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"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Jellywish

The shadow passed overhead. I sucked breath in.  Water flooded my lungs. I thrashed to the surface, spat out the snorkel and swivelled, trying to see in every direction. My eyes were streaming.

I saw it, a shape gliding slowly away. A rounded smoothness, rising and falling. It must be a shark. What else could it be? Wouldn’t a shark have a dorsal fin?

The thing slid away through the warm sea. I checked the shore. It seemed miles away. I was calm enough to wonder what to do. I could start swimming back to the beach.

I remembered once leaning back in a leather armchair and saying that being eaten by a Great White Shark would be the ultimate ecologically sound end. I imagined Gerard and Zac discussing my death.

“A man of principle,” Gerard would chortle.

“And taste,” Zac would deadpan. “Although the fish may argue.”

“He may be as hard to swallow as his opinions.”

“What irony if such an ardent champion of conservation were to choke an endangered creature to death.”

The threat remained stationary. I felt the gentle lap of the water. The sun was warm on my face. I swirled my flippers. I was in control. Nothing had happened yet. I was still having a nice holiday. I could be boasting about this tonight with a drink in my hand.

I strained my eyes. The thing lifted slightly, water streaming over it like a Tommy’s helmet in a Somme downpour. A small, blunt object stuck out next to it. It looked like a head.

Images coalesced in my mind and the shape resolved itself into a turtle. I smiled, embarrassed. It didn’t matter. Nobody was there to witness my discomfort. I looked over to the creature. I imagined myself frolicking with a huge turtle.

“A turtle?” Gerard whistled. “Aren’t they dangerous?”

“Not really.” I shrugged. “Not if you don’t provoke them.”

“How do you know what provokes them?” Zac grimaced. “What if you’re swimming in its territory?”

I sat back and smiled. “You just have to show it that you’re the dominant male. They’re genetically incapable of challenging the alpha turtle.”

Gerard whistled again. “You’re a better man than me.”

Zac stood up. “Let me get you a drink.”

“Thanks, mate.”

“It’s an honour.”

I knew nothing about turtles. I recalled some National Geographic thing about gentle giants of the sea. They didn’t seem to have teeth or claws.

I rinsed my snorkel and mask in the sea. The turtle was still drifting around. It seemed inoffensive. I clamped the mask back on and put cool rubber between my teeth. I let myself move forward. The submarine world appeared in shades of blue.

I couldn’t see anything in the direction of the turtle. I kicked my flippers and moved off. It was deep and there were few fish. There was a change in the uniform azure. A new shape loomed, a huge block of something rooted in the sea bed. As I drew closer, the colours deepened and diversified.

Life swarmed over the reef. There were parrot fish and angel fish and butterfly fish and other fish named after things. I saw a bright blue starfish beside a tree of coral. I moved in closer. More detail kept appearing, as if I were swooping from space onto a city until I could see the scurrying inhabitants. Tiny, multicoloured crabs. Shrimps waving appendages. I dived to look under a rock ledge. The sort of place where I might find a moray.

Nothing. I flipped upright and kicked towards the surface. A dark roundness burst into view on my right. I jerked backwards.

It was the turtle. It flapped over to a bed of kelp and began grazing. I followed it. It floated on the surface, occasionally dipping its head for another mouthful of weed. I circled the great reptile and stopped in front of it. Its downcurved beak gave it the appearance of mournful wisdom; Rumpole doing his sad duty.

I hovered before the scaly physiognomy. I wanted the thing to acknowledge me. I waved. It did nothing. I moved from side to side, close to its face. Its eyes stayed glazed and still.

This was an anticlimax. There was a great difference between frolicking with a turtle and being blanked by one. It munched on, Robert Morley with a disappointing Chateaubriand. The lighter underside of its shell gave the impression of a bib.

I grew tired of being an unwanted dinner companion. I took a breath and dived underneath the turtle to inspect the jigsaw pattern of its shell. A movement below distracted me. A school of silver fish arrowed out from behind the reef and shot across to a point to my right. They stopped simultaneously, flicked, and turned as a unit. I surfaced and blew the water out of my snorkel. I took a breath and went below. The fish were still there. A type I had not seen before. I went closer.

I saw a shadow flick in my peripheral vision. The turtle hit me hard. I tumbled aside in the water. For a moment it was on top of me. I could feel its beating flippers either side of my torso.

“You were a turtle’s bitch?” Gerard sprayed out a spout of atomised lager.

Zac leered. “Was it good for you too?”

I looked down. The sea floor was invisible in the haze. The turtle blended into the dark blue as it sounded. I sensed another form above me. Another turtle perhaps. This one was less distinct, like a cumulus cloud. I could see light through it.

There was a gentle touch on my arm. A frond of seaweed. I felt the certainty that this would be a great day, a realisation that anything I had ever seen as a problem was actually something wonderful. I flipped over and felt the sunlight filtering through the clear water and into my flesh, infusing me with warmth. The sun was healing me.

I felt strong. The urge to swim struck me. It seemed to me that I had not known how to swim before but now I could do it perfectly. I don’t know which stroke I used. I didn’t need to know. It was so efficient, so fast, that it must be better than any swimming stroke that had a name.

I sliced through the water. I don’t remember ever feeling so good. I was healthy, fit, strong. I could do anything. I dived deep and swam down. The seabed appeared and came into focus. Just before I hit bottom, I flicked my feet and kicked upwards.

I had achieved immense speed by the time I broke the surface. I flew into the air, water trailing like streamers from a party popper. The sea stretched for miles in every direction. I could see an island on the horizon – a tiny, white-fringed spot of green.

I seemed to stop at the top of my trajectory. I had time to spread into a swallow shape before I let gravity take me back to the water. I did a couple of turns and a twist, just because I could. I knifed into the water. As I slipped through the cool blue, I began to move in the direction of the island.

I was going fast now, sliding through liquid like a rapier into a heart, stabbing towards my goal. I settled into a skimming motion on the surface. If I kept my arms still, I could hydroplane. I felt my upper body lift into the air and I gloried in my potency.

Gerard put down his drink and sat up, “You swam so fast that your body actually came out of the water?”

“Like a hydrofoil,” Zac clarified.

I tried not to look pleased. “Yes, I suppose it was like that.”

“But how did you build up so much pace without using your arms?” Gerard raised his famously interrogative eyebrow.

I shrugged and pointed at the alternative. “Legs.”

“Oh, I see.” Zac nodded. “It’s like a barracuda or a Mako Shark. Their speed comes from those amazing muscles in their tails.”

My first words on regaining consciousness were predictable.

“Where am I?”

“What happened?”

“How did I get here?”

The answers were, “Hospital”, “Don’t know” and “The lifeguards brought you in.”

I blinked at the nurse. “Don’t you know anything else?”

She made a dismissive face that I wasn’t supposed to see. “You were found floating a hundred yards off Poipu Beach.”

“Why?” This was the only thing I could think to ask. Hadn’t I been swimming miles off shore at superhuman speeds?

The nurse was blank. She didn’t want to talk to me. I lay back and closed my eyes.

Gerard took a leisurely drink of Sancerre. “So, let me see if I have this right…” Zac turned to hide a grin. “You were slicing through the Pacific Ocean at incredible velocity when suddenly…” Gerard paused and nodded seriously at Zac. “…you had to be rescued just off the beach.”

Zac adopted an official tone. “Warning. These Speedos do not confer superhuman powers on the wearer.”

Gerard and Zac laughed so much that their drinks made Jackson Pollock patterns on the carpet.

I relived my swimming experience. I felt water swirl past my face. The ultramarine lightened until the flash that meant that I was free of the surface, leaping high, leaving spray trails. How could I slump from that Herculean control to a helpless mass in need of resuscitation?

I was discharged from hospital at midday. An hour later, I was off the coast at Poipu in a Zodiac with a man named Trey who wanted to know what we were looking for.

“It’s a shape. Kind of indistinct. It’s sort of translucent. Not like a turtle.”

“Yeah, right,” said Trey. “You sure you’re OK, man?”

“I’m sure,” I said, wondering if I was.

“So, like, where now?” The boatman waved dark brown hands at the horizons.

“You know the reef?”

“What reef? There’s more than one.”

I decided to believe the nurse. “About a hundred yards off shore. It comes up from the sea bed like a wall.”

“Yeah.” Trey scratched his stubble and turned the boat a few degrees. “You wanna swim with turtles?” He waved an arm. I saw a dark dome in the water.

“No.” I surprised myself. This was part of the reason I had come to Hawaii. Now I had a quest.

“Turtles are cool.” This seemed to express disapproval of me.

“OK.” I remembered how I had seen the shape near a turtle. “Can you go over there?”

“Not close. Don’t wanna get near him with an outboard. You gotta, like, swim.”

“I haven’t got a snorkel.”

The boatman scrabbled behind the fuel can. “I always got some in here.”

“How close can you get?”

“This close.”

I peered in the direction of the turtle. I couldn’t see it now. There was a sort of smudge in the ripples. “What’s that?”

“Jellyfish.” The turtle wasn’t coming up. “Maybe you’d better stay in the boat.”

I slid off the inflated tube into the sea. I heard “Hey!” just before the water shut out the sounds from above. There wasn’t much to see. I couldn’t see the turtle. There were no fish. The reef was a darker blue than the water, plunging to infinity. I looked down to see if the turtle had sounded. Nothing.

The boat was above me and to the right. I surfaced.

“What are you doing, man?” Trey sounded agitated. “There’s a fucking great jellyfish over there.”

I spat out the snorkel mouthpiece. “That might be it.”

“It?” Trey glanced up, then back to me. “It’s a… You know about the jellyfish around here, right?”

“No.” Was this the secret?

“Like, they’re poisonous. You know, sort of deadly.”

Gerard was wearing a black suit and one of his hideous cravats. “Pity, really.” He twirled his glass.

“Just like him, though.” Zac was similarly dark-clad. “Risking his life to see just how lethal a lethal jellyfish was.”

The funereal pair cackled with glee.

“Yeah, OK.” Maybe the jellyfish had nothing to do with my superhero sensations. I scrambled back into the Zodiac. Trey hauled me up the last bit. There was a bit of chop that made it hard to keep my balance.

“How bout you give me some idea what you’re after. You said the jellyfish might be it. Might be what?”

I decided to tell him. He looked as if he had enough experience of hallucinogens to be sympathetic. “I was snorkelling in here yesterday and I saw, I don’t know… maybe a jellyfish. Then something brushed against me and suddenly I was swimming like a dolphin, insanely fast, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults. Next thing I knew, I was in hospital.”

“Yeah. What did you take? Like, before you went in?”

“Nothing.” He didn’t believe me. “Really, I didn’t take anything.”

“Not that you remember.”

“Not that I remember. But I never do. I just don’t do drugs.”

He stared at me doubtfully. The water slapped against the inflatable sides, spraying coolness against the heat of the air. “Look, it’s more likely someone laced your drink. I never heard of a jellyfish making anyone think they’re God.”

“Yeah.” I turned away. “Can’t we just go over there?” I motioned to where I had last seen the shape.

Trey spread his hands. “You’re paying. Just keep your hands out of the water.” He pivoted the outboard back into the sea and the boat moved slowly.

“Is it still there?”

Trey stared ahead. “It’s not going anywhere.” He pointed.

It looked like a supermarket bag. It lay on the surface, a collapsed parachute surrounded by its strings. It didn’t seem like something that could turn me into a superman. A gust of wind moved the boat slightly. I could hear the chop of wavelets against the Zodiac. I felt something, a hair, run down my hand.

“Shit!” Trey abandoned his laid-back island persona. “It got me. We gotta go back to shore. I need to get something on that sting.” He swung the boat round and gunned the engine. The bow leaped into the air. We swirled and accelerated towards the land.

I didn’t know Zodiacs could go this fast. The little engine screamed as it jumped along the waves from crest to crest. The boat was almost flying. I looked ahead. I could no longer see land. I moved forward to see over the bow. We were actually in the air. Trey was screeching like a steam train. He turned to me.

“This is intense, man.” Trey grinned. We were over land now. I could see the outline of the island, a paradise surrounded by turquoise. It was irresistible. I took two steps and dived over the side of the Zodiac. I saw Trey’s startled face as I went.

“Wait for me.”

I eased out of the dive and spread my body in the air to hold up a little while Trey caught me up. We glided down towards the sweep of a white beach. There was a flotilla of boats offshore, a yacht race, perhaps.

“You’re insane, man.” Trey swung down in front of me. “Check this.”

He led down towards a rocky piece of coast. We swept between two offshore stacks of jagged limestone, then through a natural rock arch. I lifted my face into the wind and hurtled upwards. Clouds swished past. The sky was getting noticeably darker. The air was thinner now.

“Not bad, dear boy.” Gerard waved his newspaper at me. “Never knew you had it in you.”

“How high did you actually go?” Zac handed me a flute of champagne.

“I’m not entirely sure.”

Gerard peered at the front page. “Says here that it’s the highest unassisted flight ever.”

Zac raised his glass to me.

The nurse pursed her lips. “Brought a friend this time, I see.”

I turned my head. The same hospital room. Trey was in the next bed. His eyes were closed.

“How’s he?”

“Same as you. Thought of making a donation to the lifeguards?”

Clearly, the nurse’s opinion of me had not improved. “Where were we this time?”

“Just like yesterday. A hundred yards off Poipu.

At first, I thought Gerard might be dangerously ill. He lay back in his armchair spluttering and struggling to breathe. “Are you all right?”

Zac was surprisingly unconcerned. I stared at him. “Shouldn’t we do something?”

“No need, dear boy.” Gerard’s attack ceased and he sat up and reached for his single malt. “What do you think of my impression?”

“Impression?” I blinked.

“Good, isn’t it? It’s you swimming.”

At least Trey thought I had something.

“That was cool.” He moved in conspiratorially. “What are we gonna do?”

“Do?”

“Yeah. I’ve gotta get that feeling again. So do you. You’re the one who went after it.”

“True.” I thought about it. “I just don’t want to end up in hospital every day for the rest of my life.”

“So there’s only one thing to do.”

“What?”

“We gotta catch that jellyfish.”

I found a Youtube clip of someone capturing an Australian Box Jelly. It looked as if you could pick it up by the body as long as it didn’t get its tentacles on you. I went shopping at the fishing store and met Trey by his Zodiac at the marina.

“I can’t wait to do that again.” We were speeding out to the reef. My net and plastic bathtub took up most of the floor of the boat. “Where are we going to keep it?”

This problem had occurred to me. I didn’t want the thing to die after a few days. I’d rather leave it in the sea and live on hospital food. “Let’s sort that out after we’ve got it.”

“There’s the reef.” I could see waves breaking in the middle of the sea. “See any turtles?”

“No.” I couldn’t see anything except water.

“The current usually goes to the west here.” Trey pointed in that direction. “Maybe we should head that way.”

“Hang on.” It hadn’t moved the previous day and I didn’t see that the conditions had changed. “Let’s have a bit more of a look here.”

Trey moved the boat closer to the waves and ran it parallel with the reef. It was too turbulent to see anything.

“Go back a bit.” We had seen the jellyfish in calmer water. “I’ll have to go in.” I picked up the snorkel.

Trey made a face and swished the boat around. I slid off the side. The sea felt warm and buoyant. There were plenty of fish, especially towards the wall of coral. I swam to the lowest concentration of fish. They seemed to stay away from our hallucinogenic target.

There were no turtles today. I saw a movement to my right. It was the classic shape. A shark. I felt a lurch of adrenaline and kicked back from it. I realised how small it was. Less than a metre. I heard a call from above. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the shark. It may be small but it was still a shark. Trey shouted again. The shark twitched. I had never seen one do that. It shuddered and turned upside down. I put my head above the surface. I could see Trey dimly through the mask. He seemed to be jumping up and down in the Zodiac. I had another glance under the water. The shark was just bobbing about.

I started swimming back to the boat.

“No!” I heard. I looked up again. Trey was still waving. “Not this way.” I slipped my mask up onto the top of my head. Trey was driving the boat away.

I shouted at him. “What are you doing?” He couldn’t hear me over the motor. I watched him recede, then turn and skirt back towards me. He seemed to be going around something.

Trey moved the boat close and leaned over to drag me in.

“You alright, mate?”

Yes.” I had no idea what had happened.

“You see it get that shark? That was amazing.”

I scrambled up into the Zodiac. “What got the shark? Was it…”

“It’s over there. Let’s go get it.”

It was almost transparent, as hard to see as a petrol slick on the surface.

“Get the net ready.”

I forced the net under the surface. Trey manoeuvred towards the jellyfish. I checked the position of the plastic basin. I swept the net under the gelatinous body and lifted. It was like vermicelli in a colander. I swung it into the little bath. It collapsed like a wet towel. Trey emptied the bailing bucket onto the creature.

“Jolly good wheeze, I say.” Gerard had moved onto Port, an old Taylor’s vintage.

“What do you mean?” I hadn’t seen it as any kind of wheeze.

“Business opportunity.”

Zac lowered his own glass. He had a maroon stain at the corner of his mouth. “You need to set it up quickly before they make it illegal.”

“Everyone’s going to want some of that.”

“It’s something I wouldn’t mind trying.” Zac smiled slowly. “A sort of David Attenborough out-of-body trip.”

“Feasible business idea. You’ll need a snappy name.” Gerard contemplated the colour of his Port.

“What about Hallucinojell?” Zac smirked.

“I prefer Jellywish.”

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  1. Enormousfish | The Shock of Contact | Adam Kaya Heskith | Author and Writer | Enormousfish Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 9:11 am

    […] Jellywish from The Shock of […]

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