“Of course I’m not going to wear an expensive swimsuit just to lose it in the water… at least, that’s what I hoped we’d be doing out there.” Goldine then waved giddy good bye to the dark beach house. Yes, there was a hot tub, a romantic fireplace and a wine cellar, but when Zeus was afraid to even the lights on at night, it might has well have been some decorated hovel. One of those fake fishbowl palaces.
And so, they went swimming.
Zeus could taste the salt of the water on Goldine’s lips. He became absorbed in the smell of ocean on her skin, in her hair. The night air was dry, light, better than remembered it. Zeus had gone swimming at night only once before, during boyhood. This was the only time, he recalled, that his father didn’t laugh something off. A motherless son, getting swept away, in black water. Goldine held onto him.
“I’m sorry, Goldine. I shouldn’t be so quiet–rude, I guess. You’re a great swimmer.”
“But we’re treading water, now.”
Humans were not made for this. Whenever the lovers ceased movement, to indulge, then they began to sink. Bipedal movements were unnatural for true independence in the water. Fish could do this, not people. Zeus realized their limits, and that Goldine was shivering. A chill wave crashed over them, they both coughed and spat it out. Her mood changed and suddenly Goldine was pulling on Zeus’ arm, back towards the shore.
“Don’t be shy all of a sudden, Goldine. We can do this.”
“No, we can’t. I love swimming too, Zeus, and this was such a wild and crazy day, but this is not the same as a bathtub. Sweetheart, I draw the line when you holding on to me like this… Well, we don’t have fins, silly.”
“Please. Goldine, did you ever think… that there are millions of gallons of oil out there, drawing nearer everyday, and so it may be decades, or never, before we can make love in this water again?”
“That has got to be the worst come on, of all time, Captain Finnegan.” and she sounded more sober than ever.
“No. It’s what the fish are saying right now, if you think about it.”
“Don’t you mean the real skeevy, desperate bachelor fish?”
“I miss Boston.”
“I miss my sorority sister. We’d always swim together, but she drowned last year. I never finished school.” Goldine used a trembling hand with gold-painted fingernails to sweep hair from her face. The color flickered oddly in the shadows, like lost treasure. “Today at the gym was my first time really being back. Every other Wednesday before was weird and I’d just go in the locker room and cry afterwards. Then you came along, and gave me that awful line, I laughed, then drank too much when really, I’ve been scared out of my mind the whole day. But you’re so cute and funny, and I wanted to be happy swimming again, so badly. It’s like I lost the other half of myself last year.”
“God, I didn’t know. Now I really feel like one of those skeevy bottom-feeders. But I think you’re doing better now, aren’t you? I wouldn’t let anything happen to you, sweetie.”
Goldine close her eyes as they drifted further out. “About right here, this far from shore, is where I couldn’t find her… But it’s not scary. Gosh, I do feel safe with you, Zeus. I mean, I must be sober by now.” they laughed, “Oh, but please, don’t let me ever leave the water again.”
“Shh… you’ll never get through it like this, by rushing through… mourning takes time. It’s hard being human, living, but at least you can choose to get through the pain, try and forgive yourself. My mother died when I was little. And then my father went too, right before I left Boston. I hate thinking about it, him and his sadistic, cruel way of being my dad but never, ever feeling like he was, and then there’s all that I didn’t do, but should have. I slept in my car, for like a month, after we lost the house I grew up in.”
“Poor baby. That’s so sad.”
“But that’s what I’m saying, we shouldn’t dwell on it. A person has a choice, not to drown in sorrow.”
Goldine forced her mouth over his. Zues let his head drift back and inhaled deeply of the water. He stopped swimming and started to have her, take her with him. Blue everywhere. She leaned over him, onto his shoulders. Their lungs burned and instinct burst awake. Any normal person would have let go immediately, spread out the five digits, the four limbs, and propelled upwards, in mad pursuit of air, terrified of the weightlessness.
But man took another breath of heavy liquid. Woman crossed ankles and expelled a final stream of silver bubbles from her mouth then kissed him again. In those final moments of sentient life, before oxygen leaves the brain and humanity is forever lost, Zeus reached upwards, ever upwards, glad for the watery moon–new deity, and Goldine pressed down, determined, no longer shivering but pulsating, alive, aquatic.
She, a goldfish, emerged from bubbling torrent to dart mindlessly about. Zeus no longer recognized her. He lashed tail, stalked the tiny yellow creature for a time because she was pretty. He teased playful whiskers between them and sensed that he adored, and needed her. So then, of course, Zeus the catfish opened his mouth, ballooned gills, burst powerfully forward to intercept this dazzling prey at an angle, and ate Goldine.
In a much drier land, far, far, far away, it wasn’t hard for Magnum, a.k.a. the bookie, a.k.a. Harmon Davis, to re-think this entire knight-in-shining armor bit, while he and the airport taxi driver were stuck in Las Vegas traffic. Worse than Los Angeles, worse than New York City (and far worse than driving into Washington, D.C., I’m sure Harmon would have observed too, if he’d been aware of it). At least, that is what it seemed to him, with cars barely moving down the Strip at this time in the evening. He could see the casinos, felt thirsty while forced to watch their expensive water falls. Harmon worried that he could actually see the white froth evaporate into the air. The cabby announced that the shimmering gold building he might just recognize from that Las Vegas cops’ show was on their left. It was the Mandalay Bay resort, known for its impressive indoor shark reef. And then there were other fish in that aquarium, from all around the world. Tickets only cost…
“You know, I lived in L.A. forever. I’m not tantalized at al right now, so can you just turn and drop me off.”
In a city where everyone needed tips to survive, good service was not hard to find. Even when, Harmon realized, he must have sounded like a pompous ass. Finally, the light changed for a third time and the few j-walkers cleared–so many more passed overhead on specially-made bridges. Among all the car noises, the throb of so many clubs going, and the blare of bright lights raging every delight conceivable, the taxi was able to pull up to the MGM Grand. One mammoth-sized, golden lion sat crouched in front of the casino, snarling at everyone.
Harmon leaned into the front seat to pound the horn when the valet parkers wouldn’t move along fast enough. He ended up throwing some bills at the cabby, then dashed out of the car.
There were lions even inside the casino. A big glass cage walled off from the slot machines, supposedly sound-proof and even scent proof. Handlers, inside of the cage, remained seated on the fiberglass rocks, a great distance away from these somewhat tamed animals. Harmon had seen this all before, and decided long ago it wasn’t cute to stand around in a smoke-filled casino to watch a hulking cat with real claws, teeth and mane, bat a ball around the size of a small child.
If Carmen was still there at all, and any semblance of their savings together remained, in Vegas of all places, then she should be on the fourteenth floor. Though, he remembered, while in the elevator, that technically, since the casino elevator buttons jumped from twelve to fourteen, Carmen was on the 13th floor. How unlucky.
In either case, he eventuallywent on the door of room number 1439. Breathe. This was going to be fine. She called because she wants to see you, in the end. The red-eye flight from swamp to desert wasn’t awful. The hand that finally went and pulled a gun on big dumb Billy until he handed over all the money he owed–the late money, that wasn’t terrifying. It was, in fact, scary and sick, almost fun, Harmon, wasn’t it? Just like back in L.A. before you had to flee to Orlando ahead of the old law firm or the cops, whichever came first, and so ruined Carmen’s life. He would never admit to himself that his life felt like a waste, now, too.
The knob had been slipping round for a long while. Finally, whomever it was got the door open. A woman, his woman, peered across that little gold bar they put between hotel room doors and their seals, exactly for dramatic situations such as these.
“Do we still have money, Carmen?”
“What else is wrong, did he hurt you? I’ll kill ‘im. Where is that sonofabitch?!”
“Flavio is not here, tonto. He left me.” Carmen stayed planted up against the wall, though Harmon wanted to hold her, at least. That hurt.
“Wait… what? Did you just call me, to come all the way to Vegas because your boyfriend broke up with you?”
“You are the one who came in here, asking for money first, before you even cared about me!” she growled.
“I didn’t…” then Harmon lost his voice, along with all his sense, he also supposed. The room was spinning. It had to be. Because Carmen had stepped out into the middle of the room, swishing a real tail in wide, angry arcs.
“When Flavio saw this,” then Carmen raised her shirt and showed Harmon what was once a sculpted flat stomach he knew very well, now covered in the same gray fur. “…he left me, before we even got to the altar.” Next, she whimpered, “And I grew the tail, while I was waiting for you to get here. You slow, stupid–aaaaargh! I hate you, Harmon, I hate you! I can’t even run away from you, or our marriage. No puedo, con mis vestidos quemados y con una cola? You’re always so mean to me.”
There were a lot of things Harmon could have said in that moment, certainly. “Okay, so… I’m gonna go downstairs to drink and gamble until this starts making some damned sense.”
Carmen’s panicked, feral screams followed him down the hallway.