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"Miranda," by Robert Kostuck
A soft shingle slopes from Aegean-swimming pool blue into darkness twenty meters
from the low tide line. Fluorescent catamarans pass between two islands, immaculate black and
white gulls soar, dive, illuminate the day. Immense blobs of aspirin-cotton suspended from the
stratosphere. Pods of sleek gray dolphins leapfrog over charcoal-colored manta rays. The
dolphins collect clumps of foam and seaweed, flotsam and jetsam, plastic bags and bottles.
Listen to the crunch of cetacean teeth snapping through floating garbage.
Truculent troubadour, in the earth or in the air? It’s confusing. Ariel underwrites the score
of a simpatico symphony.
ARIEL: Come unto these yellow sands, and then take hands. Curtsied when you
have and kissed, the wild waves whist, foot it featly here and there; and,
sweet sprites, the burden bear.
Farther out, Miranda runs against the wind on a bivalve catamaran where the currents
mix and hammerheads congregate with the turning tide. I’m almost—but not wholly—speechless.
FERDINAND: The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service; there
resides, to make me slave to it and for your sake am I this patient log-man.
MIRANDA: Do you love me?
She and the dolphins have matching tattoos.
“They’re shark-like,” I say.
“See any blood?”
Dolphin upon manta upon dolphin upon manta. It’s a plausible mantra. I have to admit
the water is bloodless.
“You’re evading my question,” she says. “Actually this looks like Beatrix Potter under
the influence. Cutesy-violent, if there is such a thing.”
Miranda wears the park service uniform, gold buttons, blurry insignia. Thick dark hair
and brown arms and legs. What park, what country? She skirts the edge, comes ashore and
shakes salt water taffy from her hair.
“Stay here and everything you might imagine will pass this point,” she says.
“Sounds like a logic puzzle,” I say.
“Park closes at 8:45 pm. Don’t get left behind, stranger.”
“Ferdinand,” I say. “Named after my mother’s brother in the old country.”
The offshore wind. Microscopic quartz crystals fan across my knees, trickle into my shoes.
Look again. Manta rays turn into oily sheets of black plastic. Dolphins turn into two-by-
fours painted gray, bundled together, careening; a single man poling fake logjams along the edge
of my so-called planet. Everyone else calls it an island. He waves back, falls overboard and
swims to shore trailing hammerheads; his faded beachcomber t-shirt says World’s Best Dad.
PROSPERO: Thou dost here usurp the name thou ow’st not, and hast put thyself upon
this island as a spy, to win it from me, the lord on’t.
FERDINAND: No, as I am a man!
MIRANDA: There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
“Bonjour,” I say. “Comme ci, comme ça?”
“We’re from Stratford-upon-Avon,” says Prospero. “Just harvesting what is rightfully ours.
“I doubt that.”
Double-take on the finders-keepers, the garbage flotilla diminishes without fading into
the blue. Tiny toy figures on popsicle stick rafts named Andrea Doria or Mary Celeste after the
groom and bride. Soon enough the life rafts are sinking half-dots on the horizon.
“Some kid wants to play with toy boats in the bathtub,” I say. “Your island is one
thousand nine hundred and fifty-six square kilometers. Are you up to it?”
“A tin tub,” says Miranda. “Fantastic but inappropriate. Or this is one of those scenes
from a feature film on the effects of carcinogens on the lateral line of the common fish?”
“That’s what Caliban said. I wonder what he meant.”
Her father grabs my lapels.
PROSPERO: Come on, obey! Thy nerves are in their infancy again and have no vigor
FERDINAND: So they are. My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.
“Here you go, future father-in-law.” I turn rich soil, uncover gold and painkillers, silver
and urchin, tobacco and expensive yoga workout clothing.
“I’ll never use half of this,” he says.
“Sell the rest on-line. You’ve pulled a stupid time to play the all-seeing king of hearts.
Speaking of which—”
FERDINAND: My prime request, which I do last pronounce, is (O you wonder!) if you be
maid or no.
“I’m healthy and fit,” she says, “and the supreme consequences line up to get my
autograph. Is something implied?”
“You’re sort of my muse,” I say. “Your feet are yellow with saffron.”
My feet sink into the sand; I’m buried to my knees. Prospero turns into a blue crab,
scuttles off sideways. Oblivious to the repetition of dolphins and manta rays I call after him.
“Different island today. Estimates range from one to one hundred square kilometers.”
Does he hear me? Offshore: crunch crunch crunch. “Scuba diver?”
“Your park-service servitude,” says Miranda. “Indentured up to the gums. Will you deny
you were a dolphin? You grind your teeth at night and your skin tingles with salt spray. Manta
rays fill the room when you dream.”
Raven and seabird feathers tickle my memory. Moist oranges with hard pips, the lip sting
of chili peppers, benediction of chocolate. Dust particles in sunlight. Eager birds pierce the
turbulence of spring, manta rays flush with the once-forgotten lyrics to an old time gospel song:
One Hundred Miles Away.
FERDINAND: Where should this music be? I’ th’ air or th’ earth? It sounds no more; and
sure it waits upon some god o’ th’ island.
Meals go by like manta rays; crunch crunch crunch. I maintain a shipwreck delirium and
a mistrust of the national trust; as a young man I promised to be trustworthy. It’s a tempestuous
claim to the nonce, nevertheless. We change into bathing costumes and leap into the slow surf.
It’s a striped-blazer holiday with umbrellas and invertebrate deck chairs swallowing fishy ghost
tourists. Some of them follow us into the water.
FERDINAND: This is strange. Your father’s in some passion that works him strongly.
MIRANDA: Never till this day saw I him touched with anger so distempered.
[SPIRITS]: Bow-wow. Hark, hark! I hear the strain of strutting chanticleer cry cock-a
FERDINAND: Most sure, the goddess on whom these airs attend!
MIRANDA: What is’t? a spirit? Lord, how it looks about!
“You’re confusing me with someone else,” I say. “High school sweetheart or a vision in
holiday gravy; but not the holiday I promised you in the south of France.”
“All I remember are wool swimsuits in the English fog, a swimming pool green with
algae,” says Miranda. “Lacking chlorine we dog-paddled in hydrogen peroxide and the pre-
cursor of Elizabethan tragedies. Most of them begin like this, with a shipwreck.”
“We glossed over the shipwreck. It was too obvious a précis for what I was doing before
I met you.”
“But now we’ve met.”
“Your father’s a grouchy old so-and-so.”
“That’s a curiosity shop bargain special,” she says. “Once I was able to fill the shopping
trolley with melons grown in farm manure. I pushed it down the street to avoid being accosted by
Charles Dickens and his unfamiliar doppelganger Uriah Heep.”
“I’m not familiar with these names.”
“And you, the so-called prince of Milan? You’ve no clue to the glue that keeps a love like
“Here comes your father and the others. Let them see us playing chess. It’s symbolic of
the give and play inherent in real life, fixed marriage, and actual games of chance.”
MIRANDA: My affections are then most humble.
FERDINAND: I, beyond all limit of what else i’ th’ world, do love, prize, honor you.
MIRANDA: I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of.
PROSPERO: Fair encounter of two most rare affections!
“I admit liking the balmy palm-tree island life,” I say, “yet every revelation comes with a
dénouement. Really, Miranda may enjoy being a princess.”
Prospero remains undaunted, beachcomber dandy, natty head-to-toe coconut ensemble,
perishable, prolific, and prone to moldy tomes. He spends an unhealthy amount of time in an
ongoing, wind-swept tête-à-tête with Ariel. Eavesdropping reveals the obvious:
PROSPERO: How’s the day?
ARIEL: On the sixth hour, at which time, my lord, you said our work should cease.
PROSPERO: I did say so when first I raised the tempest.
“That’s a dead giveaway!” I say. “In effect, you brought me here. Was your daughter
bored? Perhaps she made goo-goo eyes at Caliban? You’re the one kept her in a pumpkin shell;
now you expect me to lure the rodents from Hamlin?”
“Absolutely not,” says Prospero. “And you brought the rats with you on your ship.”
“The ship is a metaphor. It doesn’t exist.”
“How in the world did you get here?”
“I thought research and remedies were your forte, not obfuscation.”
“I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, and you shall be the recipient thereof.”
PROSPERO: My charms crack not, my spirits obey, and time goes upright with his
I hold back my comments on his pompous grammar. Criticism escalates entanglements,
better to take a cool bath and seek out Miranda, missing now since our chess game ended in a
draw. She’s lolling in the shallows, hand-feeding her pet manta rays, splashing and popping
ozone balloons to scare away the hammerheads. Lacking a kimono, she’s kitted out in a wool
bumbershoot, attendant sprites, and unnumbered songs that never quite made it into the top ten.
“We’re doomed to linger here forever,” I say.
“Marriage was never an option,” she says. “You skip ahead to the final scene and voilà!
Instant pudding and porridge mixes delivered right to the front door of a red-brick semi-detached
up-and-coming neighborhood fixation. It’s just a dream—full fathom five and all that nonsense.”
“I’ll agree with you; it’s not that big a deal. Your father just gave me some busy work
while he mixes up potions and revises the crude sonnets of his own books.”
MIRANDA: If you’ll sit down, I’ll bear your logs the while. Pray give me that: I’ll
carry it to the pile.
FERDINAND: I had rather crack my sinews, break my back, than you should such
dishonor undergo while I sit lazy by.
MIRANDA: To be your fellow you may deny me; but I’ll be your servant, whether you
will or no.
FERDINAND: And I thus humble ever.
My father-in-law is disconcerted, antagonistic. I, personally, hope to make amends for
‘invading’ his island via imagined shipwreck. A silk necktie, cufflinks, hokey pen and pencil sets
for his alchemy notations. He’s unimpressed.
“These,” he says, “these and this and some of those. The traditional runic inscriptions on
sheep’s bones—useful for games of chance, of which, I add, chess is not.”
“You let me come ashore.”
“You faked a drowning.”
“Your able un-bodied spirit Ariel was responsible for that!”
“Well-served,” says Prospero.
“We had a deal,” I say.
PROSPERO: Here, afore heaven, I ratify this my rich gift. O Ferdinand, do not smile at
me that I boast her off, for thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise and
make it halt behind her.
FERDINAND: I do believe it against an oracle.
MIRANDA: Sweet lord, you play me false.
“That was your pet manta rays! Your eloquently tattooed dolphin harbingers of fertility
and suburban living.”
Miranda fashions icicles from sand, blizzards from cockleshells.
“We’ve only been together for three hours and already we’re arguing,” she says. “I’m
beginning to have my doubts. Maybe Ariel was right.”
I’ve completed the logarithmic task set by Prospero, usurped Caliban’s scullery calling,
triangulated the surface of the island; run out of ‘things to do.’ Crooning and spooning are out of
the question, as are bi-polar intrapersonal relationships. It’s all or nothing.
PROSPERO: Be more abstemious, or else good night your vow!
FERDINAND: I warrant you, sir. The white cold virgin snow upon my heart abates the
ardor of my liver.
PROSPERO: You do look, my son, in a movèd sort, as if you were dismayed: be
cheerful, sir. Our revels now are ended.
We wish you peace.
Prospero finally leaves us alone for a few minutes. I take advantage of the time to
construct an ark of cubits and ultra-fine fine-tuned measurements, collect what I can and stow
away on a craft of my own making.
“Is that wise?” says Miranda.
“Perfect,” I say. “Watch what happens next.”
Robert Kostuck is an M.Ed. graduate from Northern Arizona University. Recently
published fiction, essays, and reviews appear or are forthcoming in Concho River Review, Louisiana Literature, Kenyon Review Online, Flyway, EVENT, The Massachusetts
Review, Zone 3, The Southwest Review, Tiferet, Bryant Literary Review, Alimentum, Fifth
Wednesday Journal, Roanoke Review, Crab Creek Review, So To Speak, Silk Road, Saint
Ann’s Review, and Clackamas Literary Review. He is currently working on short stories,
essays, weavings, a novel; the primary series of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga; and walks the spiral path
through Pantañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. His short story collection seeks a publisher. He lives
near an ocean; his heart belongs to the Sonoran desert.