A Sailor’s Dream
The muted light from a fogged over sun illuminates the wooden slats across the window. I lay here, in a cold bed, wondering if the ocean will take him today.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. She will have her victim, and I know this. I have dreamt it over and over again. He refuses to believe these dreams are anything more than fears parading through my head at night.
Every day during the salmon season, I walk to the docks at lunch and wait for his boat. I’m usually the only wife waiting. The other women have jobs and children. I have Billy and my dream.
It is just the one dream; the vivid mass of tumbling seaweed and crashing water dragging Billy down deep. I can taste the saltwater as it seers his gasping, screaming lungs. This is the part where I wake. I no longer cry out or grab hold of Billy. I just say a quick prayer and go back to sleep. This dream is a silent part of our marriage.
Relief flows through me as I watch Billy’s boat motor to the dock. He has a small load of fish, as is the norm these days. I always enjoy this scene; the surety of his gait around his boat, the meticulous closing of hatches and checking lines and equipment, the jokes and grumbles he shares with the other men as he unloads his catch. I know they joke about us when I’m not around; joke about how I can’t wait to get him home and get his pants down, that’s why I’m always there. They don’t know what I am really waiting and fearing for.
His brown eyes always gleam when he looks over and sees me standing in the usual spot. Billy walks over to me, and I fill my lungs with the smell of the sea, different from that of the shore; fresher, cleaner, more dangerous.
“Hey Baby,” he muffles into my ear as he pulls me to him. “What’s for lunch, I’m starved!”
We walk home holding hands. He hums contentedly to himself as I kick a rock out in front of me.
“Not a big catch today, huh?”
“Jan says she needs someone to help at the shop. I could work there for a few days a week.”
“Hey,” he stops and turns to me. “No wife of mine is going to work for those lousy tourists. I can take care of us, don’t worry. Besides,” he adds after we start walking again, “I like knowing you’re right there waiting for me every day.” I stifle a small voice of annoyance.
The truth is I loathe the idea of selling trinkets to obnoxious tourists who treat me as part of the attraction to go along with the charming little Victorian houses. The houses, built in the 1970s, belong mostly to out-of-towners who just want the luxury of vacationing in a seaside cottage. Perhaps if these tourists ever made it to the real part of town, where I live, their quaint little bubble would pop, and they’d travel on to some other charming, overpriced town.
We walk into our house, and I head straight for the kitchen to set the table and pull out the warm casserole from the oven while Billy washes up. After a quiet lunch, he heads out to his shop to fix his crab traps before the season starts. I sit down with one of my boatbuilding books.
This is my aspiration. After a lifetime of being surrounded by stocky, graceless fishing boats, I dream of building a beautiful, sleek sailboat. The smooth, gentle curving lines meeting delicately and boldly at the bow. The helm, a large, polished wooden wheel complementing the gleaming deck of freshly oiled teak. The tall mast, hand-carved from a perfectly straight tree, rising firm and strong from the deck. And when I build my boat, I will leave this depressing town by the sea and sail out into the horizon and beyond.
“Looking at your little book again, I see?” I startle at the sound of Billy’s voice, having been unaware of him in the room. I grit my teeth, knowing that he does not intend the offense, and say nothing.
“Baby, I’m a fisherman, not a sailor. And you are a fisherman’s wife, not a sailor’s wife.”
He bends down to kiss me and stops any frustrations I may voice. As he kisses me, he puts the book aside then gently urges me to stand and leads me to the bedroom.
Billy and I fell in love in high school and have been together ever since. We got married at nineteen and, after five years of marriage in a dull little fishing town, sex is one of the only exciting things we have. It’s one of the few ways I connect to him anymore. When we make love, I feel as I did in the beginning, when we were inseparable and falling in love. These days the illusion is short-lived, and I regret it’s passing.
After rousing from our afternoon romp, Billy leaves the house again on some errand. I go back to my daydream. The boat is built, and I’m alone on the water. The sail is taut full of wind, pushing the hull through the gently rolling waves. The boat leans heavily to starboard. The wind rips through my hair. The boat lifts me up and down, up and down, slicing through the water.
I shake myself clear of the fantasy and go to the market. The gleam of sunlight off the open ocean penetrates my thoughts more and more these days.
At the market, I carry my basket to the counter and say hello to Kristy, an old high school friend. She leans toward me, conspiratorially and whispers.
“Guess what I heard?” She’s always hearing something and can’t keep her mouth closed about it. “I heard Emma had a fling with one of those tourists from the Cliff House. Joe found out about it, so he’s taking the guy ‘fishing’ tomorrow to teach him a lesson.”
“I take it this guy doesn’t know that Joe is Emma’s husband.”
“Well, of course not.”
“What’s Joe going to do? Hope the guy gets seasick and take pictures of him in a pile of fish guts?”
“I don’t know Caroline. Maybe he’s going to push him around a bit, give him a serious talking to.”
“Humph,” I say as I pick up my bag of groceries.
“Oh, don’t forget about Sara’s baby shower this weekend.”
“Isn’t it weird to have a shower for baby number 3? Shouldn’t she have everything she needs by now?” Kristy slouches and looks sideways in disappointment at me, sighing heavily before she speaks.
“Well, you don’t have to come, Caroline.”
“I’ll be there,” I say.
When I get home, Billy is already packing for tomorrow’s fishing. I put my groceries down and go to hug him, happy that he is around. He kisses me then tells me he’s getting an earlier start than usual, so he’s off to bed.
“I’m going out on Joe’s boat tomorrow. We’re taking some tourist fishing.” My heart skips as a flush of anxiety spreads over me.
“I heard about that trip, Billy.” He stops to look at me.
“Oh yeah, what’d you hear?”
“That he’s going to rough up some tourist for sleeping with Emma. Don’t go, Billy. Don’t get involved. Please.”
“Baby, nothing is going to happen. Joe just wants to scare him a bit and needs someone to run the boat.”
“I don’t like it, Billy. You have your own boat to run. Stay home with me tomorrow.” I try to sound seductive and enticing, anything to keep him from getting on that boat.
“Can’t get enough of me, huh? Don’t worry, I’ll be home early enough tomorrow. We can spend the rest of the day in bed. But if I’m going to do all of that, and go fishing, then I need some sleep.” Then he kisses me and walks to the bedroom.
I furiously start chopping vegetables for a roast, angry that he’s going to miss a day of work for this, that he’s going to risk getting arrested, or something worse, over stupid old Joe and Emma. She’s always cheating on him, why should this time be any different? Eventually, the roast is on the crock-pot for tomorrow, and I head off to bed myself, kissing Billy gently on the forehead.
That night I have the dream again. But it’s different this time. As I watch him struggle in the mass of seaweed, he tries to grab hold of someone’s leg. Then I see them, Joe and the other guy. They’re all caught up in the rolling seawater. I reach desperately for Billy, trying to pull him out of my nightmare. I scream and thrash as he gets pulled under further and further, and wake to twisted sheets and a tear-covered face. I reach desperately for Billy, but he has already left. I try to go back to sleep, afraid of what the light will bring.
I walk to the docks earlier than usual, needing to shake this dream before I see Billy. Over the years, I have become blind to the scenery. But this morning I find a new beauty in the devastating, tree-covered cliffs plunging into the ocean. I wonder briefly why I see them as falling into and not rising out of the sea. Perhaps the drama of the plunge is more fitting to this landscape. The waves roar and crash onto the rocky shoreline, battering the not-so-forgiving land. I see huge storm clouds sitting heavily on the horizon, dark and luminous against the red sky. I quicken my pace, anxious to get to the dock. If Billy has any control on Joe’s boat, he will bring it in early in the face of this oncoming storm.
As I near the docks I know the Sea has won. The rescue boat is gone, and men are impatiently milling around, often looking in empty hope towards the horizon. I see an old friend of Billy’s and desperately call out, “Peter?” He comes to me and through his sobs tells me what I already know; the motor died and by the time another boat got to them they were capsized, lost in the ocean, but boats are looking for them now.
I could tell him not to bother, that I have seen them all die under those waves, that I have watched in horror all these years as Billy gasped and clawed the water, searching for anything to pull him up to safety. But I don’t. I stand there crying, trying to push down the rising bile. Peter briefly squeezes my arm and wanders off towards a group of arguing men. As he walks away, I wonder why I should be standing here by myself.
Panic and grief erupt in my body, and I start to run towards the group with sobs slowly escaping my lips. Two large, familiar hands grab my shoulders, stopping me in mid-flight. I am pulled into an embrace I know well, an embrace trembling with shock.
“You heard?” the muffled voice of my husband says in my ear. I am too stunned, too confused, to answer.
“We told Joe not to go out, told him the weather would be too bad.” The screams of a woman freshly assaulted with the news of her husband’s death pierce the rambling chaos of the dock. Through the shuffling of fishermen, I see a woman I don’t know, assumingly the dead tourist’s wife, collapsed onto the ground.
“God! He just wouldn’t listen to us!” My husband sobbed as I let him rock me in his grief, grateful to have his arms around me.
“There’s nothing else we can do here,” I tell him, “let’s go home.” We turn, arms around each other, and head home. I shudder as the seemingly last shred of grief slips from my psyche, suppressing the faint image of sleek wooden rails and a sail pregnant with freedom, and return with my husband to our home, and my dreams.