by Mary Grimm
Mr. Cottrell was making a list of the Ancient Oceans on the board, but we ignored him while we discussed the Jesus diet, which Gina’s aunt swore by. There were certain prayers and certain Bible verses, one for each day of the diet, that you had to say before you ate anything, and you had to meditate on the noetic ray, which had something to do with truth and beauty.
Still, the names of the oceans kept poking into my head, even as Gina passed me the list of forbidden foods. Ural, between Siberia and Baltica. Tethys, between two ancient continents. Panthalassa, that surrounded the supercontinent, when all the countries were jammed together.
Mr. Cottrell was not the kind of teacher who inspired people or who made them dream. He was old, with dry, no-color hair. He wore pants that were too short and shirts that were too big. His glasses were inexplicably round. But he said the names of the oceans as if he loved them, as if he had seen them. As if he had sailed on them in a boat all by himself, like crazy people were always doing, going to sea for a hundred days with crackers and peanut butter and a water distilling machine so that they could write a book and get a movie deal.
Peanut butter was one of the forbidden foods, because Gina’s aunt said that it was too sticky. She claimed that the best foods were summer fruits, since they slipped through the body without a lot of calories being shed along the way. She had lost 53 pounds eating peaches and plums and cherries at every meal, according to Gina. At every meal, she kept a slip of paper with the day’s bible verse beside her plate.
I didn’t want to lose weight, although I didn’t tell Gina that. I felt as if I needed every ounce of myself to keep my place. Without the weight of my body, I was likely to slide off the edge of the world.
Are you listening? Gina whispered in my ear from the seat behind me.
The list of Ancient Oceans covered the board now. Rheic. Pontus. Pharusian. Mr. Cottrell’s eyes were gleaming, his hands white with chalk dust. He looked out the window when he was done, forgetting us, and I looked to see what he did, if there was water out there where the parking lot used to be, if there were boats instead of cars. The sky was ocean blue. I wanted to leave the known world. I wanted to be buoyant, if possible. I wanted to be out of sight of land, to have a bird alight on a piece of floating wood and stare at me.
Gina passed me the pamphlet of sample bible verses and I put it in my notebook for later, although I didn’t know when later would be.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) both by Random House, and a number of flash pieces in places like Helen, The Citron Review, and Tiferet. Currently, she is working on a YA thriller. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.