Throwback Thursday | An UNDERWATER Excerpt: “Sylvia’s Ashes” by Shannon Rose Leahy

He stood on the shore, the full moon’s light shattering into pearl fragments on the ocean’s black face. Sylvia, his darling wife—where in the vast waters had her ashes drifted? Three years had passed since the small and huddled service at the end of the rickety pier, a tinny rendition of “The Saints Go Marching In” huffed out on harmonica while Brendan scattered her ashes into the hungry ocean.

Had her ashes ever wafted pass mermaids, with bare breasts gleaming under the fiery sun, faintly green hair tangled with bright shells, or had they sat in the belly of some gray, dull-eyed fish?

Her funeral changed the ocean. How many more charred human remains churned in those dark waters? The thought of people splashing in that salty brine, shaking the brew of his wife out of their ears and wringing her out of bikinis made his stomach tighten into a hard fist.

The great watery abyss still shattered heart. A selfish, careless instant stole his darling Sylvia from this world. A bloated car full of spring breakers from Alabama, hell bent on partying in putrid Panama City Beach, collided with her motorcycle. During spring break traffic, the streets were paved with beer cans and condom wrappers. Drunken, sun-brunt twenty-somethings hung out the windows, screaming lewd remarks at anything with a pair of breasts. Casualties of alcohol poisoning or falls off fifteen story balconies weren’t anything new to this city. Although heartbroken, it didn’t shock him that post-adolescent madness ended her life.

With her bloodied body mangled and few notes in his bank account, he opted for cremation and a funeral service away from claustrophobic and rigid church walls. Scattering her ashes into the ocean is how she wanted to be laid to rest. Her wavy brown hair once streaked with gold and fine wrinkles gathered at the corners of her eyes, these things only earned by those who dance on hot sand under a radiant sun summer after summer, reduced to a pile of powder.

The beach served as the backdrop of their romance, slowly forming a friendship, small talk built up to deeper conversation when they met nightly in the sand. Brendan’s walls slowly crumbled. He spoke of his black days when his paintbrush ceased moving across the canvas. Pressure built from need to prove he was a valid artist, from friends, then himself. Canvases covered every corner of his apartment but not a wall of a gallery.

Eventually, he found a local coffee shop that would display his art. His expression began to suffer within the confines of what was deemed acceptable to showcase.

Censorship dug graves into his imagination, leaving him hallow.

He yearned to make art, even after so long.

Through his waves and shifting emotions, like the ocean and sand they sat upon, Sylvia did not waver. She became the one solid force in his life. He returned to her on the beach in their spot.

As the moon went through its cycle of wax and wane, Brendan began drawing once again.

She was his sweet anarchy.

She never told him anything was too dark or eccentric. Nothing he drew made her see him differently. Her fearless spirit gave him strength. Sketches turned into finished pictures, which evolved into acrylic paintings once more: goat skulls surrounded by pale dancing women, beautiful Seshat writing on temple walls, eerie ghouls floating aimlessly under the ocean among wrecked ships. His skill heightened further than he imagined possible with his liberator by his side.

Gods, how he missed her.

He clasped the circular pendant that hung around his neck on a black cord. ICM CREMATORY 716. She would never have a grand monument in precious stone erected in her cherished memory. Only this.

The moon snuck peeks at the world below through a veil of lacy clouds. He traced patterns on the sand, reliving old memories. Gentle ocean waves broke on the shore, and the wind rustled the palm leaves—almost like a song. He let the sound fill his mind, mysterious whispered noise somewhere in the fluid watery melody. How he wanted to experience the weightlessness of floating in the ocean. He shuttered with pleasure thinking about it.

He entered the ocean; water filled his boots as he waded up to his waist. Gardenia weaved through the salty air. The scent Sylvia always wore. He took his shirt off and tossed it aside. He rubbed his wet hands on his bare chest. A moan escaped him; the sensation was electric, exciting. The waves crashed in time with his quickening heartbeat.

If he let the carnivorous ocean fill his lungs and sweep his body out to places no pirates dared travel, would he finally be with his beloved once again?

He decided to find out.

A stir of excitement, magnetic anticipation flooded him. He would be united with his lover in mere moments.

A form emerged from the water. Shining from seawater and soaked in starlight, his Sylvia stood before him. With trembling hands, he cupped the face he so dearly ached for, the familiar freshly baked warmth of her skin in his palms.

Salt and suntan lotion.




Shannon Rose currently resides in Panama City just mere blocks away from the city’s last remaining, almost completely unvandalized, pay phone. She spends her days pondering philosophical questions that have no actual relevance to the real world and shares her ideas with those who take delight in the inner workings of her mind, as she does with them. She is known for getting too drunk at parties and shouting aggressive encouragement at people she has just met, whatever their creative paths may be. She continues cultivating and spinning her magic across the page under churning, bright starry nights.


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