A week ago, I got a tattoo of an ocean wave. Just a tiny thing, a curving line on the crook of my arm. My friends were all getting one, some more drunk than others. I hadn’t drank anything. I didn’t really even want a tattoo, and somehow I left that tattoo shop with an ocean on the inside of my arm.
I sit in calculus now, the sound of wind in my ears. My teacher drones on and on about derivatives and extrema. Against the sound of the wind and the crash of the waves pounding in my head, it’s hard to concentrate on anything he says. I can’t even seem to remember his name. I look down at my notes. I blink several times, but I can’t make sense of the numbers and symbols in my handwriting.
When the bell rings, it drowns out the sound of the ocean for only a second, and in that second, I manage to pack up my things. I notice Mr. Davis erase the whiteboard. I see Eliza Holden texting and watch as Scott Parish tries to trip his friend.
But then the bell cuts off, and I drop my bookbag.
My high school is exactly six-point-seven miles from the beach. As I race through the seaside town of Neris, this is the only concrete thought I can manage to pull to the front of my mind.
When I arrive, I leave the car running. I don’t feel any particular attachment to it at the moment; all I want is to feel the saltwater and feel the breeze whip my hair around my head.
Standing with my toes in the sand, the wind in my ears compacts into words.
Will you come play with me?
“Yes,” I whisper. My feet carry me a few steps closer to the water.
I hope you don’t mind that I drew on your arm.
“I don’t,” I say softly. The water laps at my ankles. I look down in surprise; I didn’t realize I had come so close.
I haven’t had a new friend in a very long time.
“Can I be your friend?” I ask.
You can, my love. You only need to come a little closer… That’s it, just a little closer…
I obey my friend. The water laps at my ankles eagerly. I look down as my feet sink into the wet sand, and when I look up again, the little corner of beach on the outskirts of the town of Neris is gone.
You’re here, with me now. Will you stay with me?
The world around me is not my own. It is made entirely of colors, blues and greens and purples. The hues swirl and snake, with shapes darting in and out of the waves of colors. I glance down, only to see that I no longer have a body. Instead, a tiny outline of an ocean wave swims happily along a purple wave, right where I imagine my legs used to be. I think that, maybe, this should worry me, this sudden lack of a physical form. It doesn’t.
I ride the waves, jumping from purple to green to yellow, until a shape approaches me, a shape that is somehow different from all the others. It is ancient; it is not something that belongs in a world of tangible things.
You promised to play with me.
I know I did, I say.
Then let’s play. My friend brings me to another shape, one that keeps shifting and shuddering, as if it can’t decide what it wants to be.
Reach for it, my friend tells me.
I do. I extend a blue wave to meet the green one the shape is occupying, and the resulting cyan wave lurches forward, yanking me and the indecisive shape into another world.
I’m in a tattoo shop, watching from the doorway, back in my physical body. There is only one customer—a girl of maybe eighteen, shaking so bad I thought she might fall out of the chair.
“I’m nervous,” she tells the artist.
“If you’re not ready, don’t force it,” he says to her, his voice gentle. “Maybe come back when you’re ready.”
Abruptly, my legs carry me forward, and I touch the girl’s shoulder. She glances behind her, undoubtedly experiencing the feeling of being watched but not being able to see who is watching.
She stops shaking and straightens her back. “You know what?” she says, her voice sure. “I think I’m gonna go for it.”
“All right,” the artist replies. “What d’you want?”
“I was thinking some musical notes. In English, we read a story about sirens and their songs.” She taps the inside of her arm. “I want it right here.”
The artist nods. “Sounds good.”
I release the girl, and the colors flood back around me. The ancient shape hovers, waiting.
I made a new friend, I tell her.