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Lorna pressed her right palm firmly onto the thin, vinegar-soaked, cloth bandages swaddling her other arm. It throbbed lightly under her touch, or so she thought, and she wondered whether the barman-turned-paramedic, behind the poolside bar, really meant what he was doing when he rummaged through the scarlet kit. Did he handle others more gently? Had she seemed grateful enough for his help?
For a moment her chest tightened and she stopped on the white granite path, careful not to block other visitors. Once she sensed the numbness relinquish its grip, she began to move more abruptly, counting each palm tree she passed as a safeguard of her progress.
It was not the waves that she could hear now, as if counts of a metronome, exhausting each other in a self-obliterating chase to the shore. Nor was it the aggressive beat of the wings of the flying cockroaches, who had unnerved her when she first saw their bulbous, corpulent bodies and their wings hefting them up in the humid air. When she discovered that they were as likely to be interested in her as in diving into the nearby ocean, each reminder of them turned to mere irritation instead of fear.
She could hear none bar her own thoughts of pain, which burned under the skin like a guiding lantern. It took a conscious effort to divert her attention, from attempting to scratch at what now appeared like red talon marks on the surface of her arm, and onto the imagining of the air-conditioned hotel room that was waiting for her.
The ready-made bed, where all of her bodily presence had been reduced to a standard, a neutral, by the invisible efforts of the cleaners in the hotel, attracted her in a reckless way. With all this regulation, it was so easy to disappear.
Now as the numbers on each door decreased to hers, she felt the pain escalate, the ocean waters frustrated by her escape from their stronghold.
If only she had brought James. He would have prevented this. He always insisted on some precaution or other, like wearing swimming goggles in the ocean even though there was so much sand you couldn’t see past the length of your own outstretched hands. Perhaps this is why she had left him behind.
“You never listen to me,” he would throw at her before leaving the room, waiting for her to pick up the sentence in her palms, to cradle it, gauge its texture with the tips of her fingers and then still gag from its distinct bitterness from the poor taste it left in her mouth.
Talking to him had been like hearing a phone ring incessantly, only to relay a dial tone when it had been finally raised to the ear, instead of the comforting timbre of a person’s voice. She craved to hear something more natural; the mechanical seemed askew in the weighty tropical climate. He would have been pushed to the periphery of nature here, like some clumsy anachronism.
She pressed her shoulder against the wooden door and there it was the same place but cleaner, her things folded in some order she wouldn’t have considered. Clumsily shaking off her sari, she wriggled out of the white two-piece swimsuit with only the help of one arm. Some acquaintance or other, or was it a magazine, told her that her skin would look more tanned in contrast with a white swimsuit. Now that it was red from the sun and the sting, it didn’t seem to matter that much.
As she found her way into the shower, comforted by her own nakedness, she could feel sand falling off her stomach and thighs and onto the wooden panels of the floor. Carefully she stepped over the raised ledge into the warm jet of water in the too-spacious shower cabin, which caused the rest of the sand to cake on her body, become heavy, and plummet to the marble floor. It was then that she remembered her bandages, as they slid slowly down her arm, bunching up into a pile next to the drain.
Just above the crook of the elbow, the tentacles had left an unkind reminder of their tender kiss, as when the land swept by torrential rain extends the branches of surviving trees out in gratitude. As the briny water trickled off her lips she closed her eyes and imagined the jellyfish, almost glowing in the water, its pink mushroom top pulsating in warning, tentacles spread, and mercilessly silent.
A thin, shuddering breath escaped Lorna’s lips and they quivered under the determined stream of the water. Blur by blur the moment of quiet eclipse repeated itself until her mind felt embrace after embrace of ocean, jellyfish, ocean again. The cycle protracted, shortened, as the lone ocean creature transformed to electric blue, acid yellow, magenta. Her eyelids fluttered and each hand held the other in a cradle, trying to restore softness, pretending the limbs did not feel foreign to each other.
“Blue.” Her mouth curved around the syllable even though no sound came out. She bent with a razor. Something must feel clean. As she scraped at her soapy legs, the jets of water spurted in different directions, causing her to shield her eyes with a free hand, while she scrutinized the surface of her body for irregularity.
Except when spitting out another misplaced stream, she noticed a small cut that had bloomed like a magnolia on her right shin. There placing her fingertip carefully on the sore to check it had appeared, Lorna’s features contracted in a spasm with a sudden jagged pain which pierced her entire body. Throwing the razor across from her she crouched on the floor of the shower, the injured arm extended under the water.
Her muscles tightened as a succession of stings caused her back to arch from each shock. Gasping for air, her mouth filled up with water, or was it tentacles, curling around the inside of her throat, showing her that the ocean would make a home in all that ventured in it. In the bright light shining through the glass shower door she blinked through the burst of colors, until the bathroom, her mind, filled with a changeable ocean blue.