By Temim Fruchter
I was the saddest sailor. No, I was not a sailor. I wasn’t mutinous or cocksure, but I felt deft in a pinched cap and a starched collar, an oar and an anchor, a stripe and a rope, the things that make sailors sailors that aren’t about sailing. I was the one with the tears that spilled first and fastest. I fed the ocean. Waves made waves and we tottered atop them. One of us was the lookout, one, the bosun, one, a cabin boy. I had a role too. I sat in the highest or lowest parts of our vessel, found roost, made a warm pocket of breath in my hands and wept there. Sometimes, out in the open, the boys and men quiet, still-faced, unflinching, and me, crying for all the rest. It was not their way, but it was mine. In my night places, I rollicked restlessly into dreams that kept the blues and purples in our collective orbit.
It is true that being the saddest sailor is not a sustainable pursuit. No, I was not a sailor. After all, I was just a girl. I was just a boy. I was just who was left at the end of the night. I was just who anyone wanted me to be right then, the collar, the regal dark navies, the bright starched crease, salute. I was just the cheeks unrosying, a shrinking horizon, a damp hanky to the wiggly wind. I lost my name on that wind sometimes, spent hours on end hoping it might come back to me, never certain it would.
One night we docked somewhere so velvet wet the grass was livid with it. I disembarked then, the chatter growing more distant, trying to find a place to be still and do my work. But this night, for the first time in my life, I was dry. I wasn’t not sad but there was nothing else to say about it. I put my cap over my face, trying to remember my reasons, to find the place where my eyes and the night wind met just so. I sat like this until dawn. Who was missing and how did absence make the shape of me? What brings the water? Who would come back for me when I was wrung dry? I wondered only then if I’d become obsolete overnight.
In time, the men did come back, jolly and dark-eyed from a night of drinking and laughter, some with women on their arms, some with men. Pleasant thump of their uneven footfalls getting closer, the spicy fragrant echoes they brought with them from wherever they’d been. The bosun, a kind moustache with a thick waist, came to my side then, arm around, lifted me up out of my perch. Touch was rare. Missed you, kid, he said. He had an unexpectedly high voice that caught edges of wind. I’m not sure he’d ever spoken to me before. I felt those words loosen me from the center out. He took me into the generous crook of him and walked me back to the dock. We walked onto the ship where I was and was not a sailor. I was a boy. I was a girl. I was someone sad who had used up the sharp parts. I was someone who had forgotten how to cry. I was someone who needed something I didn’t yet understand. I was someone.
And then, like always, into the night, ropes wailing behind us in the wind. We sliced smooth through black sea, and the men slept then except for those few of us who made the ship go: the captain, the lookout, and me, the saddest sailor. From there, it was so simple. I cried amply and with abandon. I wept, remembering touch and what blurred in my distance, cried us all the way back into night and into morning. Some kind of hope right on the other side of all of this grief. I was the saddest sailor. I salted our way.
Temim Fruchter is a writer who lives in Washington, DC. She believes in stories and hot noodles and queer possibility. She is in the University of Maryland’s MFA program for fiction, and her chapbook, I Wanted Just To Be Soft, came out on Anomalous Press in April 2016. Her work has appeared in [PANK], Brevity, Tupelo Quarterly, YES FEMMES, The Washington City Paper, New South, jmww, Newfound, The Account, and the Tishman Review, among others. More at temimfruchter.wordpress.com.