On December 25th at 1:14 a.m. the full moon reaches aphelion, its farthest distance from the sun. The two bodies taking the earth from both sides means that, in a few hours, the water will be unusually high as the tidal bulge moves around the world and the moon sets exactly opposite the rising sun.
It is at precisely 1:14 a.m.1 that I’m suddenly awake, staring at the ceiling. I know every crevice in the spackle like every nerve in my leg; scars painting the accident that took me down as a child. Not sure how long these severed and sewn limbs will serve me. Sleep ebbs and floods with the spasms. By 5 a.m., I’m done. I don’t care what day it is . . . tired of feeling so bad. I take another look at the hydrocodone bottle in the medicine cabinet.1a I slam it shut, grab my towel, sling goggles around my neck and drive to the beach to find relief in the cold winter water. As I drive east, the moon races to the horizon behind me.
Sunrise is a half hour away. In the twilight, life stirs. Mullets create a disturbance on the surface, occasionally jumping into the air, and birds take the deep dive. Dolphin families make their way up the coast, celebrating in leaps and showing tail. There is a man curled up in the sand, duffle bag tucked under his crown of dreads, restless in his sleep. He seems familiar but the hunch is fleeting. The moon is setting, full and mirroring the invisible sun.
It’s high tide, so the walk to the water is short under my throbbing legs. The sandpipers scatter and fly. The chilling water hurts my ankles. I acclimate, then go in further, slowly up to my knees, breathing through the shivers. Stepping waist high—that’s like, wow, brrrr. The sun is cresting right below the horizon and just as the opposing moon sets2, I see a tail. It’s very close and very big.
Another deep breath. Don’t panic . . . remain still, hope it passes by. Strong undercurrents around my legs. Shoot, it knows I’m here. Then, with a powerful push of its tail and a swift undertow, it’s gone. I’m tumbling in the water in its wake. I’m out of here. Painfully getting to my feet, toes curled, gripping the sand, walking backwards, I see the tail again. All at once the rest of this creature reveals herself in one giant leap. I freeze as she swims toward the shore. Cold water has done some strange things to me. Dizziness, vertigo, hypothermia … but it’s never been a hallucinogen. Yet there she is, coming straight toward me, her tail conjuring itself into a seal-skin shawl around her broad shoulders.
I’m straight-up scared and completely enamored. Her legs, appearing out of the water like magic, are showing faint scales. There’s a tattoo on her right foot: “Kristina.” She speaks first:
“Hi.” Like we just met in line at the coffee shop.
So, “Hi-hi,” I stammer. Her wet hair shifts shades of red and brown. She looks me straight in the eye. Her words soft but urgent. “There’s a child coming.”
I’m looking up and down the shore scanning for kids. She touches my nose with her finger and turns my face back toward hers. She’s closer now. I can feel her breath.
“Michael, there’s a child coming. Meet me at the river, after dark, downtown under the blue bridge.”
In the absence of a tattoo bearing my name and feeling completely out my league, I blurt, “Need a ride?”
She takes a step back, the corner of her mouth curling up in a smile. “I’m a mermaid there, Aquaman.”
She tosses me a pouch, turns toward the water, her seal-skin shawl drifts back down over her legs as they melt away into a tail. She pushes off into the breakers, leaps into the air and slips back into the sea just as the sun breaks the horizon.3 I barely remember the drive home. My phantasmagoric morning might be a dream, though I do have this pouch in my salty hands. It contains what looks like a bunch of seaweed. My leg is screaming so I lay horizontal in bed, hoping the swelling recedes, postponing further consideration. Something about the pouch invokes sleep as the rivers and streams on the ceiling fall away.
Hours later, I am roused by a roaring in my head.4 The river is blocks away. I never heard it like this, like I’m in it, when I’m not in it. Instinctively I know it’s the peak of the ebb tide and sunset is coming. Pouch in my pocket, goggles still around my neck, I make my way to the river and begin the walk north along the bank, to the blue bridge.
Ten minutes in, the pain is deep. It’s difficult hiding my limp from passersby. Don’t want questions. There’s a steep catwalk up and over the railroad tracks. The climb is excruciating. Not sure if I can make this one. Hands staying warm in my pockets, I hold the pouch tighter and feel an epiphany. The sound of water becomes comforting, reassuring, revealing that she, the water, travels with me always.1b Pretty cool for seaweed.
The blue bridge is just ahead. The sun is setting opposite the moon5, temperature dropping. Just want to get off my feet. Pain pounds my legs as I seat myself under the blue bridge. Waiting, I can still hear the rush of the ebb tide. The rising full moon6 pulls the river back out to sea while I’m holding back a flood of tears, thinking about that bottle of pain meds. I hear a voice beside or inside me . . . I can’t tell.
His long jatas twisted in a bundle on his head, one eye open, one eye squinting in the moonlight, he says, “You – you’re part of the water system.”1c I have a clouded memory of hearing those words on the beach one sunrise last year. Tell me twice. He drops his torn duffle bag and extends his hand. “Willis,” he says. His hand is warm. “Okay there, Willis, I’m…” Willis interjects, “Michael,” but I’m in too much pain to feel surprise. It’s cold and these legs have taken me down.
Willis reaches in his bag revealing a familiar seal-skin shawl. “Stay warm, Michael,” he says, draping it around my shoulders. I recall him from this morning. The man in the sand. He acknowledges with a nod as if he can hear the thought. Twilight ends7 as I feel the shawl’s grip, and we are under the power of the moon.
“Journey ahead, Michael. There’s a child coming,” he says. “You won’t need these,” removing the goggles from my neck. He places them on the ground, the moonlight beaming through the lenses at his feet. Looking up, I see his dreads unbundle with a life of their own, like Kristina’s shawl. Beautiful locks, touching the ground.
Willis is pointing to the pouch Kristina gave me and I hand it over in disbelief. I’m game for anything. Had no idea when this day started that I’d be hanging with a homeless angel with magic dreads in the cold, waiting for a mermaid named Kristina. Still, I hear the currents in the ebbing river. In the roar, I pick up Kristina, tunneling against the tide, making her way to the blue bridge. I feel her angst when she leaps high into the air and our eyes meet midflight.
Splashing down, she hightails it directly to us on the bank. Swimming in place, she intones, “To the sea with you, Michael, while the tide is ebbing. There is a child coming.”8 I look at Willis.
“The water is your blue bridge, Michael.” Willis touches the pouch to my forehead then empties the contents over my shawl. It unfolds its way down my body, the pain in my legs finally disappearing as they merge into a magnificent tail. Willis nudges me into the river with his foot and I slip into the water beside Kristina.
I can see and hear everything as she leads the way just under the surface. Willis is distant on the banks. He speaks but I know his mouth isn’t moving. Through my continued astonishment, I hear, “She is sad and broken, Michael, but you won’t see her tears under the water. Learn your new legs. I’ll be in touch soon.”
Swimming close behind her toward the ocean, untethered, I test my new tail and kick up a swirling undercurrent.
“Hurry,” she says, “while the moon is still far from the sun.” (To be continued.)
Apo Helios – Footnotes
apo “away from” + helios “sun”
The astronomical events and times in the story are actual as observed from Jacksonville, Florida on December 25th, 2015. This includes the timing of the tides and currents in the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville Beach and the St. Johns River as it flows downtown under the “blue bridge”. Some of the characters are composites of people I know or have observed. Most of them know they’ve been used, or are appreciated. Except Willis.
1 “precisely 1:14 am” The trigger for Apos Helios is that the moon is at aphelion, its farthest distance from the sun at 1:14 am on December 25th, 2015. At 1:14 am the tides are very low. Six hours later they are unusually high. It sets the course for the timing of scenes and the grandeur of the sun rising and the moon and setting opposite of each other in the sky on this particular morning.
1a Oct/November 2015 – Water Works – the ART of water, p.44 par. 7 References using physical exercise for withdrawal, and natural endorphins as an alternative to pain medication.
2 “just as the opposing moon sets” Michael sees Kristina’s tail for the first time precisely when the moon sets, at 7:13 am. There’s a reason for that that. We’ll learn more about that in the next installment.
3 “just as the sun breaks the horizon” Kristina is back in the water when the sun breaks the horizon at 7:21, just eight minutes after the moon sets. Possibly her eight-minute window?
1b May/June 2015 – Water Works – arkhi-tekton, p.54 par. 10 Climbing the dry waterfalls in Valdez, Alaska in 1989, with an injured leg, comforted by the sound of water above.
4 “Hours later, I am roused by a roaring in my head. The river is blocks away.” We learn that the pouch has something to do with Michael’s somewhat enhanced senses. It’s 4:43 pm. The river reaches its maximum ebb velocity at this time as the water rushes back out to sea with the lowering tides.
5 “The blue bridge is just ahead. The sun is setting opposite the moon” It is no coincidence that Michael is nearing the “blue bridge” just as the sun sets, at 5:32pm. The math says his walk from his place to the blue bridge took about 45 minutes.
6 “The rising full moon pulls the river back out to sea while I’m holding back a flood of tears, thinking about that bottle of pain meds.” The moon rises at 6:09, now a half hour behind the sunset. The opposition of the two bodies is fading. The moon is pulling at the water in the river, and at Michael’s tears. He’s also feeling the tug from his medicine cabinet. Soon after Willis reminds him that he IS part of the water system.
1c March/April 2015 – Water Works p.26, par.1 True story, exact words, “You’re part of the water system.” Willis is a composite of the fellow that declared these words to me on the beach and a homeless gentlemen of the same name that walks the beaches of Jacksonville. More Willis to come.
7 “…as if he could hear the thought. Twilight ends as I feel the shawl’s grip, and we are under the power of the moon.” At 6:16 pm twilight ends. All the light comes by way of the moon. which rose just seventeen minutes ago. It is then that Michael realizes that Willis can hear his thoughts. Soon after Michael can “hear” Kristina before she arrives.
8 “’To the sea with you Michael, while the tide is ebbing. There is a child coming.’
8 I look at Willis.” At 7:44 pm the ebb tide goes slack. Slack means the water is momentarily still. Then the river current switches direction as the tidal bulge sends water up river in the opposite direction. This means Kristina and Michael have only 45 minutes before they are swimming against the river current. Willis soon reveals that Kristina is troubled and has her own current to swim against. They need to hurry, there is a child coming but these tides may slow them down.