Saturday, August 27, 2011

Kafka's Metamorphosis

Where is the border between memory and dream?

There is an island near Hawaii where sharp black rocks resist the pounding surf and sea salt softens the green algae on smooth underwater rocks. I am standing, and I am piercing the ocean’s surface. The water is driving at my ankles, trying to pull me under. I am five years old.

I drop to my knees to mold a sand castle. My hands can’t move fast enough: the water breaches the moat, razing my mounds as I raise them, the goop sliding back into its recently vacated cavities. Soon, there is no evidence of my work left. So, instead, I dig. I dig and dig and dig, globules of earth-batter splashing behind my back, until I dig a well so deep I can stand in it, bury myself, open my jaws and drink the water pouring in.

I look at myself, and realize a green and yellow inflatable raft is buoying my elbows. I walk into the water. My thighs shiver. I blow a spit bubble. Soon my eyes are sundry, and as I walk I lose contact with the ground, my toes lifting and landing. The tube pulls me above the muscular waves, and I have a bird’s eye view of the blue sunlight blinding the horizon. I buck and bend away from the sand. Soon, I cannot see anybody at all.

At night, after the sun sets, and my eyes adjust to the moonlight, I bump into an island. The sand is red and orange, and the rock is hardened molten lava. I step from one deceased air bubble to another. The lava path leads to a large, sinuous tree overrun by spiders. They crawl from dark olive vines and onto my arms, their inch-long legs tickling my ears and bellybutton. I take one by the leg and dangle it in front of my mouth, but decide not to swallow; instead, I grind the monster between my teeth, the claws scraping the inside of my jaw, the abdomen wet and hot and sticky. I then spit everything out. Droplets land on my feet, and feel surprisingly cold.

When the sun comes up, I take two paddles on the north end of the island and lick off the rust. The flakes stick between my teeth and slowly turn my tongue brown. I find pumice scattered in mangrove alcoves and rub the porous surface on my neck, scratching off layers of grime. I pluck bitter red berries from low-lying shrub in rock crevasses and draw a perfect circle on my forehead.

I spend the rest of the day cracking coconuts and sunbathing.

The next day, a cruise line steamer approaches in the distance. I craft a flotation device from banana leaves and float to the ship’s bright blue hull, where I am lifted onto deck by thick rope and carabineer. A room is designated for me on the 3rd floor. My bedspread is an thick orange cotton oven. I sleep above it, imprinting my frame onto its contours. The captain, who has a thick beard where two blue jays have made their nest, hands me a card that promises unlimited refills of coffee and scones. When I wake up at 3 a.m. with the munchies, I walk to the cafeteria, but find that it is closed.

The cruise lasts for 7 days, and when we dock in Alaska, I sneak into a suitcase of an Aleut fisherman. It takes considerable effort to latch the handle while inside the suitcase, but I manage to do it. The next time I peek out, we are travelling, by snow-wolf, underneath a flaming sun. When he opens the suitcase, I stab him with a fork I hid in my pocket, but he laughs it off. Inside his hut, his wife hands me a raw tilapia, and I don’t pick the scales off before sucking its eyeballs out.

In the thirty days I spend there, I eat 219 fish. Most of them are tilapia, some are cod.

When I leave, I leave behind a hand-woven doll that has lost most of its red hair. I wrap the present with old newspaper and tie it with twine. The next 2 months, I hitchhike and sleep in the corner of friendly porches before I make it back to my doorstep. When the door opens, my brother does not recognize me. My sister, though, grabs my hand, and leads me into the living room, where she hands me the still-warm Nintendo controller so we can finish our game of Super Mario Sunshine.

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