Seaside Gothic

Fiction | Poetry | Nonfiction

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Son of the Ocean

Son of the Ocean by Dylan Keeling

Listen to me.

For decades I have listened to you; I have stood, hunkering in my coat, a speck on the shore facing your enormity, and listened to you. You sing in a language that children do not understand and adults can never remember; you sing one song the world over, and it is the same, whether crashing over Scottish rocks, or kissing Hawaiian islands. It is a song so essential, so a priori that our breathing mimics it, our heartbeats lampoon it, and our evolution developed from it…a song so primal, so inextinguishable that even a seashell dry as old bones will still whisper a memory of it into any ear that will listen.

I have listened to your song many, many times; endless waves making one climactic leapfrog over the remains of their predecessors before sinking back to your depths. Your song is not the sound of liquid; that sound is what we hear in a bathtub or an indoor swimming pool. It is, rather, the sound of a collapsing solid; each wave forms a baroque, momentary edifice, an impossible construction which crumbles against the shore as if built up of frosted sugar.

I have listened, and now I speak; not to the sea, that manmade, pacified entity that vacationers visit, with parasols and towels, so the adults can laze and the children can cut their feet on the grasses or burn them on the sand. The ‘sea’ is where armies wage battles, ships manoeuvring round each other and foot-soldiers braving shallows, bayonets in hand; it is where corporations dump tons of excrement, toxic waste, and unthinkable mountains of rubbish. The ‘sea’, unlike you, is merely a vast body of water. The sea has a side; it is boxed in, whereas you are borderless. Your name is Ocean.

Now, listen to me. I found this crushed a yard or so from the cliff path, as if by a child stomping back to the car after a day out; and now, in the dark, I cannot see it at all. Its subtle warmth is the only reassurance I have that it still sits in my closed hand, and has not flipped away in the breeze or seeped through the gaps between my fingers. In the time it took to make my way down the cliffside, I have become aware of a bizarre, slimy sensation: in the wrinkles of my palm, moss has begun to grow. My fingers smell of salt and festering seaweed; barnacles have surfaced and proliferate on my skin. My hand is the hand of a drowned sailor, a prehensile outgrowth of coral.

Just as I would walk a lost child home to its mother’s house, I stand before you now holding in my numb, encrusted hand, simply this: a piece of whale-song.

It seems I know what will happen. If the petrification of my hand means the whale-song is gaining potency, and not dissolving into its surroundings, soon it will take flight and vanish into your sunset, and in pathetic fallacy, a summer drizzle will fall, spotting your surface. Then she will rise, an opalescence larger than the forest, harder than the cliff, with bleeding sockets where her eyes once were. She is neither old nor young, neither plain nor beautiful; she is an emissary from you, and she will bring me her eyes.

Indeed, by me in the wet sand, discarded by some uncaring coffee-drinker who felt that the bin, down by the stall that sells sandwiches and ice-cream, was too far to walk—in the sand, as I say, is a polystyrene cup. The opaque plastic lid, which peels off easily if you work your fingers around the rim, went its own way since our litter-dropping friend passed by, but the cup—the bit I would need—sits right here by my feet. If I were to swap the whale-song for it, I would have a vessel, ready.

And in a polystyrene coffee cup I could carry home the eyes of the Ocean. She would then weep tears of blood and nacre; for you, great Ocean, to perceive is an agony, matched only by the misery of losing that perception.


Suppose I had these eyes in a cup, secreted under my bed where nobody would think to look—how long could I continue? How long could I work, visit with friends, luxuriate in my lover at night, and most worryingly, how long could I stay home on my own, trying to clean or read, before taking the cup from between piles of clothes and papers, tilting the eyes out into my morning, and trying them? It would be irrefutable, as if I were the seashell compelled to whisper of you. It would also be agony; for surely your eyes are brimming sacs of poison, so toxic that one spillage might sear a hole to my heart and bare it to the dry, icy air.

Listen, I do not want your eyes. I would eventually see as you see, everywhere. When lost…when enraged…when dying…through your eyes, I would perceive all of the miserable, fucked-up beauty. I would be in hell.

Thus, I return this crushed fragment of whale-song, too small to survive inland, and ask nothing in exchange. I offer it not to the sea of submarines and pollution, spells and incantations, but, rather, to you: a darkness that listens, sings, then listens again, and has no need of eyes.