At sea


I looked over at her. The breeze tossed her hair, a dark nest of serpents at dusk. She looked out to the darkening world beyond the lights of the vessel and I could see that she was in her forties but that time had been gentle with her. I was curious about her, as I knew she was curious about me, but with age comes a particular degree of respect and decorum, and neither of us would yet voice our curiosities.

The solitude, the mystery, she said. I can’t help but hark back to a time when the sea was all there was.

I smiled and nodded, leaning over the deck and looking down at the water again. The pitch and roar of water cascading upward towards me.

I hope I’m not disrupting your peace, she said.

No, I told her. It’s fine. It’s nice to hear a voice other than the voice in my head.

I can certainly understand that, she said, and for the first time we looked each other in the face.

How long have you been aboard? she said.

I boarded this morning in Madrid.

After a lengthy pause, she said, I’ve been on this ship for three months tomorrow.

I looked at her, wondering what might have brought her out to sea for so long, what sort of personal outrage forces a woman and her family to seek refuge in the great abyss for such an extended period. Then I remembered almost immediately that the abyss calls for all of us at one point, and we all of us must answer that call.

Have you found it particularly dangerous? I asked.

Actually quite the opposite, she said. I’ve found these past few months, and especially the last few days among the most peaceful of my life.

Congratulations, then, I told her. The erstwhile world is not nearly in the same condition.

Would you be interested in a brandy? she asked me.

I’m afraid I would, I said, smiling at her.

You don’t strike me as someone who fears many things, she said.

We left the deck sinking into shadow and walked down through the narrow corridors of a labyrinth to her cabin, which was not far from my own. I sat on a stool near her cot and watched as she poured brandy from a small bottle into two plastic cups. She sat on the bedding and we touched cups and drank, feeling the gentle rock and sway of the ship in the water. The brandy was good, almost as fine as something Jorge would have kept stowed in his desk drawer, but not quite, perhaps a bit too sweet. The woman’s cabin was similar to mine and everything was tidy and well kept, much like the woman herself, who looked at me through dark pools and then down to her cup, and in the soft light of the room I could at last make out the delicate contours of her face and neck, the elegant geometry and proportionality, her eyes and hair a matching depth of black, and she said to me, or perhaps to the room in general, to herself, to no one, I’ve dreamt that the world is going to end.

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