Chris Daley: “Beneath the Sea”

Once there was a girl squid in love with her best friend, who happened to live in an adjoining cave, but he was not available. Because the giant squid’s girlfriend didn’t live in the same area of the sea, the two friends spent lots of time together, meeting for breakfast and dinner almost every day. After a long time—a few years of close and careful friendship—the squids decided it would be innocent enough to sleep in the same cave.

After a short time, they had sex one night on the cave floor.

The girl squid wasn’t expecting it and it wasn’t romantic and she hoped maybe they would do it again and it would be better. Instead, the giant squid stopped being her friend. He would politely acknowledge her existence if necessary, he was cordial enough in public that the other sea creatures weren’t suspicious, but that was it.

The girl squid was confused and hurt, partly blaming herself for ruining the friendship. Eventually, it hurt so much to live next to the giant squid, day after day shut out, that she moved to another part of the sea.

Years later, when she returned to her former seahood, she saw her old friend made a Squidbook comment on someone else’s post. Enough time had passed that she thought a friend request would be harmless—but he did not accept right away and she took her request back. The giant squid immediately sent her another friend request, so even though it seemed like things were already problematic, she accepted.

Months went by, during which the squids never even said hello, she began and ended a relationship, and he ended his marriage.

One day, the giant squid reached out to the girl squid. He apologized for what had happened years before, told her he never forgot how close they were, claimed she deserved better from him and he knew it. That made her feel a little better.

Soon, the girl squid saw the giant squid for the first time since they were young. He rested his tentacle on hers as they talked, and she felt something again, but mostly she was just glad to see him. When he asked her a few days later to help him be less lonely, she was caught off guard. The idea was attractive because she felt unattached to the giant squid and remembered her old hope that maybe they would do it again and it would be better.

Some time passed before she swam to his cave and asked him to kiss her.

She imagined that they could have a date here or there. Casual. But the giant squid wasn’t used to being casual, having been married. Before they ever had sex, he made her agree to not see any other giant squid without telling him first. Through the next several months of getting together and

breaking apart, the girl squid never said anything about the future to her old friend. She never told him any thoughts she had about the two of them because most days, she thought the two of them was a bad idea. But whenever they were together, it was just like it always was, but better because they touched the whole time.

The giant squid told her he wanted her to feel safe with him, that she should be able to come to him when she needed him, that their relationship was based on trust. He told her that he knew she wanted more for them, and he wanted to be whole and healthy and available for that. He asked her for some time to become who they both wanted him to be.

The girl squid thought this was a good plan, because her old friend was clearly troubled in the wake of his divorce. She knew that giant squids had a difficult time coping with emotional pain, because they didn’t like to talk about their feelings.

She was not concerned at first when they stopped seeing each other, because from the very first time they spoke about being together, the giant squid insisted that no matter what happened, their friendship was the most important thing—that even if she didn’t want to be his lover, he would always want to be her friend. She believed him. That made her feel a little better.

For months, the giant squid acted the same way he had years before—he would politely acknowledge her existence if necessary, he was cordial enough on Squidbook that the other sea creatures weren’t suspicious, but that was it.

Yet because she knew how thoroughly three hearts could break, she defended his behavior. The girl squid, too, had once been so full of despair, she couldn’t help hurting anyone who came near her. She felt compassion for the giant squid as he continued to shut her out, and she tried to make it easy for him to be her friend when he felt ready.

The girl squid thought he needed her. And she knew now that she had missed him. The girl squid also knew she had let this happen. She had been here before.

The giant squid was full of excuses and recriminations: She didn’t understand what he was going through, he wouldn’t allow her to take his depression personally, he always let people down eventually, his life was in ruins.

She told the giant squid—when he wouldn’t meet her for school swimming or his birthday—if we’re not friends, it means something horrible I don’t want to accept.

This is what she didn’t want to accept: The giant squid chose her to staunch his wounds because she had loved him and, long before, he had already broken her hearts.

After some time sinking and learning to float again, this is what the girl squid accepted.

Chris Daley likes to hike in Griffith Park, see live music, and take pictures with her phone. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Collagist, and Trojan Family Magazine. She teaches writing for Caltech and Writing Workshops LA. “Beneath the Sea” was inspired by the fables of Ben Loory.

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