“Out of the depths, I have cried.“Psalm 130
By Charlotte M. Porter
On the Inside, Moon pulls without water. Head batteries go dead, and time stalls. Angie strikes the match inside her brain. Shield the flame, she tells herself, capture the gleam. Watch wind stir sea oats by the bay. Let the seagulls wail and the engines of small craft sputter. Seek a secret place to exult.
A soul-search by first-person Angie has tanked in a wide ocean of conflicting currents. Third-person Angie needs to sort muddle from mistake in a new plan of redemption, meaning escape. She images the license-plate outline of the State of Florida. An inlet, a toe of the sea would do her fine, but here she is.
All hail the slammer, the maceration facility, the Women’s so-called Reception Center. No meet-and-greet tea parties or covered-dish mac and cheese in this fishbowl run by men, done up by men, dumbed down by men.
On quest, Angie’s mind wanders, bumps, and bounces off concrete walls like the talk radio piped-in to keep the inmates amused. In the noisy off-on, she hears a song of siren’s warning.
Adrift at sea, beware ease.
Teach your fins to walk, your mouth to please.
Canvas empires with grander mer—
manatees in senior years.
She composes a refrain to honor Trichechus manatus, the state marine mammal, once called the sea cow and pictured as a chubby mermaid:
rethink speed and wake.
Propeller blades lacerate.
Vacate dredged channels
and shallow lakes.
She feels like she’s shouting Fire! in a movie theatre, but her clarion call, her angelus, falls on deaf ears. Other sounds drown her out with second-hand words—ad jingles, jive, hymns…soul-search detritus left unswept, unwept.
Boaters who hit manatees gripe about their marred hulls. No one serves time for killing s sea cow. Angie’s cell mates include baby-snatchers, check kiters, and arsonists, but most of the women are murderers, lifers like her with a twenty-five-year turn-over. They come in slick young killers and leave prison as wobbly old ladies, rank as smoked mullet. Few on the Outside remember them or the fishy details of their crimes. Cep maybe the dead man’s people, an extended family of beloved junkies who have moved their tents to the intersection of Meth and Opioids. Who wants to put a nostril to their damn straw?
Talk about bad. Angie knows the official go-low drill: Find a ditch, head down, stay in place. She also knows under is only as safe as over. What goes up must come down. Angie wants to turn back the hands of time and go home to her backwater digs. So that the man she bludgeoned to death might fall in love with her. Bashed, he’s too broken to haunt her, but she wants to haunt him, drive him wild as penal statutes have forced her to become in prison.
Skip the brake fluid, the so-called psychiatric meds. She’s not thinking to catch a ride and get high on a bestie’s dope. Her escape, tricky for the average upright biped, involves force of will, iron-clad attitude with mile markers and rest stops. She reviews the three-part plan: female human to mermaid median to finny fish finale. As needed, she will remix her dots into different energy fields, tinted flesh tone to aquamarine to golden green.
These changes from human to poetic to feral bypass justice. Mermaids make their own rules. Fish swap out genders in crowded or polluted conditions. But who gives the ass-pass to a female convict, a felon? More than the mercury levels of the water, grammar is at issue. She can linger in first-person mer, but the odds are stacked against her survival as a third-person fish—he, she, or it. Angie has done her pronoun research. A woman isn’t a captive guppy. Or, a flounder with eyeball crossed anon as fountain fill, femme purloined.
Angie flat out rejects a portrait painted by dead white male artist, Pablo Picasso. On the Other Side, the Seated Woman will cut him bad, pay him back for her trashed face. Like she’s turned flounder, crying a river over him. Wrong weep, wrong playbill. At Pablo’s hands, poor lady endured the searing grill. Not the Fountain of Youth. Only look-space on a museum wall. What with private-hire guards and alarm systems, Seated Woman might as well be in prison. Well now, Angie could repay society as a painting, set an example, hang by a wire and, real still in fester-mode, set the gallery on fire.
But she remains soleful, ha, ha. She can shimmy fins, fan the flatness of sand. She can hope a dreamy boy will admire her mottle and, by mistake, graze her scaled skin with his cherry lips as he bends to buss his vain reflection. Perhaps, kiss-boy will toss coins—small change for immortality, bubbler bliss. Hey, money’s money—all contributions welcome.
Love, luck, charity, ah fantasy. Life in the Big House is a dim font—chamfered with no second chance, no second glance. Spring-fed to pan-fried, Angie recognizes the harsh truth of her sentence. As is, her female self is too stubborn, too persistent. To break free, she must shed the feminine and do deep-sea time wending a switchback, reminding light sleepers of lost glory. But whose eye chink can fathom steep couloir?
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Practice makes perfect. Come evening, Angie will slip into the sea wash and swims for miles. Come dawn, she’ll takes a breather on the return trip and turn flying fish. Picasso can like lead paint. How pretty the tourmaline flash above crested waves!
For now, nearly merly in broad daylight, Angie tarries on the strand. Fiddler crabs, lefty maestros, rendezvous with careless clams. The sky is clear, and the sand cool under her belly. Rolling over, she tastes the sea on her lips and remembers her younger smelty self, still confident of flounce.
Behind bars, she has become a tad near-sighted. No big deal. Stranger things have happened than a tadpole in the eye. Think moat, no, mote, motel where she, tired, tired of him and smashed his brains like spermaceti across the pillows.
From habit, she squints as fleet dots become human joggers. She bares her bosom so they’ll run in place, show out, pant. They don’t. They watch man-meet-water, that primordial kingfisher saga about tall waders and cast flies reeling lures in wide zigzags across the surface.
Angie chides herself, sunbathing on the block, unloading human adages of self-help:
Pack a spare beach toga
for upstart gene pool party.
Tamp down your cunning sea comb.
Learn to like beach volleyball.
She knows flirty banter is but merry pastime in the vast playground of the sea. As if mer girls cared about coastal hookers, arched back, famed snatch. Our tribal thing, she reassures herself, is certain dive to test leader, break line.
She craves revenge, a nonstop ballad of a small-town woman wronged—her. Given adequate food and shelter, she can make a comeback. Merness will fill out her ungainly spaces and starved innards. Full-figure for her return, she can loom in his eye salt, trespass in his everyman’s dream. Nodding off, he will ache for her wavy auburn hair, smooth shoulders, firm breasts.
On fire, he’ll gladly plunge into benthic trenches forging continents. Let him surface with the bends. Doubled over with lust, he won’t feel bliss. He won’t even feel wet. His lungs will snap like burning branches, again and again, as schools of carnivorous minnows devour his sleep.
Let him cry to the rock for succor. She’ll dart into the shallows. No need to hold her ground and stay on scene like the last time. With luck, a fish her size can make her way north through inland wetlands to the St Lawrence Seaway. Under the stars, she can follow cod and navigate the Outer Banks to North Sea landings made magical by Hans Christian Anderson.
Angie bursts into song. She has done her dunce time on crappers without seats. On her voyage, she’ll miss springtime on the river and fringe trees abuzz with bees. Such sweet haze, the drifts of pollen. Let cell-rats twitch their whiskers with envy. Bubble-gazers will proclaim that she, the fish bitch with adipose eyelids, schools at Wit’s End, the brink trolled by monsters, sea monks and swirlpools. Wit’s End, wherein ends reasonable doubt.
Angie must stay on plan. She’s worked hard to keep river green against ocean blue with silver moonbeam ladder for up and out. She checks her brain feed re: offshore breezes and sea chop. Soon she’ll be swimming past wetlands drained for golf courses downstream to the bay.
She must wait for the riptide. In a house without change, she needs tidal turmoil at the river’s mouth She imagines discharge of 155,000, 000 gallons per day. What math! What mouth! Fish spew. Phosphenes implode.
Gaol or goal?
Should be a picture postcard of a powerful fountainhead, right? A bold female numen, a potent avatar with red-eyed eels for hair. But doing time messes up the head poem. Sentence turns every variance into crime.
Or pulp fiction.
When the inquisitors arrive with stun guns and options for parole, Angie, dripping on the wet cement, proves uncooperative. She tucks in her gills and forgets how to talk. They poke, but she doesn’t wince at mention of the prince of a man she bludgeoned. They prod, she burps. She doesn’t let on that tough girl turned lifer destroyed what she loved.
She leaves them no choice. They throw her back with the others.
Charlotte M. Porter lives and writes in an old citrus hamlet in north central Florida. Look for her short story collections on Amazon and her flash fiction and poems in literary journals. Literistic publishes her serial novels. Her recent work, an adult puppet play, is part of a COVID anthology in press with Archway Publishing.