Saintly Stories

The Middle Place

...She awakens suspended between water and air. 
 
Her feet vainly churn the encircling waters, seeking a bottom…finding not even a strand of algae promising mooring. The waters are impenetrably deep. She strains against the malevolent will of those waters. She frantically thrashes against the waves seeking an answer, gasping. As yet, the waters refuse her their secrets. "Wait," they whisper in her ears, "We will tell you someday… but not yet, not while you yet have the strength to swim a little longer." 
 
If she is brave she may attempt to dive a few feet below but she will only find that the waters become somewhat colder. She will hear nothing new there and see less. She must, in the end, return to the surface; or not…it makes little difference in the end. There are no ships that plow  these seas; at least none that any has ever seen. 
 
She knows not how she came to be here, held in the water's loose but inescapable embrace. As far back as she can remember, she has always been here. And thus she remains. Hour after hour. Day after day. Night after night. Or, perhaps not. If night and day there are upon these waters, they are both indistinguishably gray and cold. Whether she has been here ten minutes or ten years, she doesn't know. She knows of nothing but water; and the waters, even now, refuse her their secrets. "Wait" they chant to the rhythms of the swells and waves.  "Wait." 
 
At times, an object brushes against an arm, a leg, a thigh. She can’t tell what it is, what they are they never show themselves— but monsters swim in those inky depths; she knows this just as she knows that she is helpless against them. No matter how strong she is, no matter how fast she swims, if they have marked her out as their prey, she will not escape them. Yet oddly, while they terrify, there is a strange comfort to be found in them. Their brief touch is the closest thing to living contact she knows. And though they terrify, they are warmer than the cold waters . Even in the bloody sacrament of a feeding frenzy--that marriage of two flesh made one--they promise a warm embrace which the cold ambivalent waters will never offer.  Perhaps, she sometimes thinks, it would be better to dissemble swiftly in the hot belly of the beast rather than the slow, cold, bloodless embrace which the deep offers once her strength gives way. She can court this end if she will, beating her limbs boldly against the black waters or thrusting toes and fingers against some solid mass of flesh as it redounds off of her skin.  But even for one courting such an end there is a risk that she will not be saved from the inevitable sea but may only quicken its envelopment. For what if the monsters ignore her pleas, and she simply expends her finite strength? What if they merely sever a limb, leaving the waters to claim their inevitable prey?  They have unpredictable appetites, the monsters, and may just as likely pluck the facile and un-moving and ignore those who court their release. 
 
And all the while, the waters await her. Sometimes, they speak to her. "Think your thoughts," they whisper. "Dream your dreams, hope your hopes. You are ours in the end. You are ours even now. Play your games, we will be here waiting for you in the end." 
 
At times, most times, these whispered entreaties strike her as macabre. Yet sometimes, she feels as though the waters are her special destiny.  She feels as though they call her as a savior calls to his disciple.  That they beckon her into their eternal bed as the tenderest of lovers. She feels this especially strongly when she cries, which is often. When she cries, she senses her saline tears meld seamlessly with the brackish, briny waters and can feel her very being melding with the encircling waves.  In fact, if she had the understanding, she would know that the salt water is chemically interacting with her skin, molecules bouncing back and forth between her individual self and the seemingly infinite waters. She does not consciously know this, but her soul feels it nonetheless. 
 
"That's right", they coo. "You are becoming as we have always been. With each lap of our infinite waves, you become less your autonomous self, and more a mere atom within us." 
 
Just imagine, she thinks, dissembling into the seas. Becoming not the alien other in that vastness but a welcome, it indistinct, part of that greater whole.  What bliss, she thinks; to belong, to inhabit, to be.  She who has had no knowledge or memory of comfort or love begins to feel something of both.  For her, in her condition, the feeling must have been stronger than what Paris felt when he first took Helen into his arms, or when Dante first beheld Beatrice.  She begins to shut her eyes; her breathing becomes shallower. She slackens the rhythmic back and forth of her arms.  She feels the waters slowly creep up the sides of her cheekbones; with each lap of the waves, the waters draw ever closer to the corners of her mouth. With each shallow breath, she feels a slight misting of cool, delectable sea water. It is as though she is breathing through a rainbow. She lets a little water slip through her nose into the back of her throat. It is harsh at first, acrid, but also sweet with the assuring knowledge of dissimulation and release. 
 
"Ah," sighs the waters, which have by now thoroughly penetrated and surrounded her ears.  "That's right. Let yourself go. Just a moment of discomfort, and then, all will be well." 
 
Suddenly, her eyes shoot wide open. "No!" she shouts. "Not that, anything but that!" She shoots as far heavenwards as she is able, almost three feet above the breakers. Inevitably, she falls just as quickly into the water's unwelcome embrace. She knows not why she feels such sudden abhorrence. Is it mannish nobility or pure animal terror? She knows not even how to distinguish between the two. All she knows is that to bend to the immutable will of her watery master is foreordained, as certain as the turning of the earth. "No! A thousand times no!" It may be immutable, but it isn't right--right?--yes, it is not right. The waters are not her master unless she allows them to become thus; she is a guest here but is being treated as an intruder. The waters, in their ancient wisdom, may wish to lull her with cosmopolitan splendor, but such is not for her.  The waters have enough molecules, they shall not have hers... at least, not ALL of hers... at least, not while she has still the breath to call herself by that phantom moniker "I, myself." When such is gone, when the inevitable comes because her strength fails, or because some other terror of the deep claims her--then very well. But until that time, she will be as she is. 
 
Her eyes turn skyward; if salvation does not lie somewhere in those heavens, where can it lie? But she knows, if she knows nothing else, that there is no home for her there amidst the clouds. The waters provide no resting place, but the sky provides no place at all, is no place at all. Besides, even if she could fly, the air is even colder than the waters; harsh eddies continually blow and relentlessly re-construct…re-construct...what? She doesn't know. She fears the waters, but she cannot hope in the harsh and insubstantial sky. She cannot live as she is, but she cannot even be midst that ethereal element. Turning her attention back to the waters, she listens. The waters have ceased their siren song; for the moment. But what of the wind? He speaks, but whereas the waters speak a language intelligible to such as her, the language of the air leaves her merely bewildered. No, she cannot put her hope in the sky. 
 
What is she then left with? A puzzle? A story? Yes, a story. A story of, what? A story of land?  Land, what is land; what is story? What is this thing which she longs for? How can she know of it? She has never been told this story, for there has never been anyone to tell her. She has never seen land, has never seen a picture of it, has no clear conceptualization of what it might be, has no word by which to call it. Nothing but a yearning...nothing but an unnamed and unknown hope. Is it enough? If not, then surely despair is the only option. 
 
The waters takes up again their ancient chant. She cannot make out the words this time, only the indistinct deep rumbling of an old and mystical mass; like the sonorous melody of a hundred thousand Gregorian Monks chanting midst the pillars of some infinite crumbling stone Monastery.  She turns inward. 
 
Despair, the final harbor of the dispossessed. Its promises are even more seductive than the water's; for while the waters promise truth, they do not promise the knowledge of truth that would seem to make truth worth having. Despair promises not the rest that are the waters' to give, but promises something infinitely more alluring: the capacity to stand in judgment of the unfeeling waters which holds in their hands her fate. For anyone, such must be as desirous as the most precious jewel. For one who has never felt what it is to stand, intoxicating as the strongest opium. "Fine then, I will revel in despair," her mind screams. "I do not resign myself to my fate, but I stand in judgment of it! I curse you oh treacherous waters! I curse you though I know that I cannot overcome you! I curse you for creation itself! You have power over me, but it is I who judge you!" 
 
Thus the final refuge of despair, the aphrodisiac of pride. And it was good. The warmth of disintegration into the abyss could not compare to the heat of self-righteous indignation. For a brief moment, fate did not matter. All that mattered was that she, who was less than a reed against the universe--for she was not even moored--stood in dread judgment of that unfeeling expanse. 
 
But, after what was for her too short a time, this fire cooled. If the waters had reached out to pluck her in that moment, perhaps it would have been enough to carry her laughing into the abyss; but that moment was past. What lies beyond despair...what of the land? What of the untold story? But a rumor. Yet she yearned for it, more than she yearned for her life; for life was contingent upon that land, whether known or unknown. Without the story, what was mere life? Could she still be judge of the waters when she did not even know of the lands that were her true home?  Her true home, whether or not such a home truly existed? 
 
She sighed...no, she had not the right to stand in judgment, not the power, she who could not even stand, who had not even the knowledge of the land to stand upon. 
 
And so, her song of fire and vengeance was forgotten, preceding her journey into the waters' depths of forgetfulness. What could she now do, but continue to swim? But, she had so little strength left; her arms were so tired and her legs felt as lead. Her eyes slowly began to close. 
Slowly, ever so slowly, it became harder and harder to move her arms and legs against the waters' ever present pull. Each rise to take a gasping and salty breath came with ever more difficulty. Dark spots began to form before her eyes as her oxygen deprived brain began desperately rerouting its most vital functions. She became ever more aware of the labored beating of her heart. As her soul ebbed into the abyss, the deep chanting of the darkening waters grew ever louder and more distinct. "It is time," they droned. "It has come, join us and be no more." She was underneath now, surrounded on all sides by muck, and grime, and bilge, and darkness. Her last conscious act was to open her eyes. Her last conscious feeling was the sharp pain of salt and sand digging into her iris, her throat, her belly. She didn't even have the breath to let out a scream. 
 
She awakens suspended between water and air...