Jason Thayer is an MFA student at the University of New Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review. His fiction has won contests judged by Antonya Nelson and Bret Lott, respectively. He was published in the Rumpus and Hobart last year. When he’s not writing, he’s recording and performing bleak and unusual hip-hop.
There is no celestial oligarch who’s got it in for you: you are the reason loved ones keep dropping like houseflies. Car crash, heart attack, a stray bolt of lightning on a sunny day. Your friend, your father, your golden retriever. Finally it dawns on you: you are the cancer, the plague, radioactive bad luck.
Then it’s easy. You must sequester the curse. You find a pinprick island off the coast of Colombia. Deserted. You charter a speedboat. A man in cut-offs and a tank top drops you. He will collapse on the way back to the mainland, the last to catch wind of your curse. His body will drift in the speedboat, defiled by seagulls for a week or so before the vessel is capsized by Caribbean storm.
On the island you hang seashells in the trees to keep the seagulls away. You toss rocks at those that get too close, the birds shattering brittle clamshells in the dry sand, oblivious to your halo of hex. Those that hang around you while you sleep fall dead by dawn. You pluck their feathers and thread them through your hair like a crown. You split the birds’ bald bodies open, rinse them in the salt water and lay their carcasses on the rocks to dry, batting away the flies that cluster to lay eggs in the fertile bellies of the dead.
You eat the seagull jerky, but it isn’t salty enough.
You use your curse to kill fish, standing in the water, waiting for them to belly-up. You breaststroke, you backstroke, you butterfly, hoping the jinx will catch a school of sardines. A yellow fin tuna would be nice, but you aren’t so lucky.
In the morning, dead fish wash up on the beach. Some are pregnant. You scoop out the roe, eat raw. At night you sleep on the sand, under a smear of constellations, lulled toward narcotic slumber by the undulating surf.
But there are crabs. A hundred thousand hermit crabs coming out of the earth, scouring the darkness for things to eat. By morning they reach from their shells like paunchy men heaving from bedroom windows in an apartment building billowing smoke, the men gasping for clean air in their undershirts, the crabs dying sometime before sunrise.
You feel bad, not because they’re dead and you’re to blame, but because you can’t really eat them. If you had a cast iron pot, you could boil the crabs, make some sort of stock. You could add seaweed. The broth would taste like the ocean and it would be nourishing.
Instead their death is for nothing. You spend the day picking up the lifeless hermit crabs and chucking them into the tide.
You find a cave to sleep in. It is far from the beach, far from the sand, teeming with sea-life in the moonlight. The drafty darkness makes the cave feel empty and infinite, amplifying the loneliness that has taken root in your chest.
In the morning, someone washes ashore. A wine-clumsy tourist knocked from a cruise ship, clutching a floppy hat. You are tempted to lift them from the surf, to kiss their feet, to feed them seagull jerky and dribble fresh water into their mouth. You want to make a bed for them out of dried palm leaves. You want to tell them stories, play a game of your own invention, involving seashells and pebbles and divots in the sand.
But you know how this will end, so you resist, keep your distance. You cannot rescue, only destroy. You return to the cave and find your reflection resting in a pool of fresh water. You kneel beside it, lower your face and the image breaks.