Respira of the Forgotten Mangroves

Respira of the Forgotten MangrovesThe opacity of the grey skies was complete save for a bleak white light filtering through the mountainous clouds. Dawn glistened through the ever-searching decay. Sky scrapers awash in sea foam tilted in a manner likened to ancient shale with heavy eye lids. Roadways flooded with nary a trace of life save for the birds and meandering shoals. Young palm groves were scattered around leaving fronds like fingernails on the surf. Forgotten on the edge of life’s byways following a generation gone haywire, a lone house ten feet deep in ocean stood unfazed by the inundation of urban tears. A pack of wayward sharks circled the home as guardian sentries. They all possessed jangly piano key teeth and had trouble surviving in the cutthroat ocean without the razor rows of their brethren. Their lifeless black eyes had become pale green as the kelp forest that caressed the home. Some might say they weren’t sharks anymore although their storied pasts of the relentless hunt resided within them.

A crenellated roof crafted from petrified coral crested with a crystalline fountain depicting cherubs riding dolphins defied the pervading feeling of discord. Grounded in the morass of present day, a heavy mafic door leading in the house sheltered Respira, the woman who evidently dedicated her life to the sea. I came to visit her via skiff from the outer rim where our news agency has an outpost. We had come across the roof top on one of our routine drone scans and were convinced something magical must lie inside a domain at such odds with its surroundings. I gleefully took the job of interviewing the proprietor with notable skepticism at the mysterious threshold I intended to cross. We contacted her via letter and she succinctly replied, “You may visit me on Fridays at high noon. Any other time does not work for me.” –Respira. Needless to say, the specificity of the invitation greatly intrigued me. I found myself unabashedly gaping at the photographs of the rooftop with the fervor of a child anticipating an annual field trip.

The agency offered to send me out with an intern but I knew I could tackle the gig on my own without the aid of a bumbling young lout providing hot coffee. Respira and I would have some tea and discuss the state of former metropolis Moo York which lay in shambles at her door step and how she copes with the inevitable loneliness of her situation. A monster hurricane tore through the city two years prior forcing all to evacuate or face the brunt of the storm head on. Somehow this lady forged a home in preparation for such an event and I had to get the lowdown on this mystical creature. Our agency is an hour boat ride out from her abode so I prepared a skiff with first aid, extra gasoline and a modest breakfast of English muffins to keep me chugging along. Upon approaching the abode and turning off my motor, the resident sea hunters circled the skiff in ever tightening circles. It was mesmerizing to witness their sheer synchronicity in action. I felt I had been cornered by an aquatic platoon of infallible certainty. A voice from the roof coolly shouted, “Enough, my loves.” They relinquished their whirlpool and returned to encircle the house. Everything I had seen in the photographs was stunningly realized here. Poseidon himself would be fortunate to call this marine dream his home. The dense kelp forest surrounding the home wavering in the sea shine appeased my finer feelings. Her home had the touch of a master mason while adhering to the symmetry of a master gardener. I would have been content basking in the glory of Respira’s home for the entire day but alas high noon struck and I heard rock meeting rock from the roof top.

A petite, bronzed, ageless, sylph figured creature creaked open the enormous door and cast me a half second side long glance. She glided over the roof top to an opening in the petrified coral on the south side (I was presently west of the house). Her body was covered by an undulating silken blouse of green which crested in an interwoven kelp derived bottom. She appeared to push a button and a coral gangplank descended right next to her pad. “Feel free to tie off your skiff to the ramp or my babies might just push it out to sea. I’ll be inside if you still wish to have our interview.” She cooed. I did my best to maintain composure at her flippant remark and proceeded to tie off my boat. The ramp was slick and I needed to rely on the railing to keep me upright as I ascended. I took a moment to bask in the esoteric nature of my activity once I reached the roof top gazing out at the technological waste in front of me. The contrast was delightful. I felt like a shaman who had successfully warded off the evil spirits of money grubbing investors trying to tame the jungle. Was there ever a question? Nature always prevails over our pitiful attempts at playing god.

I grasped the enormous basalt door and heaved with all of my might until it budged ever so slightly. She yelled from within, “Mind your limbs and call me if you truly can’t get inside, sir. The door can only be opened during this time when the sun is at its peak.” I called her up and met her with an astonished smile. She precisely shoved the door with her right hand. Her sinuous arm effortlessly widened the opening and she said, “You ought to learn the art of using your body correctly. I am nowhere near your size yet I can open this door without any fuss.” Her prevailing honesty and strength shone through in the momentary glimpses I had of the emerald green pools that are her eyes. I knew these pools could grant me eternal strength if I could convince them of doing so. Here I was the interviewer and I hardly had the capacity to utter words in the presence of this improbable creature. She led me down the basalt stair case whose wall was clad in waves of sapphires.

The saline air continued to penetrate my nostrils from within although the aroma coalesced in a mixture with cinnamon and lavender. “My word what are you baking in here? It smells delicious!” I exclaimed just prior to us opening the portage door into her abode. Her affinity with the trappings of sea folk was immediately familiar upon entry into the domain proper. Matching galleon wheels crested the parallel east/west doorways, gangway ropes lined the barnacled walls, and an enchanted binnacle garnering lightning bug’s light rested on the limestone table. She answered, “As you can plainly see, I have no cooking apparatus. The odors are derived from these candles I fashioned out of humpback whale ear wax.” Flabbergasted I stammered, “How in the world did you procure a humpback’s ear wax?” She replied, “I have friends. We trade things and keep the peace.” I scratched my temple at this, “Whereabouts are your friends? There is no one around here for miles save for our agency outpost. We inadvertently came across your home on a regular drone scan. I’m amazed you survived the hurricane.” Smiling knowingly, she sat down at the table and gazed into the binnacle, “My friends are all around me, foolish man. Do you not recall your greeting party for one obvious example?” I cleared my throat, smiled and shook my head, “I apologize. I meant there is no human life around here. Surely you must get lonely without someone around to converse.” Her grin widened, “What is human? There is only life and my house is literally coursing with it. My kelp forest gives me all I need to survive. My friends are everywhere. They take many forms is all.”

I had trouble grasping what she was conveying to me. She lived in a realm beyond species. All are connected and she lived this. I knew she was going to be eccentric but I did not expect this level of shamanistic foolhardiness. “Okay Respira. I apologize for my uncouth behavior. I am taken aback at your way of living. You have such a beautiful name. What is the origin of it?” She chuckled, “It’s pretty obvious… You must be Calvin, right?” “Yes. You remember our correspondence. I’m Calvin Zimbabwe. The last name was chosen since I spent my collegiate years unearthing precious gems in the country proper. I still don’t understand which is why I’m asking you where your name came from.” “Well Calvin, what do all living things do?” She rolled her eyes, lifting a coral mug from the table to her pursed lips. “We drink, eat, sleep, reproduce, and attend folly.” She shook her head, “This is true you dingbat but we all breathe to survive. Or respire, if that is not on the nose enough for you.” “Ah I see. How blissful.” I sheepishly scratched the nape of my neck. She continued on, “Thanks Cal. Now I’m guessing you want to know my thoughts on the metropolis and its destruction, yeah?” “Indubitably. Apropos of what your neighborhood was like when you were a resident of Moo York.” She sighed deeply before staring directly into my eyes. “I don’t miss them in the slightest. The selfish people that is. They had grown rotten to the core suckling on the synthetic teat of materialism. However, there were a handful of wise ones who felt the storm coming and still perished. Those are the people I miss.”

I turned away, shook my head out of the momentary stupor her blunt comments had put me in and retorted, “That’s awful cold of you to not mourn the millions of innocent people who lost their lives, Respira.” She shook her head and sighed, “Let me try again. I feel for the children and otherwise disabled. The proper adults who cared only for their well-being and represented the vast majority of the city were draining resources anyhow. They were like a malignant tumor the earth effectively flushed out. It matters not the title one holds. It is only critical we understand our relationship with mother earth. How we give to her and receive her fruit. All else is superfluous.” I scratched my head, sighed, and said, “So you’re a purist? An angel, as many refer to them. Someone heaven bent on doing earth’s bidding. I take it you rarely if ever relax with such a perfectionistic vantage point.” The room shook for a bit as a rollicking wave sloshed into the home. She giggled for a moment, “I have my ways. We all need to relax lest our minds be boiled into soup. If I was truly an angel wouldn’t I have done everything in my power to save our fellow human beings lives by inviting them over during the storm?” Eyebrow arched at the boldness of her statement, I simply nodded my head. She clearly is empathetic yet she refuses to stomach any lollygagging around.

I changed gears. “How was this home constructed and what are the constituents that make it so sturdy? Surely basalt was not easy to extract and place for that mammoth of a door you’ve got.” She adjusted in her chair for a moment and I sensed a shard of discomfort lodged in her body for the first time since I entered her home. She found her composure and responded, “Well I built it Cal. I knew what to do by paying attention to my surroundings and creating what I believe to be an impenetrable stronghold of a home. No more, no less.” “That’s the simple answer, Respira. How in the world did you piece it all together on your own?” She winked at me, “I was aided by my sea family. The sharks you see circling my abode were quite helpful when hoisting some of the heavier objects like the basalt door. Other friends chipped in too but they prefer to go unrecognized. It is in their nature to help. They don’t care for accolades.”

I had read many texts on the mysteries of deep blue as a child being enamored with the ocean, but to hear Respira speak so casually about recruiting sea creatures for help enraged the skeptic within. Gazing at a photograph of Respira at the beach smiling alongside a bronzed giant of a man stern in his countenance, I cleared my throat and responded, “You communicate with them. Obviously, your sharks respect you but how is it you communicate with them beyond simple actions? How did they know to hoist a basalt door from the depths for you?” She scowled, “They are not MY sharks. Nothing is MINE. Everything you see here was built from an understanding of creature comfort and trades. The sharks cannot hunt in the ocean anymore. Instead of being cast aside as misfits, I gave them the duty of guarding my home in exchange for fish I catch. I’m sure you’re wondering about their green eyes too.” I duly nodded. “It’s curious, Calvin. I believe the kelp forest they circle around my home works in symbiosis with them. Vibrations from their smooth movements catalyze photosynthetic growth allowing the kelp to grow quickly while the enhancement of pigmentation has been so profound that each shark is now imbued with glowing green eyes.” I nodded allowing the fantasy of this thought to take me over, “But that does not explain how they knew to get the basalt? How did you communicate with them in such a specific manner?” Respira looked at me with her piercing eyes and cooed, “We communicate telepathically. We have been bonded and therefore live in harmony with one another.”

I scoffed at this and abruptly stood up. “I will not be taken for a fool Respira.
This reeks of horse hooey. How in the world would telepathic communication even begin? I don’t even know of humans successfully communicating in such a manner with humans let alone sharks and other sea creatures.” “Oh, but humans do. Not many practice anymore since the world has gotten so crowded, but it still happens. You must learn to still your mind and then the other voices come through. Once you have practiced you will be able to identify specific entities and share detailed conversations without uttering a word. Your crass behavior tells me this is a foreign concept to you. I apologize for disarming your judgment.” Pacing around the room I shook my head violently and barked, “No one will believe this nonsense, Respira! Even if this is somehow true, I have no way of sharing this with the masses and receiving any sort of reciprocation. I’ll be laughed out of journalism with a headline like Lone Tenant of Moo York Lives on Through Her Mind.” Respira rose up from her chair when I finished and motioned for me to follow her. Down a grand hallway, I noted many photographs of people, undoubtedly from the same tribe as the bronzed giant, staring sternly into the camera lens as if they were indeed staring at me as I passed by. An eerie sensation of claustrophobia struck me pale as Respira undulated through the hallway ahead. It was as if the penetrating eyes had cast a hallucinatory spell on me. She stared back at me and interlocked my fingers in hers assuring me, “Everything will be alright.”

Her deep noir locks danced ahead of me. An enchanted gestalt of crows interweaving in the marine sky. The crows stopped in front of a rustic oak green door emblazoned with the kraken weaving its tentacles around a human heart. I audibly gulped as Respira reached for the transparent door knob. The door creaked open to pitch black. The light from the hallway reflected off the still water that swallowed the staircase. I inched backward which made Respira giggle. She laughed and patted my back, “Here. Take these transform gills and affix them to your torso laterally like a fish. They should settle in your ribs posthaste.” Eyes and mouth agape I stuttered, “W-w-w-what did you just say? Where are your gills?” Respira lifted her blouse revealing a firmly toned body of decadent proportions assuredly adorned with a pair of transform gills. “My friend crafted these out of decaying sea vents. They are effectively a tree of epithelium spawned from the source of all life. We may swim as long as you like. You need not worry about the bends. We’ll take it slow as we descend.” She dove in and swam through the basement window into the kelp forest. I chuckled and attached the gills to my torso as she requested. I dove in and locked eyes with a relaxed eye smiling octopus latched onto brain coral on the cellar floor and coolly swam into the kelp forest behind her.

The aquatic wolves halted for a moment to let us through and I glanced back to witness the pack resume their guard. Respira swam like a porpoise, allowing her whole body to maintain a sinusoidal wave as we made way for the continental shelf. Lobster dens were formed out of well-rusted electric automobiles and coral caverns all the same. Skeletons were littered all around donning urban attire swaying gently with the surf. At the precipice of the shelf, Respira gesticulated for me to monitor her movement. She swam beyond the precipice and nose dove down to an aperture one hundred feet down the shelf and entered. Her finesse tantalized me and I longed to maintain the sense of magic she granted me while I swam in her wake. I bit my lip and dove down behind her staring into the great abyss before realizing the comfort of the cavern she entered.

Within, schools of petite fish adorned with photophores and bioluminescent jellyfish waded slowly around the cavern to the cadence of a steel drum. I noted the festivities had remarkable reminiscence to the Chinese lantern festival which signified the new year. I wondered what occasion these creatures were celebrating if indeed there was an occasion being celebrated at all. Gazing around the scene, I saw the source of the percussion was an octopus of translucent purple rhythmically bobbing his head as alternating tentacles met the drum. Alongside the musical octopus waded a party of seahorses, a few of which seemed to be communicating with Respira who openly gestured at them in waves of amity. A few seahorses munched on collected kelp kept in stoneware vases while others waved their lateral fins to the rhythm. Once the awe had settled into reality, I felt sheepish being stiff amongst customs starkly foreign to my own. Noticing my discomfort, the octopus motioned for me to join him at the drums with a free tentacle. I smiled at this and swam gently over to the glowing character who grabbed a drum from behind with his free posterior tentacles and offered the instrument to me with the eye smile familiarized by my initial cephalopod contact at Respira’s abode.

I scratched my newfound gills and did my best to imitate the octopus although the cadence was a little off to the chagrin of no one in the glowing cavern. When I did manage to align with the octopus, the glow in the room seemed to crystallize in a warm melting marmalade of impossible splendor where the rigidity of form was forgotten and all became one. After the conclusion of the song, Respira smiled and took my hand in hers. She led me over to the seahorses who seemed genuinely charmed at my appearance. I flushed for a moment before nodding and smiling at the seahorses like a good guest in any realm of the known universe. A green-yellow seahorse with unrelenting exuberance swam astride and offered me a fin full of kelp to which I gleefully accepted. We munched together for a time before Respira insisted we depart with a tilt of her head toward the exit. Respira bowed to all of the creatures as she left and I wisely took her cue to do the same. I left feeling jubilant and motioned for her to communicate with me at the surface. She rolled her eyes but agreed and we breached.

“What a wonderful party that was. Tell me Respira. What were you discussing with the seahorses?” I felt like a dorky school boy awash in wonder upon asking this. Respira chuckled before saying, “Well, I told them about your mission to find out about my life. They were amused by your childish behavior and saw your good sensibilities shine through. I was surprised you took kelp from that seahorse. He always thickly coats the stuff in wasabi. Especially when a green horn like you is in the premises.” I gulped and began to realize the intensity of what I swallowed with such carelessness. “Somehow the wasabi didn’t faze me until now. Oh my god. It’s too much! My nostrils are flaring up. What can I do to ease the pain?” I feverishly scraped my tongue with my finger tips as a dog digs for a fresh bone after not having eaten for days. Respira cackled before saying, “Looks like you’ll have to stomach your mistake tough guy. Wasabi takes no prisoners.” She abruptly dove and I followed behind her with all my might in every stroke.

Searing pain had found my eyes when we came across a pod of grey blurs who seemed to be in communication with Respira’s blur. As the pain subsided, I was able to make out Respira was in fact conversing with a pod of bottlenose dolphins. Every member of the pod had constellations of white star marks along their dorsal fins. She seemed to be distraught while talking with them in contrast to the rosy climate of the party. The dolphins eyed me suspiciously shaking their heads during lulls which made me want to revert back within myself. Clouds obscured the sunlight beaming down on the ocean surf from above and as the conversation drew on the abyss beneath us darkened into an ink ridden blackness. The overwhelming guilt sapped me of energy rendering my body limp and lifeless which only enraged the pod even more. Three of the well-bruised cetaceans swam right up to me and began flailing their tails into my downcast head. Between blows I felt this punishment necessary as a representative of my species. Respira shooed them away for a moment and hugged me to ease the pain. She then gave a barely perceptible nod to the pod before I could raise my head. The pod began to swim in ever accelerating downward spiraling circles around us. They created a powerful vortex which flushed us as a makeshift toilet to the darkening throes of the deep.

The cetaceans had swum away and when I finally came to I could not see my own hand in front of my face. The pressure was nearly unbearable but I felt Respira’s arm clasped around mine which enabled me to withstand the extreme force presently crushing my body. I heard something begin to rustle in the sand and felt a pang preempting death lash my being. A myriad of cyan circles began to glow on the body of this unidentified creature from the extremities inward in rhythmic fashion. When the flickering finally formed into solid cyan circles throughout, I realized what this creature was. A giant squid larger than any I had ever witnessed prior stared at me with ancient yellow eyes. Respira let go of me and I prepared to be swallowed up. Surely Respira felt humanity was a cancer to the planet and what better path to restoration than systematically killing us off one-by-one. I saw her silhouette floating beside the squid’s head nuzzling his forehead like a domesticated cat might a human. I felt like shrinking into a granule of sand to bypass the inevitable pain of a squid squeezing the life out of me and swallowing me whole. Then the squid closed in on me to the point where his volleyball sized eye was blinking inches from my awestruck visage.

The squid cleared his ancient throat as if there had been a hairball lodged in his esophagus for some time and began to speak, “Hello Calvin, is it?” I nodded my head as the astonishment of this sequence was less important than the surety of my life. The squid boomed again, “I go by Davey Jones. I’m certain you’re aware of the folklore surrounding little old me. Anyhow, those dolphins above spoke to me just prior to our kindhearted Respira today. I’m certain you are interested in what they were discussing, no?” I thought for a moment expecting the answer to be my head but glumly nodded yes. “Well of course. Those dolphins are stewards of the sea as we all are to some degree. They expressed their frustration with people and their treatment of the ocean.” I could only stare at my feet since the intensity of Davey’s eyeball was too much to bear. Davey chuckled to himself knowing the fear he instilled in me, “You may be a rotten human, young Calvin, but I have no intention of hurting you.” I smiled a fraction in relief but the guilt continued to weigh on me. Davey adjusted his weight to release a tentacle. He inched over to me and extended past my quivering body. He slowly wrapped his tentacle around my stiff torso and gently lifted me a bit closer for inspection. I lifted my eyes and met the gaze of the gargantuan cephalopod. Davey’s eyeball dilated at our connection and boomed, “Humans dump their nonsense in our mother, you take too many of us without recompense, you do not always kill for sustenance but rather for pride, you dredge for fossilized creature liquid harming ecosystems in the process, and you feel no remorse for your senseless actions. Respira is a rarity in today’s world. Ages ago she was the norm but her people have died off since they could not adjust to the toxic society implemented by money worshipping fiends on land. Why must your species own things? No one owns anything. Yet your species deludes themselves with this terminology as if it is a matter of fact. Humanity must change their ways to restore earth back to her natural harmony or she is bound to strike again. It will not just be Moo York next time either. She will level entire continents of those who refuse to acknowledge her needs.” The weight of Davey’s words was too much to bear and my face sunk into my hands. I cried as there was no way capitalism could be thwarted at this advanced stage of human culture. I knew my habits were selfish as they catered to a system built on treating the planet as a commodity rather than a living organism with needs.

Davey released me and smiled with his eyes. “Now you know my pain Calvin. It is up to you. You must change and the world will follow your lead as you have followed Respira’s up to now. Be off boy. We will meet again and next time I hope we can discuss the synergy humanity has found with mother ocean. Always remember to heed your heart’s words, not your need for notoriety and the absurd. Until next time.” Respira clasped her fingers in mine and we swam away from the darkening abyss as Davey took our exit as a sign to resume his slumber. The cyan circles faded from vision and I felt Respira’s boundless soul carrying me to the sky. When we breached, she let go and stared directly at me. The deep orange sunset glistened in smooth swells as we waded. She took a deep breath and said, “Now you understand how this has all come to be. Your skiff is here as my shark companions have kindly brought it out to us. I want you to return to your post and live the life Davey and I have expressed to you. This is the only life mother can accept at this stage. We will meet again, my friend.” Respira turned to swim home when I put my hand on her shoulder. My lips turned up in a smile and I blinked slowly in the comfort of the moment. She shot me a look of disbelief at my strange behavior but before she could dart away I said, “Thank you. Until we meet again, my friend.” She smiled before swiftly disappearing into the auburn hued sea. Seagulls squawked in a tizzy overhead as I grasped the gunwale and pulled myself up and over into the boat. I nibbled on the remnants of breakfast with a sublime smile of disbelief at the day’s events guiding me home.

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