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Nikki Kriaski

Gerta's Ocean

Night after night in her dream, Gerta walks along the cushions of a couch that floats in the ocean. The ocean is everywhere now. It had swallowed the earth and is accepted, or ignored, or denied. In her dream, Gerta wears a lightweight cotton dress, pale pink with faded flowers smudged all over it. It is knee length and sleeveless, a child’s summer dress or thin nightgown. The couch is covered with soft, sun-bleached burlap, and the cushions are spongy and yielding under her bare feet, like the seaweed-soaked sand that collects at the edge of a beach. In the bright cerulean sky seagulls fly overhead, circling the couch like wardens of the sea, circling and diving, squawking and crying out for room as they plunge at the armrests, trying to land. The cushions squish and shift under Gerta’s feet, but she walks nimbly, ignoring the seagulls as she lifts her knees high to step over Donovan’s slumped figure whenever she needs to pass him.


One morning when Gerta wakes up, Donovan is already awake next to her, quietly watching her sleep. His eyes look deep grey like murky ocean water so Gerta tells him about her dream. This is what she says:


“I had a dream that two people are on a couch together and the couch is floating on an ocean. There is no land left that they know of. No direction for them to head, no island or boat or ship or rock left for either of them to place a foot on and take a step, not that either of them seemed to try. The air is calm, the sun bright and welcoming while the couch bobs and floats... floats and bobs among the never-ending waves of the ocean.”


“Like Kismet!” Donovan says. “I’ve had the same dream, but it is us on the couch and it must be windy, because otherwise where do the waves come from? I am barefoot in the dream, and a good climber, though I don’t know how I know that, or why, as my feet stay dangling off the cushions in the water for the entire dream. You are there, perched on the arm like a seagull on driftwood. I know you are scanning the horizon for something or someone to rescue us, but your eyes are closed as though you are sleeping.”


“Perhaps,” Gerta replies, “I am searching for signs of life, or something to rescue us. Perhaps I study the skyline, the clouds, the waves, and the deepest part I can see below the surface of the water. I can see everything even without my eyes. Perhaps my eyes have been pecked out by seagulls to make me into one of them. It does not hurt. I perch on the edge of the couch, on the arm, so I can balance us, keep us afloat. I can keep us above the waterline if I perch on the edge like that, eyes or no eyes, and I am happy to. Perhaps the seagulls drop my eyes into the ocean. The water is cool but stings a bit, like pressing tap water to them after crying. They sink to the bottom where I can see the ocean floor. They glide over all the bivalves in their shells, and the crabs and coral reefs, and bones from dead dinosaurs that are yet unseen. I can see them all and though I long to bring them to the surface to show you, I never try to touch them. Perhaps I can see them all but I do not try to touch them.”

Each morning from that day on, Donovan asks Gerta about her dreams. Each morning this is what she says:

“In my dream we are on a couch floating on the ocean, and I work backward tracing the threads of our lives to find where and when we lost the rest of the world. But I can never recall what it was like before the ocean came to our door, or why the water flooded in in the first place. We are suddenly just floating and bobbing in an endless ocean that used to be our home, and we sit rigid like silent quarrelling lovers, each grabbing a soft, solid couch arm to brace ourselves as the cold waterline rises up over our bare legs.


“In my dream, land is no more. We have tumbled back in time or have lurched far ahead. I scan for life along the ocean floor, with or without my eyes, and in the sky because we are trapped somewhere in time out on the ocean. I discover nothing. Where do the seagulls come from, and where do they go? There is nothing else.”


But each morning, before Gerta finishes telling him her dream, Donovan’s head lulls to the side as he falls back asleep, and each morning Gerta leans over and gently kisses him on the cheek before she herself closes her eyes and, whispering into his ear, continues: “Last night, when you were sleeping, I slipped off the edge of the couch and sunk down through the waves. I found my eyes along the way underwater; my eyes came back to me. I slid deeper into the water and dropped down to the bottom like a seagull diving from the sky. I crawled along the ocean floor, ran my hands through the grey silt making giant murky clouds of subaqueous dust storms, my fingers trawling for fossils or seaweed or skeletons of sunken ruins and discovering nothing.”

Nikki Kriaski recently graduated from the University of Toronto where she studied English, Writing & Rhetoric, and Philosophy. She now writes and edits for a non-profit in Calgary.

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