By Daniel Roy Connelly
He said he’d had his problems, I replied I’d had mine too.
Yours aren’t like mine, he said. For example last week I went to buy a much-needed new mattress. The salesperson gave me permission to bounce modestly and stretch out at leisure before listing the what-he-admitted-were-steep prices. My knees ache in bed, I said (but he broke off eye contact) and to this day mattresses aren’t made with knees in mind; heads, yes, necks, yes, backs, for sure, knees, not a bit of them. It is almost a scandal. The contemporary mattress which shapes up to one-third of our lives is yet to respond to the particular contours of the underside of the knee. To the best of my knowledge, he went on, the cream of mattress designers is yet to convene in an upscale city-centre hotel to address this hardy and deficient perennial of the Mattrus Foamus. He said the salesperson regained eye contact but stared at him blankly nonetheless. To overcome this, he concluded, I sleep with a pillow under my knees or between them as I turn restlessly from one side to the other. And are you, he said, as the salesperson for your company, carrying out your duties in full representational mode, telling me your top-of-the-range showroom selection of branded single mattresses will finally meet all my knees’ needs, or am I going to buy a pair of your cheapest pillows instead?
I held up my hand to interrupt him. He stalled and I took my chance, leant in, and said that yesterday a colony of giant seahorses, genus Hippocampus, each the length of an average index finger, washed up on the beach at Scarborough. Landing after landing of hook-shaped neon bulbs effervesced under the late-night sky until the locals got word and out of bed and down to the scene with coats over their pyjamas they came. After an emergency meeting of the local council, it was decided that each family could take one flashing curio away with them – a limit strictly enforced by men in fluorescent jackets – to use as an eye-catching trinket or to make a shimmering addition to a sideboard or a mantelpiece, or to put straight on eBay, having washed the salt off first. But here’s the thing, when you wash the salt off, that’s when they all die, I told him, that’s when the seahorse lights go out. And so they did, I said, nodding dourly at his amazed face. There were no inquiries, a few column inches in the local newspapers, a couple of photographs on a Facebook page created on the beach in the moment that got 10,000 likes in 24 hours and never posted another thing.
It is safe to assume the seahorses did not wash ashore to die. But they do seem to have been mistaken for Chinese import fairy lights that had beached fully functional on Scarborough’s North Bay and which were irresistible to the human eye, so were taken home and stared at until fresh water was applied. By now, his mouth was open as if it got stuck that way in the wind. Thereafter, I continued, thousands of tiny Hippocampi were slung into wheelie bins all over town, left to rot with other biodegradables; what was then is not now. Do you not see, I said, my hands clasped together right beneath his chin, how a moment of spontaneous illumination on the North Yorkshire coast, a commune with rare creatures from the deep, a beach landing of querulous alien forms, has concluded with our desire to impress the neighbours and/or to make a fast buck, or pound, or euro? And you think you have problems, I told him, but he’d recovered by now and grimaced and reached for his knees.
– Daniel Roy Connelly was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy International Poetry Festival Prize, a finalist in the 2015 Aesthetica Magazine Creative Writing Prize and winner of the 2015 Cuirt New Writing Prize for Poetry. Published widely online and in print, he is forthcoming in The Moth, Acumen 88 and on ‘Uncle Vanya’ in Critical Survey 28.1. He is a professor of creative writing, Shakespeare, and modern theatre at John Cabot University and The American University of Rome. www.danielroyconnelly.com