I’m writing a series of novels: the Seeking Scylla series. Some characters dance on the edges of the narratives. Some never make it in. In Beyond Scylla blogs, I share stories and vignettes about these characters.
The sand pelts my shins, the water recedes, smashing against my knees. I lean forward to keep my balance. I wake.
“I had that dream again.”
Perla looks at me, alert but calm. Not like the first time I told her about the dream.
The first time— “I am standing with the ocean behind me, facing a woman… her face is fuzzy. She’s holding a swaddled baby…”— that’s the part of the dream that sucked the pink out of Perla’s face, deep into the ocean. Her eyes, frozen, watched my mouth. But I kept going, afraid the illogical bits and pieces of my dream would be washed away with the shell and grit if I waited.
“… with each wave, the woman tells me, ‘Don’t,’ but I’m not sure what she means. I’m too caught up in the exhilaration of the ocean, the water… ‘Come on!’ I keep telling her. ‘Let’s go in.'”
Perla seemed to be sinking into the floor, like the sheen sinking into the sand ahead of the next crashing wave.
“Are you okay?”
I worried she was having a stroke. Frozen, dark saucer eyes.
“I’m fine,” she jerked her head away from me. Her words, starved for oxygen.
“Don’t worry. I’d never go in the ocean.”
Most of our waters have been toxic since I can remember. I’ve never swum in a large body of water. In fact, I don’t know how to swim. No one swims, except the divers in layers of protection, with tanks of oxygen. Dangerous occupation.
The dream comes back at irregular intervals. I linger longer in the ocean each time, wake later. And I always tell aunt Perla, “I had that dream again.”
The second time, aunt Perla froze like before, her eyes not as big, but alert. I tried to describe the sensation of the ocean. I struggled because I only knew it in this dream.
“What is it called when the water pulls you into the deep? Whoosh. Sudden. Under the surface.”
“Rip current. Maybe riptide.”
“Rip? I thought it was under-something.”
“Undertow. Also a thing but not the same. Not as strong. Rip currents and riptides. Those are the dangerous ones that can suck you deep into the ocean.”
“Maybe that’s what I feel in this dream… a rip-something. Maybe that’s why she keeps telling me ‘Come back!’ Afraid I’ll be sucked out into the ocean.”
Perla’s hands rested on the dishes she was collecting. Her eyes locked on me.
“The woman… She looks like someone I should know. Lalia? Zava? So much spray and wind in the dream. Her face is fuzzy.”
Perla turned her face away and busied herself with the dishes.
“I’m sure I go out, but I always wake when the wave…”
“It’s time to go,” Perla’s voice is stern. “Go get your things. You’ll be late for school.”
Sometimes she cuts me off like that. I collected my school bag.
That was when we still had old school, before the Academy. My class missed the Academy completely. We were “encouraged” to take training when we finished our last year, but we too old to send away like the others.
We’re the last generation to be raised by our parents, except, I was raised by aunt Perla.
I don’t remember mom, but I had one. Never a dad. I found a photo of mom holding infant me, swaddled, like the baby in my dream. The photo isn’t a memory but it’s good fodder for fantasies with her. Perla doesn’t know I have the photo.
Today is the day. My training is complete, and I leave for my assignment. Perla and I are mostly emotionless, but I sense an undertow of feelings tugging at us.
Last night— my last night with aunt Perla— the dream came again. I’ve had it at least once, sometimes two or three times, a year. I wish I had written the dates, events. Maybe they were big days, like today. Leaving for my assignment. Maybe the dream surfaces in a pattern, but the only pattern I know is Perla, who always slows to listen, who watches me alert, waiting for more, another wave to crash through.
“I had the dream again.” I repeat to make sure I have her attention. Perla releases the dishes in the sink and smiles. A sad one. She sits at the table, reaches across with both hands to hold mine.
I suddenly understand the undertow of feelings. I’m going to miss her, terribly. But I won’t say so. We would never say so. I smile and continue.
“I didn’t wake this time.”
Perla releases my hands and pulls them into her lap. Her eyes, dark saucers, expectant.
“The woman clutching the bundled baby keeps saying, ‘Don’t,’ and ‘Come back.'”
“She’s trying to protect you.” Perla’s interjection surprises me. It’s the first one in five years.
“Maybe… from the dangers. But the water and sand beating against my skin is exhilarating.”
“Danger does that.”
This time I hear it in her voice, like the woman in my dream, a voice hoarse from pleas and salty air, Don’t.
“What then?” Perla asks.
“She calls me by name.” Perla’s shoulders sink. “But not my name.”
“Not your name?”
“No, she said ‘Don’t, Yoki. Don’t go.'”
Perla’s whole body twitches, head sideways, hands slam against the bottom of the table, one of her feet kicks mine.
“Then what?” Perla demands. Her cheeks are blotchy red, a brisk jog on her face.
“A giant wave.”
Perla leans halfway across the table, dilated eyes locked on my mouth, in position to receive whatever spills from it.
“It was big, like the ones in books that make tunnels. Suddenly I was… we were in a tunnel of water, facing each other still. Frozen for a moment alone.”
I see Perla’s chest rise and fall. This is a hard morning. My dream isn’t making it easier.
Cautiously I ask, “That’s you, isn’t it?”
Perla sits still as a stone.
“I remember now. In the tunnel I could see clearly. That’s your face.”
Perla’s weathered face is locked, leaning into the wave.
“Who are you holding?”
“Who is Yoki?”
Perla might cry. Did I make her cry? She always wants to hear about the dream, but I shouldn’t have. Not today, when I’m leaving.
I suspect it, sense it. A deep knowing, so deep I can’t pin it down. I trained, I’ll deploy, but I’m not theirs. I know what they are, the dangerous rip current sucking the life out of the people. I also know I won’t return to this place, to this table. to Perla.
“Who is Yoki?” I repeat, because now I know but I want her to say it. “That’s you holding me, isn’t it? Who is Yoki?”
“Yoki was her pet name. When I was little, I couldn’t pronounce her name…”
“Ayollok.” The syllables roll easily from my tongue. Perla smiles.
“I still struggle with it… So Yoki stuck.” She doesn’t let them drop, but I see the tears trapped on Perla’s lashes. “I knew… I knew she wouldn’t survive it.”
Dreams are mysterious gifts. They arrive as messages from the past. Sometimes the future. Or maybe an affirmation about this moment. I’ll never know for sure why I was given this dream. Maybe my infant brain captured the moment. It’s possible that Perla spoke of that moment when I was young. But deep within, where the rip currents and riptides drag all the bits and pieces into a fierce vortex, I sense mom, Ayollok, fearless Yoki reaching out. Be brave. Be the wave.
A year will pass before I understand that I’m part of the first wave of resistance, before I understand I am made for this. Mom’s fierce heart beating in my chest, unafraid of the rip current, I enter the ocean. Wrapped in aunt Perla’s calculated caution, I center inside, make my undercover nest. I am more than undertow. I am the rip current that they won’t detect until it’s too late. I’m the riptide that will pull them under.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022