[12.8.06] [Utahna Faith]
FLASH FICTION: KINGDOM BY THE SEA
(Corrected version. Apologies to the author and readers; we accidentally left out a paragraph of this story when we posted it at the main 3:AM site. It will be corrected there at the time of our relaunch; for now enjoy this gorgeous story right here.)
Kingdom by the Sea
By Caren Beilin
A beach district. It is not uncommon to own part of a beach, even in Jersey where the Atlantic is resoundingly for the people--theirs, Cumberplot, is an unusual sector. The sand here is rougher, grittier. Large waves, real waves, come here no more than the public does--it is like a bay and the water rarely flings up off its undercurrent, which is moving in the opposite direction.
The house of Annabelle's family is modern, made of glass--an inconsistency among the slat-houses, the pliant wood, which attempts, in moments of extravagance, to arc--but even the poorest kingdom is not made out of wood so her parents have rejected any regional pull when considering design sketches during the first five years of building this house. The house turns out to be a curved off square, a blown-up molar--a big fat tooth. Her parents are famous art collectors.
For her seventh birthday, they give her an electric teal goldfish, which costs them thousands of dollars. Her first pet is a prototype for the genetic art that is to come. By her thirteenth year, her parents are contemplating the purchase of a silent monkey. The monkey's voice box has been encrusted with diamonds and is beholden to some neck. The blood-thumping monkey, anyway, is the real art, a kind of byproduct art. This is a new phase in the cycle of art. Fabulous.
"What will we do when the monkey dies?" her father asks--his voice slow, like a careful swab going over everything.
"I'm skeptical about its impermanence, correct," says her mother, her voice grave, her fingers left frozen in a balletic pose atop a table.
Young Annabelle rakes up minnows by the sea and puts them in her ruffled bikini top. The random precision of life is upon her--splishing!--and like all young girls, she hosts elaborate burials for lesser creatures.
But now she is fourteen and has spent the day cleaning after her wild bash. She has all but licked the marble floor, which is the brilliant color of lava. She uses dry gin to remove a lipstick kiss from a painting of a white swan sucking human balls--this, by a new British artist who had been inside the house, to explain everything, to help with the installation. He snapped his fingers, he had a presence. He tripped unexplainably and cracked his jaw on the floor.
"What if he has AIDS?" her father said, the careful observer, the hell-bent realist, the scowler--looked at the blood splattered in no particular pattern on his floor.
"Should we call and ask?" her mother said, her fingers like an attack tarantula atop her other hand, a frantic pose by the vase which looked like a hollow neck of a black dancer--veins and poise.
"Oh, it's dry by now and let us not suffer that embarrassment, too," he said, referring to some other embarrassment. His eyes were very careful upon everything, like green slugs crawling in slo-mo thrusts of wonder.
There is someone out walking on the beach. This is after Annabelle has cleaned up everything--thrown bottles into waves, emptied heaping ashtrays into small sand plots. She wonders, is this a leftover boy from my party? Some boy with a crown of bleach in his hair? But it is obviously not. It's a man in a tie-dye shirt and skin almost canary in coloring, from this distance.
She calls out to him, "Get off our property, you fucking, fucking retard!"
He looks up, astonished. Even from this distance, she can see his nose is red.
They've had art heists before. She woke as a five year old to a man's thick fingers trembling upon the spine of her genetically altered fish, a baggie full of water at his waist. She screamed and the police took her away, at the hospital her vagina was checked. Nobody knew it, but the ordeal was inches away from plucking a psychotic chord in her body.
Another heist, when she was ten, involved the taking of an assortment of Picasso sketches strung together with wire and set to explode in 2100, the metal box with its moronic red light beeped wildly before unplugged, then was bashed against the kitchen sink--this by a British artist, too. It had been a sensation and an outrage in the press. Her parents bought it for what they referred to lovingly as Something Under 1 Zillion. When she was six, she asked, What's a zillion? They said, A zillion deals with the stars. The stars are where we'll live when we're dead. This was in the early nineties when everyone was signing up. To be shot into outer space. In crumpled packets.
The man on the beach is obviously from the shore. He looks straight off of the Ocean City Ferris Wheel, or a Margate juice stand with black specs stuck to his straw. His bathing shorts look wrinkled as a used tissue. He looks like someone looking for his family, a dud dad still searching. Salt in his brow. Stumbled upon Cumberplot, he looks like dud dad stumbled into a Hitchcock flick. The flat water. The bay quality. Annabelle is the exact inverse of Norman Bates, in a glass not wood house, a house not a hotel. "This is not a hotel!" she yells, she stands behind her door shouting. This is some kind of bay he's wondered into. The waves don't even get to come here.
Her parents have been out of town, gone back to the city to deal with something last minute. She waves her cell phone at the man, to say, I'm calling the cops on you. He disappears behind a rock. But then her parents come in. They tell her quickly--and she knows something is wrong, because they haven't surveyed the house in their usual way, haven't felt their way through it, plugged their fingers in the art, for the spark--that they were not in the city to deal with the last minute art deal. They were having a meeting about getting divorced.
For a moment before she decides to register the new info, Annabelle wonders if this man is somehow acquired by her parents, a kind of bought art. He is their slave, maybe. He will replace her electric teal fish and sleep decompressed in her closet, his ribs hissing out air at night.
And then the thought of divorce explodes in her brain until it is completely thinking of it--a dribble sandcastle, consumed.
There is new blood in her bed because at her party she lost her virginity. She had called the party a ghost party and wore a see through sheet over her body. She said a breathy Boo to this one particular guy who was sitting in a chair in the kitchen that is shaped like a woman with her ass up, her asshole pouting like lips usually put on negroids. He was playing a guitar riff many times over, the young male thing to do, his blue Birkenstocks at a convincingly candid tilt.
His motions in her bed were so random and they never became rhythmic. When they went downstairs again, everybody was out by the water. She was wearing jeans and a shirt. Somebody said, "What if all this sand was coke." And then her new boyfriend brought out a small pouch of coke from his guitar bag and it looked to Annabelle like a very large ghost--compressed, powderized, captured, about to be shot back into flesh.
"What do you mean, divorced?"
"Are you sad?" her father asks.
And then her mother finds the stowed sheets which pool out of her glass closet, the half-dried blood like a child's red finger-painting. She rages. She clutches something made with latex. The latex balloons in her palm. Her daughter, she thinks, is only fourteen. This can't be happening. This blood is not art she cries in her thoughts. This blood is junk.
"You are only fourteen!" she screams from her daughter's bedroom. The electric teal goldfish circles unassumingly, but its brain trickles purple through its soft brown eyes.
Annabelle is sitting quietly in the kitchen, her dehydrated orange elbows on the table, she says, "There's a man on the beach. Do you know about this?"
Annabelle's parents go to New York once a month with a briefcase full of slides. Her mother knifes the picture of the swan sucking the testicles once she finds out, after a distressing trip, that it will go to Annabelle's father. Her father murders the electric teal goldfish, fries it into her mother's latke on the eighth day of Chanukah. It is winter now. They are freezing. The sand is snow. The parties continue. Annabelle fucks in the absence of her fish, while her parents are out of town, conducting meetings, standing to shake hands, shaking, shivering behind gun proof doors at the bank, banking.
The summer of the divorce then comes and the waves have unhooked themselves somehow from the age-old undercurrent, water slurps at the edge of the house, once even touching the door--it leaves a salty swoosh. The parties turn into coke binges and Annabelle is miraculously seventeen. Her boyfriend finally figures out how to fuck her with a rhythm and so she breaks his heart. She does it on the beach one particular weekend. She says, "This isn't right for me now. If I stay, I'd just be using you for drugs and that's so stupid." She looks into his eyes. He looks longingly into the eyes of a surfaced, dead, deep sea turtle and wishes he could live inside of it, always. She wants virgins. She wants the confusion, the insecurity, the worship. She wants to stuff them inside of her like a million minnows. She wants to reach for the stars, to find virgins.
She is popular and hilarious. She scratches out an artist's name and writes her own. She is brilliant.
She sees the man from before again at one of the last ghost parties of the summer. The boys have built a beach fire and are playfully holding hot sticks against her neck. She scrambles away from the glass house, her sheet whips majestically around her physique, she stamps out the pattern of desperate running onto the sand. She is about to truly bash her head into a rock as hard as she can pound it when she sees his body. His head like an alien's. His eyes the color of roses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Caren Beilin's fiction can be found in Quarterly West, Wild Strawberries, and N.O.L.A. Spleen, and online at Failbetter and 3:AM Magazine. She lives in Philadelphia and writes about it at Not For Tourists.