Here in the middle of the ocean everything becomes a shadow. The waves that dance on the surface of the water are nothing but shadows. The sails of our ship and the rope and the wood are all shadows. The members of the crew, with their deep set eyes ringed in gray and their thin lips pushed out of skeleton faces are all shadows.
Even I am merely a shadow on these waters. I stand at the edge of my ship, watch the water move below me, watch the reflection of the stars as they shimmer into the blackness below. They are their own unique breed of fish and they swim at the same speed as the ship.
I wish I could bend further over the edge, let the tree-bark skin of my hands soak into the waves. I want to be covered in the blackness, the inkiness of all the shadows. I feel too solid for this midnight dream world. I turn back to my ship and consider the men who drift back and forth across the deck as if deciding whether or not there is anything to do besides stare at the stars above that have taken over the sky. I know I can never leave them, any more than I would leave the smooth edges of my ship, the creaking wood which has been my home for more time than I can count.
That’s when I hear them. The voices. The singing. They sound like crying at first, they rise with the wind and I think that it is only a strong breeze playing with the masts. But then it is louder, childlike. The men stop moving, and I follow them back to the edges of the boat. We stare out over the waves and at first see nothing but the same shadowy water stretched far across the horizon. There is a child crying, I am sure of it, and I almost leave the wall to search for stowaways below deck.
A flash stops me, a single shooting star across the water, but it doesn’t fade. Instead it grows, stretches out from underneath the ship until it is a perfectly round orb and suddenly I cannot hear the child. The cries are replaced with a deep singing, the sound the sun itself would make if it learned how to sing. The music sounds…
It sounds like every shade of blue bleeding together on an otherwise empty canvas.
It sounds like every dream I cradled as a child, the untainted perfection of the open ocean which I once imagined without the negative additions I later discovered.
It sounds like the ocean without the ability to drown, the night without fear of darkness, the wind without a single storm.
I stand there, unable to move as the orb grows into the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I cannot tell if she made of water or of glass, but her eyes are a solid blue and they find mine and I see the map of the universe inked into her blue eyes. Her hair is the color of the night and I cannot see where it leaves her head and joins the water, it sways in the waves and gives me glimpses of shoulders the color of coral, of the tightly formed muscles of her neck, her collarbone.
“Captain!” one of the men stands somewhere behind me. I know, though I cannot see him, that he is holding his ears and closing his eyes, probably wrapping his shirt around his face to use as a blindfold. “Captain these are sirens! Don’t let her touch you. Step away from the edge.”
To me the man sounds like a madman, and I try to tell myself to remember to talk to him later. I am always careful of who I let onto my ship, I am always cautious.
The woman in the water reaches her hand up to me and I forget everything. Her skin is as smooth as the sky and I want to touch her, but suddenly there is darkness in the crevices of my heart and her face is the face of another woman. This one is much darker, as dark as earth with eyes indistinguishable from ink. This woman is thin, strong bones etched against the fabric of her skin, wild curls always fighting for space beside the indents of her cheeks.
The woman in the water reaches for me again; her song becomes louder and fills my head so that I can hardly think, but when I look again at her fingers remind me of those other fingers, of the way that they brushed against my own skin. Her fingers were so soft against the weather torn roughness of my skin, and her touch was so careful as she traced my silhouette with her body and whispered, her lips brushing against my ears like the tide.
“Promise me you will always come back for me.” She sat in a dark room with ink on her fingers and stories stretched onto page after page. She lined the edges of the room with bookshelves and filled every row, and as we lay together in a locked embrace she sang poetry into the night sky.
There is splash near me; I turn in time to catch a glimpse of a vanishing boot, the ripples in the water dancing out where one man once stood. Behind me the wiser men are tying themselves down, attaching their bodies to the ship and sobbing violently against the desperate urge to jump.
I can still hear the singing, but I hold her image in my mind and stare again into her dark, dark eyes. I capture her voice and let it fill my mind so I cannot hear the singing. I leave my men to defend themselves, leave them to their battle as I enter my cabin and unfold the map. I begin to trace the route back to land. Back to her. Instead of the sirens I can only hear myself.
I have lived too long among the shadows. It is time to return to the light.