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Into The Ocean
I see the world through my wide-angle camera lens. Photography is the life-blood that fuels me. Every flash makes me ecstatic; every click of the shutter fills my mind with joy. I capture faces, laughter, and tears, to be sold to the highest bidder. Without my camera, my world would be shattered.
Strains of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake floated through the air that Saturday night, giving the park a surreal atmosphere. I crouched in the shadows while I snapped pictures of feet.
“Adidas? Nah. Flip-flops? Nope. Purple-striped Converse? Yes!” I whispered to myself as my symphony of snap-flash photography rivaled the soaring crescendo from the concert over in the gazebo. I was in Tatlow Park, just far enough from Vancouver to make all the car noises and blaring horns fade away. The sound of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful melodies was making me almost sleepy. I was having trouble sleeping. I had pulled many an all-nighter that month, taking haunting self-portraits.
I looked back down at my camera – a Canon Rebel, which took three months of freelancing with the local newspapers to buy – and realized I had more than enough photos. Some of the ones I liked were a red-orange high heel, a gold ballet slipper, and my favorite, a pair of brown sandals with small white wings on the ankles. I knew Tiptoe, the shoe boutique I was doing this for, would probably like the more generic photos, so the Hermes-inspired shoes would most likely end up hanging on my bedroom wall with the rest of my favorite photos.
In my mind, I could see my name, Kestrel Bennett, printed in small gold letters in the lower left corner of every canvas in Tiptoe. I could also see my name printed in small black letters upon the check I would be receiving. Maybe, after this, I could go back to college. I had always regretted dropping out in my second year. There was so much left that I could learn, even though I was quickly rising in the Vancouver photography world.
The sounds of Swan Lake came to a close, so I got up from my spot in the sweet-scented bushes and decided to walk home, rather than ride on the smelly public transit bus. I could cut through the residential areas, rather than risk it on the city streets. Being a young woman with an expensive camera, I could easily be targeted by “unsavory characters”, as my dad would call them.
As I walked along Point Grey Road, I saw a small side street ending at the beach. The photographer part of my mind told me the sunset glimmering on the waves would make a beautiful shot. I walked down to Kitsilano beach, shivering in the early September air and stepping gingerly over barnacle-encrusted rocks.
I was not disappointed with the view. The moon shone silver over to the east, and the sun was just dipping into the horizon on the west. The sun shone a crimson red that burned into my vision, the sky around it looking like a child’s watercolor. I got both in the same frame, and knew instantly this would be a photo to go on my bedroom wall. I lay down on my belly to get another shot. Inching to one side, then the other, I snapped photo after photo until the sunset faded and the sky was black.
Without my tripod, there was no way I could take anymore photos that night. The darker it is, the longer it takes for the shutter to snap shut. I rolled over and pulled the camera strap off of my neck. “Where’d it go?” I said to myself, searching in the sand around me for the lens cap I dropped. My fingers found something that most certainly was not a small plastic cap. It was waterlogged and slightly slimy. As I turned to see exactly what I was touching, I felt like retching.
It was one of the feet. Everyone in Vancouver knew about the mysterious disembodied feet that washed up on the shores, encased in running shoes. The police had been looking into it, and the cover-up right then was that the feet were medical waste, as in amputated feet that somehow ended up in the ocean. Everyone speculated about what really had caused this phenomenon, these floating feet.
And I had just found another. I shuddered, wiping my fingers against the leg of my pants. Once again the photographer in me told me to document this, even though I was repulsed. I snapped photo after photo of it, leaning closer for better angles. Then I realized that a human foot was lying there, and I was doing nothing but taking pictures of it. I pulled out my cell phone and hit the numbers I knew so well.
“Kes?” said that velvety voice I loved.
“Oh my god, Dane, I just found a foot!” My voice sounded screechy and loud in comparison to his.
I heard his rich laugh. “Okay, slow down. What did you find?” My mind was so scrambled, my thoughts were in a mess. I just wanted to hear him, to know that something in this world was solid. I explained it all to him, becoming nearly hysteric. “Kestrel, the best thing for you to do would be to call the police. I’ll come pick you up as soon as I can.” Dane was the voice of reason in my photography-centered life. He was my best friend, my closest friend, the only person I could rely on. Everyone else I knew, all my other acquaintances, had become mere memories since I met him.
I looked down at the shoe lying upon the ground. The trademark Nike swoosh shone bright upon the side, not like something that had been afloat for months or even a few weeks. Some morbid desire called me to look closer, and I did. There wasn’t any flesh left upon the foot, and some bivalves had decided to lodge inside the running shoe. It looked to be a man’s shoe, about size ten.
I snapped a few more quick pictures, and then reached for my phone to dial the authorities. My fingers hovered over the numbers. For some reason, I was reluctant to call. When the police came, this foot would be taken away to be analyzed and torn apart to determine who it belonged to. I nervously reached my hand towards the foot.
Ignoring the squelching noises, I carried it to the ocean. I filled the
shoe with rocks to weigh it down, and then waded into the water until it reached my thighs. What are you doing? I kept asking myself, but I knew I should do this. It felt right. I dropped it into the water, watching as it sank to the sandy bottom. Rings spread out on the surface of the water, warping my faint reflection and making the stars dance. I wanted to dive beneath the water and join that foot, to let myself finally get some sleep, to wrap myself in seaweed and sing with the fish. But I couldn’t. What would Dane think? And Dad would become a wreck. I regretfully turned back towards the shore.
As I walked back to the beach, I wondered what I had just done. I had felt almost possessed, as if I had no will of my own. The shoe wanted to be in the water, and I needed to help it there.
Dane rolled up in his red Prius. I knew I was half-wet, probably smelled like rotten feet, and was coated in sand. I looked back behind me, but the ocean was glassy, no ripples from the shoe I had just dropped into it. Dane looked at me questioningly.
“Where’s the foot?”
I started to laugh. “In the ocean!” I said wildly, twirling around. “The foot is in the ocean! Ha!” I fell over dizzily, not knowing what had just come over me. I was going mad, I was sure of it. Dane took hold of me firmly and asked me over and over what was wrong. He pulled me into the car and drove me home.
Dad couldn’t handle it, so he handed me off to a psychiatrist, who, in turn, prescribed a room in the psych ward. The doctors told me it was schizophrenia. That the foot I saw was a hallucination. That my madness had been building to that moment. That I might get better, eventually. But I knew better. I knew that the shadows that lurked at my vision would never go away. That the manic laugh pouring from my own throat had been locked there for years, waiting to get out.
Because the event was so sudden, the doctors told me I would recover soon. But it began to happen over and over again. I once took my lunch tray and threw it at the wall, watching the pretty colors of the soup and the juice drip down the wall. I grabbed a high heel from the foot of a nurse and dropped it out the slit of a window they allowed me. I would sneak out of my room and end up in another ward, talking to people whose minds were even more fragmented than mine. It was the only way I could deal with the overwhelming feeling inside me that I needed to do something, to escape these cold white walls and return to the ocean.
My dad, hoping to get some money, completed my last deal with Tiptoe. He arranged everything, gave them all the photos, even helped in selecting the best. This was the most active he had ever been in my life since Mom had left. Every time I saw him he looked a little sadder, a little emptier.
Dad came to visit me on my birthday, May fifth. He didn’t joke about Cinco de Mayo like he usually would. In fact, he didn’t joke at all. I could see he was worried at the things that were pouring out of my mouth. I couldn’t control it though. I didn’t want to control it. Once, I began to laugh, a hoarse, grating noise. He stood up quickly and ran from the room. It was the last time I saw him.
But I hadn’t the intelligence to put it all together. I was constantly skipping from one subject to the other, from one mood to another. What scared me most was when, on occasion, my emotions were drained. I wasn’t afraid, or worried, and I couldn’t feel any pain. I could have done anything to myself, and I really wouldn’t have cared. I would see things moving in my peripheral vision, and it would frighten me. What was becoming of my mind?
Through all of this, I always had my camera with me. It was my only source of happiness. My life began to revolve around my photos. I took photos of the sad, smiling patients, of the bland walls, of the rainbow colored pills I took every morning. Every night, my dreams were of severed feet. I faded away until the only thing left of Kestrel Bennett was the gold letters on every canvas in the shoe boutique Tiptoe.