Blurry by Josh Denslow

Jess and I were sitting on a faded gray beach, the same drab color as the sky, and when I looked out into the black water, the whole scene looked like a horizontal bar code. I was wearing the tiny red swim trunks she’d given me for my birthday a few years ago even though I’d discovered that morning they were cutting off circulation to my legs. But I didn’t want to be in a fight with Jess and be fat at the same time, so I’d kept them on all through the breakfast with her parents and during our precipitous trek down the rocky path to this precise stretch of beach.

It wasn’t exactly a fight. We weren’t arguing or issuing ultimatums. There was just that shift that sometimes happens, more frequently these days, where I felt like she was looking past me, waiting for someone to arrive. This was kind of a metaphor, but it was literal too. Her eyes wouldn’t meet mine.

“So, what’s special about this spot?” I asked, mostly because there were much easier places to reach. But she’d insisted it had to be here.

“I wanted to see if you’d follow me.” She was wearing a new bikini top that resituated her breasts in a way that made them look brand new to me. Her choice of beachwear said very clearly that she was moving forward, while I, sitting there in my red shorts, was stuck in the past.

“Do I get a prize?”

“Well. I did think it was going to be harder to get down here.” But at least she smiled.

A wind pulsed from the sea and the hair around my nipples stiffened. It had been a long time since I’d gone around without a shirt, and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. “There’s not much to see,” I said.

“That’s the point. There’s no distractions. We can concentrate on what is really happening.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Which is exactly why we’re here,” she said.

“Are you breaking up with me?” I said and I tried for it to sound like a joke.

She waited a long time. Long enough for me to regret saying it. “I was hoping he would show up,” she said finally.

“Who?” I said, a little angrily, picturing a scene where I was confronted by some guy Jess was seeing on the side. And here I was in these fucking shorts.

“The Loch Ness Monster.”

I sighed. Partly in relief, but also a bit of exasperation. It had become fashionable in the last few years to see the Loch Ness Monster all over the world, thousands of miles away from his home in Scotland. Though no one ever seemed to get a good picture. He never quite materialized from the atmosphere.

“He was spotted down here,” Jess said. “Rising in and out of the water. Gliding along the surface. Splashing his enormous tail. It seemed like something we should see.”

“Have you heard the stories about how he ripped some people limb from limb? Maybe it isn’t such a good thing to see old Nessie.”

“I figured you wouldn’t understand.” She leaned back on her hands, her delicate fingers sinking into the sand, and fixed her gaze out into the void in front of us.

But I wanted to. I desperately wanted to understand the mystery of Jess. She was like my own private Loch Ness Monster, never fully in focus. We’d had some good times, but those were also getting lost in the fog.

“So what happens if we see him?”

“That’s the best part,” Jess said. “We have no idea.”

At that moment, I did the only thing I could. I looked out into the sea. The waves were ribbons of gray, roaring like a TV with no signal. I felt Jess next to me, warm and supple. There was a time when it would have been okay to put my arm around her waist and fall into her. But instead, I tried to figure out the exact point she was staring at, hoping that in some small way we could be in synch again.

Jess inhaled sharply a second before I saw it. An indistinguishable mass rising from the water. Its blurred edges made it hard to tell how far away it was. Or how big.

“Do you see him?” Jess whispered.

“I see something,” I said, unable to convince myself that the Loch Ness Monster was out there.

A sonorous bellow sounded from the murk, and then the shape began to move. It definitely moved.

“What’s he doing?” I asked.

Jess turned to me and smiled. “He sees us.”

Another bellow, and then the blurry shape was twice the size, moving through the water toward us. I tried to focus my eyes, willing the creature to take shape in front of me, but it remained as elusive as any picture I’d ever seen of it.

“Maybe we should go, Jess,” I said.

“Not yet.”

She got slowly to her feet, and I watched the way she unfolded, the barest outline of her spine showing through her honey skin. I knew in that moment that if I couldn’t pull her attention away from whatever was coming toward us, I’d never see her again.

The waves crashed with increased intensity as Jess stepped toward the water. The rounded back of the creature was visible now along with the gentle curve of its neck. Or was it just a boat? Or a whale? Or an iceberg far from home?

The sound came again, so close that my hair vibrated. I reached for Jess’s hand but she was too far away now, her towel whipping against her knees.

I didn’t want to see Jess torn apart, her shredded bikini the only evidence that she’d ever been here. And I certainly didn’t want to see her carried away from me, her thin arms clutching the monster’s neck as she was taken out to sea.

So I took a deep breath, hugged my legs to my chest, and closed my eyes.
 
Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, Cutbank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection Not Everyone Is Special will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. In addition to constructing elaborate Lego sets with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.

 

 
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