She said, “Drink it,” and I asked, “What is it?”
Karen was holding a glass stein, her mother’s German crest peeking out just below her pinky. “A remedy,” she said. “Just drink.” We were sailing on our honeymoon and I was feeling a bit seasick. Inside the cabin, I had all the shades pulled. Light slipped under the edges and sliced the wood floor. I kept quiet. We had been fighting since we eloped. A small wedding, just the two of us at the courthouse, no family. “Fine,” I said, “no problem,” and I snatched the stein from her hands. Inside, the contents glittered up into a blue fog, and then settled on the bottom. “It smells like dead fish,” I said. “Drink,” she said. And I put my mouth to the rim, began sipping. First, I tasted a few ginger flakes. “Mmmm,” I acknowledged. Then lemon zest, crushed black pepper and a hint of gin. Although we weren’t talking much, it was a relief to have a logical reason not to: lips occupied.
I took a deep breath, gulped down a sour taste: three dime-sized shrimp, a purple geode, sand and a manta ray. I raised an eyebrow at her. “Go on.” She stood smiling and crossed her arms. So I continued drinking—a diamond earring, an anchor (scratchy from rust) and a goldfish with familiar freckles—all slid down. “Flippy,” she said. I nodded. The remedy splashed up against my cheek and tingled. Then in went sea grass, mud, scales, crow feathers, twenty pesos, an apple core, a plastic toy horse, a bottle with a letter tied in silk ribbon and a pair of soggy, white wings. “I’m full,” I said. “You have to drink it all,” she said, “otherwise it won’t work.” She tapped her foot. I licked my lips and puckered. I was getting down to the froth and couldn’t tell if it was the ocean or the remedy that made the floor seem off-kilter. I tilted my head back and took a long swig. Onions, driftwood, a sand dollar, a white-tailed doe, a bouquet of yellow lilies (our wedding flowers) and a spiral-haired, pink baby who went down, toes first. “Remember,” Karen said, “last May?” I watched her smile wilt. Through glass, Karen looked so beautiful. She rippled along with the liquid. Tiny tears beaded up her eyes and her blonde hair looked feathered and distorted.
I continued drinking, plugged my nose, until finally I got near the end of it. The very last drops: shirt buttons, orange pulp, eraser shavings, an airplane propeller and my dead father, Stan. He was wearing the same plaid suit he had on at his funeral. His mustache was still curled and waxed at the tip, his parlor makeup had washed off. Dad? I gargled. He slid down with closed eyes, arms at his side as if descending a water slide. I hunched over my knees and burped. “I don’t feel so good,” I said. “Give it some time,” Karen said, and then stuck her hand up my shirt, rubbed my back.
I straightened and went to the window. I could feel the contents sloshing around as if something real and renewed was brewing up inside. I yanked up a shade for fresh air, saw where the horizon ended. But we were stopped. The ocean was gone, all of it. The blue. The algae and the tide, the wind and the waves, and in its place stretched a cracked, orange earth—weeded and dry. “Ta-da,” she said and laughed. Above, the heavens had never looked so low. The clouds hung thin and long like clotheslines, and I imagined the world up there: the grandmothers and grandfathers drinking tea and poodles fetching sticks. Everyone happy, slowly slipping through the cracks because the sky was tired and could not hold the weight of them.