I was at a dinner party when I became Poseidon, and it did more for me than any self-help book I’ve tried. I mean, look at me now. My agent’s even mentioned Oprah. And I’ve got Debra to thank, God rest her soul.
I guess you heard about it in the news already, but I can tell you that’s not the real version. I let them speculate, get a storm going, you know? These days, I like to be the eye of the storm.
Anyway, I can see you’re no journalist. (God knows I’ve met enough of those in the past month.) Can you keep a secret? Well, we’ve got time to kill before I meet Richard and Judy, so how about I give you the gory details.
The thing about Debra was you could never call her “Debs,” and she was really into amuse-bouche and scented candles. You can picture her already, can’t you? Every time I visited, there were more of those chubby jars, smugly bathing in their own light. I swear the things were breeding.
Debra and I weren’t even friends; we used to work as receptionists for this pharmaceuticals firm. She was going through a messy divorce — I mean, you could see her aging by the day, poor cow — and I suppose I felt sorry for her at the time. She left after it was finalized, got into finance, and I was made redundant the year after.
Point is, I was only invited because a guest canceled last-minute, and Debra needed one more place to make the table symmetrical. I was expecting a call from my landlord about the damp in my kitchen and, moron that I was, I hit answer before I checked the name.
“I’m cooking something vegan, just for you, Sharon.” I heard her take a deep draw of her cig and pictured the pale reams of smoke streaming down her throat like souls summoned to hell.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “It’s fine, I’m knackered anyway. Invite a carnivore.”
“There’s none left at short notice. Got to be you. I’m making you a tagine. You know. Moroccan. I’m going to a lot of trouble.”
“I can’t stay late. I’ve got—”
“Thanks, doll. See you at seven.”
So when Debra opened the door, squawked a greeting, and ushered me inside, the stink of fig and manuka was vying with the reek of Marlboro Lights knocked into glossy ashtrays, which in turn was vying with the spicy musk of my “tagine.”
It was mid-July, hot as Satan’s armpit, and I was seated farthest from the open window. Dearest Debra was twittering round the VIPs and ignoring my requests for water. So I sipped Chardonnay and smiled like a good little token vegan. Jesus, I was such a pushover back then.
I was introduced to Raynor and Phil, Sue and Beth, and Graham and Delilah. I pulled at the collar of my polyester blouse as Phil explained why Premium Bonds were better than shares, even stock shares, which can give you a great return on investment but not always in the long term, and it’s the long term where the big money is, and he should know. My smile hurt.
“So what do you do, Sharon? Other than avoid dairy?”
“I work at Costco.”
“Oh!” Phil’s smile twitched. “A checkout girl! How… whimsical.”
Graham and Delilah put down their drinks to peer at me like I was some fascinating but slightly grotesque museum exhibit. I was glowing with embarrassment, and Debra was barely smothering her glee as she unconsciously smoothed the magenta tablecloth she got from Selfridges last summer to match her Orla Kiely blinds.
So my tagine tasted like sawdust with raisins, and I was fixating on that drink of water like I was crawling through the Sahara, not stuck in a pretentious flat in Stoke. I was staring at the glass and crystal and porcelain twinkling in the light of all those bastard candles, and all at once and don’t ask me how, my head swam and I was seeing sunlight glinting off the ocean.
The sun’s a jewel in an immense azure sky. The slosh and glug of the waves is peaceful, and I’m rising into the air, buoyant as a gull. The stiff breeze is tugging at my hair, and the water’s open stare is oh-so-inviting. So I take the plunge.
I let it engulf me.
Below the surface, the water’s cold as stone; the diffused light on my skin is achingly beautiful. I raise my arms, point my toes and let myself sink. Ripples dance fluid patterns into the dark. The silence is like an embrace. The air in my chest strains for release; my pulse booms. I laugh, unleashing a thrill of bubbles that spin away, jostling for the surface. I know I should follow, swim for that dwindling patch of sunlight, but I can’t because I’ve got this sudden, wild urge to take a breath.
The water slams my lungs like an icy fist and spills livid through my chest, my limbs, my mind. My pulse pounds in my ears, and with each beat I swell bigger, until my distended feet graze the ocean floor and I can’t tell where I end and the water begins and we’re so vast, so powerful—
Debra’s elbow against my ribs brought me back to the room. “World of her own!”
They were all staring at me with their sweaty faces — some smirking. Spilled Chardonnay warmed sticky on my hand, dripping a maroon shadow on the tablecloth.
“No more wine for you, Sharon!” she whinnied.
I wondered then: Why am I even here, doing a favor for someone I don’t even like? Psychiatrist’s field day. “I’m just tired,” I said, my face burning. I stared at Debra, and it was like….
Have you ever got disconnected from a conversation, just for a moment, and seen below the surface of a person?
Well, I saw through the veil of bravado Debra held up to the world, just like the expensive décor in her cheap flat. And underneath there were no hidden depths. There was just insecurity, flimsy as balsawood.
She’s so very fragile, I thought.
Then, weirdly: I could just smash her into pieces.
The ground pitched. I closed my eyes.
The ocean — my ocean — seethes, dimming to slate and coughing up limey plumes of surf. The sky’s massing with all these dense, angry clouds the color of steel, and I know I’m imagining the impossible — of course I do, I’m not crazy — but even so, I feel cold air hit my face, see the ocean lurch sideways and rear into a peak, rising inexorably, like some huge mouth stretching wide.
Raynor passed the Pinot.
The wave grows into a vast, muscular wall, its crest lashing the clouds.
I braced in my chair, knowing I should prepare for the imminent plunge into chaos and darkness and death. (“Gone a bit chilly,” someone said; their hand clamped a fluttering napkin.) But I craved the freedom, the release at last from these petty people with their perfect jobs and perfect clothes and perfect teeth in their false fucking smiles, from never being good enough and always being a fucking joke, all of it washed away in one glorious, violent instant—
Bring it on, I thought.
I tasted brine, bitter and delicious.
Debra proposed a toast.
I exhaled, and it was the hollow gasp of a sea gale. There was a bright crash of shattered crystal. The tinkle of voices around me faltered. The candles had gutted. Faces fell to gape at me like fish.
Their open mouths are open wounds, I thought. I realized my own mouth had stretched into a massive grin.
Debra lowered her glass, slow and deliberate, her stare venomous. She might have suggested that I go lie down, but she didn’t matter, and I couldn’t really hear her anyway.
The wave thundered its advance, loomed a chill shadow over us—
“Is that… seaweed?”
I tower. Tall as a cliff. Tall as the wave.
The gaping fish shrink to minnows before me. I flex and the sky crackles at my ears. The matchbox table crashes onto its side and skids like storm-tossed jetsam. I raise my glass. Liquid spills icy over my hand — a stream, a torrent, a waterfall. Too late, they try to run, their chairs crashing behind them. Too late, they realize how small their lives had been. But it isn’t enough. I have to show them.
My laughter is an ancient tempest tumbling over the Atlantic as I crush my glass into sand. I grab the wave, wrestle it in my mighty arms. It bucks and writhes against my ripped chest, spurts between my great pearlescent knuckles, white-cold and boiling. I lift it over my head.
I fling it at them.
Honestly, after that, it’s all a bit of a blur.
The first responders didn’t know what to make of “the incident.” To be fair, Debra’s flat was on the fourteenth floor. They squelched over strangled Peruvian rugs and around the shattered remains of chubby jars, using words like “unprecedented.’” Asking each other what code they should use in this or that section of their report. Asking themselves, “What the fuck?” under their breath.
I sat on a soggy sofa, clad in a damp blanket and still as a rock as the tide of officials drifted past. A policewoman with a blonde crop and a professional smile brought me a cup of tea.
“Where are the others?” she asked. “Where’s Debra?”
“The wave took her.”
The copper’s smile clenched a little. She glanced at her colleague, quickly, but I saw the look in her eye. “Alright, love.” Christ, she almost sang it. “Let’s take it slow, shall we? Let’s start from when you arrived….”
Her voice faded. It didn’t matter, and neither did she. I stared out of the window. Into a calm blue sky.
There you have it. That’s what went down. As best as I can remember it, anyway.
Now, this is important, so pay attention: You mustn’t tell a soul. Like I said, I’ve got to keep the media guessing, okay? Got to embellish a bit, you know what I mean? I go to a lot of trouble to be a success, and I can’t have anyone spreading the wrong kind of rumors.
Listen, I’m on in five. Go grab me a glass of water, would you? Quick as you like. Thanks, doll.