9.14.2017

The thought came to Kate abruptly and arbitrarily, interrupting the other panicked voices in her head, the ones shouting, “Fucking do something, Kate!” and “Keep swimming!” Like a conductor waving a baton, it silenced the orchestra of anxiety crescendoing in her head, leaving only the resonance of a solitary thought: Nobody knows I’m here right now.

It was Sam that had said it, with a deadpan expression on her face: “And then I realized, nobody knows I’m here right now.” The phrase had sent a chill through Kate’s spine as if it was some kind of cryptic omen. This was months and months ago, and Kate hadn’t really thought about it since.

But now, far from shore and struggling to tread water in the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the thought was a blown-out siren. Big block text, all capitals, flashing against a red backdrop: Nobody knows I’m here right now. And as Kate looked up at the towering wave suspended in front of her – it’s powerful momentum sucking up all of the sound and light of the coast – that same chill ran through her spine.

Kate snapped her head back to the deserted beach, swallowing a mouthful of salt water. Nobody was there. Nobody had been there all afternoon. She turned back to the mounting wave, which had doubled in size in an instant.

The way that Sam had told it, she was driving back home from work when she realized she didn’t have anything in her fridge except for a carton of expired milk and a half empty bottle of hickory smoked barbecue sauce. “And I totally forgot to eat lunch,” Sam had told Kate, “And you know me – I was star- ving.” Sam had stopped the story there, squinting into her purse as she rummaged past wrinkled receipts and rogue sticks of gum. Kate had been unsure if this was the end of the story or not, and after a moment asked, “So what did you do?”

“Here it is!” Sam exclaimed, pulling a credit card out of her purse. “Sorry, Kate – what’d you say?”
“What did you do?”

“Oh – oh yeah, so I’m starving, right? And nothing’s open except for that little convenience store down the street from me – the one with the green awning that’s always playing reggaeton? So I’m like, “Shit,” you know, because I want to eat like a pizza or a burrito or something, and I know all that place is going to have is old gross cans of tuna and Funyuns. But nothing else is open so I went in and bought a bag of trail mix and a Diet Coke.”

Sam stopped again, sliding her credit card across the counter to the bartender. She ran her fingers through her hair, looking at herself in the oval mirror behind the bar. Kate nodded, once again unsure if this was the ending to Sam’s story. But then Sam turned back from the mirror, saying, “But when I walked into the parking lot, I remembered that I hadn’t talked with Jake all day. And I didn’t tell anyone at work what my plans were for the night. And then I realized, nobody knows I’m here right now. Nobody knows I’m here, standing in this empty parking lot.”

Sam ended the story by tossing back a shot of tequila, stubbing out her cigarette in the plastic ashtray: “So I went home, and Jake was already at my place, and he asked me where I had been. I don’t know why, but I lied and said I got stuck in traffic. I didn’t want to tell him about stopping at the store, or standing in the parking lot, or thinking about how nobody knew where I was. Is that weird? I don’t know.”

At first, the phrase haunted Kate: Nobody knows I’m here right now. It would pop into her head while she was pumping gas, or hiking up the trail behind her house – all the little lonely moments in life when she would find herself alone, temporarily detached from the world spinning around. But after a few days, the thought began to dim and fade, until it disappeared completely.

Kate’s decision to go to the beach that day was impulsive – without any rhyme or reason: she was in her bathroom brushing her teeth and thinking about Amelia Earhart and then all of a sudden she was driving down the PCH, and then she was walking down the side of the road, and then she was laying out her towel across the sand, and then she was walking into the ocean.

By the time Kate was waist deep, the surf that had been crashing along the shore vanished. The water was eerily calm; stagnate and smooth as glass. The vacant shore behind her looked perfectly flat. A second later she was under water, being dragged across the rocky ocean floor. When she came to the surface, gasping for air, she saw a wave growing in front of her. It dragged her towards it with all the blind force of mother nature.

And it was then that she realized she didn’t tell anyone that she was going to the beach that afternoon. In fact, she hadn’t talked to anyone all day.

Nobody knows I’m here right now.

The thought passed through her head once more, this time not spoken by Sam, but by a choir of dissonant voices that she didn’t recognize. Before she could let out a scream, the wave crashed down on top of her in a blur of blues and greens and whites, taking her under.

EH

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