Void and Repair
by A. A. Khayyat
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
The ocean lapped against the shore. The breeze was warm and humid against her body as June stood staring at the waves. A handful of people dotted the water, swimming and horsing around, yelling and laughing to each other as they bobbed up and down. Others sunbathed on towels and benches and walked along the beach. Umbrellas were planted sporadically here and there. A lifeguard sat on his platform watching.
Seagulls soared and glided above.
June looked down at the sand granules coursing over and around her feet. They made a tiny, squeak-like sound when she stooped, picking up a conch shell a few inches long.
She put it to her ear and listened: the thin wailing of the air echoed from inside the cavity of the shell.
“What are you doing?” said Stellan, placing a duffel bag on the sand and unzipping it. “You know you can’t really hear the ocean that way, right?”
“I know, Stell,” said June, turning the shell in her hand. “How old do you think I am?”
“Okay, just make sure you don’t get salt water in your eyes,” he said, smiling underneath his sunglasses and handing her a pair of goggles. “Ms. Adult.”
“Shut up,” said June, yanking them and sliding the rubber strap around her head. “Got the sunscreen?”
They rubbed the sunscreen quietly as June kept her eyes on the waves. Her patch began to glow red as another surge spiraled up her body again. She felt the need to tell Stellan something now but, when she glanced at him and then back at the waves, a quick surge of coolness prompted her to forget.
Stellan’s patch glowed red in turn, and he threw his head back, whooping. “It’s like we’re on top of the world.”
“I know,” said June. “The ocean is still calling, right?”
“I hear it.”
June bit her lip and stifled a scream. “Ready, babe?” she said.
“I’ll race you,” said Stellan. He dropped his goggles and the sunscreen bottle and took off abruptly toward the waves.
“Wait,” said June, chasing after him. She stumbled over the sand and stomped back. “Not fair! You’re supposed to count.”
Their feet splashed through the surf. June caught up with Stellan and lunged at his shoulders, wrestling him down to the water. The waves swallowed them momentarily, and they sat up laughing.
June ran her hands through her hair and hooted, watching Stellan through the lenses of her goggles.
“Damn, it’s cold,” said Stellan.
They both stood and waited. As the wave rolled back, they sprinted and dove toward it. June propelled herself through the water, the blue enveloping her as her glowing patch imbued her with a kind of thrusting energy.
She twirled and kicked, lunging out of the water and diving again while the wave cradled them back toward the shore.
“Again?” said June, taking off toward the water, laughing.
“Wait,” said Stellan, his voice trailing as he gasped for air and laughed along with her, bending down to his knees.
But June was already jogging through the water. She let the wave claim her and she swung her arms in broad strokes, moving her away from the beach. There was nothing now but blue and white. She swam out farther than everyone else.
The bobbing buoys — starkly orange against the blue of the ocean — appeared to inch closer.
When the depths took her, she closed her eyes, and the energetic caresses enveloped and voided her senses. She felt one with the water and pushed herself to the surface.
Turning her head toward the beach, she saw Stellan waving for her. She could not tell whether he was excited or distressed. But she rode the wave back as if it were a chariot.
They lay on a towel spread out on the sand, curled up in each other’s arms. June pressed her head on Stellan’s chest. Her toes were rubbing against his foot. The sky was an orange blanket broken by tufts of gray. There was no one else around them.
The soft murmur of the waves filled the air.
“You’re pretty fast,” said Stellan.
“I have short legs,” said June, raising a leg. Patches of sand stuck to her calf and foot.
“You don’t have short legs.”
“Compared to the rest of my body, I do. But that’s good. No drag in the water. So I swim fast.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Now you do.” She kissed him on the cheek.
“I have chicken legs,” he said.
“More like giraffe legs,” said June. “Stilt legs.” She extended her index and middle fingers and swung them up and down.
“Giraffes are cool. They’re laid back. Do lions eat giraffes?”
“I don’t know. I guess. Maybe the babies?”
“I like giraffes.”
June chuckled. “Actually, you have, giraffe legs and chicken toes. They fan out a little bit. It’s weird.” She stifled a laugh.
“What?” Stellan kicked his leg up and curled his toes. “They don’t fan out.”
“What are you talking about?” said Stellan. “I feel like a duck now.”
“Ducks have webbed feet.”
“They fan out.”
She put a finger on his lips and shushed. “You’re hideous, babe,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Love you, too.”
“Nah, you’re all right.” She smiled and laughed.
“Dork,” he said, kissing her.
They lay close together. June rested her head on Stellan’s chest and felt his heart beating through his chest.
“I don’t want this to end,” she said.
The wave from her patch left her and she felt a weariness taking over. She yawned and her eyes fell onto his implant patch, flickering with a weak white light.
Her thoughts began to drift. The euphoria she was bathing in was gone, and she felt herself slipping into a kind of crash.
She felt her head spin and she dug her face in Stellan’s arm. But her attention was quickly drawn back to his patch. The flickering was spastic and inconsistent, and she felt her own heart beating as a pang of uneasiness washed over for a moment.
With her finger she tentatively reached for Stellan’s patch and pressed it lightly. He jolted up, and June felt an electric buzz sting her fingertips.
“What the hell?” he said, staring out. “What the hell is going on?”
He shifted to the side, as if repulsed by June’s presence, and scrambled to his feet.
“What is happening?” he said. “How did we get here?”
“What’s wrong, babe?”
“How did we get here?” His voice rose and he looked around frantically. “June?”
“Babe, you’re scaring me,” said June, shooting to her feet. Her heart raced.
A quick metallic whiff pierced through her nostrils and she swallowed.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” said Stellan. “We need to go.”
He placed a hand on his patch and breathed in and then out.
“What are you doing?” said June.
“I’m anchoring you in,” said Stellan.
“Babe,” — she reached forward and grabbed his wrist — “what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t know. I’m freaking out. How long was I out?”
“There’s nothing to freak out about. We’re having a good time.”
“What happened? What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
He pointed at the patch. “You switched it around, didn’t you?”
“What? What are you—”
“You’re draining me.” His voice shook. “I can’t do this anymore.” He trudging up the sand, away from the water and the mirthful people.
“Stell,” said June, giving chase and grabbing his shoulder. “Babe, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What happened?”
“No, don’t leave. Please.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him.
Her patch pinged and she felt a jab in her gut. She winced and Stellan gritted his teeth.
“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “I don’t know how we got here.”
“I asked you if we could go swimming,” said June. “We were in the kitchen—”
“I don’t remember,” said Stellan. “I’m going back to ARCO.”
“No,” said June, “I’m not going back to being a mess.”
“Something’s wrong with our patches.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’ve been blanked out this whole time.” He turned and plodded away. “What the hell, June? We’re supposed to watch each other. I can’t do this alone.”
“You were fine, Stell.”
“I don’t remember anything. We need to see the doctor.”
“I’m getting better. I’m not going.”
“Yes, you are.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by A. A. Khayyat