Floating: A short story by Evan McMurry

By Evan McMurry

 

Floating

But if God was everywhere, didn’t that mean that when you sat down, you were sitting on God?

Marina was instructed to stop being disrespectful, but disrespect was what she was desperate to avoid. You can’t sit on the Lord, she was told. “But wouldn’t that mean He’s not everywhere?” If you could sit on God, how would you avoid it? If you stood up, you’d be standing on God! “Exactly!” Marina said. Aren’t you doing that right now? “That’s what I was afraid of!” she objected. “So I figured I should sit down. That’s when I thought I’d be sitting on God. But now I’ve been standing on Him for a while. Is it worse to stand or sit on Him?” You can’t stand on God, she was told. “But doesn’t that mean He’s not everywhere?” A sigh. So does that mean that when you walk, you’re walking on God? This had never occurred to Marina. Now she was truly worried. She crept to the chair behind her, gripped its armrests, suspended herself above the seat. “There,” she said. But her triumph won her a scowl. You can’t. Outsmart. God. And I reckon He’s had about enough of this.

As an adult this debate would haul up and smack her. Crossing the street, Marina would think walking on God; in bed beside her husband, lying on God. Sometimes he’d stir, ask with sloggy eyes why she was awake. How to say: THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID BLASPHEMY IS TO SOMEHOW SUSPEND YOURSELF BUT THAT WOULD BE THE ULTIMATE HERESY BY OVERCOMING GOD’S WHATEVER-PLAN? There was no explaining that to the body clumped beside her. He’d never have any idea of this seethe within her, would never know that he didn’t have an idea, never know that he didn’t know, an endless trap door swinging between them.

Him: “Were you up last night?”

“No.”

“Huh.”

After the divorce Marina fled a thousand miles west to a beachside burg where the sand was a ragged pebbly brown and the sea choppy and anxious, its dunes frequented by college students constructing crackling bonfires. With a couple of those pyres burning beyond Marina breached the black water, sliding out until she could no longer touch bottom, beach blurring behind her. Out here she floated. You can’t outsmart God, she heard. If she was truly such a heretic, she reckoned He could drown her there and then. Marina slackened her muscles, surrendering to the wrenching waves. A swell overturned her; saltwater rushed her throat; another swell lifted her, coughing. Above, the night sky glimpsed a galaxy. The current shoved her toward shore until the rocky earth floor poked her toes.

Two students who’d peeled from their fireside friends and were spelunking each other’s mouths saw the silhouette stride from the water, hair stunned to her temples. The shadow dripped as it approached. The couple scurried back, kicking at the jagged rocks, cuts they brandished next morning as proof.

“What did she want?” one friend asked, but they’d been too petrified to ask.

Marina never heard the legend of the vengeful mermaid that circled town for years. Would she have recognized herself if she had? That night drifted in dreamclouds through her mind; she couldn’t ever say for sure it had happened. By now she was going to church thrice a week, volunteering daily. The sensation of floating in the black water recurred to her as a sin she shook off in line at the supermarket or at her bus stop. Other parishioners regarded her as a harmless oddity, prone to mild tremors.

A spinster named Kathy, beloved by the congregation for her bottomless attentions, befriended Marina. The two began arriving at church bake sales together, hauling sheet pans of chocolate chip cookies over which they’d slaved all night. Before long they were living together. They were whispered about, until the reverend asked who of God’s creatures didn’t deserve companionship. Kathy and Marina discovered a side trade in sculpting multi-tiered wedding cakes for the younger couples; suggestions to start their own business were dismissed with a cocky wave of the hand.

Near the end, when a second round of chemotherapy failed and Marina ignored all entreaties to continue battling (not her word), she took to giggling in her pew. “I’m sitting on God,” Marina confided to any and all who asked. A bereft Kathy begged the reverend to intervene. He found Marina convalescing in her living room, grin creasing her cheeks, bony digits clutching the blue blanket draping her. The chair beside her bed creaked. “You’re sitting on God,” she whispered, as if they were plotting a prank. He debated the point, the back-and-forth delighting her, until her eyes lowered.

“She wants to be cremated,” Kathy cried to the reverend as Marina slept. “Lord help me, I can’t do it to a body.”

But the will mandated. Kathy refusing to have anything to do with the sacrilege, another parishioner, a young woman slated to leave soon for a humanitarian mission in Sierra Leone, volunteered to scatter the ashes in the Pacific. Kathy surrendered the urn and wept. Using a bit of funds set aside by the estate, the young woman rented boat and captain. Beyond where the shore can send me back, commanded the entirety of the instructions. “Sure,” the boatman shrugged, and motored them out to sea. “Who was she?” he asked as the woman, too young to have lost anyone herself, distributed the remains with her best impression of the solemn.

“This old lady who laughed in church.”

The last of Marina dissolved into the infinite molecules forming the ripples of the Pacific ringing the boat. Some molecules eventually evaporated and joined the air; others sank to the unperturbed bottom; still others, at last, returned to land, absorbed into the sharp-edged shore, where Marina would crouch for ages, slicing the soles of those who strutted the earth without a thought for that which held them up.


Evan McMurry’s fiction has been published in more than one-dozen journals, including Post Road, Euphony, Arcturus, Oddville Press, Lotus-Eater Magazine, Palaver, Mulberry Fork Review and more. His story “The Fall of Rabbi Gold” has been selected as a finalist for the Al-Simāk Award for Fiction from the Chicago Review of Books. He graduated from Reed College and received his MFA in fiction from Texas State University-San Marcos. More at: evanmcmurry.com.

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