Fiction: The Odd Sea
By Robert Nazar Arjoyan
Zav spent a lot of time thinking about his first sentence. Sitting his stretch would be hell for him, but either Zav was going to do the deed or he wasn’t, days and months and years be damned, because that Rolls Royce was just begging to be stolen.
The street was asleep and the time was now, though Zav was not the only one awake. Stepping free from the dark mouth of a dingbat apartment, he found himself in sync with a limping coyote, a common enough encounter in his foothill town. Zav watched the animal circle an ugly arc, looking maybe for a spot to rest its splintered self. The wild canine didn’t change its course when Zav’s Guccis met the shared pavement. No, it just kept going, flinching against the briefest skim of halogen halo yet still pawing the perimeter.
Zav’s attention was fast commandeered by the automobile. He looked into her and met his face mirrored in the window. Zav’s warm breath smoked the glass.
Oh Jesus, the mask.
Zav fished out a balaclava and stuffed his buzzed head into it. Excitement, excitement, nothing more. The Persian video rental place was only open on weekends and didn’t have surveillance, so far as he could tell, and his rear was to the shuttered liquor sto-
There in the clouded reflection, his adjusting sight clocked a shape, accompanied by the steady slap of bare feet. He wheeled to see a red-clad woman jogging in place, waiting for the crosswalk meter’s little man, and indeed unshod. Long hair bounced blondish-brown, lagging behind the rest of her by a small, curling second. Windswept leaves scraped against the cracked curb and grazed her naked toes.
She looked expensive.
The shit-pocked Rolls Royce had sat FOR SALE these many weeks, and Zav figured it would likely be sitting there tomorrow.
As he strutted toward the young lady, a fuzzy memory of English class bobbed up from the farthest row of his mind, something, eh, what was it, some story about Greeks on a ship and an island of singing women. The Odd Sea? Dumbass teachers. He actually swiveled northwest, for Toll Middle School was just one block away, and expected clarity on the sudden surfacing, but none did come. What came instead was a sharp volley of yips and yaps from the agitated coyote which scared Zav and captured the immediate notice of his latest object.
“Woah, bro, back way up.”
Zav heard laughter at the edge of her voice, a threat all too familiar, all too frustrating.
“Give me your money,” he demanded.
“What?” she asked, removing her engraved AirPods.
“Give me your money, I said.”
A dangerous smile lengthened across her young but ageful face.
“Do you discern any pockets?”
She splayed her arms out to prove the point, and for a freak second, the dark red of her outfit made Zav think of a bleeding paper towel.
“Fine, whatever, give me your bracelet,” he barked.
“So it screws on. You know, you’re really giving yourself away-”
“Then give me those ear buds!”
She threw both away - the line and her tech - off into the who cares.
Zav did not chase after, could not chase after. While he wouldn’t classify himself a ladies man - in spite of compensatory grandstanding - Zav had his share of experience. But to be so riveted? So in thrall?
Words and encounters beyond his range.
“Just jerk off on the Rolls, OK?”
The smoke of her laughter filled his nostrils and spun his skull, occupying each groove and cavity.
“Wh- you can’t talk to me like that, you fuc-”
“Or,” slicing him in half, “Or, you can make my route.”
“Run with me, reach my house, take one thing.”
Itchy sweat collected under Zav’s mask.
“Even you?” he tried, coating his question with too much oil.
“Show me your face,” she responded, not without a breeze of openness.
Zav slid off the wool and a raw chill raked his cheeks. The woman looked at him, her lips pursed and considered.
“Mmm, no. Not me, I’m off the table.”
It was all Zav could do to keep his head from sloping down in angry shame.
“What if I don't make it?”
“Make the run?”
She shrugged, and that lack of anything at all scared him. His calf twitched, as did the ligaments in his jaw, fear-menaced muscle, like the one and only time he tried mushrooms. Zav heard the beating flow of his blood speed up between both ears.
But stronger than trepidation, more tempting, was her promise.
“Then get going,” he spat, doing his best to regain some semblance of self image.
“Let’s move,” she said, tapping Zav’s considerable gut and promptly undoing his assembly.
“Also, get rid of your shoes,” she ordered.
“Are you serious? These are thousand dol-”
“Honey, I can spot a fake.”
The woman took off at an easy pace, never breaking her mother’s back.
If she was barefoot, if he was barefoot, then the house couldn’t be far off.
Zav took off his definitely-not-fake Guccis, clasped them to his bosom, and put one hairy foot in front of the other. He snuck an aching glance at the languishing Rolls Royce as he trotted beside the bristling coyote, before it broke rank to restart its unending and hopeless spiral.
He was catching up to her, she who would vanish under a tree canopy and reappear in blue moonlight, when something stabbed his sole.
“Mamat kunem!” shouted Zav, cursing in his first language.
“Oh, you’ll grow up and forget about it, you big baby,” sang the runner, employing perfect Armenian. “Brush it off and keep coming until you touch the end of the rainbow.”
The poverty of Zav’s speech kept him from retorting, also too his ragged breath. Still clinging to his loafers, he hoofed on and soon was sharing shoulder space with the sweatless wonder.
“Are we almost there?” he puffed.
“Nope. See that church way down the street?”
It was like she was standing still, her voice didn’t so much as stutter. Zav followed the line of her arm and saw a steeple poking through suburbia into sky.
“Once we pass that,” she continued, “it’s all uphill.”
“For how long?” panted Zav.
“Stop talking,” advised the woman.
So they ran, and the church loomed larger upon approach. It covered about half a block, tall stained glass windows dashed in black. They drifted by archways which fed into a tree-rich courtyard. It was hard to miss the statue of kneebound Christ, a crucifix bearing down on his shining spine. Zav related to Jesus: both men struggling against the current, fighting the stacked bets, and earning their hard won rewards.
The road began to bend upward.
“You better have some… somethi… vai, mamat kunem… something good.”
“Boy, from one side of your mouth, all you guys say mamat kunem, mamat kunem, and from the other you claim mothers are holiness. Can’t have both, buddy.”
“OK, how about kunem kez?”
“Already told you I’m off the table, slick, so you’ll just have to fuck your hand.”
Whether it was his exhaustion or her unladylike comment, Zav tripped on an elevated piece of sidewalk and tumbled, shoes flying through the air and landing on dewy lawn.
She paused, springing lightly on her heels.
“Is that it?” she inquired.
Zav’s stomach burned, his lungs hated him. The taste of copper dripped from his parched tongue down a crowded throat.
“Do you… akh, do you do this every night?”
She looked at him then, her head sure like a column. Zav counted six stars spangling in her staring eyes.
“Every night,” she confirmed and resumed.
“Are we close?” he called after her.
He received no answer.
Zav rose, a scratch beading across his knuckles. The distance had already shrunk her and she slipped past his sight altogether, turning an unexpected right.
He choked on an intake and set off on a sprint.
Zav was a teenager when last he bolted like this, tearing down the longest alley of his life with a stolen pound of crappy coke that brought in barely enough for Armani sunglasses.
In his pounding head, he concluded this to be the ultimate time.
He was thirty four years old and tired.
Zav followed the woman’s trail and spotted her cresting the hill, a darkened house ornamenting the silent street. Was such an incline even legal? Higher and higher, ascending to the clouds, scraping heaven. He felt like his ankles might snap off the bone any second, leaving him to crawl the rest of the way, his stomach a scoured mess-
Zav jumped, and so did his heart.
A biggish bear rammed its quaking body onto a wrought iron gate, luxe and ornate. Each slam brought with it a barrage of metallic attack and grating discord. Zav gaped at the unusual tableau, feeling too many things at once, chief among them:
Was any of this worth it?
He walked in reverse, unable to pry his gaze from the unhinged bear. As Zav turned, the sound of its hungry avarice followed him.
“That stupid bear is here too often,” stated the woman. “I don’t know why no one’s done anything.”
She had framed herself just so in front of the main entrance, vines like fingers feeling the stucco.
“You made it,” she proclaimed and opened the front door.
“Unlocked?” Zav managed. “Left it unlocked?”
She sniffed. “Of course. Everyone knows me.”
He watched her step across the threshold and began to hear strange music from within: drawn out electric sounds coupling with chirping birds and jungle drums.
“Come in and have a look around.”
She beckoned him with a waving hand and Zav obeyed, but not before he craned his stiff neck and took in the whole height of the house.
To appease his idiot father, Zav spent one summer working as the man’s bitch, mostly cutting holes in ceilings for recessed lighting installation. This’ll make a human being out of you, he’d say with a sucker’s smile. Up until the second he died, Zav’s father never stopped riding his ass about getting a proper job, learning by his side, and doing a little bit of good.
But here, in this woman’s home, Zav’s involuntary education came in handy: he didn’t spy a single recessed light. The entire space was darkened, lit only by a smattering of hidden spotlights. Mauve, like his dreams.
He noted canvases and sculptures of animals and humans. Bizarre instruments, seemingly industrial and musical, dotted a thickly carpeted floor. He strained his hearing, trying to ascertain if there were other people present, but the soundtrack of flutey breathing snuffed his attempt.
“Well? What’ll it be?”
She was wearing different clothes. Had Zav been staring for that long?
“Walk about, even though your legs must be killing you.”
He could’ve been home now, his liberated vehicle ready for a Sunday morning drive.
“Garage. Where is it?” asked Zav.
“To the left,” said she.
He went, wounded feet wincing. He did his best to look straight ahead, for there were inklings on the periphery which Zav would rather do without.
They came to a door.
“Here we are, Zav. The garage. Remember, you can only take one thing.”
“Wh- how do you know my name?”
The woman smirked and vaulted her eyebrows, making them meet in the middle.
“Boy, you really are tired, aren’t you? Young man like you, amot kez.”
Shame on me? he thought, while she playfully slapped his gut again.
“Open the door,” she suggested.
So he did, and found a garage. Just a regular, plain, two car garage.
“You want that?” she asked, and Zav felt his cock stir.
The Rolls Royce was a beauty, even better than the one in the lot. Silver, this one, and burnished, with white hubcaps and a grill that grew into forever. Either a ‘59 or a ‘60, Zav would bet his shriveled balls on that. He swallowed and it felt like pebbles down his gullet, like coarsest sandpaper.
It felt, at last, like winning.
“Yes,” he sighed. “Yes, I want that.”
“Keys are inside. But do bring it to a mechanic and get it checked out. It’s been years.”
Zav stood close to the machine and placed his hand on her backside, gliding it along the length of her. He entered the car and shut himself in. A smell smacked his senses, an aroma of vase water.
The wide egress lurched up, like a ratty curtain, letting in the entire neighborhood.
He looked in the rear view mirror for one more survey of the woman, but she was gone. Zav wanted to ask her for shoes, something nice, so as not to ruin the footwell.
He found the keys in the glove compartment and the engine turned over fine. Unbuckled, he eased her forward.
The woman’s unorthodox music followed him into the Phantom and through the driveway and he wished for it to go away.
Rolling now, rolling down the hill he climbed, rolling with the sun’s light still on the far side of the world.
The steering wheel felt natural in his grip, like he’d been born to drive it, entitled to do so by law and nature and God. He leaned his weight on the gas and opened her up, adoring her speed.
Faster he flew, full and free.
Zav detected motion ahead and understood it to be the bear, raging still. He pumped the brakes suddenly, desirous for a last glimpse of the witless beast.
The Rolls Royce did not slow down.
He repeatedly jammed his lacerated foot onto the pedal but met zero resistance.
Zav zoomed past the bear, through the odd sea of dark, and sat the stretch of his final sentence.
Robert Nazar Arjoyan was born into the Armenian diaspora of Los Angeles. Aside from an arguably ill-advised foray into rock n’ roll bandery during his late teens, literature and movies were the vying forces of his life. Naz graduated from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and now works as an author and filmmaker. Find him at www.arjoyan.com and on Twitter @RobertArjoyan