Nocturne, Opus 1: Sea Foam
by Norene Moskalski
Delaware Bay Estuary
Intricate colonies of Bacillus nocturne swirled through the moonlit sea foam as she slid her kayak into the Delaware Bay. Unaware of the grave danger, she brushed the clinging sea foam from her calves, stepped into the kayak, and positioned her legs into the tight compartment stocked with the day’s scientific supplies. She turned sideways and pushed her paddle against the sandbar, propelling the kayak into the bay. As dawn lit the night sky, she settled into a steady rhythm of paddling and headed north toward the marsh.
Tara Anderson welcomed the solitude. She listened to the sea grass rustling in the morning breeze, the fiddler crabs clicking out their soft cadences, the brown pelicans swooping and splashing . . .
Music surrounded her; every sound she heard added harmony to the constant stream of melodies in her mind. She could have written symphonies and majored in music, but her inquisitive nature defined her. She loved research; she loved discovery. She chose science. With a research degree in ecology, she would still be surrounded by music; but, with a music degree in symphonic performance, her opportunities to practice research would be gone.
Her paddle hit a clump of submerged reeds, reminding her to adjust her strokes for shallow water. A break in the tall grasses lining the shore signaled the entrance to the eastern sector of her testing site. She maneuvered a slow turn, careful to maintain her balance in the kayak. Its bow clattered through the reeds, revealing a saltwater pond drenched in sunrise.
Suddenly, Chopin’s Nocturne in E Major flooded her mind. A surprising selection at first, but then she nodded, a smile breaking across her face as she acknowledged her inner musician’s wit: Ecology Major. Her mind had found a balance between music and science.
As she paddled through the calm beauty of the pond, the nocturne serenaded her with its simple melody and dissonant undertones. Gliding carefully past a heron’s half-hidden nest, she set her paddle across the top of her kayak. Leaning back, she dropped her hands into the water and trailed her fingers through the sea foam surrounding her.
She listened as the trills of salt marsh sparrows added counterpoint
to the melody running through her mind. Closing her eyes, she relaxed her shoulders, calmed her breathing, and gave herself a few minutes to rest before preparing to collect the day’s water samples.
Every morning she tested the water for a variant strain of Bacillus nocturne. Five years ago, the normally passive bacteria had suddenly gone rogue, killing eight people on bayside beaches. The first persons to die were Maria DeSanchez and Toby Hannah, graduate students whose water samples had indicated a high bacteria count in the bay.
Thousands of tourists had fallen ill that summer. Tara’s own exposure had occurred during an international youth rally at Rehoboth Beach. After a few months, the strain faded away, as had most people’s memories of it. Even Tara considered the frequent water tests merely precautionary. Now they had become opportunities . . . for quiet mornings alone . . . eyes closed . . . floating . . . on the calm water . . .
The cry of a gull startled Tara awake. She bolted forward, almost
overturning the kayak. She caught hold of its rim. Her wet hands slipped off the edge. Frantically, she grabbed for her paddle as it slid into the water. Her weight shifted sideways and she fought to maintain balance. Bracing her thighs, while locking her knees under the forward cockpit, she tried to regain control by transferring her weight. Finally, the rocking
Tara’s heart pounded. Her tousled brown hair hung over her green eyes, blocking her vision. In a balanced move, she gripped the kayak with one hand and flung her hair away from her forehead with the other hand. In the quick movement, her wet fingers left a trail of sea foam scattered across her eyelids. It caught on her lashes, seeped through their ends and dripped into her eyes, softening the color of her irises to a pale foam
At first, Tara thought the clouding of her vision and the stinging along her eyelids resulted from the mixture of sweat, sunscreen and sea foam running into her eyes. Then the pain intensified to a fiery burn as the colonies of Bacillus nocturne embedded in the sea foam etched the surfaces of her eyes. Hungrily they began their search for the specific human proteins they had fed on in the polluted water of the bay.
The bacteria continued to navigate through the aqueous layers of her eyes, replicating as they absorbed the proteins scattered among their protective tissues. Blood pooled in the corners of her eyes as hundreds, and then thousands of rapidly multiplying bacteria swept across her lenses and eclipsed her vision.
Fighting through the excruciating pain, Tara struggled to turn her kayak around. Her fingernails gouged the soft wood of the paddle as she flailed it from side to side. Her splashes reverberated against the side of the kayak, and she lost all sense of direction. In desperation, she realized that her only hope was for the ebb tide to carry her back to the university’s pier. Terrified by the increasing pain, she slid down into the bottom of her kayak, her desolate cries for help the only sounds echoing
across the marsh.