Associate Editor James Ellenberger: “Boom” reads like a vivisection of a Studio Ghibli film. It’s magical, beautifully rendered, and haunting. What strikes me the most is the piece’s aural effect: McMahon layers vowels (“Now it looms, quiet, as water should be”) in a manner that’s reminiscent of waves overlapping and erasing themselves. The alliterative movements, of which there are many, blur the boundaries between individual words and further emphasize the liminal space between the girl and the ocean, the reader and the text.
To hear Kathryn read her piece, you can click below:
By Kathyrn McMahon
The wave appeared when the girl was born. They say her scream ripped it from the sea, though no one can remember when either roar died. Now it looms, quiet, as water should be. Scientists declare the wave stable, and the beach town becomes a resort destination for people who don’t like to swim. There are bonfires and orchestral concerts on the shore. Musicians first worry about what the humidity will do to their instruments, then they complain about how dry it is, how little wind.
The girl grows up listening to their music. Every night she watches stars compete with glowing sea creatures that rise through the wave and stare. Then again, who doesn’t? When she learns that sound escapes in waves, she doesn’t believe.
The girl, now a woman, works as a tour guide. Schoolchildren bus in from distant towns to look at her wave. Everyone asks her to speak softly so as not to give the water any ideas.
“Go on and touch it,” she whispers, annoyed but playing along. “It won’t hurt you.” She pats the firm, bouncy water.
A few step forward.
“Are there sharks? Jellyfish?” someone always has to ask.
No one wants to touch it. But she has never been afraid.
When it rains, only the wave gets wet, licked like a lip, and fills with finned shadows. The sky over the town stays blue and boring; the sun, hot. The beach, right up to the ocean, remains dry. Once, scientists poured water over the sand to test what would happen. The moisture braided through the air and disappeared into the surf. No one has dared to try since, except her, water bottle in hand, flicking little drops in the dusk when no one will see. The droplets hover, undecided between gravity and cohesion. Yet they invariably choose the wave as if they are already a part of it.
On a night without a moon or bonfires or concerts, she shakes the water bottle. Yearning and arching, water meets itself. Then things fall from the wave onto the shore. A daredevil fish. A pearl that rolls off the crest. A net. The woman collects these without telling anyone.
The following evening there is a small bonfire, but it burns far down the coast. Behind the wave, a storm thrashes the sea. From her house on the beach, the woman crosses breathless sand and uncaps her water.
A hand reaches out from the dark wave. The wrist is dimpled like hers. She touches the hand and it wiggles. Musician’s fingers, she guesses, though she will be wrong.
That night she dreams of a roar and wakes screaming into her pillow. She cancels her tours for the day and leaves the bottle at home when she visits the wave. The hand has stretched out a forearm. How much will appear tomorrow?
But enough waiting. She grasps the palm. The wave is wet as she steps into the roar.
Kathryn McMahon’s prose has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Split Lip, and Necessary Fiction, among others. Her writing has been nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. She is currently at work on a short story collection, Life in the Reptile House. On Twitter, she is @katoscope.
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