The needle pricks her finger, teasing out a drop of blood that amplifies the vibrations reaching Grace from White Whale Island. She lays aside the delicate lampshade she is crafting for the beachfront bar, gets to her feet and strides down to the water’s edge. The vibrations from the island resonate even more strongly in her head, and she stands transfixed, staring at it across the ocean breakers. She has heard it is sacred to the Mayas, a point where cosmic energy intersects with the Earth’s elements before dispersing in all directions. And she has seen wedding parties heading out to it in launches to overlay the Catholic ceremony with its benediction, like icing on the wedding cake. Grace has, of course, felt the mystical undertow at Ayers Rock and, to a lesser extent, at holy sites far from home, but never before has she felt so personal a call as that coming to her from White Whale Island. She has entered the water without thinking. Now she glances round to check the lifeguards’ yellow flag is still flying and, sure that she won’t be followed, dives under the first Pacific breaker. The strong, easy strokes that have served her so well in many of the world’s seas become a form of meditation; the vibrations are her compass. Before half an hour has slipped away, Grace is negotiating an inlet to make landfall on White Whale Island.
In the late afternoon heat, Grace stands on the guano-encrusted rock, legs akimbo, arms spread, feeling the vibrations encircling her, like the Earth Goddess’s answer to Leonardo da Vinci. Happy, she opens her outer eyes, and is blinded by the sun’s rays refracted off the white rock stretching into more white rock ahead of her. Grace stumbles around her domain, and finds no sweetness, no fresh water, no plants thrusting through the rock’s bird-shit crust, no insects. The birds themselves have deserted in search of food. The sound inside her head is overpowering. The strength leaves her legs. Grace struggles to achieve the lotus position, but consciousness disappears.
The vibrations wake her. It is dark; the tide has turned. Her deep-tanned skin is burning; her head aches. She looks toward the shore: the few lights seem distant. Grace locates her entry point and releases herself from White Whale Island. The water’s coldness is a shock, but it wakes her completely. Grace soon hits her stride, but progress is slow: currents cross, and tides rip her in directions she does not want to go. Grace is tired, very tired. Yemenjá calls to her from below, and Grace feels how easy it would be to abandon herself in sacrifice to the goddess of the sea, but her thoughts spin off to her own mother, and to stem the tears—she is not sure whose—Grace ploughs all her attention into her stroke. The shore is nearer, but a second wave of tiredness strikes even harder than the first. The face of a child halts Grace as she slips down into the wave. It is her own face, but tinged with someone else. Past, present or future? Grace cannot tell, but her reawoken curiosity gives her the energy to surge to the surface, establish buoyancy and cling to it, letting the waves take her where they will. Grace hears a breaker crashing on the shoreline. Surf envelopes her and toys with her as though she were a plastic doll. Coral sears her right leg and lets her know she is still alive. The sea deposits her on the sand and leaves her. In pain, she rises to her feet and hobbles towards the lights. She will beg them to call an ambulance or take her to the nearest hospital. No curandero this time. And if—when—she gets better, she will charge a proper price for her lampshades and for the haircuts she gives on the beach. Maybe she will even test the waters of human affection again. It will not be easy. But at least those damned vibrations have stopped.
Bryan Murphy lives in Turin, Italy. His stories have appeared in The Hiss Quarterly, The View From Here, The Camel Saloon and The Pygmy Giant. A parallel text edition of his tales set in Italy, provisionally entitled Goodbye Padania, is forthcoming.