tank too for that price—Just the turtle—Have you got anything else, souvenirs, T-shirts—No—Well where’s the shark pond—That’s a different attraction, SharkVille, twenty miles up the road—Do they have T-shirts, my kid wants a T-shirt—I can’t say, I’ve never been—What a waste of time—
eyes open I am dreaming eelgrass slid under my belly once fear vibrations in the deepwater set red flashes pinging through my nerves once to glide into warm brightness and then back into the cool press of darkness was my choice once / among other shadows I found a sleek one to circle to allow near and together we made a small shadow it swam away I did not watch it go / the next time the sleek shadow came near I did not allow it I bristled all my electricity and teeth I was not ready to lose another part of me
he comes back
the winch squeals squeals squeeee
the sponge in my hand shrinks to walnut size all its water
loosed onto my fingers
a noodle flops down the drain toward waiting blades
he comes in
white cooler rattling with cans
white handed with a venom face
he throws his hat on the counter he throws his boat keys at me he carries the cooler out back to
throw his empty cans at the penned-up shark
the one that did not get away
in the morning I will skim off the cans and slime and dust with a long-handled net
hoist in a bucket of fish and drop a pink cactus flower
atop the sunfire scales
I think the shark is a woman shark
some mornings she glides under the walkway
tips her flat black eyes at me
I think we hate the same
She names the turtle Skipper because its legs and head and back are yellow. Little sea captain bobbing on air-filter bubbles. The turtle’s milk-skimmed eyes blink, blink. She dangles a cricket near its head but it will not eat. Come now, Skipper, she whispers, don’t give up. The turtle lifts one flipper, drifts sideways through the murk.
She and Skipper make a jailbreak. Slip down the cliffside. No need for flashlights with the stars parading so. She lays the turtle on the lip of foam left by a wave. Another sheet of water tucks into the beach. Skipper is lifted an inch. Blink, blink. She waits for the turtle to kick out into freedom. The wave pulls back. Skipper settles against rocks. Up, down. And again. After five minutes she walks into the star-slicked water. Sets the turtle afloat among the eelgrass. It spins in an eddy, hello goodbye hello. It is still drifting in circles when she brushes sand off her fingers and walks up the path.
Forty miles from town. In the blue-painted kitchen (broken shell) (smell of blood and bleach and burned toast). I plate his eggs at the breakfast table. The butter trembles.
—Where’s the sign—Out by the road already—We need a good crowd to stop by today, that’s a fact—Maybe tourists are tired of sharks—No one’s ever tired of sharks, give me the salt—I need to go into town this morning—Can’t, I’m using the truck—We need vegetables—I said no—Maybe tomorrow then—Any coffee left in the pot—
When she leaves the outdoor shower she sees the van against the sunrise. It is parked at the main house, which glisters in the thick amber light. Sweet shine the bottle trees, the marble-strewn yard, the emptied skulls. Sweet shine the van tires, which have rolled around in dirt miles and miles and miles away. But the boss is inside the house like rot inside a candied apple.
The week’s profits total twenty-four dollars. The boss slams the cashbox. There’s no money but no turtles either, how to explain that. She thinks of Skipper, and after him Theodore and Jackson and Mildred and Sophie, and then Franklin and Lionel and Zoe and Kenneth. A carapaced armada drifting away under the yellow moon. Most came back, one by one or in pairs. Belly up pecked open by gulls, belly up neck limp like a broken stem, belly down pebbled skin heavy as stone. On the night beach with her shipwrecks she tried to name each loss but every shell looked the same.
Her slice of twenty-four dollars is two-forty and that is not enough to pay the boss for a lift to town. She scrapes algae off the tanks. Wipes sweat from her temples. Filmed water lifts hairs from her skin as she dips one forearm into the eel tank. Wrist bone, blue vein, inner elbow’s soft notch. She taps her fingers near the eel’s mouth. Bite. Bite. She taps the mouth itself.
swerve forward swerve forward swerve I drowse in this thin thin liquid my heart beats blood my gills beat water but it is not the cold dense salt I knew when I knew the other shadows / a splash a blur a shudder lights up red flashes in my head and I am hungry I am intent I am circling this is not a broke-spined meager little creature this is not a sour fish it is long and flailing it is hot with muscle I unsheathe my jagged rows and snap thrash thrash shake the life out of it and in to me / red flashes in my head sweet the water sweet the hunger my blunted eyes and nose and skin sharpen until I am only made of teeth
red dust on the windscreen scraped into rainbows
the thunk thunk rattle of trash cans in the back
all these molten afternoons after molten mornings my molten body
weight of refuse
detergent cartons milk jugs rotten fruit that plum I found under the sofa’s darkness where it was
seething with a clutch of curlicue worms
at the tip I yank up on the brake
there are no other cars
no other people
nothing in the high white sky but fire
the truck bed squeaks when I clamber in
my boots compress the metal and it pops back when I move
each can heavier than I expect
warmed plastic handles collapse in my fists
one lid bumps loose when the bin hits dirt and the smell that jumps out is knee- cracking
grayed meat melon sludge skinned onion side of liver blue-fuzzed cheese the acidic tang that
hangs around the pit toilet uncaged blood
I lean against the truck and wrap everything tight to keep my insides inside
The red road pulses with cars though it is empty. Phantom vein furrowed with tire tracks. The wind churns like oncoming engines. Glossy slicks of gasoline release hot machine reek.
On the red road her feet are furred with dirt. Toenails chameleon to match toe skin to match plastic sandal straps. Coloration climbs her shins. She has grown a red shell of rayon and mesh. Stuffed into her protective cartilage: tank tops, cracker boxes, underwear, a turtle-shaped bit of driftwood. She trundles south trailed by her humped shadow as the sun buzzes around the top of the sky. Canyons cut a second horizon to the east. The wind goes rotten. Out at the tip a truck shimmers with heat. A woman is unloading cans. She pulls one, pushes it, falls with it out of the truck bed.
From the red road to the tip she calls out to the woman. Need a spare hand & etc. Closer. The spilled can has disgorged a moving mass of white: a sheet draped over an animal. No, over a man. Yes. Five fingers and their knuckles too reach out from under the white trembling. Closer. It is not a sheet. It is a shoal of maggots. Fingers lead to knuckles lead to palm lead to nothing, and she leans back into the weight of her shell and stares. The woman next to the can is wearing bruises where her glasses should be. Her eyes red-sparked like Mars burning in the midnight sky.
Fifteen miles from town. In the junk dust of the tip (deep ravine) (things we don’t talk about). She adjusts her backpack. I nudge his hand into the trash bin with the tip of my boot.
—It was a shark attack—Oh—He fell in the water, he must have been drunk—Holy shit—I pulled out what I could with a pool net—A pool net? In the ocean—It was not in the ocean—Wait, did this happen at SharkVille—Yes but you won’t tell anyone, will you—I won’t—Where did you come from—I walked here—Are you going to town—To the bus station—I’ve often thought of going there—If I help you with these cans could you give me a lift, I need to float away—
Katrina Carrasco is a second-year MFA candidate at Portland State University. Her short story “Cutthroat” won third place in the 2014 Historical Novel Society International Award contest. She also has an upcoming publication in Circa. Katrina is currently writing her third historical fiction novel. You can read more about her work at kmcarrasco.wix.com/home.