“I’ll look in just a few more windows,” sighed the sea breeze to herself late in the afternoon. “Just a few more windows, and then I’ll be done.”
She shimmied lazily down the hot and crooked brick streets of the village, the cool waterfront to her back and the baking yellow hills ahead of her. On each side were narrow whitewashed houses, three storeys tall and crammed close together under red clay shingles. Their faces were uniformly blank and empty, two little windows stuck in each storey, with colorful shutters in varying states of weathering flanking the openings. Meanwhile, their backs eased into untidy yards full of half-mended nets, barrels of pitch, broken oars, and heavy spools of rope.
At each window, the breeze peeped quickly inside. It was late afternoon, almost evening, and the fishing boats had almost all returned to shore with their hulls full of wriggling anchovy and mackerel or squirming heaps of small pink octopuses. And so inside most of the windows were barefoot men in frayed jumpers, sitting in overstuffed chairs with pipes clenched in their teeth and cats laid on their laps, seaboots upside down by the back door, slickers hanging on hooks from salt-stained walls.
And yet none of them were the one man, the specific man, the one that the sea breeze had come ashore especially hoping to find.
She had first seen him on one of the boats out past the buoys and breakwalls, earlier in the afternoon, pausing her cavorting to notice him. To the breeze, this man had seemed the prettiest of all the men, a nice cheekbone under the pale fuzz of his short beard, dark kind eyes just starting to crease with the inevitable crow’s feet that followed quickly on days spent in the sun and the surf.
Slinkily, she had wreathed her way around the spot where he stood on his boat’s deck, twisting herself into a gentle eddy as she brushed first against one cheek, and then the other. And he had smiled at her feathery touch, turning his face against her, returning the pressure of her puffs with the pressure of his body. Contentedly, he had breathed her coolness deep into his nostrils, sweeping his cap off his head and shaking his mane, droplets of sweat and seawater flying into the sea breeze, the man shivering as the moisture was sucked from his skin into the wafting air.
“Aye,” he had sighed. “That’s a nice lass. Just like that, darling. I need a cooling off.”
Never before had the breeze felt so seen and so welcomed, and so she had stayed with the man as long as she had been able. But as the day had worn on, she had felt the changing of the pressure around her, and the insistent pull toward the land. It was with regret that she had flowed away, but at last she had done so.
As she poured away toward the village harbor, she had rustled back to the man: “Keep your window open tonight, in the village. I’ll find you there, beautiful man!”
“I’ll look in just a few more windows,” sighed the sea breeze to herself as she poured around a corner in the darkening village. “Just a few more windows, and–”
But then she stopped, suddenly pulling herself up into a twisting eddy as she hovered outside one of the windows. For there, inside, was the man she had been looking for all evening.
He had a pipe but no cat: instead, he had laid a book across his lap. The front room in which he sat was small and cluttered with the furniture of quiet nights, with stacks of old newspapers, with woolen socks drying on a rack with their toes pointing up, with half-empty tins of tobacco and a half dozen pipes, with a small hand concertina leering out from a shelf in the back.
At the sight, the breeze shivered with pleasure and she wished to rush in and whirl around the man, to make the thin line of smoke rising from his pipe dance with her, to brush his clean and fresh-combed hair back on his head.
But it was a small room, and a close room, with solid walls and shut doors. It was the kind of room where breezes were trapped and often died.
So instead the breeze spun slowly in the street, sweeping up loose papers and dead leaves in her wake, staying just outside the window, only extending a tendril now and then beyond the sill, rattling the curtains and the cords, and rustling the yellow blooms of the potted marigolds which sat there.
But as the breeze waited and plotted, admiring the man happily and wondering how to get him to come to the window to kiss her, a door inside the house on the other side of the room opened suddenly. Against her will, the breeze was sucked into the room with a sudden cry of surprise. She only had time to pull herself into a tight cyclone inside the front room, keeping her from blowing deeper into the house where she might be trapped in who-knows-what blind corner.
Once, twice, three times the sea breeze whirled untethered around the front room, scattering newspapers and wheezing out a few asthmatic notes on the concertina, and into this maelstrom stepped a woman through the open door, her unpinned hair flying around her face in streamers of red and brown.
“Good heavens!” cried the woman. “That’s a sure sign of a storm!”
The man had been shocked into attention as well, the pages of his book now rattling in their binding, turning this way and that as the breeze struggled to control herself.
“A storm? I don’t think so…” he said, squinting out of the window. “Not with that sky.” Then he rose and stepped calmly across the room, placing his hands on the sill, and leaning out into deepening evening with seemingly no care for how the panicked breeze disarranged his hair. “But the wind… She is a fickle lass. You can never tell just how she’ll blow.”
And with that, he pulled the windowpanes shut, the breeze barely squeezing out between them back into the street before the casement latch clicked home. Breathless and angry, she whirled around the street now, swooping back to rattle up against the shut window.
“Sure sounds like a storm to me,” said the woman. And the man only shrugged and smiled, turning and opening his arms, taking the woman within his wide embrace.
“A fickle lass!” cried the breeze, outside in the street, watching jealously the embrace within the room. “I’ll show them what a breeze can do. I’ll show them what a storm can be like!”
And she swept off down the street, gaining speed as she blew over ashcans and scattered protesting seagulls, roaring up to the rooftops to vibrate the shingles and the bricks of the chimney pots.
“I’ll come back tonight, roaring,” cried the breeze. “I’ll come back tonight, a hurricane!”
For when she got blowing, with the warm weight of the sea behind her, then no window, no wall, no house could keep her out. The breeze knew well how she could sweep through them all, shattering glass and bursting brickwork, making her own entrances and exits, not allowing herself to be trapped or dampened, screaming and blasting through the entire village, sweeping away what she liked and taking it wherever she wished. The man himself would be like a leaf in her hands, sucked up alone with her to lightning-lit palaces rising above black thunderheads…
But even as she raged, the last limb of the sun slipped down below the yellow hills and a cool darkness fell over the land, evening melting silently into night. Quickly, quickly, the land cooled and the pressures that ruled the breeze reversed themselves, and no longer was she pulled from sea to land. Instead, she felt the irresistible pull of the warm water again.
A moment later, her anger spent, the breeze was slipping quietly back out through the streets of the village, down to the harbor and over the waves, creasing them back as they rolled in and out against the breakwalls, sprays of surf scattering into the air.
“There will be another night, another day,” said the breeze to herself. “Another boat, another man.” As darkness fell, she was pulled utterly out to sea, leaving only a cool stillness behind.
“Always that’s how it goes,” sang the land breeze as she flew. “Always the sea breeze comes, and always the land breeze goes!”
|M. Bennardo lives in Kent, Ohio, far from the sea. He is the writer of stories that appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, The Future Fire, and others. He often appreciates a cool breeze, but as far as he knows the breeze has never noticed him.|