Who are you? She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The eyes staring back were brown, one slightly smaller than the other. Wrinkles curved around her eyes up to her forehead where they ran into deep rivets, like dried-up riverbeds that ran this way and that. Her silver hair ran in currents like a rushing waterfall down her neck, crashing mid-back in a fluster of curls. She looked to the old claw-foot tub. As though her body were drying out, she felt a strong yearning to soak in the bath. Painfully she leaned over and turned on the water, readjusting until the temperature was as hot as she could stand. With a groan she straightened. Turning away from the mirror, she began to peel each article of clothing from her weary body, ceremoniously. She peered down at her body, at the skin that hung in wrinkled folds about her midsection. She let her fingers softly graze the light pink scar right above her left hip. Then she stepped into the swirling water, gingerly lowering her aged body into its warmth. As the water slowly rose over her knees, abdomen, and chest, she let her mind wander. She reached for the faucet and turned the water off, then lowered herself deep into the water so that only her head remained untouched. The she picked up where she had left off.
She raised her face, letting the sun lend its warmth and felt a rush of happiness sweep over her. She walked to the man standing at the railing. “It’s so blue today that it runs together,” she said. He placed his arm around her and murmured in agreement. She closed her eyes, feeling the sun wrap its warm rays around her and hold her. She had now been on the ship Fortuity for over ten years. The ship rocked gently, causing her to feel comforted and dazed.
“Mom, look at me!” cried a boy.
She opened her eyes, her head following his voice up, up, until she spotted him; a small speck near the top of the mast. She smiled. “How fast you are!” she said to him. He beamed back at her. Ambitious, her oldest son had always had a sense of fearlessness. He was becoming quite an expert around the ship. She felt a tug and found her youngest standing below, arms outstretched. She picked him up, grateful he still wanted her to hold him. He kissed her cheek and she held him close and, scanning the deck, she found her second son sitting on a pile of ropes with a book in hand. He was the introvert, intent on learning all he could about the world and its many exotic places. She watched as her husband called the oldest down and patted him on the back. She could see how proud he was of his son’s courage.
She looked around and wondered at her life. Three wonderful sons and a loving husband; she was overwhelmed at the sense of well-being that overtook her. She smiled.
THE WAY OF THINGS
Twelve years passed. The woman reveled in her good fortune. One day, as the Fortuity sailed into port, she sent her sons to gather supplies about the town. While in town, the three parted ways, each meeting three different sea captains. One was a naval commander and was recruiting men that could sail and fight. Another was traveling to a place no white man had ever explored to make maps. The last was a merchant who had a beautiful daughter. It was on this day that the woman lost her three sons to the world. The oldest wanted adventure and became a sailor, the middle son wanted to explore unreached civilizations, and the youngest wanted to love and have a family. So as the Fortuity left port, the woman watched as three different ships, each carrying one of her beloved sons, branched off in three different directions, becoming distant dots on the horizon and disappearing as surely and finally as the sun that set beyond them. She sobbed in her sadness, clinging to her husband and asking him why.
“It is the way of things,” he said.
And so many more years passed, and the woman adjusted to her new life. She received letters whenever they came back to port. There were many at first from all three sons. But in time, the letters slowed, until the second son stopped writing altogether. He must be where he cannot write to me, she considered. She put away all thoughts of harm coming to him and instead focused her attention on her other two sons, delighting in each letter. Eventually it became that the youngest son was all that kept in touch with her. She wondered at the fates of her two oldest sons, and sometimes she felt herself slipping into despair. But just as surely as the despair would come, her constant hope would always prevail and she held that glimmer, that tiny spark that they were alive and well deep within her.
One beautiful day she stood on the port side of the ship, feeling the wind fly through her hair. After many years of drifting, of wandering and feelings of meaninglessness, she felt liberated. Her husband had just told her they were leaving the Fortuity and settling on land near her youngest son’s family. What a joyous day! She smiled and opened her arms, imagining she was embracing her son again. She could almost see him. A strong man now, and tall like his father, with a son that looked like he had so long ago. She stood there for a long time with her eyes closed, thinking of their reunion and what this new chapter in her life would be like. How wonderful life will be! She spun, feeling elated and free and opened her eyes. The sky had turned a peculiar gray color and the wind had changed directions, bringing a cooler bite tinged with salt. No matter, soon we will be on land and no longer at sea. What’s one more storm to endure?
The sky quickly grew darker and began to churn blacks, grays, greens, and purples. Then came the rain. Like an ocean overturned, the water fell. The woman headed for the shelter of the cabin. As she stepped inside, she looked back. Her husband was helping the men, trying to pull the sails in, but the wind was proving a formidable foe. A wave swept over the deck and the ship pitched and dipped. A second wave, larger, followed, taking three men screaming over the side of the ship and obscuring her vision. She searched again, stepping into the downpour in an unconscious attempt to see her husband. She called out. Not seeing him, she ran to the side of the ship, looking to where the men had fallen. There, along the side of the ship, was her husband. He was dangling upside-down, held by the rope that his foot and leg were precariously tangled in. She screamed, screamed for someone to help. Those who could rushed to aid him. In the rugged attempt to help, the rope began to loosen. Realizing the delicacy of the situation, she cried out his name.
“To safety!” he yelled, his face contorted with pain. Blood was mixing with the rain and running down his body toward his head.
She shook her head and pleaded with the men to be careful. They began to slowly pull him up, trying not to allow the rope to loosen more. Then the ship dipped low again and another wave surged over the opposite side of the ship. Someone cried out for all to hang on. She gripped the railing as her eyes caught his. “Goodbye, love,” he yelled, his eyes meeting hers one last time. Before she could answer the wave slammed her body against the rail and she felt something sharp rip into her flesh and take it away from the rest of her body. She hung on as the wave crashed over her and the ship. It swept over him as well, loosening the rope and taking him deep below the surface. She screamed his name, searching for him. She cursed the sea that it would dare steal something so dear from her. She ran alongside the ship, looking where they had just been for any signs of life.
“He’s gone,” someone said, pulling her away. She froze, unable to move on her own. She knew it to be true, but couldn’t believe it. “You must get to shelter!” he shouted, dragging her toward the cabin door. He shoved her through the doorway and slammed the door shut, telling her to stay until the storm passed. She stood there, still unable to move. Then her body seemed to change its mind about standing and she crumpled to the floor. She crawled to the corner of the cabin and wept, her moans one with the raging sea.
Cold and wet, she sat shivering in the dark. The storm raged for hours, as did her grief. The ship rocked so violently that at times it felt it would tip clear over and dump them all into the unforgiving sea. She cried and cried, her grief rocking her as violently as the storm did the ship. Then, slowly, exhaustion overtook her and she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
A deep grinding noise startled her awake. Where am I? She looked around. She heard the sound again and this time was thrown to the other side of the room. She shook her head, clearing it of her confusion and remembered all that had happened. She walked to the door and opened it to a rush of water. Unable to close it against the oncoming flood, she fought against the flow to the starboard railing. The ship groaned against the onslaught of waves. Panic filled her as she moved towards the railing. The remaining sailors were trying to control the wheel that was spinning according to the sea’s whim. The ship struck something again, this time suddenly thrown sideways. The sharp motion threw the woman down and she fell hard against the deck. Before she could get up, a wave crashed against the starboard side of the ship, causing the port side to pitch out of the water and the woman fell hard against the railing as the ship turned on its side. She felt a ripping pain in her side as her wound began to bleed. She looked around her as she held tightly to the railing. The rain slowed and she saw the rocks that were playing catch with the ship. Beyond the rocks, far in the distance, was land. The ship was breaking up, battered by the sharp rocks and she closed her eyes as another wave crashed over her.
Suddenly she found that while she was still holding onto the railing, the piece of ship the railing was connected to had broken from the rest of the ship. She watched the majority of the Fortuity slowly sink as she and the railing drifted away from it. She climbed onto the flat piece of ship as the rain stopped altogether. She looked where the land was. What is land without my love? The waves began to calm and she curled into a ball and slept.
The woman awoke, this time fully knowing where she was. Her dreams had replayed the horror of the past day over and over. She looked around, realizing that it was almost morning. Land, she remembered. Where is the land? She looked in every direction, searching the horizon. Gone. My hope is gone. She wondered what to do. How will my sons find me if I am lost at sea? She had no food and more importantly, no water. Alone, I’m utterly alone. Desolation felt like a weight on her chest, suffocating any hope for survival. The sun began to rise, bringing with it a brilliant array of colors. She slipped into the water, its warmth a comfort to her. She let go of the railing, pushing it away from her and allowed the sea to slide over her head. She began to sink. She thought of her husband, remembering his touch. She could almost feel his presence, but when she reached out for him and opened her eyes, all she could see was the ultimate blue. She looked up to see the rippling calm of the surface. The sunrise lent beautiful colors to the surface of the water, some of which seemed new to her. She sank deeper. She wondered about her children. How will they know where I’ve gone? She sank deeper still. The blue was colder now, and darker. Soon it will be black, and no light will reach it. Soon I will turn black, and no light will reach me. She slipped deeper still, the thick black water penetrating her very being. She let go of her despair, her hope, everything that ever mattered. Alone, she let the sea have her. I’m no longer at sea, but am the sea. And that was the way of things.
THE THINGS TO DO
She sat up, lifting her face and hair out of the now lukewarm water. She soaped her body, careful to get all of the places unseen beneath the gentle folds. She rinsed with clean water and drained the soapy, clouded water. Now clean, she struggled to stand, gripping the side with both hands. Stepping out, she took another look at the imposter in the mirror. Realizing she was dripping water all over the rug, she tugged at the towel on the towel rack. She rubbed its coarse fabric over her body, careful again to dry the places where her skin hung and swayed. She pulled on fresh clothes and stepped into her shoes. She shuffled through the living room and into the kitchen, and on out the back door, down the alley to the street and toward the bakery. She was out of bread.