Fiction by Larry Lefkowitz
Ever since reading Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels about "the lowest place on earth," he had wanted to visit the Dead Sea. He had pictured it as the bottom of a well from which he would have to look up at sea level, with water so salty one could not sink in it.
Now, as an adult, he stood at the spot, and he no longer thought of it with the same boyhood awe. He was visiting the once seemingly forbidden spot as the guest of a young Israeli woman. She had a smile like the curve of the Haifa Bay, with a personality as tangy as the salt of the Salt Sea, with curves like Mt. Tabor that sloped down to a belly flat as the Plain of Sharon.
The first indication that this idyll might turn out to be something else occurred when he entered the sea. He was now to pay for his hikes which he had taken with this beautiful creature. He was chafing in certain areas and had cuts from scrambling over rocks and through brambles to impress this dove with his outdoorsman qualities. As he entered the salt-brimmed sea, he felt as if all the orifices in his body had suddenly sprung open.
Mindful that his partner was monitoring his reaction to his first venture into the sea, he strove to keep his smile. In response to her laconic question, "Nice, yes?", he nodded gamely, afraid to say anything lest it come out a moan. He was incapable of moving and hoped this stationary status would be seen by her as his being transfixed by a quasi-mystical experience. After an eternity, which must have been in actuality only a few minutes, the pain began to subside. He tried to console himself with the thought of how good this saline immersion would be in mending his torn flesh. He half lay, half fell down in the water and found, as the Complete Book of Marvels had promised him, that it was difficult to sink or, for that matter, to swim, a refutation of the old adage to opt for one or the other.
He swallowed a soupcon of water, sufficient for its saltiness to put to shame anything he had ever tasted in the world's oceans. Some water entered his eyes, the salt stinging smartly, requiring him to blink and thus to lose sight, albeit briefly, of the creature splashing happily near him, whose wooing was forgotten in his haste to return to a terrestrial environment, feeling not unlike the first amphibian groping awkwardly onto the land.
After a time, his companion returned from her bathing, refreshed, and she lay beautifully beside his salt encrusted figure, repeating the question she had before asked, through full, enticing lips. "Nice, yes?"
"Yes," he responded, less than enthusiastically, though the sight of her resplendent form created a partial balm to his feelings. Covered with oil, a delicate sheen on her olive skin, she seemed some anointed queen spread out and shimmering at his feet, one that he could claim as his own. Her eyes, brimming dark pools protected by long lashes evoking palm-fronded oases, seemed to wait for him. Their message was clear and inviting: I am yours for the taking.
The taking, however, was not so easy. As he reached a timorous hand to her ankle, the closest part of her and a good beginning, she slithered away in the direction of Ein Gedi. The oil from her ankle was his only souvenir. A laugh, not at all sparkling like the sun-splashed oases, in truth, mocking, emerged from her wondrous lips, her ample breasts shaking teasingly to the plangent rhythm of the sea. Then slowly, whether from affection or from physical cause, she slipped back within reach once more.
She began to sing, something about a goat caught in a thicket, and he found within himself the courage to persevere. At the end of her song, he reached for her wrist, delicate as the tendril of some desert flower. Because her wrist was oily, he failed to hold it and she began once more to slide in the direction of the Kingdom of Jordan. Her un-lambent laugh, mocking, reached him from her new position. She pushed off from it with her recumbent foot, oiled and slick, and was soon once again beside him. Before she could escape again, he reached with both hands for her waist. She popped like a champagne cork toward Eilat, her less than lilting laughter a thorn in his mind if not in his flesh, and her words which reached him were hardly an anodyne. "Three tries is all you get."
He lay back, enervated. The oily surface that had covered his body had dried to a salt-striated patina. There were other women, he reflected philosophically. Women who did not invite you to a place where they would then proceed to be unattainable. Women who didn't ooze away from you like quicksilver.
After sleeping a while, he noticed his body turning red. The next day he spent in bed, more rubicund than the exposed surface of Petra could boast. He felt as low as anyone could, at the lowest place on earth.
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The stories, poetry, and humor of Larry Lefkowitz have been widely published in journals, anthologies, and e-zines. His book of humorous fantasy and science fiction stories, "Laughing into the Fourth Dimension" and his literary novel, "The Critic, the Assistant Critic, and Victoria" are both available from amazon books. From a review of the latter: "I was surprised to find that the novel was self-published. It is a great work like Lefkowitz's which proves it is not necessary to have a publishing house back an author for work to shine." Raquel Thorne.
Cover photo by Flyy1.Deviantart