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I lift off, glide, and then break the surface in my best swan dive yet this summer. Down below, the sea serpents and mermaids dart through algae and wave their tails. They might be saying welcome back, Olivia! No sign of Casey splashing through. I bob up and there she is, still on the pier, settled in a lotus pose. She’s still in her shorts and wearing that look again.
“There are brain-eating amoeba in lakes. They go in through your nose.” She does a gross-out pantomime of sticking her fingers up her nostrils, then reaches into her pocket for a mini-sanitizer. “And don’t say blow it out your nose, cause it’s way too in-fini-tes-i-mal.” She lingers over the word like a professor engraving a verbal tattoo, though we’re only fifteen and we’ve almost forgotten what school is like—it’s now July and we’ve been stuck home since March with that tiny fatal virus lingering in the air.
“The amoeba in the water causes an infection that gobbles up your brain tissue and you die within days,” she tells me. “I read about it.”
Yesterday, Casey was sure I’d failed to spot some teensy tick and had Lyme disease because when I’m not swimming, all I want to do is sleep. This is how she gets her mind off the virus.
I’m treading water while she lectures me. Do the amoeba feel wet with that inkling of slimy particles? I see schools of silver minnows glide by, and Casey has often reminded me that fish poop is microscopic. Above water, the sun is beaming its own knowledge. I see squiggly particles in the air. Last year, our science teacher said lots of us see particles that are floating through our retina, but now I know stuff is everywhere.
Everything Casey fears is too small to see with the naked eye.
Go into pre-med is what I think I’m going to tell her. But what good is it to talk about becoming eighteen and going off to some campus where we’ll start rehearsing to be our grownup selves? I used to imagine strolling past old brick buildings, meeting someone at random who’d be headed to the Pacific to save the coral reefs, and I’d say so am I, and he’d be my forever love. But I’ve forgotten how to make plans for the world that’s just beyond us.
“Stop reading,” I say instead.
“There’s a whole civilization of sea creatures living in this lake,” I go on. “A mermaid queen and a young shark they call god. There’s zero gravity down there, so I might get sucked into the center of the earth and find a party going on. And there’s a filter that stops all microscopic germs, so you never get sick.”
You can decide these things are true if you stop reading. I raise my arms, kick up, then soar downward, dolphin style. I can almost hear the shark god singing words that sound something like “fear not the infinitesimal.”
Sweet dream, illustrating the difference between the fearful and the fantastic. Sadly, many folks think the pandemic is over because of the news cycle. We don’t live in that fiction. The world is round, evolution happened, and I pray to the shark god to keep amoeba out of my nose! Well done Jane!
Thank you Keith
Going back to a time when this world was seen through younger eyes, and standing in time as we try for survival. Yet some hope and a hint moving forward. Wonderful work.
I loved entering this imaginary world for a brief visit — and it got me thinking of what it would feel like to come of age in this utterly strange moment. Thank you Jan!
what an amazing, atmospheric piece. captures the times we live in through phantasmagoric elusions. Really good. I want to see a book now from this author
Jan, as Olivia soars down dolphin style, hope that instead of a shark god she finds another dolphin.
I think she’s counting on a shark species that will be her fierce protector in that jungle below sea level!
“Like a professor engraving a verbal tattoo,” is like a meteor, just beautiful. I love infinitesimal and all that it means. Wonderful sudden fiction!