I didn’t kiss Odgeir because I fancied him, but because I knew other people fancied him. We were in Ding’s, a dirty, black-painted nightclub, and mirrors surrounding the dancefloor were misted with breath and sweat. Green and red and blue lights made faces look swollen and ill. The carpets were sticky and I was drunk enough to have one eye almost constantly closed.
My day had been greatly improved by watching a tank full of jellyfish at the aquarium. The way they pumped their freakish bodies upwards, tiny tentacled spaceships lit up by UV; I was enthralled. Reading about them was even better, and I left the aquarium feeling hopeful.
Odgeir was standing by a black pillar watching the dancers: I thought, That’s the one. His Nordic hair flapped above his forehead in some mysterious current, and I thought how funny it would be if I asked him if his hair wanted to dance. It turned out that it wasn’t funny; it was embarrassing, but it meant that I could stand on my tiptoes and shove my mouth against his in a sort of kiss.
The next day he texted me. We arranged to meet at the beach where we quickly got wasted, looking at the sea. He told me about his various girlfriends, and the different speeds at which they had climaxed, and I listened, keeping my mouth shut while making what I hoped were worldly, suggestive eyes. Drunk, he looked at me a certain way, and I hoped I had become his personal challenge, wondered if he had any idea what that meant.
I couldn’t stop thinking about jellyfish. I looked up what was needed to keep my own. A tank placed out of direct sunlight and away from electrical equipment and heat sources, aquarium gravel, glass marbles, a heater set to 77 degrees fahrenheit; the jellyfish’s climate of choice. The whimsical little freaks could be here in a week.
Odgeir and I continued meeting up. We competed at being aloof; boasted about not getting dumped and hearts we had broken – always by accident, of course, we weren’t malicious – and I recognised a certain coldness in him. He confessed to masturbating on breaks at the care home for the elderly where he worked nights. What do you think about when you touch yourself, he asked, and I admitted that I thought about nothing at all.
Because he worked nights these sex-laden conversations would end at the bus stop where I would leave him, hangover kicking in, and walk home to bed. Early evening light fell through my window as my hand moved frantic in my pants, trying to get somewhere. I lay under the sheets imagining what he would think of this room if he saw it. Did anything give me away?
The next morning he rang.
I have a night off tomorrow, he said. Do you want to hang out?
Of course. I said.
Online, I learned that jellyfish progress through a number of forms. The most recognisable is the adult with its bell-shaped body and long tentacles, but that is just one of several stages of a complex lifecycle. Fertilised jellyfish eggs develop into planula, small caterpillaresque forms which sink to the bottom of the ocean. They latch onto the sea bed where the next stage of transformation takes place.
The next night arrived. I felt different going to meet Odgeir at the beach. It was like a safety net had been taken away from underneath us. Things passed in the same way, the teasing, boasting, posturing, but when our vodka was finished we left the beach uncertainly. Out of habit we stopped at the bus stop.
Well, he said.
We realised we had no idea where the other lived, and swapped addresses. My house was closest.
D’you want to come back for a coffee? I dared myself to say.
We sat at my kitchen table and drank tea, and our conversation changed direction for the first time. We talked about our childhoods and what we were like at school – he was popular, I was studious – and I wondered if the closer we got to the bedroom the less we would talk about sex.
So, Odgeir said, after his second cup of tea. When are we going to have this coffee?
Ah, I said. We may have a problem.
He looked at me.
I don’t have any; it makes me jittery.
You led me here under false pretenses?
Perhaps I did.
We were looking right at each other and something was happening, but it could have been nerves. His eyes were pale blue like a drained slush puppy, his eyelashes white. His hands rested on the table and a dirty plaster clung to his index finger. I felt a shiver of something and I wasn’t certain that it wasn’t disgust, but still I spoke because I had to find out one way or another, now I had gotten this far.
Do you want to come up to my room?
First door at the top of the stairs, I told him, and then I collected our cups and rinsed them and turned them upside down on the draining board, all the time thinking Where's my sense of urgency?
The second stage of a jellyfish’s lifecycle can take years. The planula transform into polyps, which cannot move. They sit on the ocean floor eating, and reproducing themselves until they become strobila. As the strobila waits on the oceanfloor it begins to develop stratified rings. These rings begin to break off into ephyra, another intermediate creature that look like tiny gelatinous starfish. As the ephyra floats away in the ocean, continuing to feed and grow, it evolves into its fully mature form. This is what we recognise as the jellyfish.
On my way upstairs I slipped my hand into my knickers. Dry. I cleaned my teeth and then wet my fingers and ran them across myself, just in case. I washed my face and moisturised, hoping to leave Odgeir alone long enough for the momentum we required to build up or fade completely.
I pushed the door open, and there he was, still not even in my bed. Crouched in front of my CD player, he held an album.
Can I play you something? he said.
The room was quiet and I heard every single movement of the CD player as it pushed out its mechanical tongue to ask for a CD. Is this sexual tension? I asked myself, and from somewhere came a surge of decisiveness. I pulled off my top.
I unbuttoned my jeans as the CD whirred and span, and over the noise of it my fingers picking away at my jean buttons were entirely audible and it was like a countdown. I recognised a feeling of nausea and I thought Is this sexual tension? I pushed my jeans down self-consciously, like I was being filmed even though Odgeir wasn’t even facing me and I stared at the back of his neck, which I knew would be warm and soft like mine was, like all of the backs of necks I had touched in my life had been and I focused on that, feeling the material slide down my legs.
And then the music started. Much louder than anyone was comfortable with. Odgeir went to pieces like an old person with no clue about technology. He flapped, useless, and I ran over one leg still in my jeans, denim trailing behind me like a tentacle.
I can’t find stop! he said.
And I thought perhaps this is a sign as I turned the volume down.
Sorry, he said.
It’s alright, I said. Neither of us mentioned that I was wearing only my bra and pants, and neither of us mentioned that we weren’t doing anything about it.
The most fascinating thing of all about jellyfish is that they can be asexual. Jellyfish experience an alternation of generations in which one generation – the medusa – reproduces sexually and one – the polyp – reproduces asexually.
The music played, a soothing, plinking kind of music, and I lay back on my bed. It was cold, but I stayed on top of the sheets. My hairs stood up. It made me think of being underwater, of jellyfish, pumping their strange bodies to the water's surface, like something from a dream. I felt the mattress sink as Odgeir climbed onto it.
Do you like the music? he asked.
I do, I said.
It sounded like an aquarium
He trailed his hand down my stomach, lingering on the material of my pants and I arched my back to meet him out of habit. On the upward stroke I felt that plaster, coarse like a beach-hardened heel. He put his mouth on my belly button and I shivered.