*Not your average publishing company

Unconventional Methods to Achieve Something Deep

The waterbed, on its own, simply wasn’t enough. It was a good start, a fine foundation, but she wanted something else. She needed something more. And yes, it’s a fact, her osteopath had made the suggestion himself, told her a waterbed would mold to the unique contours of her body –his word: unique, which she had taken for a compliment, a subtle flirtation, a hopeful come-on, though she wasn’t sure and thus did not commit to volley with her own saucy remark. It would help with her sleep, she was told, thwart the irksome persistence of gravity. It would reduce pressure on her joints, support her spine, and ultimately she would float in the night as she dreamed. Like her namesake, she would drift, a Lily on the water.

And though it’s true, within days she began to dream of sub-aquatic currents, cold, green streams carrying her away, gently guiding her to drift off, to sway, to dance among the ethereal kelp strings manipulated by a maritime marionette, perhaps by Poseidon himself; even so, it just didn’t measure up to the particular “wet dream” Lily had anticipated, had thirsted for. But Atlantis wasn’t built in a day, she reminded herself. And so the waterbed remained, a bedrock to be built upon, an oceanic base with nowhere to go but upwards.

When the gentle massages begin to feel more beneficial for their intimacy rather than for their ability to sooth the pain in her lower back, to nullify the constant ache where her hips met her thighs, to assuage the tightness of her shoulders which curved inward, a product of poor posture and in being the receptacle that harbored her stress, her osteopath told her he planned to “bring out the big guns,” which frightened his patient, but also thrilled her.

By contrast, the chiropractic techniques were harsh, almost forceful. The way his hands prodded, pressed down, read Lily’s body like an open book, her spine like bone-etched Braille, the way he deciphered the story in the curves of her form, each swell and every dip. And this, the mere precursor to the real thrill. The crack. The crunch of cartilage or air bubbles or whatever. Something which is better left a mystery. Something that is part pain and part pleasure, exhilarating, like crack. Expensive, like crack.


At home, the nature program cycled on repeat. Blue Planet was old, but not outdated; the ocean is immemorial. In her living room, it glowed, a 65-inch, sapphire ember. It painted Lily’s walls in shades of aqua, washes of emerald green. It filled the room with the echo of cetacean song, her home, with the music of the sea. Attenborough’s narration was lulling –hypnotic even– as was the sound of surf on rock, sea foam crashing upon the shore. Even so, the Mariana Trench is seven miles deep, and that is how far from sufficient the television had left Lily feeling. As if at the bottom of a cold crevice that had never known light, she sat and stared, her tears as if droplets from the sea.


Sometimes he held her head, thumbs tucked behind her ears, under her jaw, the tips of his manicured fingers anchored firmly across her scalp, then his gentle urge to dip to the left, and CRACK, the release of six weeks of build up, six weeks of hunched, desk labor, forty-two nights of drifting off on the couch before waking sometime in the middle of the night to descend to her waterbed, to retire to her littoral chamber to dream of sun-kissed, coral seascapes and dark ocean floors, but mostly to dream of him, of her incomparable crack dealer, her beloved chiropractor.

Sometimes when he bent Lily’s neck to one side it was with a force sufficient to hurt as well as heal. Sometimes she saw stars, bright lights like bioluminescence in dark, midnight water. The crack would sound like the ocean floor opening up beneath her feet, a resounding, momentous occasion. The room would spin, swirl, cycle like a whirlpool, the halogen lights playing off the scales of ten thousand fish, a school of screaming hot hues zigzagging in disarray. Then Lily’s vision would come right. She would blink, stare forward, and ultimately smile, knowing that he had shifted the tectonic plates beneath the ocean of her soul.


Lily left an aperture at the base of her waterbed where she might enter her sub-aquatic kingdom. Propped up on shelving, chairs, and a suitcase she hadn’t yet used since she bought it for her hopeful trip to Hawaii, to Mauritius, to the Galápagos Islands, the Canaries, anywhere she might walk from a white sand beach into a warm, aquamarine wonderland, might honeymoon with her chiropractic prince, sat a collection of aquariums that ringed her mattress like the halo of an ocean angel, the hula-hoop of a dancing water sprite. Cast in the shifting radiance of an Aegean palette, a bedspread of blue Mediterranean up to her chin, Lily watched the playful air-bubbles climb up the side of the glass, the neon tetras weaving through the plastic ruins of Corinthian pillars. Envisioning a great mountain chain submerged by endless fathoms of black, leagues of ridgeline lubricated by unknown depths of cerebrospinal fluid, the great spine of the world waiting to be cracked, realigned, roughly handled, she floated off, perhaps to sink, into a deep, dark slumber.


Despite an eager, six-week buildup, a fevered anticipation that was akin only to her long-ago teenage excitement to see a popular boy band, to witness the Backstreet Boys in the flesh, her next appointment was met with crushing disappointment. As she walked through the door, Lily felt it in her bones, a tingle up her misaligned spine, in the very air, each molecule cooled by the overuse of air conditioning. His talents were unavailable today, they said. His perfect hands were elsewhere, far off, they had told her. Far off? Where? In Hawaii, they broke the news and thus broke Lily’s heart. He is on his honeymoon, they said, faces bright and split by white smiles that were infectious only in the way they spread an incomparable, horrific dread.

Then, as if nothing was amiss, as if the world was whole and not cracked in two, splintered into countless shards, devastated, the pulp that remained after a violent slaughter, the cranial confetti and cerebral jam left in the wake of a boisterous seal pup clubbing, a cataclysmic, earth-altering event, they directed Lily down the hallway. They opened the door to room two –his room– and ushered her with more of their cruel, good cheer.

Then, an ocean’s worth of salt in the wound: some third string, half-rate stand-in walks through the door. Someone filling in for him. Some woman who is “qualified,”her name scrawled across a framed chiropractic doctorate on the wall, a “DC,” which would have Lily believe she is some sort of super hero –the egotistical bitch. And sure, she was qualified; a PHD in clammy, cold hands and weak technique. The crunch in Lily’s bones was less impressive than her breakfast. It lacked that certain snap, crackle, and pop.

She left feeling bent out of shape, out of sorts. Her spine as if a pretzel, tied in knots, like her tummy, wrung out and withered, like her heart. Her man had given his hand to another woman. His hands, no longer Lily’s, waded the warm shallows of some Molokai lagoon. Undoing the drawstring of a neon bikini, they worked their magic across the world. They felt, found, and broke the budding fusion of two vertebrae, averting disaster, then went straight to the malpractice, the prodding pleasures that are both deep and warm, the union of two, as if fused, on a speck of land in the vastness of the great Pacific.

It had been her vision for the future –her role– but she didn’t get the part. Her vacation, her honeymoon, her chiropractor, her man. Now, Lily was alone, forced to look elsewhere. Forced to explore other methods, other means, other men. Moved to take action, probe deeper than the abyss of the Mariana Trench.


Lily discovered that if you purchase a yearly pass at Ocean World it saves you a bundle, provided you come at a minimum frequency of once every six weeks, that you save a veritable fortune if you come as often as she did, everyday, and pack your own lunch, saving on the would-be, seven-dollar corn dogs and five-dollar sodas. She’d eat her tuna melt, her home-made sushi, her nigiri and sashimi, her tin of sardines, sometimes anchovies at a fraction of the price. She’d enjoy her fishy meal in the aquarium tunnels, pressing the oil-slick scales up against the glass, trying to tempt the resident orca, and wondered what would be best to repair its curved dorsal fin: osteo or chiro? Or maybe something more? Maybe a cold, ocean home to replace the warm, treated tank?

When the park would close and the speakers came alive with happy-go-lucky invitations to come again when Ocean World reopened the next morning at 9 a.m., when the second announcement came later, more insistent, and the third, irate, and finally, when she was the only visitor left, the staff would usher Lily out, gently at first, but increasingly rough as the debacle become routine, just another part of their daily grind. In the end, they revoked her annual pass, told her she had a life-long ban –this, resulting after Lily dove into the warm, blue water, stroked the curve of a jet black dorsal fin, and wailed in unison with a lone, cetacean soul.


The acupuncturist was effeminate, hands like a lady or a lithe, woodland elf. But his voice was rich, deep, and coated in honey, sweet nectar to go along with the penetration of her skin. His lisp was delicious, perhaps a product of speaking in a second language. Soft as silk, it burrowed in her brain, deposited planktonic eggs in her ear, made music –a soundtrack — attenuated by influences of Mandarin, maybe Cantonese.

A series of silver needles, a warning, but nothing, no discomfort, no pain. In they went, one by one, and sank, like the spear of a swordfish dipped into a sea of placid cream. Entering her body, each one would do its part to stimulate her central nervous system, milk the chemicals within her to lubricate her muscles, her spinal cord, her brain, to ignite her innate ability to heal herself, to naturally promote her physical and mental well-being. It was everything that osteopathy was not. It was chiropractic practice transcended. It was the full-body experience Lily had always wanted. It was, in essence, the full monty that she now found herself in need of.

Lily turned over and let the needles go deep to the hilt into her flesh and muscles. She winced in pain, in pleasure, in predator love. She crawled across the black table, the creature from the black lagoon, her towel hanging like a strip of seaweed, her eyes white, lost in her head with the cocktail of sensations that made her feel, at last, alive.

Her acupuncturist screamed, his lisp a tarnished ghost, a tea-kettle, a vaporous note that no longer was. His voice, treacle-sweet, rich, mellow, deep –gone– devoid, replaced, transformed into something not merely effeminate, but downright girly, sissy even. A turnoff, for sure. And as it turns out, a turn away, a demand to leave. It happened all so fast that she drove home in nothing but her skin, the towel in her lap, the needles deeply embedded in her meridians.


With no one to turn to, nowhere else to go, it was the BBC all night. It was Blue Planet and Sir. Attenborough, the neon tetras, the angelfish, the miniature Greek ruins and the buoyancy of the waterbed beneath her bulk. In front of a 65-inch, tanzanite ember, Lily glowed blue, aquamarine, her tears reflecting porpoises as they cut the waves with their streamline bodies.

Without the know-how, she bent her neck with force, pulled her hair to jerk her head to the left, the right, the left again. No crack. No satisfying crunch. Just pain, and now a crick that wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t let her look up or down without electricity running down her spine. Atop her bed, she unfastened some safety pins. She poked at places she thought may be pressure points, might be hot-spots along her meridians. When it did no good, she used a cumbersome compass. Lily unleashed the big guns, the rapier blade, the scientific instrument to help measure angles, make the perfect circle.

Pushing the thick needle into her forearm, she winced, let out a whimper, held her breath, and repeated. The device that she used to lance her body was the same contraption she used for her artwork, the same device she employed to draw perfect circles, the air bubbles floating upward on the exasperated breath of deep-water leviathans at war with the mythical kraken; the thousands of planktonic eggs deposited by reef fish; the nipples of mermen, their dilated pupils as they gaze outward through the water caverns, the water-colored canvas, in longing for the artist that paints them into creation.

Lily applied pressure, putting weight into her effort, but slipped. The needle drew a crimson tally across the blank, white sheet of her flesh before plunging into the black waters of her mattress, before submerging deep into her bed. She drew it back, took it out, removing the needle like a wedge of cork plugging the hole of a hull of a schooner out at sea.

It was bedlam. It was a bed. It was a sacrificial lamb. It was a fountain of water and Lily’s eyes contributed to the flow. Her legs kicked outward. Her arms flailed. Then a deluge of water folded inward from all sides, a tsunami of crystal shards, aquarium shrapnel, neon tetras in mid air, angelfish in flight, and Corinthian ruins; a waterlogged aftermath of the worst disaster on record in the nation of Lily.

There is spill your ice-cream on the pavement tragedy, and then there is this. It was too much for Lily. Far too much to bear. Sopping wet, deflated like a waterbed devoid of its liquid, Lily decided that she’d had enough. She’d wait no longer. She’d travel to an ocean-bound paradise across the world.

She was determined to treat herself, to stay no less than a week in some Disney-esque beach resort, to break her fast each morning on fresh fruit and watch the sunrise, a ripened blood-orange on a blue-green horizon, to enjoy it all, relaxed and recumbent, a warm, Caribbean or Hawaiian breeze rustling her hair on an open-air balcony that overlooked an endless expanse of a tropic sea.

But when she arrived, it was not quite right. Her back was in a state of torture, her spine, out of alignment from the ten-hour flight in coach. In less than a day she was sunburned, a second-degree shade of red, like a crab, like a lobster, like the crimson blush of embarrassment that is the result of a failed attempt to seduce your acupuncturist.

At the end of the day, when her bikini dropped to the tiles she saw the stark, white line where the sun had failed to damage her. Next to the coral-hued irritation that was the rest of her, the unblemished site was striking, telling, a before-and-after sort of image, an indication that maybe she had fucked up yet again. She studied her naked body, little pinpricks like stars in the sky to indicate her meridians. A constellation of sorts, a story, a Greek tragedy chiseled out in bone-etched braille.

Lily broke her fast on fresh fruit but the blood-orange was under ripe. She stared out into the infinite horizon, but there was no color in the sky. The clouds were gray. Anaemic. Dead. It was doom and gloom miles out to the east. Overcast and bleak, a storm ragged on the horizon in the direction from where she had traveled. Black: a future devoid of all color.

With the relentless abuse of Helios’ hot hand striking her skyward back, her bared, upward-facing thighs, Lily snorkeled in the warm shallows of a Grand Cayman lagoon, floating, as if in flight. And then it dawned on Lily, red arms manipulating the blue water all around her. She realized, looking downward from above at a landscape of coral forest teeming with rainbow beasts, what she really needs in life, what she should have sought from the very beginning.

Like a bird, high in the sky, Lily hovers, a widespread albatross eating up the miles with its graceful aerial ballet. It all becomes clear: it is not the water that Lily needs.

Tomorrow, she will depart from this island paradise. She will book a flight back home. In the morning, she will head off to the airport, and there, among the choices before her, she will eye the male pilots, the many men with their wings.

It is up in the sky where Lily belongs.

James Callan grew up in Minnesota and currently lives on the Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand. His wife and son are great apes of the human distinction, but the remainder of his family consists of varying lifeforms, including cats, a dog, pigs, cows, goats, and chickens. His writing has appeared in Bridge Eight, White Wall Review, Maudlin House, Mystery Tribune, and elsewhere. He is the author of A Transcendental Habit (Queer Space, 2023).

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