Eleven Jellyfish

Well. I might as well tell you at the first that there were more than eleven. There were, actually, more like one hundred and seven. I might have messed up the counting somewhere. And I don’t know, for sure, where I began.

Travel is a political action, he said. I said that I’d thought that more might be different, since Deepwater Horizon. The beaches were more crowded. By the middle of the day, the sand was painful to stand on barefooted. Fireworks fell into the ocean at night.

It always starts with a walk to the lighthouse, “To The Lighthouse!” but, Virginia, we never make it that far. This is what I’m telling you about, my walk to the lighthouse. The jellyfish I saw there, laying on the sand, their domes sprawling sideways, a thousand stems blooming from their stomachs.

Meanwhile, a bug was making its way through our family. One by one we fell to our knees, on the sandy beach, in the hallway, against the cool porcelain commode. Ice melted in ginger ales, saltines fell limply against the rented plates.

My father’d read about the jellyfish, that the oceans were full of them now, thriving in polluted waters, their natural predators fished out. Terrible, he said. No one could find the article now, it wasn’t in any of the piles. Someone found a sandy shoe and a pair of goggles beneath a sofa, but the magazine refused to surface.

Everyone had an opinion on immigration. Some felt more comfortable stating their opinion in the open air, while others avoided mentioning the subject aloud. In the heat of the day, we watched Spain playing against Germany from comfortable chairs, as surprised as anyone when Spain pulled ahead.

Sometimes the jellyfish lay in groups – 26,27,28,29,30,31,32 – while other times they lay apart, left against the hard sand. A perfect day for jellyfish, I thought, but failed to remember the story. Travel is a political act, he’d said. He’d been to Iran, seen their clerics warning Britney Spears. But the people, he’d said, weren’t like that. They were full of love, and fear, like anyone.

It is intimate here, beside the ocean, where the wind fills our ears. A baby cries and a mother calls, God damn it, Jackson, get back over here. A boy and his father look at her and continue to fish the surf, their five-gallon plastic bucket slops against the side. When one catches a baby shark, we all gather to look. A teenager in a bikini holds her brother’s hand as they jump the waves together, facing east.

Count to four and the lighthouse turns its light towards you again. My nephew pretends to be a spy, throwing his body into the sand between counts even in daylight. When I walked back home, the tide had risen, wiping the beach clean.

One night, the first night, we walked down to see the fireworks. We thought they’d be at the pier, and they were, but they were also everywhere in between. The cousins hit the sand, their five young bodies squirming in the sand like combat battalions. Look, their mothers called. Look at that. Come back. A young woman twirled her fire batons in the face of the waves.

“I will if you say the magic word,” I told you. “Please,” you say. “No, that’s not it,” I say. Never grow old. Never leave me. Love. Fear. “Keep guessing,” I say out loud. Keep guessing.


About Carolyn Ogburn

Writer, hiker, activist and gadfly. #Binder Writes @NumeroCinq555 / Blogs @pshares MFA @VCFA
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