Cordelia realised it must be the hair dye causing her crazy dreams. She noticed a correlation between the intensity of hair colour and the intensity of dreams; when the blue started to wash out, so did the vibrant hues of her nightly ventures.
She’d just got a new job, one which started next week and would require a regular hair colour. It was a shame, because she’d only just gotten everyone used to her shock of blue. She soaked it in coconut oil twice a week to keep it shiny, and everyone said she was a mermaid. Little did they know about her subaquatic double life, the places she went when she closed her eyes. The way her body felt in water, the effortlessness of breathing beneath its surface, never needing to rise to the light. The absolute comfort of bedrock, coral and shadow. How all communication distilled to smiles and squeals, little gestures of the limbs, the figure. She would shake out her braided hair and go exploring. In this ocean, warm as the tropics, she could swim forever—jewelline tail beating out behind her.
When you’re poor, you appreciate every mode of escapism. Cordelia had been unemployed for months; her days spent job-searching, her nights spent swimming. She was incredibly grateful for her secret dreams. It was difficult to express how real they felt. Once, she had tried explaining to George, who had insomnia and when he stayed over would watch her twist and jerk her body in sleep. He laughed it off and told her to smoke more: reefers, they’ll cure your nightmares. She thought of euphoric polyps of coral. Endless reams of lively reefs, all the things she had seen.
“But they’re not nightmares,” she protested, “they’re really beautiful.” He called her a wannabe sea-punk, showed her some memes and laughed even harder when she invited him to a gig to see Innocent Sailors. The stage lights were headily blue, dispersed in the fog of dry ice; the music was lo-fi, carried across by the siren-like croon of the female lead singer. Cordelia knew all the bass-lines, the tempo shifts. She waited for the familiar soar to lift in her heart at the fall of those chords. George returned through the whirl of the crowd with rounds of doubles, and soon her mind was brimming with images. When the darkness lifted and the last note faded, she found herself weeping.
“Christ, I avoided buying you gin for a reason,” George muttered. She wiped her eyes.
Dizzily, she lay in his sheets and watched the ceiling as her body floated on invisible water. Peeling off her clothes, she felt it shlock against her skin, the buoyant sensation beneath her. She closed her eyes but could not sleep. He was brushing his teeth when she went in to run a bath.
“There’s not enough water in the meter,” he told her, wrenching her arm off the tap.
“It can be cold, whatever,” she said, quite dazed. He tried to hold her but he smelled so strongly of mint that she couldn’t kiss him. She wriggled easily from his grasp, draping her body into the clear cold water.
In the white light of the bathroom, her blue hair was blue as the sky in July, as the cobalt blue on a seaside postcard. She had stopped dyeing it, waiting for it to fade back to blonde before she started her job. It looked vivid as ever just then. He sat on the toilet seat watching her bathe, telling her about a friend who snorted ketamine at a party, went white as a sheet and ended up with Sudden Death Syndrome. He kept saying the word cardiac like it might have some magical effect on her.
“He was your friend?” she asked, leaning back against the side of the bath, feeling her bones settle into the freeze.
“And he died?”
He didn’t bother finishing his sentence because she had closed her eyes and slipped beneath the water. He dipped his hand in to touch her lily-white breasts, but she was frigid as a fresh-caught fish and the shock pulled him out of the water. After a while, he noticed her lips had turned into amethysts; above her luminous freckles the eyelashes rested where once they quivered deliciously. He wanted to feel for her pulse but he was afraid of her bright blue veins. The bath was full of blue-coloured bubbles, blue-mottled skin, blue hair that billowed underwater like alien seaweed.
In the deep dark blue she dreamt of his friend, saw the howl of that face disappear in the shadows. A new melody swept its way through her body, clear and true as the tide at full moon.
Maria Sledmere just completed her MLitt masters thesis on dark ecology and the curatorial novel at the University of Glasgow. She is assistant editor of SPAM zine and founder of Gilded Dirt. Her current interests include Anthropocene poetics, landscape theory and object-orientated philosophy. She regularly contributes music reviews, interviews and features to Ravechild and GoldFlakePaint, and is currently working on a mysterious mythology-based exhibition with producer Lanark Artefax. Her writing has appeared in Bombus Press, Datableed, Fluland, From Glasgow to Saturn, Robida, The Murmur House, Thistle Magazine, Quotidian and Zarf. She tweets @mariaxrose and blogs about everything from Derrida to Lana Del Rey at http://musingsbymaria.wordpress.com.