Not quite naked, I waded out past a thick patch of lily pads. My shoes and socks looked hollow and untouched in a benign clump under a thicket of branches and trash and thorns. The only people out here would have been lost or losing, yet I hid my shoes and the socks because it would not be very safe walking back to the highway barefoot. Brambles and microscopic granules of glass and larger pieces of glass from cracked abandoned bottles would get the best of the wanderer in situations as unlucky as this. Someone fishing might find the shoes and make off with them and that would set off the domino effect and I would lose a leg from the poison barb of a plant, or the appropriated fisherman might land a hook into my skin and I would yelp just as helplessly as a hound.
The water splashed lightly and softly against the lilies and the oasis of the skin ahead of me and I realized my fears were just projections, though. For who would waste time out here on a still autumn night like this? Highway strips aren't prime social spots. Only it's just that I wanted to be here so much that it became impossible not to materialize others feeling the same. I could practically feel some bastard's eyes roving from the road down to the water and wanting to stop, come out to the edge and fish, smoke a cigarette or drink a beer. I could feel them, but they weren't there.
Just projections from dizziness and desire.
Lonely little coves like this are trafficked seldom, actually.
Broken bottles and pieces of steel and sharp slices of plastic were haphazardly strewn about everywhere on account to the water's proximity to the highway. A bridge over un-compromised water is very hard not to toss trash into, and I could testify to that a thousandfold. Shit that shot out from destiny and flight and drive, it littered the horizon from my view here at the edge of the cold, cold water. Forgotten, uncared for crap built up around me in mindless little rot cities. All of this shit and weeds and mud, and my shoes and socks bundled up under some branches, and my sick stomach from the way the flies dug in through my nostrils and stuck to the inside of my throat.
Up to the collar of my shirt in the dark blue water, I began to float out toward her, and then I was paddling lightly, not swimming but just coasting slowly toward the body. Even as slowly as I moved, the motion of my arms and legs caused the surface of the water to ripple, shattering the steel facade of the lilies, lapping against the floating girl's shoulders and breasts and upturned face.
Small tides washed into her mouth and then receded. Surges of fine blue chalky water pumped in and out from between her gaping black well mouth and blue velvet lips.
When I was next to her my heart was pounding, and my breathing acting up exponentially. The water felt frigid, no doubt responding to the cold pulses from the heat of the beautiful corpse. She was a snow volcano, boiling in frost and set to rupture in an ecstasy of cold, lifeless, ex-explosion. I wanted to climb her and look into the mouth of that volcano, into pumped water and the fly nests and the squiggly amoeba or tadpoles and minnows and see down into her black throat and kiss the tissue before it could decompose and become unkissable.
This close, still wading, I could see below the surface of the water, as shimmering reflections of her breasts slid from tiny wave to tiny wave, curling along ripples, overlapping other images of her breasts over and over again as the tiny waves danced across the surface of the water, with the permanent ragged peaks of her nipples hardened like the channel of a stone canyon. Duly, in time, this flesh would too erode and become an expanding canyon. The water would nip at her fibers until it carved rivers through her, and in time she would become tatters of fabric and ruined tangles of algae, weeds and a watery windchime of moldy green bones.
But her eyes.
Awake to the afternoon more so than mine, her eyes sparkled. I could make out soft hues of sky blue, mossy strands of green and shattered fragments of velvet red furiously splintered in her irises. There was a life in her eyes that was alien to me. I swam to her; daunting cave mouth, egg host and fish nest, arctic nipples and blank bloodless bulging eyes.
I held her floating carcass, which collapsed in my arms with the accordion note of a music that was so much like the sigh of a large animal dying that I looked around me, shuddering at the thought of a whale that would now swallow us. Heat and gasses escaped her mouth when I squeezed her tight, disintegrating in the fly-nests and the choked weeds she was caught in. I breathed in but felt no extra desire at sharing her breath; the deterioration in her cells moved my stomach to hitch, but within moments I was accustomed. Because I had to. I could begin to understand this because I felt like I had no choice.
Had she been hit? Had some bastard knocked the life right out of her in a hit-and-run? I pushed her body to the surface and it floated easily. I turned her around, my fingers exploring her cold body, but there were no marks to make an understanding of, no crushed bones. No gashes on the four intact limbs. Where did you go wrong, beautiful? I want to go wrong there too, but back in time, with her, but maybe survive it. Or at least get knocked into the water with my hands on her body, gasping timid little fucked-up stupid breaths, just trying to understand that I was dying with her, certainly not alone, touching her body under the water as we tried to float to safety even as we died.
A lot of garbage. I bet she flailed. She didn't try to save herself, probably. Just probably she bobbed up and down, gasping for lack of breath instead of for fight. Maybe she was dead before she hit the water. Out here, in the middle of nowhere? She might not have been so seemingly walking along after all. Probably someone put her here and that she was long dead. Or maybe she was killed here. No marks on her body that I can see, though.
Mysterious dead angel. Naked as the day she was born.
Suddenly I felt wrong to be so clothed so I took open the buttons of my shirt and undressed underwater as best I could without drowning.
I rested my cheek to hers. Who knows how long she'd been dead and floating here, but she was still soft to the touch. Fate had positioned her here. Some awful fate. There was no joy in her eyes but I wanted to find it for the both of us, if possible in this infested water.
Maybe I would stay with her. I could fall asleep on the raft of her body, and maybe in sleep I would fall under the surface of the water and perish too but never know it was happening. God, I hope not. I couldn't take my eyes from her, but I didn't want to die for her, or die here with her. But then again I didn't know what I needed either. Maybe I needed something right now but did not know it or understand the signs. Such an easy thought, but as an action? Futile. Even if I started to drown I'd wake up for sure, and swim to safety in the twilight. I'd be dry on land before sunlight. But far away from her. I knew I wouldn't have the guts to swim back out after catching my breath. Not while the sun was down.
You can't win, ever. You can't have what you want.
I just wanted to know who she was and why she was floating in the water off the highway. Who hated her so much that they'd do this to her?
Or who loved her enough to? That was an eerie thought indeed. I shuddered under the water, naked as the day I was brought into this world. This poor girl. Her fish house chest, probably swimming with the lives of untold water creatures too small to see in this dimming light. Maybe even spiders had swum into her ears and were spinning nests to lay water eggs and they would grow fat and powerful inside her head while the rest of her body just fell apart under the water. Fishes would nibble at her thighs, breasts and stomach. She'd be food belly and eaten legs, fat food bloated and thick. Birds would take her eyes before the sun could rot them out. All I wanted was to know her a little better.
Who was she and why had she snatched up my heart like this?
In my small life I'd never find an answer. I could kiss her cold lips, but the thought of sharing her mouth with parasites hitched my stomach up again. Unwilling to accept this as plausible, I kissed her anyway, against all odds and parasites. Then, I pushed myself away from her body after kissing her, feeling content, and I floated in front of her with my legs tangled in hers and we both floated on our backs and watched the sky change colors. She was anchored somewhat by a tangle of weeds, so we didn't coast along into deeper water, where the creatures were probably bigger too and more dangerous still. I bet when she was alive she had never done something like this with another person, alive or dead, lazy in the water just looking up and watching the sky. Looking back on it, I hadn't ever done it myself either. Unburdened, floating in the highway run-off of trash and water, I swam with her and watched the sky burn away from orange to gray.
But there was no joy in it. Because I was forcing her dead body to experience this. In a way, forcing myself too. But the fact that she couldn't swim away was a small and cuddled comfort and it was easy to watch the sunset, even though my arms began to hurt and the way the water surrounding her smelled was making me blue in the face. Very cautiously, while still on my back, I lowered my mouth into the water and sipped from it, and swallowed water in sour little soundless gulps, seeing us reflected in the shapes of the clouds. Only up there we looked like doves soaring and not two people floating in the weeds and minnows beside the rush of the highway, one person being dead and the other working harder and harder to support their combined weight on the surface of the water.