This story was included in an anthology you bought on our fifth date, when we hit up Chicago’s FantastiCon. You laid our day’s haul (enough books to fill a suitcase or four) on the hotel bed and immediately began reading.
“Holy. Crap,” you said after a while. “You need to hear this.”
You then read me this story, playing each part as if you were performing for the world’s largest audience. You puffed out your chest as the sailor. Flopped about on your belly as the flounder. When you hissed the sea serpent’s dialogue into my ear, I nearly shivered out of my skin.
Later, while we were making out, I accidentally knocked the book onto the floor. You examined the damage done and said we should give it a medal.
“Turquoise Heart,” you said. “For injury in the line of booty.”
I found the anthology while sorting your belongings. It’s sitting on my bookshelf now. Maybe I’ll be strong enough to read it someday. Maybe not. What matters is this memory, enshrined forever in the dent on its spine.
2. “The Whale Wife’s Lament,” by Alexis Yang.
It wasn’t the lyrical prose or sparkling dialogue you loved; it was the whale wife herself. You’d imitate her around the apartment, whale song made dopey and adorable.
“Hiiiiiiiiya Claaaaire, hoooooow yooou dooooooing?”
I was grilling us quesadillas when you told me how jealous she made you. “Bigger than a house, yet impossibly graceful. Exploring all those crevices and trenches and whatnot.”
“But unable to live outside of the ocean.”
“So? Maybe the sea is the place to be.”
“And you’d give up all this?” I flung out my arms to take in our apartment. It was tiny, but it was ours. Books lined every wall, covered every surface.
I loved that place. I still miss it.
“You’d be there too,” you said. “We’d hold fins and wander. Sing to each other every waking moment. Adopt a pet porpoise. Open the Pacific’s first all-you-can-gulp krill café. What more could you want?”
“Nothing,” I said. “So long as I’m with you.”
You sidled up to me and planted a sloppy kiss – a whale’s kiss – on my cheek.
“Thanks for cooking,” you said. And then, for the first time, you collapsed.
3. “Seaweed Tangles,” by Jason Milthurst
Two days into your last hospitalization, I bought every speculative fiction magazine our local bookstore had. When I got back, you were lying in bed, half-lost in a briar of wires and tubes. I dumped the magazines onto your lap and said you weren’t allowed to go until we’d finished them all.
“It might just be the drugs,” you said with a grin, “but I’m swooning, missy.”
Your stamina for fiction had always been greater than mine. Around midnight, you woke me by slapping an issue of Octavia’s Dream against my knee.
“Check out this merfolk story,” you said. “It’s so friggin’ sexy.”
You were right, of course. When I finally dragged my eyes from the page, you were gazing at me with a flushed expression.
“Get your fine self over here,” you said.
I crawled into the bed, careful not to disturb any of the devices attached to your body, and you pressed yourself against me. The corners of your eyes were trembling. There was a hitch in your throat.
“We don’t have to do this,” I said.
“Life’s short.” You hugged me tighter. “Let’s be lewd while we still can.
4. “Depths Arise,” by Scarlett Montgomery.
I read you this story in those last days. You had become so frail, drowning in your sheets, drifting in and out of consciousness. You spoke in fractured sentences about “the deep” – a phrase I tried hard to ignore, its metaphorical power too obvious, too wrenching.
It was a terrible reading – my voice kept breaking and the blur of tears made me miss whole sentences – but you were so kind. When I finished, you squeezed my fingers and whispered two words that may have saved my life.
5. “The Still Waters of Dawn,” by August Cleary.
Six months after you passed, our friends invited me to Comic-Con. I could feel you shoving me out the door, hear your voice telling me, “It’s time, dummy.”
How could I refuse?
When I reached California, I brought your ashes to the edge of the Pacific and buried them on a quiet stretch of beach. I then sat beside you, reading aloud from an anthology you had left on your bedside table.
That’s where I found this story. It’s about a young dragon with a broken wing who learns that swimming is much the same as flying. You would have loved it.
As I read to you, each word seemed like an invocation, a prayer unspooling from my mouth and into the sand where you lay. I imagined my voice nourishing you, your ashes pulling together to form an egg. So I kept reading, my voice firm, singing into the wind. And when I finished, when I finally left you, I gave your book to the sands.
I read this story only that once, but I somehow memorized every word. For months, I would recite them while lying in bed at night. They carried me until I could once again carry myself.
I hope this story really is magic, that you one day hatched and made your way to the surf, riding the currents far and deep. I hope that you took one last look at dry land and then, with a mighty flick of your tail, swished off into the blue.
It’s what I choose to believe. You’re forever exploring the endless sweep of the ocean, as strong and powerful as a dragon. Or a serpent. Or a whale.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of creature you’ve become. What matters is this: You’re gone from my world, but you’ve found another.
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