"I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind — of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium."
-HP Lovecraft, "Dagon"
One day Boyd just didn't come home.
Ronnie woke to Mei's panicky voice on the phone saying Boyd wasn't there and hadn't shown up to work and hadn't answered any of her calls for two days. Ronnie heard the baby crying on the other end of the line and even though it was three in the morning she woke Alan up and they both went over. Mei spent the whole night pacing and drinking coffee and bouncing little Sandra in her arms, trying to get her to stop crying. "It's because she knows," Mei said. "She knows her daddy is gone."
Mei and Boyd's apartment was a depressing walk-up that was never quite rid of the smell of the previous owner's cats. Ronnie helped her redecorate when they moved in last year but her best efforts hadn't done much. Alan paid the rent last month and knew he probably would have to the next month also, but they couldn't afford to help much beyond that and had been counting on Boyd to, hopefully, come up with another real job for himself, at least for long enough to get through the summer. But now it seemed he was gone.
Ronnie reached for Sandra and Mei handed her over. "She's just being fussy," Ronnie said. "I'm sure Boyd is fine. He's probably just, you know, out. Out on a...thing." That was the diplomatic term they used whenever Boyd would go on a bender. Mei shook her head, biting her nails.
"Not this time," she said. "It's been different lately. This time he's not coming back."
"He wouldn't leave Sandra," said Alan. He was standing in the kitchen door, hair still mussed from sleep. "You know he wouldn't."
Ronnie agreed. Mei kept fretting. And Sandra, well, Sandra just cried.
The truth was, Ronnie thought Boyd really might have gone and done something crazy this time. He'd been worse than usual lately. The drugs and the drinking were always bad, but at least before Boyd never seemed like he didn't care; he never seemed like he wasn't trying. He always wanted to do right by Mei and Sandra, even if he was too much of a fuck-up to actually do it. Ronnie knew that Boyd really cared, and that was why they all stuck by him even though he was never going to get it together.
Boyd had never been neglectful before, but now he was. And he'd always listened when she lectured him, but now he put her off. He almost never talked about Sandra anymore, which ordinarily was his sole point of interest. He'd seemed spacey lately too; not strung-out, but really like he was a completely different person. Ronnie had begged him to go to the hospital last week; he was pale and thin, and some bizarre rash was spreading on his face. He just stared at her like he didn't know who she was, eyes bulging from the fluid building up under his skin.
And now he'd disappeared. Ronnie didn't say so, but she was sure that whatever happened wasn't his normal drug binge. Sandra squirmed in her arms and Ronnie's heart broke a little bit. Where are you Boyd, she thought? We all need you here. Even I need you.
Mei was looking out the window while Alan did his best to comfort her. The clock ticked again, indicating four in the morning. Ronnie watched Sandra drift off to sleep in her arms and started to cry a little for herself.
At work at the Fish House the next day it was almost all she could think about. It was a tough shift even without the extra distraction, because of course they were one person short without Boyd. Ronnie was back and forth between the kitchen and the front, filling in between hostess duties with dishwashing. It was a busy night, but then, they were all busy nights in the summer. The traffic was the same as usual: tourists, tourists, and tourists. The day felt like it would never end. She sang under her breath to pass the time and keep from getting down, but stopped when she realized she couldn't quite place the tune she was singing. It bothered her for some reason, and made her think about Boyd more.
On her break she sat outside and watched the milling masses going up one end of Fisherman's Wharf and down the other, in and out of the souvenir shops and the restaurants or down to the docks to watch the boats coming in or the sea lions playing. The wharf was a two-story boardwalk of stores and restaurants built on the docks. Tourists came to see Alcatraz and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the big ships coming in and out, and the locals sold them tshirts and seafood and a show and anything else, and that's how everyone got by. It was all the same as it had ever been. It went all day, non-stop. One man disappeared from everyone's lives, but the world kept turning.
She found herself talking to Lauro again. He was a street performer who did a juggling act on the little stage in the middle of the thoroughfare. For an old man who lived entirely off of tips he did all right for himself. She always caught the last five minutes of his act when she started her break. Although he was almost seventy years old, his hands never shook, and she'd never see him drop anything. She liked to talk to him because he wasn't big on talking back, just listening. She told him all about Boyd, and Mei, and Sandra.
"I don't know how she's going to get by without him," Ronnie said. "Boyd was a fuck-up, but he did his best. Without him I don't know what they'll do."
Lauro considered this. Lacking anything obvious to say, he said nothing at all. They made light small talk until she had to go back for the rest of her shift. Lauro watched the nearby dock with a troubled expression.
"You ever wonder about the sea lions?" he said.
Ronnie blinked; she was having trouble reconciling the question with anything else that'd come up. "What about them?" she said.
"Where'd they all go?"
Ronnie shrugged; as far as she could tell they were still there, a few dozen of the big, smelly beasts lying all over the floating docks, occasionally swimming or fighting or diving for food but mostly lying in the sun and barking while tourists took pictures. As Ronnie understood it there used to be hundreds of them but in the past few years most had left for still-unknown reasons and their numbers dwindled to a couple dozen families. But she'd only worked here after the great migration and never thought much of it.
"Sometimes I think they all ran away," Lauro said.
"That's what I keep wondering."
Ronnie was puzzled. Did he mean that Boyd might be running away from something too? She couldn't imagine what. The thing about Boyd was that shit was always so bad for him that it's hard to imagine anything getting worse. What was so bad it could scare even Boyd? Later that night, when the kitchen was closed and the chairs put up and the last tour boat from had come and gone, Ronnie lingered to watch the sea lions again. The wind changed direction and blew straight in her face; she always hated that fishy salt smell of everything in and around the ocean, but there was no getting away from it. She watched two sea lion pups wrestling on the dock, and even she had to admit they were pretty cute. One pushed the other in and the pup splashed, yelping with surprise.
Ronnie waited for it to come back up, but it didn't. She counted to herself. After thirty, the animal still hadn't reappeared. The pups didn't usually stray from their mothers for long. For some reason she got anxious. The pup still on the dock started to bark. Then Ronnie saw something moving in the water; at first she thought it was the other pup, but then she saw that it was much bigger. It wasn't shaped like a sea lion, or a dolphin, or anything else that usually swam to the surface. It almost looked like...
But she blinked and it was gone. She shook her head. She must be seeing things. She'd caught a glimpse of what looked like a man in a wetsuit, but no one would be swimming in the filthy, freezing, pitch black water at this time of night. She was still creeped out though. Rather than dwell on it, she went home.
The bus was late and Alan was already in bed by the time she got there. The fog was coming in thick as she walked from the bus stop, smothering everything. The sound of the nearby waves followed her home. She knew she was lucky to have this place, lucky that her parents had bought it outright and left it to her, lucky to live in a decent neighborhood close to the beach, but the truth was she didn't like being close to the ocean. The fog and the wind were a constant bother, and as a kid she'd used to have nightmares about the ocean. She'd always been terrified of any deep water that she couldn't see to the bottom of. It got so bad that she eventually had to switch rooms so that she could be at the front of the house and not hear the waves at night. Now she and Alan had that same back bedroom.
The house was old and all the moisture in the air meant the paintjob never lasted and the plumbing was always going out on them (always a problem with the water), but at least it was there, and at least it was theirs. I'm lucky, she reminded herself as she unlocked the door. I'm lucky in so many ways.
Alan had been up late drawing again and she found his homework all over the table. Perspective class or anatomy class? She couldn't tell. Most of them were of a woman, probably a sitting model. On the last couple he'd doodled in a scaly tail instead of legs, turning her into a mermaid. She hoped he'd finished whatever the assignment was. She did want him to do well in the summer courses. He'd offered to drop out, to take more shifts at the restaurant to help them keep up on bills, but Ronnie had said no. Of course, she had dropped out herself last year, but that was different. She never really knew what she wanted to do in the first place. Alan actually had a dream. She wondered, of course, how they were ever going to keep paying for the upkeep on the house, and how they were going to pay for Mei and Sandra now too, as she knew they eventually would. But somehow they'd always made everything work in the past. "Somehow" was always her plan. And, somehow, things had always worked out before. She figured that they would this time, too.
To her surprise, Alan was not in bed when she found him. He was standing at the window in his underwear with the blinds up, staring at something outside. He was so transfixed that he did not even notice when she came in. She crept up behind him, half expecting to find him spying on some neighbor changing her clothes, but in fact all he was looking at was the ocean. The water was black at night and it rolled and throbbed like a huge living thing all its own. She realized that Alan was humming under his breath, and the tune was familiar. It sounded like the same song she'd been singing at lunch, the one she knew but couldn't quite place. "What is that?" she asked, and her voice startled him out of his reverie. He broke off and turned, hugging her. "What was that song?" she asked again.
Alan scratched the back of his head. "I don't know. Some lullaby, I think. I heard Boyd singing it to Sandra once. Why?"
"It sounds familiar," was all Ronnie could say. She closed the blinds. Alan lay down on the bed and Ronnie lay half across him. It was hot during July nights, so damn hot even with the fog, but she still stayed as close to him as possible. He petted her hair. "Do you think Mei is okay tonight?" he said.
"Sure," said Ronnie. "I mean, as she ever is."
"I meant to go check on her after class, but it was so late..." He trailed off. She detected the undercurrent of guilt in his voice and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
"It's sweet of you to worry about her," she said. "But maybe time alone will be good for her. She's got to get used to taking care of herself one of these days." It wasn't a reproach, just a fact. She knew, though, that Alan still wanted to go check on her, and that he would want to every day that Boyd was gone, and probably even if Boyd came back. It was Alan's nature to want to save people. For a while, she'd even wondered if he and Mei were fooling around; it would be just like Alan to try to "rescue" her from her relationship with Boyd. And Mei, well, Mei was always too needy to say no to anyone. But it had only ever been speculation; she'd never caught them at anything.
Ronnie sat up and swung a leg over Alan's body, straddling him. She smiled in the dark and ran her hands down his naked chest; even with so little light she could see the contrast between them, her dark hand looking like a silhouette or a shadow against his pale Irish skin. She bucked on him a little, playfully. He made a noncommittal sound. "Not tonight, baby," he said.
"Oh come on," she said, pretending to pout.
"It's late. It was a hard day."
"I know. That's why you need TLC." She leaned over and kissed him, open-mouthed, her lips gliding against his. He kissed back, but only as much as he had to. She felt herself get mad for just a second but stopped it. Even this, she knew, was him trying to take care of her, trying to make sure she got real sleep for once instead of staying up half the night and spending all week in a zombie daze like she usually did. It was impossible to get mad at Alan because nothing Alan did was ever for himself, even when he was being stupid and thoughtless. So instead she just kept kissing him, and in time he kissed her back for real, though his enthusiasm was still somewhat lackluster. Finally she rolled off of him and, with a wicked grin, went to her where her purse hung on the back of a chair. Alan sat up a little to watch her. "What are you doing?" he said. She grinned some more.
"I got you something," she said.
He scratched his head.
"Something special, to help you, ah, relieve stress."
She fished around in her purse and then turned back to the bed. There was a hard clink of metal as she dangled them in front of his face: handcuffs.
He bit his lip.
Ronnie straddled him again, teasing him with the cuffs. "Look what I've got," she said, jingling them some more. He tried to reach for them but she snatched them away each time. She wagged a finger at him. "Ah, ah," she said. "Bad boy." She leaned in and purred next to his ear. "Hands against the posts, lover." She bit him. "Now."
Feigning reluctance, Alan put his wrists to the headboard, letting Ronnie snap the restraints in place. She clicked them until he grunted. "Too tight?" she said. He shook his head. "Good." She purred in his hear again, flicking the lobe with the tip of her tongue, the way she knew he liked. He moaned a little. She did it more. He writhed underneath her. She enjoyed the feeling of his movements, forceful but restrained. The chain of the cuffs rattled against the bed frame. When he pushed up and then down against her, it felt like the movement of the ocean...
The thought startled her and for a second she lost her focus. But when she met his eyes it reassured her, and her anxiety vanished. She kissed his jaw and the side of his neck, and then his shoulders and naked chest, again admiring the impressionistic contrast of her dark skin against his pale figure. His chest and stomach was a smooth, muscled plane all the way down, a swimmer's body. She teased his navel with her tongue, which she knew tickled and caused him to thrash in genuine discomfort. She only did it the once, just so she could hear him instinctively pull against his restraints. It wasn't any fun if he didn't at least try to get out, once. She laughed and winked at him, and he chuckled back. She rubbed herself back and forth against he hardening bulge of his cock, visible now through his underwear. "What have you got for me?" she said, pushing on it, rubbing her palm up and down. "What have you got, hmm?" He grunted and tried to answer but it seemed he could think of nothing clever, so he opted for sheepish, blushing silence. She was delighted. She kissed the bulge and then sat up on him again.
"I've got something for you," she said, pulling her shirt off and discarding her bra. The cold air of the bedroom tingled against her naked breasts. She saw Alan bite his lip again, and again his hands tried to go forward to touch her and feel her body only to be stopped short by the metal clatter of the cuffs; those things really were a good investment. She was glad she'd thought to buy them.
She squeezed her breasts underneath, fondling them a little, teasing him. Alan had always been a breast guy. She jiggled them, then leaned over him so that they were just out of reach of his upraised head. He even stuck his tongue all the way out trying to lick one, and she pushed him back down with the palm of her hand, laughing. He grumbled, so she finally took pity and leaned over some more, letting him kiss and then suck one breast. "Mmmm," she said as his lips caressed the sensitive flesh. He needed a shave and the sharp ends of his stubble rubbed against her so that she winced, savoring the sharp, satisfying pain.
She rubbed her nipple back and forth across his open mouth before pulling away again, then teasing him some more, back and forth, up and down, always just out of reach. All the while she was rubbing back and forth against his hard cock, sliding up and down the length of his shaft as it strained through the fabric, fit to burst. "What have you got for me?" she said again. "You see what I've got for you, but what have you got for me?" She reached between her own legs to squeeze him some more. He was in quite a state. She stripped her panties off, throwing them away, setting her naked, wet cunt against the bulge now, grinding him; delightful vibrations went up through her sex and traveled the length of her spine. She pushed herself down on him harder and harder, making the lips of her cunt squeeze tight around themselves and sending a jolt jumping up into her abdomen. "Ohhh, fuck!" she said, rolling her eyes. She licked a finger and began rubbing herself around and around while she moved. She felt hot and dirty all over.
Alan was so beside himself now she thought he might rip the headboard off. She pushed him back down and he moaned with frustration. Finally she pulled his underwear off, his erection springing free. She rubbed it back and forth across her palm before easing herself back into it, feeling it penetrate her wet lips and slide in. She watched Alan throw his head back and indulge in a long, satisfied groan as the muscles of her cunt slid around him, taking him in, squeezing him. Her clit pulsed as he filled her up. She laid out across his naked body, her arms twined round his neck, lips pressed to his as she rocked back and forth on his cock, sliding herself along the length of him. She tried to increase her control by pushing him down with her knees but it was no use; even without his hands he was bucking and pushing up against her with his hips. They seemed to fight for control for a few moments before Ronnie relented and finally, with a bit of difficulty because he would not stop thrashing, took the cuffs off.
He sat up straight and grabbed her in both arms with so much force that the breath left her body. Without waiting for her to recover he pushed her down on him while at the same time he pushed up, so hard and so far that she yelped as he hit her cervix. She hung onto him for support; he was shaking all over, trembling with the energy of all the enthusiasm she'd forced him to suppress. Now that he was out, he was taking it all out on her. Ronnie hung on for dear life, letting her neck crane back and crying out as she thrust up into her again and again, pulling her up and down on him, forcing her on and off. Her pussy throbbed and the feeling went all the way through her. Alan was out of control. She enjoyed the ride.