Monday, May 23, 2011

Sea Horse . . . Fragment One


He'd been alone on the island for three years now. Or maybe four, he couldn't keep track anymore. Why keep track? He was inclined to getting depressed if he knew it was Tuesday, a day of the week with terrible associations, so this is what he did. He watched the stars and the phases of the moon, and he noticed when it was getting cold -- he knew the seasons by their presence, not by some calendar. 
The island was three square miles, he had flown over it once in the government helicopter, during a military survey and it struck him strange that the island was shaped like a trophy he'd won as a schoolboy for running a cross country race, some sort of overgrown pewter bonbon dish. He smiled every time he thought of it, that he lived in a bonbon dish in the North Sea. His wife would have smiled too.
The government gave him an out after the accident. They'd set him up on the continent for life; they even sent a psychologist to talk to him, to explore the tears in his armor, to reason with him -- did he understand isolation? Yes was the answer, yes . . . 
There was the lighthouse to attend, the weather station, and now experimental gardening plots. The supply tug came the third Saturday of every month and with it a month's worth of mail -- memos from the government updating him on the Dispute and letters from his father in Vancouver -- wouldn't he visit please? No was the answer, no . . . The Dispute was three hundred years old and the government was always reassurring that the Opponents' claim was fallow. He read the memos always with a glass of whiskey and sometimes late at night mused at the idea of being overrun by the Opponents - he saw them coming by many small fishing boats covered in seaweed and carrying hand made swords and chanting in Portuguese. They'd slit his throat at dawn and burn his thatch roof -- all that would remain is the stonewalls of his home at the base of the lighthouse. The government would send exactly three military helicopters, but the pilots would retreat at the sight of the practically prehistoric Opponents -- they'd bear away from the island, radio in, and say Let them have the godforsaken place.
*****
It was a good day for fishing. There had been a horrendous storm two nights ago that beat the sea to a black froth and kept him at the lighthouse post for thirty hours. The radio was full of voices and static and word of a freighter that had gone down some sixty nautical miles from his cliffs. This was the sea to him, the water took prisoners occasionally just as the moon drove some mad and the sun burned men who were foolish enough to cross the desert. But when the skies cleared, when the sea's belly was satiated, he always crossed himself, and thought of the ship's men, of their bones whitening with the salt of the sea, of their wives left behind . . . sea widows were his sisters. 
And the sea always was happiest and at its most beautiful after a rage, after a kill, and these were the days he felt fine enough to sail and fish -- the sea wouldn't want him or his little green skiff and he could leave the lighthouse and the green house and the puffins. He'd had terribly good luck finding sailfish and dolphin on a southwestern current last time he'd gone out and he decided to take the same tack this time, pushing off from what Adelle used to call Tern Rock.
One mile out, he dropped his sail. He watched the surface of the water as he prepared his rod, pushing bait, mussels he'd pulled the night before, and two hawksbill turtle heads bobbed momentarily, snorted softly, so that only he could hear them, and then they dove. Indeed, it was a good morning. He cast his line and settled in with no expectations -- his father taught him as a boy that expectation rang down the line and tinged off the end of the hook making for nervous fish. His mind drifted to the dream he'd had the night before -- she came to him often in dreams, sometimes it was just an afternoon in the lighthouse, and up the stairs she'd come with tea and a piece of cake, but other times, such as on this night, she crawled between the sheets with him. It was unbearably good to have her straddle over him, her hands pressed on his shoulders, her thighs holding his hips together. And waking was always horrible, because all that was left was the air. He wondered if his longing for her would bring the fish to the hook.
But something came with the green current that wasn't a fish at all. It heaved with struggle, was it a hammerhead? It wasn't. It was something not of the water, this he knew. It was black and monstrous as it made its way toward the skiff. He reeled his line in, empty and light, still laden with mussel meat and tossed the rod back on the deck. The dark apparition came closer and closer, and he caught sight of the white of an eye, and then the horrifying realization came over him that this was nothing but a horse! It blew water from its nostrils as a whale might blow water from its spout.  He absentmindedly reached for the one life jacket he kept aboard the skiff, but realized this was a ridiculous effort, and went instead to raise his sail as the panicked horse pounded the currents at his hull. He called out, "Horse!" and the horse rolled one eye up at him as if to say "Man!" and the wind filled the sail, as the skiff lurched back toward the island, so did the horse. He held the skiff as straight and fine as he could, but his eyes kept falling on the horse who rose and sank with every stride, for she wasn't swimming, she was galloping beneath the currents -- her broad back, her hind quarters machined in a weirdly watery way, as though she was born of the fishes.

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