By Judith Mogul

A painfully full bladder wakes me up. I hurry to the bathroom, sleepy and annoyed. By the time I’m done, my eyes are unglued. Early grey light. And warm. I yawn and think of my kayak, which lies stored on a quiet beach along Peconic Bay in Cutchogue Harbor. One of the prettiest spots on the North Fork.

Should I go back to bed? I know that if I let my body return to those sheets, I’ll be asleep in seconds. But now is the coolest part of a summer day, when the sun is just as sleepy as I am.
My kayak beckons. I jumpstart my senses with coffee and peanut butter toast, throw on some clothes, grab my gear and leave. Across the road, on East Creek, swans float gracefully by the shore, seeking breakfast. I pause to absorb their loveliness and then pick up the pace for the two blocks to the beach.

I stow my gear in my kayak, a bright red, 14’ Arcadia Perception. We have been together for more than a decade, sharing the serenity of the bay and its creeks. I drag my boat the short distance to the shallows, hop in, push off and paddle hard. The birds are active, hungry, and their coos and screeches contradict the peaceful slosh of my paddles.

Gliding rapidly across the surface, I’m lost in the joy of the morning and don’t stop to drift until I’m approaching the deeper part of the bay. That’s when I notice the jellyfish, all around me, sliding against each other and bouncing off my boat.

Jellyfish creep me out. Their deceivingly gentle tentacles sting and leave nasty rashes and they feel slimy against my skin. Milder winters and warmer water are increasing their numbers. Yuck! I paddle slowly, peering into the water, my kayak slicing through their masses. When I pause again, they cluster around me, the water agitated by their numbers. I’ve never seen this many jellyfish. I’m alarmed and anxious. I slam my paddle down onto the water, smashing into their soft, round bodies. I do it again. And again.

Suddenly, a large grey crane whooshes overhead. The whirring of its wings distracts me, and I start paddling again. My thoughts turn to memories of my mom. She taught me to respect all creatures. I try, but I don’t like things that sting. And slither and ooze. Like jellyfish. Sometimes, when I’ve done away with bugs or other creepy crawlies, I offer up an apology to her. Did she see me today? I tell her I’m sorry, just in case.

I kayak often, lift weights and can do close to 100 sissy push-ups, but something strange is happening. It’s become increasingly difficult to paddle and I’m wondering why there is so much resistance. I notice that more jellyfish are swarming around me. Like bees to a hive. My paddle is overburdened with their bodies as I lift it out of the water.

Oh God, I want to be back at the beach. Now! I dig my paddle into the water. I strain to turn my kayak towards home. My arms are starting to tremble and my hands are sweaty.

I feel as though I’m paddling in mud. I go back to beating the water, slamming them, cursing and screaming. “Help me. Please help. Help!” My nose is running. I wipe sweat out of my eyes and feel it trickle down between my breasts and under my arms. I’m losing this battle.

How can this be? Jellyfish hijacking a kayak? I can’t turn my boat. My kayak is heading back out into the bay. I’m shivering, my teeth are chattering and goose bumps break out on my sweaty skin.

The beaches are empty. Not a boat in sight. No one knows that I am here. Except hundreds, maybe thousands, of jellyfish.

My kayak has started to rock but there are no waves. It’s tipping to the left. Leaning over the right side, I see the jellyfish, a tightly clustered, gelatinous mass, piled on top of each other, pushing my boat. I lean as far to the right as I can, clinging to the sides, desperate to be level. No help. A frantic, continuous scream pours from my mouth as my kayak tips farther and farther to the left. Then it flips, dumping me into the bay. Kicking and flailing, I try to thrash myself back to the surface, to grab a breath, to stay alive, but I am immersed in thick, disgusting slime. Tentacles invade my mouth and my eyes. They are everywhere, stinging me. I’m being sucked down deeper. Water is pouring into my open mouth. The bay rushes into my lungs.

I think of my mother and wish that I had listened to her. “Respect and kindness,” she preached. For the last time, I send her an, “I’m sorry” and then everything fades to black.