A Most Common Monster

She is outside her body, watching herself from the shore. If someone were on the beach today, he would see a pale pink round of flesh bobbing parallel to the coast among ripples of waves turned white and frothy by the wind. He might think she was some rare, undiscovered sea creature, the stuff of legends. She imagines him running from the beach and returning with townspeople and an old fishing net made of heavy rope. She can feel the rope’s scratchy weight and the exhilaration of water and wind racing over her skin as the men pull, pull, pull.

The cold numbs her legs and swollen feet; she could cry with gratitude. Ice cuts her fingers each time she drags them through the water, from her hips to her head and back again in wide, slow arcs like angel wings. The hair on her arms prickles. She closes her eyes and lets the waves rock her, breathing deep to stay afloat. With her ears submerged she hears the echo of her heart, and the other. The air is colder than the water but she rests a hand on her exposed belly. The townspeople will recoil when she washes up, tangled in their nets: a most common monster. She spreads her legs wide in the water, wishing it would numb her inside, seep into and freeze all the parts she cannot reach. The little, persistent heart.

When she opens her eyes once more, she has drifted far from shore. The sky is all gray and shadow except for one spot overhead where the sun tries to emerge. The pale ball of light is unfocused, diffused, as if trying to reach her through a thick wall of ice. There is no warmth from it. A stiff wind sprays salty drops that sting her cheeks and nose. She kicks the pins and needles from her legs and swiftly sweeps one arm through the water, turning her bloated body shoreward.


  1. So wonderful!
    I know I heard you read it, but I loved reading this piece.

  2. This is gorgeous! All of the details are so provocative and really powerful– each word feels necessary. Bravo!

  3. This is true skill. I felt coldness like I haven’t since “To Build a Fire.” True, final coldness. Yet it refuses to go quietly, doesn’t it?

  4. Some of my favorite descriptive imagery in a long while. I was in the water with her. From title all the way to last sentence, never lost my fascination.

  5. Very nice.

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