The Sun, Peeling

— Soyla Mansfield

I am still chewing fruits. Watermelon and peaches, like gums. My internal body grinds and circulates with perfect efficiency; red machinery, haemocytes gliding in warm sluices. The exterior is dark pink, and glaucous with sun-cream.

“I’m going in this evening,” I say to myself. “As soon as the sun’s gone.” The sea blazes, untouched. It is acid, it is so vacant and magnetic. My willpower crunches: I go out into an expanse of radiation.

On the shoreline, everyone is greasy and sleeping. Some are burnt, too. Under-water, sand sparkles and is golden. Minute rainbows roll along the grains with the current. As I walk, buttery clouds burst beneath my feet.

I sit down so the glassy liquid comes to my shoulders, and when I am entirely stationary—only faint, whitish horripilations flickering up my arms—small kaleidoscopic fish crowd round me, as if I am a giant bait. My skin flakes, redly, but their bubble mouths are puckered and closed, their eyes bulbous and jellylike.

I pick my nails. The sun is scorching the water’s surface; the water itself is more transparent than the air, so the fish seem to be swimming through the lower atmosphere in a humid, surreal aquarium. They look nonchalantly on with their glittering, colour-flushed faces. I swim out.

The ocean surface moves gently as one great mass, lapping and overlapping, fading into itself. It mirrors a warped azure. The excess of blue—sky, water, distant empty mountains—is cooling, not sickening.

I am in a continual state of chilling and overheating, and reach no equilibrium. When I move, my skin burns. I leave because it burns so corrosively my eyes are watering.

By the time I’m inside, dry-hot sands are plastered fatly on my feet; in the window the beach is static, and nobody tips a finger. The shower basin fills with sand and salt. Coming out is like being born—the flesh across my chest and shoulders peels, but my skin, having steeped in cold unsalted water, is anaesthetised.

I read in a soft shell of pajamas and towels and shade for four hours, ignoring the colossal sink of turquoise brine sitting intoxicatingly stagnant.

“I’m going in this evening,” I say to her. “After the sun’s gone.” Her hair is dark and wet and full of salt. The sea got in her eyes.

Suns open up their white faces; they are like flowers sliding across a vacuum. A golden light sprinkles itself on an island about a mile out. The powder-blue sky fell down into an orange horizon, then was washed over by a shoal of black molasses.

“I’m only gonna be twenty minutes, or something,” I say, handing her the key. She says not to worry because she’ll be there a while. I pad barefoot across the grimy, sulphur-lighted dining area—the football on the telly, wine glasses clinking—and run to the shoreline.

More suns blink open. The beach is empty and the colour of milk. I drop the towel onto a sun-bed; sudden cool winds are skin lotions; the cold sea, also, is like a skin lotion. Chalky wavelets trickle in the star-light, but metres out the waters are still as glassy and placid as air. Undulations distort weeds into snakes and rocks into crabs. Shooting stars drop like bolides, or spittle.

The ocean is completely vacant. Everyone’s gone away to the orange lights, apart from the stars. Whoever put them up there has haphazard fingers: if the most infinitesimal vibration loosened over the skies, they’d slip, and plummet, and be snuffed out in all this brine and sink as bland, white baubles.

The world blackens and blackens. On the invisible horizon, a boat heaves along. Its heartbeat is in the water, everywhere; in the soil-motes between my toes, in the sea-vines. It glisters and pulses miles and miles away, and its body floats horizontally across nothing.

As I step out the waves become inflamed. It’s such a senseless coincidence that for a second I think I’m dreaming. I go to my ankles; the water swells and lashes my waist. I walk back to the orange.

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