Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from the world’s vast bulk its small but valuable sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul; hardly is this done, when – There she blows! – the ghost is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life’s old routine again.
Chapter 98, Stowing Down and Clearing Up
There’s quite a huge wreck of humanity’s poor judgment shipping off on the raft this morning.
Human greed and the ceaseless hunger which make cannibals of us all.
Here she thought she had heard that the ex 20 gun frigate had been re-outfitted. It was a transport boat, plain and simple. Like any other sturdy craft designed to carry the officers and wives over the immense depths.
It bobs like any ship, from the kayak to the cruise ship, on the mercy of life’s waves. But la Méduse ran up on shore. The wife who had taken a ride had never planned to dock any where else. Her name is engraved on the sign back there in her home port. Family land. Two hundred acres of East Texas woods.
But here she finds herself stranded far from home. The western coast of Africa, early to mid 19th century, hardly a vacation destination.
The boat is weighted down in the shallows, the outdated cannons, habits of defense weighting it into stagnation. “Look–These cannons-can’t they go? This is no war we’re fighting. Let’s push them overboard. Lighten our load, lets get back out to sea.”
“Back out to what?”
“To the waves, this ride on the surface that hides and masks and lets me forget the circling sharks, the drowned bones the coral insects– “
He raises an eyebrow and asks “Well then, stay here with me, the bride of my cabin in a world that exisits only here. Only for us?”
“Oh,. . .” she stops to think.
In landlessness alone resides the highest truth, and isn’t that her goal? To seek the highest truth–
but suddenly she recalls a different truth.
In fact, it was something he said
something he thought would reasure her
but instead the words
spun out and grabbed her with
all the force
of her husband’s arms around her waist.
Her husband’s arms, familiar in the intimate to the small of her back where they fit into the curve.
Others will never know when they are about to set into motion those hempen intricacies which will, in the end, serve as a noose.
Like just now–there—
In that moment,
the rope slipped.
And he hadn’t even seen a coil jump.
But it did.
It wrapped itself, in an flash, wrapped round her ankle and tugged her to the ship’s weathered boards. She turns her ankle and points her toes to slip her foot from the casual ensnarement and says—was it under her breath? No, she is bad at whispering. She says:
“This has all been a horrible mistake.”
Well, that came out wrong.
“I mean to say–I’m ready to go back to my port now. Really, need to–they’ll be missing me.”
Your port is here. He tells her. I built you a cabin on board. This place requires no port, requires no conflict with the port, does not even require we find the port’s name on the map.
Look, we’ll go back at pick up your trunks. Your baggage filled with love for this child and for that, but no need to drop anchor in that nameless port.
And she is beginning to feel it now. The rope has cut into her ankle. A welt red is rising and begins to pulse and gnaw its angry line in her skin. Her words are coming out wrong and she will choke on them if she does not pull herself up.
But dismantling this entire craft as as a mistake–that does not go over well.
“No, no”, she tries to explain. “As sure as I am sitting here, rope burned on its worn boards–the ship is real. I never lied about the ship.
If I told you I could leave the port and never return,
if I led you to believe that the port had no name
it was only because. . .
because I was not really paying attention.
I stepped from the land thinking–
a little ride wouldn’t hurt.
A jaunt around the cove, then, back I’ll arrive– refreshed by some time breathing in the sea air.
But the boat left the cove. The port faded from sight and then. . .”
Then that damned Bay of Arguin.
Did he steer the boat here? No, he was distracted by her, and, under her spell, mistook the land for nothing more than clouds.
She begins to cry.
“I want to go home.”
“I will make this just like your home. Tell me–where do I place the beds, where do I build the chicken coop? Just give me the instructions.” He grows insistent,and, really, she knows, this is why she cannot speak to him about this now.
She neglected to include, all this time, with clarity and detail enough to distinguish a cloud bank from a sand bar–she realizes she forgot to tell him the port has a name.
And it is her name.
Her name which she shares with another.
She really must be getting back to her port. She stands up and says it too abruptly, no doubt.
It knocks him back a step
“I see. Very well.” This is tone of calm that has warned her all her life that the knife is about to enter up through her belly, puncture a lung. That moment of stillness when she knows she has opened the gates of hell below and one of you, or both, shall now fall in an entirely different direction.
I told you– you would hate me in the end.
Reflexively she puts her hand to her throat and assures herself, there is not a stray loop of hemp resting there.
You will not turn this boat around?
“But I need to get home now,” she says, and it sounds as weak and inexcusible and cruel and awful as as any confession, in the end, does.
Yes, you do. . .
Best of luck with that.
There are two choices. A march through the Sahara. Or the raft.
Fire or flood.
Will you be taking your tea today with tigers or with sharks?
Oh, so many choices–see I always said I was bad at making choices.
Those, I suppose, I must confess. . .
I do make.
In ship loads.
He strolls into the cabin and closes the door behind her.
She looks at the raft.
She looks at the Sahara.
Then she makes her choice. Plenty of hemp here with which you may hand hang yourself, my dear.
But, is this a good place to die?
Is this a good day to die?
She stands up and wills herself to the island where perhaps she can get her bearings.