An excerpt by Michael J. Seidlinger.
He rowed long before he realized what had happened. After he opened his eyes, really opened his eyes, he still found it difficult to see anything. The deep and dark depths of blue made it a desperate struggle to find north. Sense of direction shattered, he rowed in circles, wide enough circles to hide the fact that he had no idea where they were. Of course only he hid the truth from himself. She sat slumped over, tired and defeated, towards the back of the coffin. He pretended that the coffin was a boat and they had simply gone sailing, one of their impulsive adventures, the kind that seemed to define their relationship.
Thrill seeking, the very act of embellishing every minute as something monumental. For every show of affection, they showered themselves in anxious energy.
Let’s go! He could still hear the enthusiasm in her voice. Genuine and true—nothing quite like new love.
And it was love.
He was sure of it.
As sure as he is now of where they had ended up. One paddle, nothing more, did little to help him forget that these hands were not his own. These frail, thin arms couldn’t be his arms.
He looked over his shoulder, “Not much longer now!” That voice, high-pitched and youthful, wasn’t his voice.
And what did he mean? Not much longer now. Where had they been? Where are they going? Yet all questions are already answered. If he could listen to the ocean, he’d find all the information he’d ever need.
But confusion buoyed him, steering the coffin that would one day be his. Kept rowing in one inexact direction while he frequently turned to repeat the same phrase, “Not much longer now!”
Confusion is an entirely different kind of torturous wave, one that denial combats well during times of distress.
This was a time of distress. His first turn and all that could register was the denial of what had happened. Why they were here to begin with is without question the first and foremost item on his mind.
“We’re a little late but we’ll be okay. They won’t leave without us!”
He might have been confident if it weren’t for the tears running down his cheeks. He wiped them with those fragile little fingers, so frail they might break if he were to ball them up into a fist. Paleness of his palm as plain as everything he cannot say, everything he might want to say but when he opened his mouth to speak, what came out were old words, old statements, the filler and fodder of the life he left behind.
The life they left behind.
They were equals. From the beginning, they built their friendship and subsequent intimacy on the back-and-forth of good conversation. If he spoke, she would speak next; if she whispered, he would whisper the same number of words. Never a shout if they were going to make a real go of this.
They did. And it was love, some might say.
She used to count how many times they’d say, “I love you.” It wouldn’t have been too difficult to believe anything after it is repeated enough times. She could count how many times he rowed using the one old, bent, stick, but she couldn’t fight the current. The feeling of exhaustion weighed in deep, heavy, exacting.
She whispered, “Do you recognize this song?”
His predictable answer, “They played it on the radio three times in a row.”
It felt meaningless. The words passed by like the gentle waves: effortlessly.
Please, sit down next to me. Stop trying to row. Words that would never leave her lips, chapped and purple, lips matching the sagging facial features of someone having reached middle age. Forty plus years of stress and poor diet, the face fit well with the belly that made it impossible to see beyond the waist.
Ideally, she knew who this was. More so, she could feel the effects of a life on-edge. This body borrowed is the one hint she had to identify where they had gone. What they had done…
Where their actions led to depths beyond final breaths and final blinks.
“That silly hairdo isn’t you. It’s trendy!”
The nonsense of dead speech.
“If you miss the appointment you’ll have to reschedule.”
The back-and-forth of conversation. She spoke out of context. He rowed with no clear concept of north.
When it was his turn to speak, she had already spoken. The voice that dribbled out of her lips was deep and hoarse, heaving with a lack of energy, complete exhaustion.
Though she may have wanted to help, she found it difficult to do much of anything but sit where she sat, watching as he repeated the same thing.
Repeated enough times and the present worry were subdued. Though displaced, cast to the borrowed bodies of familiar acquaintances, she couldn’t be helped. She couldn’t help herself, even if she tried. The belly so heavy weighed her down. The frantic, almost manic energy, that he displayed, alarmingly the image of a young girl, only weighed her down more.
If she still needed to breathe, her breaths would have been audible, anguished wheezing.
She didn’t notice the differences, how if she wanted to, she could look past him. Right through the tiny body. She could see through her body to the velvet texture of the coffin acting as the as-of-yet largely unnoticed destiny of him, her, of everyone.
The coffin floated, for now.
She sat, vaguely aware that she would be the one to recover her sense of direction. She would be the one to hear the voices trapped in the waves. She would see the hinges of the coffin and it would all come to her at once. Enough to send her into a coma until he caught up. Denied for as long as he could, she would rest, teetering in the nonexistence of this purgatorial sea.
The only way to rouse her would be to admit what they’d have to do. “I love you,” in this case, meant letting go.
Photo By: Guy Mayer