by Eric Sorensen

 

by Jessica Federle

The Last Wave

The ocean’s last wave, like all waves, shattered its crest. It surged to the beach, swelled inland. Slowed to a whispered sigh. Cradled the sand. Flowed out… sank into itself.

And all was still.

Starlight shivered in the shoreline — a vast, slick mirror.

The island people, asleep, yet accustomed to each pursuant rumble, tangled themselves in their sheets, aching at the absence.

***

The Learning of It

Sunrise came.

Strange, the islanders murmured.

Seabirds trilled. Fronds shuffled. Sand crunched. Still the islanders murmured. Something is missing.

All other mornings, the fishermen pushed their skiffs into churning waves. All other mornings, the ocean slapped and smacked, burst into spray. Laughter, shouts. Creaks of wood rocking — all other mornings.

This morning, the ocean was a broken body.

One eager youth, first to arrive and last to realize, seized the stern of his canary-colored skiff, charged in — nothing met him.

This morning, the pulse was gone.

His yellow boat slid away. The ragged hems of his pants dripped down his shins.

His mother had to be fetched. She found the boy on his knees in stagnant water, weeping into the arms of the older men.

***

The Days that Follow

Days became dry and dizzying.

Each dawn, two suns rose. One burned. The other — a cold, reflected disk — crawled across the flat blue corpse. Shuffles of grass, the brushing of fabric, rustling hair… all things suggested the embryonic whisper of gathering waves.

Yet the crash never came.

Some islanders fled. Hoping for wider land, for landlocked refuge, they stocked boats with provisions. Paddled madly. Slipped over the horizon before the others woke.

***

The Nights that Follow

Nights deepened the longing. The islanders hung in silence — stars pricked into Stygian sky reflected in the cold, black glass… fashioned infinity.

The placidity of space drew the desperate to high, solitary places.

One of the grandmothers in the market went mad. For nine days, as her son helped her sell limes, she rambled. Detailed the curve of the waves, the ocean’s roar, the tide’s lullaby.

For nine days, her son pulled his straw hat over his eyes. Exchanged coins. Said nothing.

Then, on the ninth moonless night, he climbed the fence framing a cliff overlook. He folded his coat. Settled his hat atop his shoes.

By some measure of grace, a woman spied him — wailed, threw her arms around his waist — it took a crowd of ten to drag him back from the ledge.

Each islander thereafter, one night or another, at least once, sought the void. Cries for rope, for hands, disrupted sleep. The islanders clung to each other. Wrestled their souls to the land.

***

Over Time

Into the earthy edges of the island, posts were hammered, fishing line strung between them. Trinkets were affixed: Seashells. Driftwood. Shards of sea glass. Fish hooks, metal sinkers.

A twinkling veil formed, ready to rattle and chime on any tempted soul. And in this manner, the islanders sealed the corpse of the sea away. The fishermen joined the farmers. The children learned to prefer the fatty flesh of pigs to the white meat of fish.

***

The Canary Skiff

The ocean is not discussed, with one exception.

On certain grey mornings, if the rain slaps the trees and turns to spray, and if palm beams creak just so, an old fisherman tells stories.

The adults never come, for fear of revisiting the wound.

But as the wind groans, children arrive — the price for entry a single artifact snatched from the ragged island veil, each to be laid out upon his canary-yellow table.

 

About the painter: Eric Sorensen is a medical student and artist who loves painting, drawing, and photography. After college he studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. Image: Painting, Untitled (Nauset Beach), watercolor and ink on paper, 2019. Find more of his work at ericsorensen.com.