I didn’t really know what he did at work, except that it involved ropes, which is why he wouldn’t use them with me. He said the tying and untying reminded him of his job, of being out to sea. Sex always reminded me of the ocean, too, I said, only half-joking.
The salt clinging to your skin like something ancient that originated there. The rolling tide of it, the enormity and fear, the instinct to grab ahold of something solid as if your life depended on it, as if otherwise you’d be lost. The drowning.
I didn’t know much about what happened on those boats except that he came over after work smelling of sea foam and the paper mill, his overalls damp and grease-stained, his plastic lunch box empty. And he was tired. And I wanted to beg his splintered hands to touch me, to rough me up into calluses and crosshairs, to make me seafaring. Sometimes I did. Sometimes, he said yes.
When the light that spread across the room was blue and fragile I could hear him rustling out of the blankets and into his gray jumpsuit. There was always the tiny pop that accompanied the saddling of galoshes over his calves. His skin was cold in the morning like it was gearing up to meet the wind. Sometimes his leaving was only an imprint lingering in a dream. Sometimes I rolled out of bed in his flannel shirt that smelled like him, made coffee that steamed out loud when I poured it into his thermos, kissed him goodbye, felt like someone I didn’t recognize. Sometimes I pretended to sleep until his truck pulled out of the drive, and then I sat at the window for a while, watching the trees breathe.
He wasn’t the kind of person you could think about when he wasn’t around, or pretend he was there in the spaces he wasn’t. I didn’t imagine him at the supermarket with me, or think up his probable comments about daytime TV. These are things people do when they want to feel safe, when they are so alone they can’t fathom the immensity of their own loneliness. These are things people do when they miss someone they wish they didn’t have to. Not when they have made friends with their Pacific emptiness and sand-bones. Not when they know how easy it is to fill someone up with the dark teal color of your hunger and call it home. How easy it is to conjure soulmates into the bodies of strangers.
In the days when he was gone and the rooms were quiet, when I lay in bed alone with the window open, it was always startling to remember that the faint whisper in the distance was the voice of the ocean. When my fingertips would float down my stomach and I arched up into my own touch, there was salt on my tongue, there was some sea-language prayer spilling from my lips in incessant muttering, immersed gasping, and no matter what the words were, it always sounded like fill.
The Windsor knot that lived at the center of me stayed there, dormant. The fisherman was strong because he had no choice, because of the fact of his body, but he would not obliterate me. Not in the ways I wanted. I didn’t know how to tell him, Make me a sail, carve me into wind. I want to be consumed. I want to be the raw flesh giving way under your pocket knife, I want, I want….How do you say that to anybody, let alone somebody who spends less than half his time standing on actual earth? How do you explain desire, the fear and the hunger for landlessness?
For all those maritime pleadings, the lingering texture of his stubble, the ecosystem of his mouth, I don’t even remember his name now. Only how it sounded being whispered, being purged from some lost city in the depths of me. It’s probably better that way.
Erin Slaughter holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is currently working as a publishing intern for a non-profit poetry press in the Pacific Northwest.