“In Charybdis Bide” by Sean R. Robinson
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Where am I?
Sit and drink your salt-mead, we will not be lovers tonight. That is not the way of things at this late hour. Tell me your story, sailor-man, teach me the secrets of you, the way you rig your sails, the tightness of ropes and decks and the creaking of the storm-loved mast. Let it be my lullaby this night.
Who are you?
I am the daughter of night-wind and ship-tack. I am sister to the dusk tide. Tell me of yourself, your bones must be weary. Tell me your truths in the murk of stars and the chill. What name did your mother call you when you were new-born, sailor man, when you’d drifted to the moon-pull of her heart?
My name is John. How am I here? All I remember is the storm, the salt in my eyes. The sky was clear for miles. Where is my ship? The men?
There is a name on your tongue.
Phillip. Where is Phillip?
Tell me of him and perhaps I will remember. It is long hours until dawn, and we are strangers to each other. So many have come to this place, heavy and dragging. Tell me your anchor-tale.
I do not know you.
Then tell me the truths of strangers, here in twilight. Tell me of your Phillip, John-Sailor-Man. Tell me what you would not tell your mother-sea or the ship that fathered you. We will not see another sunset and what care have you for me?
My father was first mate out of Kingstown. He packed his hull full of sugar cane and traded it in the north for rum. On and on, east on the trade winds once or twice a season, to bring my mother strange fabrics and stories. He was a child of the Volta do Mar.
I hated him. I hated the sea that took him away. The smell of the water, the way it clung to my clothes. The way the men that lined the quay were loud, as though the surf had crawled up their throats until they could only speak the language of water on rock.
It is a sweet lullaby.
No, it was the sound of my father’s voice. I’d be a head taller, but not tall enough, not man enough. I did not want my bones to rock with the list of a ship. I did not want to know that creature of timber and rigging the way a husband knows the sweet depths of his wife.
Then why are you here? Drifting in the cold? Men who hate the sea do not often take the depths as lovers, and you are a sailor-man. I taste it on your breath.
That is Leviathan’s answer to god, sailor-man. The answer of the men hurled into the water when the hurricanes come. It is no answer and no-thing.
I dreamed of being a baker, though you have no right to know it.
No right but the right of strangers in the dark.
I dreamed of the grist mills in the night. I wanted the scent of yeast on my skin, and for people to come to my ovens, to know that they would find home from the bread I served.
I have never tasted bread.
Marta makes loaves better than I could dream of, but never enough to sell. She tats lace and watches our children grow.
What is it you call them? The berth in which your children grow?
No, sailor-man. As the sea is my mother and the ship my father, what is the word in man-tongue?
Husband and wife?
Wife. If she is your wife, why is it the name of another you let pass from between your lips like a he-whale sings to my mistress?
I do not know.
Do not be a liar here, John-man. Not when she is close enough to feel how your heart echoes in the deep. Not when she is listening, watching, waiting. Tell me. Help me understand what it means. It is the only chance.
There is only now.
He used to sing. Whisky carols and black stout jigs. He was fire and the pipes and the drums.
I will sing to you. The deep and the cold. The sleepless see and the she, alone in the bleak.
I want Phillip.
He is not here. He did not come. You are alone but for me.
He said he would always come. The sea would not bar him. Marta hated the sea. Why do I think of her now? She belongs to daylight. Where am I?
Sing your song, John-love.
He kissed me, all drunken burn. Lips against my face, the bristles of his beard rubbing my skin raw. His hands were strong and warm. The lamps burned down until there was nothing but the two of us in the dark.
Did you love him?
I loved him.
And your wife? Your Marta-who-bakes-bread? Sailor-love-John, you took the sea to be your lover, your ship, your man, your wife. Why?
Why do you ask me these things?
Are these not your secrets? Are they not what you tell in these last hours when dawn is not coming? She hears you, sailor-love. She is waiting for you, for this, in the bleak. Feel the depths and the tide against your skin.
Phillip didn’t care. Marta, Marta has always hated the sea. I did not want to become a sailor. What else was I supposed to do? With a wife to feed and children. I lied and let the lies run deep. But Phillip. God. Where am I? God help me.
She is coming. She will take you into herself and it will be the cold and the darkness. I am sorry John-Sailor-Man. For the rigging-men, for the sea-ship mated, the siren-bound—they are hers. She is coming, feel her against your skin.
I am your last-met this side of the deep. Charybdis awaits.
|Sean Robinson is a speculative fiction author living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Unlikely Story. He sometimes breathes fire. You can follow him (infrequently) @Kesterian. Or at his website: SeanRyanRobinson.com.|