On Unforgotten Seas

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Old age has a way of making us look back at our lives and out regrets. This holds true for most everyone, even pirates.

Submitted: April 29, 2017

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Submitted: April 29, 2017

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I still remember the heat of the sun and the taste of the salty air. The sea was calm that day, the waves rolling in and out, soft as the baked sand I buried my feet in, and the smell of flowers was all around me. That’s what I remember most - the scent of the flowers. In my old age, I often remember that smell and feel a deep, hollow pang of longing for it.

Time is a funny thing when you’re old. When you’re young it seems like such an important thing – for women especially. You’re only beautiful for so long. You’re only fertile for so long. Quick, find a husband and settle down before you’re wrinkled as a shriveled piece of old brown fruit. It’s all a mad dash to some horizon that keeps running away from you. Once you realize you’ll never catch it things finally slow down. At last, you can enjoy the voyage. Then one day you look in the mirror at the shriveled brown fruit you’ve become and that horizon is right on your doorstep. To make it worse time starts to feel like it’s caving in on itself. Some memories are so sharp you can almost taste them. But then you can’t recall what you walked into a room for or what you ate yesterday.

The memories, they come out of nowhere and are so vivid you min-as-well be living them again. I have been all over the world. The stink of fish and rot are all I smell most days, but I’ve seen it all. White people, brown people, tattooed people. Lands that stretch on forever, mountains tall and jagged, or softly wrapped in lush green quilts. I’ve seen snow so deep it covers houses and it makes the land so still and silent you would think everything in the world held its breath at once.

There was a market once and –oh – the smells! So many spices, so many strange fruits. And the languages! So many sounds they had colors, all stitched together in a beautiful tapestry. My head spun the first time. I made off with a bizarre mountain of treasures. Silks, pearls, beautiful bangles. Of course, by then I was a wealthy woman. No small part of the fortune in thanks to the colorless flag my vessel flew.

I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, and I regret many things, what happened to my husband most of all, but what happened on my home island that day? That, I will never regret. Even now, knowing so little life is left in me. All those adventures, the storms at sea, the compatible drinking in seedy seaside taverns, the dangers, the treasures, all of its mushed up and blurred in a hazy feeling of content satisfaction that makes me smile most days. But, after all this time, and all those adventures, it’s the memories of home I find myself drifting back to the most.

I was once a beautiful woman. It was the kind of beauty that was sweetly dangerous. Thick curly hair. I got to braiding bits of shell and flowers into it. And I had a pair of strong, meaty legs that could take me great distances if I had the heart for it and I did. The Island and its flowers and its clear blue seas could hardly contain me.

I always knew it. I felt it for as long as I can remember. The wide world beckoned and I would never be content if I didn’t see what was out there and find out what I was capable of. There were boats that would come and the strange men would talk with whoever was leader at that time. Sometimes they brought gifts from across the seas, but usually, they bought our fish and fruits. They stayed a night, maybe two. Then off they went back to sea. This happened once or twice a moon phase until the spring storms tore up the ocean. Then there were long stretched of time where the shore was barren of them.

I often fantasized about stowing away on one of those ships. I’d lay awake on the beach dreaming up what I would take with me. My favorite skirt, of course, and my grandfather’s carving knife. My mother wouldn’t mind if I took her favorite necklace. She’d know it was so I could remember her. Oh, but of course I couldn’t go. There was a system to things on the islands, a way that had been going on since there were people to carry on the traditions and I had my part to play.

That day on the beach I had turned eighteen. It was an all-around ordinary day except that the ships had returned. They’d been gone so long many of us thought the sea finally took them. I was around the age where everyone expected me to settle down soon, and they all knew exactly who I would build my home with. There was a boy, and the two of us were thick as thieves – always had been since we were little. Memory is almost as funny as time is when you’re this old. I can picture every last grain of sand on that beach and the smell of the sea and the flowers, but for some reason, I can’t remember his face. Not his eyes, or his chin, or the cut of his hair. It’s not such a loss. I remember him being such a bland, expressionless man anyhow. Even his voice is gone. The words are still there but I hear them like I’m laying at the bottom of the sea, and he’s talking to me from a boat on the surface.

I swear there was no light in his eyes some days. He was the kind who went through the motions of life because that’s the way he was taught and the way everyone around him lived. Most days I wanted to grab his face in my hands and shake him until he woke up. I did love him though – for all his flaws.

On that day I was sitting at the usual place on the beach. I had a lovely perch on a jutting rock just outside my family’s hut where I could see the sea and, on this day, the ships. I knew he was waiting for that day to tell me he chose me, and he had expected like all the rest that the two of us would build a house and have babies and live content, long lives. But, when I thought of the inevitable moment my heart beat fierce and my breath came short. Even in the open air, I felt like I was suffocating.

So, when he came to me there on the beach – and I felt him long before his shadow fell across my legs – I felt so bad I thought I might die. Not that I would let him know that. I remember I gave a dazzling smile. I invited him to sit with me even though I wanted to run and scream straight across the sea if I could. He didn’t waste any time. He was never the kind of person that minced words. He must have suspected the moment I hesitated. We were that close you see.

Instead of crying like I wanted to I smiled at him. There were so many words bunched up inside me, but all I could get out were two.

“I can’t.”

I’ve played this moment over and over so many times through the years I can hardly be sure it’s what happened anymore but I remember the feeling, the pain of tearing those words from my heart and the light fluttering filling my chest immediately after.

I could have been happy living like everyone else and my life with him would have been long and prosperous in its own way. But what I felt then was the slow closing of a prison door. I knew if I said yes to him I would never leave my island. One day would follow the next, each the same as the last, and something precious in me would die. You see to me it was a choice between life and death. I chose life. Despise me if you want but I’d choose it every time.

He stared at me for a good long while after that. I wish I could recall his face. I like to imagine there was the barest touch of relief in his eyes. I could just have easily put it there to ease the guilt. He got up without a word and walked away from me. That, I remember. His bare back as he strode away from me and the shore.

I sailed off in one of those ships that night.

It would be a lie to tell you I didn’t often think of my island and him throughout the years, always with a pang of longing. Not only through the hardships but through all the glory too. I’d have moments where I turned to my left, expecting him to be there but finding a strange face instead and no one to tell my joke to or my secret to. The longing was worst in those moments.

I imagine he found another girl to marry. They built their house in the shade of the trees and had lots of babies. He might not even remember me. I thought of going back too, but I’m selfish. I couldn’t take seeing his children and his home and the woman sharing his bed.

I know now I could have gone back, but when you’re young these truths are harder to see.

I wonder how many grandchildren he has. How many gray hairs. If he’s as wrinkled as me and if his wife is beautiful. I want to sit on the beach like when we were younger and tell him all I’ve done and seen, but these are just the wishes of a tired old woman nearing the end of her days.

It’ll just have to wait to tell him in the realm beyond. And if not, then maybe I’ll tell him in the next life.


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