by Jeremy N. Marks
When I went for my Monday morning swim, the sea had shrunk. The day before, when I was standing on the pier drinking coffee, its waters had been lapping at the shore. Now it did not touch the pier at all.
On Tuesday, the sea had retreated beyond the point with the mansion where the cannery owner lives. In its wake, the seabed was covered in discarded tackle that had entangled many crabs and was helping to suffocate bass. I had to walk a full mile out before I found water that reached my waist.
Wednesday, and the sea was but a thin mark of blue pastel, barely visible from the shoreline. It took me over an hour to reach it on foot. When I did, the water touched only my ankles. I passed stranded trawlers and the wreckage of pleasure boats. There were old tires and cans, discarded fuel drums and even the carcass of a dog.
By Thursday, I could not find the sea at all. What I did spy were the sturgeon, those oily fish whose eggs we have thrived upon. There were thousands of them lying dead in the stinking sand. Many were female, their abdomen thick with eggs. Others were males, and there were scattered smaller fry grown brittle under the terrific sun. Flocks of gulls gathered to pick at them, as did many vultures. Never before had I seen a vulture feeding from the sea.
On Friday, I took my ATV and drove with morbid curiosity across the seabed. There were crowds of people engaging in scavenging operations, combing these new barrens for any curios they could find. No longer were there any small pools in which to find crabs or tiny mollusks. Everywhere I went the ground was covered in old trash and flotsam, with far fewer fish than I would have expected. I did not spot any seaweed. For years, rumors had spread that our fishery was dying, but I never imagined that a desert lay beneath our sea.
By Saturday, I knew the sea was gone. Though I had not found any water the day before, it was on Saturday that our town's damp smell of salt simply vanished. For the first time in my life, I was breathing bone-dry air.
Ever since I was a boy, I had been fascinated by sturgeon. I remember my first trip to our local aquarium, where I observed their lizard features and dinosaur scales. I knew they kept our town afloat and that they had given my family life. I watched those captive curiosities swim back and forth and wondered whether they had the capacity to grow bored. It struck me as odd that my life depended upon their kind while they were the ones held captive by a glass tank.
Now I watched what few sturgeon remained to us lying desiccated and trampled by young boys who could not pity the bodies of these dead fish. These boys, who lacked the capacity to pity themselves, were ignorant of the fact that their future was extinguished in the sunken eyes of those fish. They tossed the scaly bodies impiously, never sensing that in those departed souls no longer were there hearts to pump our town's blood.
That evening, my neighbor, an immigrant who had come specifically for the fruits of our sea, for those opportunities it once promised, he turned to me and said: “What good, this? No more business. Everything is write-off.” I did not answer but something in my eyes must have led him to say, “It is will of God.”
For several nights, I listened carefully to the radio broadcasts, seeking an explanation. But I listened in vain. There were no stories, not one comment about the disappearance of the largest body of water in our country. When I was a boy, my grandmother told me that this day was going to come, that it had actually happened twice before. Our sea was going to disappear but, if we were faithful, it would return.
There is not another sea for more than a thousand miles, and I have never seen it. No fisherman is going to send his trawler up to those far-away waters since our rivers, too, are drying up. My cousin told me that he went down to their banks and that they were now two empty ditches.
Already, my town is starting to wither. The palms along the main boulevards are turning yellow, their fronds drying up. How could I have known that I was living alongside a terminal patient? In my life I have lost many plants: one day they bloom thick with dark green leaves and then the next day those same leaves are yellow. I have reached for stems I assumed were firm only to have them turn to mush between my fingertips, their roots rotten. But a sea is not like a plumeria; I cannot buy another one or scavenge it from a public park or garden.
Perhaps our sea has not died, it has simply eloped. I will wake tomorrow or maybe next month and find that it has returned with its groom, the monsoon. Better still, my sea will be pregnant and full of sturgeon. It will give birth and our town will celebrate its good fortune. I can see in those sturgeon eggs the rich rondure of eternal returns.
My grandmother used to say that people shouldn't try and describe things that are too large for understanding. She told me that whatever I thought impossible was simply something new in my life and that I should make room for it. She said God was good, and the world would teach me its ways. The impossible, in her world, was a gift-giver.
But then, she had water.
Copyright © 2020 by Jeremy N. Marks