Fiction: A Taste of Ocean

May 15, 2020

   

 Photo Source: Peak Px

 

    “So you come here often?” she asks, and I say, “Screw off.”

 

     I’m not too bothered, though. Street loiterers are a necessary evil if you need a late-night fix from a Mem-O-Rama vending machine.

 

      I punch a few buttons, then swipe my card across the machine’s flashing screen—one third of my day’s wage, gone. The machine spits out a vial; its contents a shimmery, fizzy blue.

 

       The girl, still leaning against a nearby streetlamp, says, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Nothing happens. The Mem-O-Rama machine isn’t equipped with voice command yet, unlike those in Tokyo or New York. It’s a previous generation, the bulkier, uglier cousin of the shiny new models featured on every billboard and magazine.

 

      She doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere. I take a closer look at her: crooked nose, plump frame, hair—dyed or modified—rose pink like a Turkish delight. Crossing to the machine, she presses the buttons where my fingers have just been and pays for her own vial.

 

      We empty the contents into our mouths, eyes locked together into a challenge. The moment the blue liquid coats my tongue, I taste the breeze, fresh and salty. I lick the roof of my mouth, and seagulls screech overhead. Cold kelp. Gritty pebbles. Ocean so loud it becomes a quiet hum deep in my ears.

 

      Tears sting my eyes—a different kind of salt. I used to visit the beach with Mom before the cancer, prior to the oil spills and toxic waste. This memory is off, wrong sand texture, wrong sky color, wrong everything. But then, it isn’t my memory, only a peek at someone else’s life. The girl and I are at once on a deserted street corner in the middle of the night and at an Irish beach in October. Apart, yet connected.

 

      “You gotta admit,” she says after the blue effervescence has dissolved and we’re back in our bodies, “this was a lousy memory. There was sand in our bikini, the weather was a bit shitty, and I think I saw someone getting pinched by a crab.”

 

      Shrugging, I swallow the last lingering traces of salt. “Give it time. Once we destroy the oceans for good, even a second-hand day at the beach will cost a fortune.”

 

      Her laugh is like waves crashing against the shore. She eyes me through lowered lashes, the same pink as her hair. “Ever sell one?”

 

       I’m still thinking about being at the beach with Mom, how once we found a peach-colored conch bigger than both my fists. “A memory? No.” My job at the office isn’t bad enough for me to sell pieces of myself to strangers across the world.

 

     “I have,” she says. She sounds proud about it. “Only the bad ones, though.”

 

      “Why?” I ask, curious despite myself. “I always assumed good memories fetch a better price.”

 

      “It’s the opposite, actually. Sometimes unpleasant memories work as a cautionary tale. But mostly people like to be reminded that as bad as their lives seem, there’s always someone out there who has it worse. Pain sells.”

 

     My eyes scour her body for scars, her face for trauma, but then I feel dirty and look away.

 

       “I… I’ve got to go.” Tonight marks a year since Mom’s passing. I only wanted a taste of ocean before getting wine-drunk alone in my apartment.

 

      The girl’s cocksure smile fizzles out. “Can I at least walk you home?”

 

     I’m about to decline, but Mom’s words about how I never give people a chance slink into my brain. “Yeah. Okay.”

 

       We walk the empty side streets, bumping against each other from time to time. The city stench of piss and exhaust is milder at night, somehow. The streetlights glitter against the wet asphalt like crushed diamonds. I look at the girl out of the corner of my eye and find her looking back at me.

 

     “I’m Rosalind, by the way,” she says.

 

      “Riley.”

 

      I shake her warm, soft hand. It’s strange, but human contact gets me every time. She lets go, and a pebble-sized knot forms in my throat.

 

      We’re almost outside my five-storied apartment building—a crumbling relic compared to some of the high-tech skyscrapers in the neighborhood—when I ask Rosalind, “How are you getting home?”

 

      Her pink bangs flutter under a gust of laughter. “I don’t make a habit of creeping by street corners at night, you know. I live out in the suburbs and missed the last bus. I was waiting for a taxi when I saw you at the Mem-O-Rama machine.”

 

     “Why talk to me then? Why walk me home and miss your ride?”

 

     “You looked blue.” She shrugs. “Lost.”

 

      My feet still by the rhododendron bushes flanking the path to my front door. I do something then that I don’t often do with strangers, or anyone at all for that matter. I invite Rosalind up to my apartment.

 

      Her mouth finds mine in the dimness of the communal stairwell. The taste reminds me of sun-tan lotion, sweet and coconutty.

 

       Then I’m crying, and telling Rosalind all about Mom, how she didn’t let cancer win in the end, how she gave herself to the ocean before her disease could claim her, and I still don’t know if I love her or hate her for her choice, or for the fact that every time I now swallow some memory of the ocean, I think I hear Mom’s voice in the shanty of every wave in every corner of the world.

 

       Anyone else would try to escape my briny delirium before they drowned in it. Rosalind stays the night.

 

***

 

      I wake up to an empty bed, drenched in buttery sunlight. When I reach across the crumpled sheets, my hand curls around a note. Scrawled at the bottom is a phone number. Below, the message: Let’s make some more memories together. If they’re good, we keep them. If they’re bad, we get crazy rich.

 

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, The Forge Literary, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Argot Magazine, The Arcanist, and other venues. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.

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