I woke up again in French Polynesia, only this time I was Œuf. I was free to do anything. I went into a bodega to get some sundries, but no one spoke English. I didn’t know what to ask for or how to ask for it. I selected the following items off the shelf:
- 12 Eagle Claw® crochets de poissons, taille 8 (imported from the U.S.)
- 25 meters of 7 kg ligne opaque (imported from France)
- 6-pac of Vahine® bière (local)
- 1-meter baguette (local)
- A postcard in English with a recipe for Poisson Cru
The front of the postcard (what caught my eye) had a picture of a three topless Tahitian nymphs chewing on fish. The back had the recipe for Poisson Cru, or Raw Fish: Ingredients:
- 1 coconut
- 2 limes
- 1 red onion
- ½ kg of taro root
- 4.5 mls of 20% ethyl acetate in iso-octane
- 1 cucumber
- 1 kg of yellowfin tuna
- grated key lime zest
- 2 μl 5x ligation buffer
- sea salt to taste
1. Poisson cru is not so much a linear recipe as an effervescent method of preparation.
2. To be true poisson cru, ingredients must not be purchased. Stealing is discouraged, but permitted.
3. Always start with freshly caught, still living, fish.
4. Cut the live fish into tongue-sized strips. Set aside.
5. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a wood bowl.
6. Deviations are encouraged depending on what’s in season and readily available.
7. The resulting mixture must be chewed by menstruating virgins. (Salivary enzymes activate the true flavor of the fish.)
8. After fifteen minutes of steady chewing, mouthfuls are spit back in the bowl.
9. Centrifuge down and extract any undigested fibers. (These are toxic to most men.)
10. Add the fish, but not long enough for the lime and enzyme mixture to penetrate the fish and cook it. The surface should turn an opaque color, but the inside should remain raw.
11. Eat alone.
When I showed the Tahitian clerk the list of ingredients he pointed to where everything was and looked the other way. I helped myself. Finding the virgins would be problematic, but the methodology was vague enough that I could improvise.
I ventured out on a dock that appeared to be owned by no one. There were dolly tracks and tape marks on the dock like someone had been shooting a film from it. The lights were still set up, bathing the scene artificially. Otherwise there were no other signs of life besides some porkfishes jumping offshore. It was a little too early to be drinking beer, but I needed the can to spool the line on to catch my fish. I drank the beer and wound the line around the empty can. Then I tied the hook on the line and wadded up some bread, chewing on it briefly so it would stick to the hook.
Before I even got my line in the water, a redhead came swimming towards me on a surfboard. There were no waves so I’m not sure what the surfboard was good for. She came right for me and parked her board just below me on the dock. Her back was smooth and bronzed, uninterrupted by any tan lines. I would have said something, but the only French words I could think of were “poisson cru.” I threw my hook in and waited.
After a while, she twisted supine. She wasn’t wearing a top. She was a perfect specimen, though she couldn’t have been more than fourteen so I felt guilty for thinking so. Even though there was no wind, her hair was flowing. She was bathed in the artificial light. It was all too perfect. Maybe she was the reason for the dolly tracks. I kept checking over my shoulder to see if it was a model shoot or a movie.
I reeled in my hook, spooling the line on the beer can. The doughy wad was gone. I hooked on another wad and threw it out. I wasn’t feeling any bites. After a while, she sighed, flipped prone and said, “au revoir.” Besides those parting words, no indication was given that I existed.
“I’m making poisson cru,” I blurted, thinking she’d at least understand the last two words. But it was too late. As she was paddling away I noticed she didn’t have two legs, but one tail fin. This whole time she had been a mermaid. To top it off, I only then remembered that I needed a menstruating virgin for my poisson cru recipe (by definition, all mermaids are virgins). Not that I knew for a fact she was menstruating (see requirment 7 above). I literally kicked myself for not making the deduction, waking myself up. I was no longer Œuf or Oph, not even John or Jaune, but Stu. I was still fishing on the artificially lit dock with the dolly tracks and still had the poisson cru ingredients, minus the fish, which I had yet to catch. I wasn’t certain about the legitimacy of the mermaid though. I bent up from my supine position and tossed my line back in.
Eventually the redhead came strolling back out on the dock, except now she had legs and was fully clothed in a linen pantsuit. We instinctually smelled each other’s armpits and rubbed against each other. Taking off her flip-flops, she sat down on the edge of the dock next to me. We couldn’t really communicate, but from what I could gather she was Albert Camus’ granddaughter. To make conversation, I asked her if she knew Marie-Yves Curie. She nodded vacantly. I went on speaking because it was more awkward not to, admitting that I hadn’t read Camus, but knew of him through The Cure song. Through a walkie-talkie that materialized out of thin air, I started singing the lyrics: “standing on the beach/with a gun in my hand/staring at the sea/staring at the sand.” She lit up. She had heard of The Cure. As I was singing into the reverb-laden walkie-talkie, I realized I must’ve been John after all, as Stuart didn’t listen to The Cure. I was mad at John for inhabiting my dream. So I decided to “molt” John.
I wasn’t sure how Camus’ granddaughter would take it, so I said I was hot, took off my shirt and jumped in the water. I dove under to molt John. Opening my eyes underwater, I could see perfectly. I had a crawdad tail and claws. I felt guilty for having them. I was afraid to surface not knowing how Camus’ granddaughter would take it. But at the same time I didn’t want her to think I was drowning and then risk her life saving me. It was too late. I heard a splash as she dove in after me. She was back to being a mermaid. She swam up to me, close enough to tease me as my claw impulsively reached out to grab at her. Then I remembered Marie-Y and felt terrible even though nothing had happened either way. I kept telling myself I wasn’t John or Œuf so it wouldn’t be cheating even if something did happen. My claws kept snapping, but they were useless for grabbing a hold of anything as they were.