Ocean

Quid grew up far away from large bodies of water. She never learned to swim, never went to the public pool (that cost money). She never took baths, only showers. The closest she got to swimming was when Benny from two trailers down shoved her into the pond and she nearly drowned. Water was not her favorite element.

The summer between junior and senior year Michael took her to his family’s beach house in Virginia and laughed at her wide-eyed awe. They walked up and down the beach at sunrise and sunset, he with a casual disregard cultivated from twenty-two years of summers at the beach and Quid with a star-struck attention to detail. He pushed her to swim and she tried, but she got water up her nose and in her eyes, and she didn’t like how the salt dried on her skin and made her itch. She stuck to wading and lounging on the beach with a stack of books on oceanography and ocean wildlife.

After his swims, Michael would ask her what she had learned and roll his eyes when she shook her head, her mouth dry and empty of words. He would to call her silly and press wet kisses to her temple. Even with all the sunscreen, Quid still burned and for that week he nicknamed her his “little lobster.” At night, by a small fire, he told her scary stories about women with seaweed hair dragging people down to the bottom of the ocean to act as artwork for their underwater gardens. Michael said the only warning they had was a piece of seaweed wrapping around their ankle, and then they were gone, pulled deep into the ocean and drowned.

The next day they went to Virginia Beach and Quid waded through those shallow waters, enjoying the cold water lapping up to her knees, her hat shading her already burnt nose. Something slid against her ankle and she saw a slender strand of seaweed looped around her leg like an organic anklet before a large wave crashed over her, the waves sucking back, the undertow catching her, yanking her under, and then a moment later spitting her back up onto the beach.

Quid didn’t go near the ocean again until three years later when she was on a boat ten miles off the West Coast, suspended over the choppy water, a man yelling questions at her as she hyperventilated. She couldn’t even hear what he was asking her over her catching breath and pounding heart. They dropped her closer to the water and she screamed. There, just beneath the surface of the water, was a face looking up at her, its eyes liquid pools of black, seaweed fanning out around the pale green visage. Black lips parted to show rows of sharp teeth.

Quid screamed louder.

When Hye-Jung found her, Quid was still hanging upside down over an almost glass smooth ocean, soaked and shaking. The boat was empty, none of her captors to be seen. There were signs of a major struggle – discharged guns, broken equipment, overturned furniture – and clumps of seaweed drying on the deck of the boat. Quid never spoke of it.

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