A Tale of Winter and Samsara on Sullivan’s Island
The Bipolar Jellyfish was describing how it must have dozed off in the current, got separated from its reunion and ended up here when Remy sauntered back to our crime scene.
‘Don’t blame yourself compadre – I dare say this was your fate.’
‘You believe in karma too?’
‘Karma, really? the Anarchist Crab snorted. ‘You dumb sonofabitch – if you weren’t flat on your back you’d know it.’
‘Godfish don’t have backs. We have skirts – so there’s something you don’t know.’
‘I’m just trying to help,’ but as soon as Laurie said it she knew it was lie.
She was jealous – jealous that Eli was so goddamn chipper. Laurie couldn’t understand how Eli could be so positive and cheerful when it was completely fucked? And it’s envy’s fancy to crush the things we most admire, or refuse to understand.
‘Well, with cold winds coming down from the north, and warm currents up from the south it is the beaching season,’ Remy reported to appease the situation. ‘So nothing to be ashamed of Eli.’
‘I’m not afraid – I just want to know how far it is to Mamacitias?’
‘Mama-’ Remy exclaimed before silencing himself with his own puff of incredulity. ‘That’s where you were heading?’
‘Duh, it’s Taco Tuesday.’
‘But how?’ shrilled Remy, trying to gain control of his voice again.
‘It’s Thursday.’ Laurie scoffed.
‘And it’s over the sand dunes two streets back,’ Remy added gesticulating with his wings.
‘Incredible – so I’m in the right place. How lucky am I?’
Laurie and Remy exchanged a worried look.
‘Lucky?’ Laurie spat. ‘Even for me-’
‘I know! It’s crazy how things work out.’
‘Crazy is right.’
‘I wonder if I’m still in time for happy hour?’
Courting futility with such unflappable optimism can infuriate the most equanimous creatures. It turns out recalcitrant beach crabs and pompous sanderlings are no different.
Remy was also reluctant to admit the scenario was playing into his greatest fear – expiring here where he was hatched, at Station 26, without seeing anything of the world. It brought back childhood memories of a beached whale.
The encounter haunted Remy, because the whale’s water thoughts still rolled like waves through his mind – the plaintive tones of a God giving up. What remained were dulcet echoes of something beautiful and sinful he could never get close enough to understand. What Remy didn’t realise is that how jellyfish sounded to whales.
‘I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but you know you’re not like a whale…
or even a regular fish for that matter?’
‘HA! Whales aren’t fish you dope – you dopey bird.’
‘That’s my point. You have tentacles.’
‘You’re a tentacle.’
The Anarchist Crab oozed a bubbling foam of hysteria.
‘Do you even know what a-
‘What the bird’s saying is you’re yesterday’s sushi. An Icelander who’s skipped dinner wouldn’t even stop.’
‘My legs have fallen asleep is all…
I’ll get up soon and be on my way.’
Water constitutes 95% of a jellyfish. And since water is the most conductive substance to transmit emotions, jellyfish are emotional cannonballs. That being said, it’s hard to know what a jellyfish is truly feeling – because they’re expressionless socks of briny water. They’re also masters of regeneration so they don’t show their scares readily. And without eyes or a face to betray what they’re feeling, silence is the only clue.
However, silence isn’t just a subtle and meek seamstress of hints and social prompts. It can also be obnoxiously loud and unbearable. And it was from Eli’s sudden downbeat silence that the sanderling and crab unequivocally knew they’d hurt the jellyfish’s feelings.
‘Seriously,’ Remy said out the side of its beak. ‘I know you’re a shecrab and are all tough outer shell bravado and all that – but a little compassion might suit you.’
The conciliatory lull gave no indication of restitution – just a shit tonne of inescapable discomfort and embarrassment.
‘I’m sorry Eli,’ Laurie eventually offered, ‘O-kay?’
Unfortunately, one thing that unifies the universe is when you know something is your fault and you fucked up, it ignites a fume of blame – with people going crazy and getting super angry, blaming everything and everyone except themselves. But it turns out reacting the opposite to how we’re feeling is bizarrely a pretty normal response. So, it was hard to disseminate from Laurie’s clicks how much of her apology was compunction over obligation.
‘I really hope I haven’t missed my reunion,’ Eli said finally, ‘and three dollar mojitos. I love mojitos-’
‘I don’t doubt it- I do NOT… doubt IT.’ Remy replied.
‘I order them with a sugar rim.’ the Bipolar Jellyfish added as it started sobbing quietly.
‘I am a bit fucked, aren’t I?’
‘You’re not fucked,’ Laurie announced all a bit too quickly.
‘And, you never know, you might get lucky. There’s enough daylight left for a bratty squabble of those flightless bipedals to come along and throw you back in the surf.’
‘When you are immortal, you do come to realise everything is unintentionally intentional,’ Eli explained from a watery well of deep exhaustion.
It’s … a special deal though-
there can’t be a you or me… only us’
Death is common and made flippant in banter on Sullivan’s beaches, but the living and the dying never mix well – because reality can only take us so far. And the sombre reminder of what one will miss out on, and what the other has coming, is a convergence many of us find too difficult to bear. This is when a social sense of loyalty and common decency become cheap collateral for a quick escape.
Desperate to leave now that the jocular repartee had taken an irrevocable dark turn, Laurie cashed in hers without hesitation. She paid the price without a word or wave of goodbye – disappearing down her freshly dug den in a rampage of flying sand and legwork.
Remy took the Anarchist Crab’s less then eloquent retreat as its cue to also exit the macabre theatre of decomposition and death.
‘Well, you are brave! Both of you-’ Remy availed to upholster the mood. And just like a sanderling he quickly brought it back to himself.
‘Although personally, I would find it utterly unacceptable to see my end here, at Station 26. One day though you’ll see – I’ll hitch a ride on that Northerly. HA. Opps-’
‘I’m okay, Eli replied through a bubble of tears, ‘I’ll have to get going too soon.’
‘Keep your chin, ahem skirt up- down I mean…
I am truly sorry you’re so fucked,’ Remy added by way of apology as he sprinted back down the beach trying to outrun its own gaffe.
He returned to the shoreline eddies that were now splashed in a twilight banner of rose and violet. There he assembled with the pacing of sanderlings that were starting to huddled in commune of safety for the night.
The sun seemed to abandon the Bipolar Jellyfish as quickly as its friends did. Not that Eli minded – the moontime brought amethyst relief.
The wind slackened as a crisp cobalt glow rose, which hardened on iridescent ripples of water and sand. This is why the locals tried their darndest to keep Sullivan’s-in-winter a pristine secret.
Now that it was night, the quiet that grew from the evening calm heightened Eli’s fears. It came from the waning tide and the now barely audible waterline that gracefully massaged the shore at low tide.
‘To come so far,’ Eli gurgled out loud in an unbalanced electrolytic fit of laughter.
Night brought little reprieve for sanderlings. Remy stepped forward to take the lead. The pacing of Sanderlings rotated leadership like a peloton. In the dark and in bad weather it enabled the pack to stay safe by perpetually moving back and forward in a soporific state.
They stuck to the water’s edge because evolution proved they were safest on this thin tumultuous meridian. So they never stopped zigzagging like zombie-maniacs up and down the beach – chasing the lip of the swell as it receded back into the ocean then racing away from the chest of the next wave about to crash on to land.
In fact on paper, Sanderlings had a lot to complain about. But they were a principled and spirited clan. Aside from their garrulous and articulate dexterity, what they were most proud of and known for was taking the High Road (always). They didn’t bemoan their own station and standing, or those who where more fortunate.
However, the problem with the High Road is after some time it gets hard to tell whether you’re still on it or not – especially when it’s so easy for unseen events and random encounters to steer you off it. Life has an uncanny ability to steer all of us astray.
As Remy fell into unison with the ebb and flow of the ocean’s nocturnal pulse, he thought more and more of events earlier that day. And the more he ruminated, the stronger his conviction grew that the shecrab was a right bitch.
Remy didn’t want to disrespect or discount her rational fear that everything on the beach wanted to kill her.
Who didn’t like crab meat?
Even during the short malting season when local swimmer crabs were at their most defenceless, there was no sporting sense of ethics to curb the Lowcountry’s rapacious appetite for crabs. In fact the opposite occurred – people went nuts for soft-shelled crabs. Mobs devoured the deep-fried baby morsels of savoury heaven. They bar-hopped, crunching and sucking through the soft-shelled crab until sold-out, then moved on to the next joint as if the aim was extinction by consumption.
But living down a hole mitigated all these perils, as long as one remained vigilant and was not cavalier, suicidal or vindictive.
‘I don’t know what her beef is but she’s got damage,’ Remy tweeted to himself.
A stiff wind rose to lift up the plumage of the sanderlings. It signalled a change of point leader. Remy shuddered, but with his time up he cycled out of position and circulated back to rejoin the rear of the group.
‘I’d be happy living all snug down a hole right about now,’ Remy burred as he tucked his pencilled bill deep into his wingpit.
Remy could already hear Laurie’s antagonist retort in his head.
‘You know what it’s like to spend your life down a hole because everything (literally) wants to eat you? A joke which proves God doesn’t exist – because otherwise she would have the decency to kill me a long time ago.’
Remy like every other beach dweller acknowledged outrage was the new hip in the digital wake of yoga and dietary restrictions – the new identity everyone was hiding behind. And he wanted none of it.
‘Fuck the seasons,’ Remy cursed, ‘I wish I could migrate.’
Remy was reluctant to blame his peculiar mood on the full glow of the moon. Sanderlings, like stints and sandpipers were an anodyne orderfad not accustomed to trading negative vibes. But the silly crab knew nothing of the mortal perils shorebirds faced – which attacked without warning from both above and below
‘What does a crab even know about what’s it like to be a bird?’
Laurie was so caught up in what she deserved, she didn’t see what she had (which was criminal given her creepy periscopic peers). For an atheist, her misguided piety was embarrassing – because like so many others she confused empathy for martyrdom and martyrdom has a consumptive tendency to be self-serving and selfish.
She didn’t even appear to have capacity to comprehend or care about the jellyfish’s fragile state. The more Remy pondered Eli’s erratic mood and abrupt change of outlook, he found it peculiar, even for a beached jellyfish. As a subphylum they were always such a sanguine squad.
‘Must be bipolar,’ Remy concluded and at that moment his non-migratory instincts kicked in and he realised why the mango beach crab had got up his feathers.
Stay tuned for Part III…. Follow or Subscribe so you don’t miss what happens to the Anarchist Crab and Bipolar Jellyfish