The Surgeon’s Tale
by Cat Rambo and Jeff VanderMeer
Down by the docks, you can smell the tide going out–surging from rotted fish, filth, and the briny sargassum that turns the pilings a mixture of purple and green. I don’t mind the smell; it reminds me of my youth. From the bungalow on the bay’s edge, I emerge most days to go beach-combing in the sands beneath the rotted piers. Soft crab skeletons and ghostly sausage wrappers mostly, but a coin or two as well.
Sometimes I see an old man when I’m hunting, a gangly fellow whose clothes hang loose. As though his limbs were sticks of chalk, wired together with ulnar ligaments of seaweed, pillowing bursae formed from the sacs of decaying anemones that clutter on the underside of the pier’s planking.
I worry that the sticks will snap if he steps too far too fast, and he will become past repair, past preservation, right in front of me. I draw diagrams in the sand flats to show him how he can safeguard himself with casings over his fragile limbs, the glyphs he should draw on his cuffs to strengthen his wrists. A thousand things I’ve learned here and at sea. But I don’t talk to him–he will have to figure it out from my scrawls when he comes upon them. If the sea doesn’t touch them first.
He seems haunted, like a mirror or a window that shows some landscape it’s never known. I’m as old as he is. I wonder if I look like him. If he too has trouble sleeping at night. And why he chose this patch of sand to pace and wander.
I will not talk to him. That would be like talking to myself: the surest path to madness.