Short Stories

February 15, 2013      

Rules to Die By by Monica Z. Sage

As a child, there were three commandments concerning the ocean.

One: Do not wear a red bathing suit if you intend going into the water.

Two: Do not enter the water during the curse, the crimson tide, Aunt Flo’s visit, being on the rag, or any other miserable AKA for a girl’s period.

Three: Do not go in the water alone.

Number three was common sense; one and two were cited as to avoid shark attack, and they were rules I lived by. Until today, my sixteenth birthday, when I intend to die by them.

Alone on the shore, shedding my womanly innards and dressed in a sacrificial crimson bikini, I expect a sleepless, cold-blooded killer to relieve me of all pain. If I can no longer get Zane to pay attention to my ripe and willing coconut-scented limbs, then perhaps Jaws will. Names don’t matter. Only fate, which I now control. I summon my hatred of those who deceived me, and my love for those who will relieve me. Come and get me.

The sea is the mother I always longed for. She is a salty, no nonsense womb, hosting all life, but with an open invitation to Death. Perhaps she might say hello, in her way, to Zane, next time he dares enter her. Grant him a greedy hug in the form of a riptide, a kiss from a jellyfish, a shock to the balls from a stingray. Do this in memory of me.

But, this time, even Mother Ocean will get her come-uppance—from a sexy Great White, when he shows up for me. My knight in brining armor will lovingly rip me to shreds, feeding his horny appetite that only I can satisfy.

Sometimes, getting ready to go out with Zane—in the bathroom applying my signature shimmery-silver eye shadow, my mother, like a ghost, appeared in the doorway. Her embittered gray eyes ran over the length of me, from toes to tip of head, and she’d mutter, “Just remember. There’s always someone younger, and there’s always—always—someone prettier.”

So she was right about something; a stupid-cute ninth grader had insinuated herself upon Zane in a very clever way. I overheard everyone talking about it after P.E. After Biology lab, I searched the hallways for him. When I found him, he actually turned and ran from me. I chased him, caught the tail of his jacket and tackled him to the ground. His thick fingers clung to his t-shirt, pulling it down as if his life depended on it. I scratched and clawed at the fabric, bit his arm. He screamed and tried to shimmy away. I saw my chance and yanked his shirt up.

There, across his rippled, hairless chest—the word “ZANE,” in a series of freshly minted hickies.

Forget questions of when and how and why. Just yesterday, Zane gave me a heart-ridden ankle bracelet on which he had branded our initials with a safety pin. I feel bled by this spectacle. But I will not let Zane be the damned blood-letter.

Now, as I approach the sea, the soles of my feet lift from the sand and fall back upon its warm grains, carrying me closer to the tide. Of course, I just stepped on a piece of raw glass. Looking down at my heel, the rouge, fragrant life force is making an appearance. I have to laugh at the irony.

I step into the icy Pacific. It blankets my feet, withdraws, returns, repeat. I plow forward. The water cannot avoid me, tickling my ankles, then bringing a sweet sizzle to my razor burned shins. I search the water. The tide is picking up. But that will not stop my devoted assailant. The water will soon be boasting his stiff, perfect fin. For all others, this fin provokes a multitude of alarms, firing off in unison—blood curdling screams and weak knees. Some just stand frozen, like complete morons. For me the fin is foreplay. Sweet anticipation. His fixed, dead eyes will come alive with hope as he fantasizes about that first, best bite.

I envision the artful strokes—a master of water colors, painting gauzy red rose-shaped forms surrounding my floating, liberated, form.

And as the water caresses my belly, a familiar voice sounds, and kills the calm.

It’s Zane…beyond the shoreline, the sand, the parking lot. He is shouting my name as though I am his wife or sister or mother. As though we matter. But now I belong to someone else.

I turn and face my future, behold something more beautiful than a newborn kitten or a double rainbow—a fin, a mere fifty yards or so away, approaching fast. As is Zane, who is about to witness the fruits of his unforgivable lameness.

Closer, the Great White draws. My artist, my savior, detecting my readiness through sight, through scent, and now through sound—as I smack the water, simulating panic; feeling elated.

The fin has almost reached me. Zane, too. But, wait. What is this? The fin changes direction. Traitor. Of course. He is steaming towards Zane—the jerkoff who ruins everything.

Zane spies the charging fin, and his lips open wide. Even wider than that time he shoved his whole fist into his mouth in the cafeteria, just to be annoying, something he excelled at. A sickly scream, somewhere between a yodel and a war cry, escapes his idiot gob and he begins to retreat—his toothy replacement hot on his sorry ass—and escapes, too easy, into shallow waters. And Jaws, he halts the chase. Zane doesn’t stop running, he runs like the devil. He is probably still running now.

I look down in the water, and there at my side is the shark. Dead calm, he hovers inches away. I ask him what he is waiting for. His tail begins to move, and rough skin brushes against my thighs.

He swims away.

So, like a film in reverse, I walk backwards, away from the deep, watching the tip of his fin descend, completely.

About the author:

Monica Z. Sage is a freelance writer of blogs, short fiction, and teleplays. Currently, she is blogging at the official fan site for the television series Breaking Bad.

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