(Read Part III here)
“You know what sirens are, kid?” Captain asked me today while we worked.
I pictured my mother’s body being loaded onto the ambulance, the wailing sound it made when it first pulled up to our house, too late.
“No sir,” I answered. I’d recently taken to calling him “sir.” It seemed right.
“They’re the creatures from Greek mythology who distracted the sailors. They were little bitches, those ones. They killed a lot of sailors.”
“Were they like mermaids?” Marco asked, tossing a bad fish off the boat. I watched it fly and land with a thud onto the water. The water was calm today, the sky clear enough that you could see all of the Chugach range, if you had the time to look up.
“No, no. That’s a common mistake. They didn’t live in the water. They lived on some little island off the coast of Greece. Anyway, they’d sing and they would entrance sailors with their music. Then the sailors would either wreck their ships on the rocky coast or die other ways.”
“What other ways?” I asked, in need of a distraction from tedious work—casting the net, waiting for it to fill, and hauling it back in, Captain reeling in the net and Marco and I picking the fish from the mesh.
“I don’t know how to explain it—mythological ways. The men would die when the sirens’ song ended. Their flesh would rot and fall off, shit like that.”
“How do you know this, Captain?” Marco asked, wiping beads of sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm.
“I went to college after the war. I had vet money. I took a bunch of classes to see if anything interested me. Nothing stuck, but I always remembered learning about sirens in the intro to Greek mythology class.”
“Have you ever seen one?” I asked with a smile I kept from him. I don’t believe in anything like that—mythological, supernatural, or spiritual. But, I do believe sometimes people need to see something to make them feel better, a little less alone.
“Maybe. When I was off the coast of Vietnam, I thought I saw something. You spend too much time at sea and you’ll see anything. But I thought it was a woman in the water. She had black hair, as dark as the water that night.”
“If she was in the water, wouldn’t that make her a mermaid?” Marco asked.
“You’re right,” Captain said thoughtfully. Then he added, “Probably for the best I didn’t go after her if she were a mermaid. I don’t like my women fishy.”
In our cabin tonight, Marco and I talked before we went to bed. Captain stayed out on the deck, finishing his nightcap.
“What did you think of Captain’s story? He’s full of shit most of the time, but at least he’s entertaining.” Marco stood by the door and pulled his shirt over his head. He stood with his shirt off in front of me and scratched his bare chest.
“I liked his story. Even if it ends in death, I like it. I like that the sirens gave the sailors something to distract themselves with.”
“Yeah, that’s a good point. Hey, you ever read any poetry? You ever read ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?’ I like that word, ‘mariner.’ It’s a cool way to say sailor. Anyway, that’s a good poem. Pretty trippy. Coleridge took a lot of opium. No wonder.” Marco leaned against the wall, talked with his hands. He ran his hand indifferently over the ship tattooed across his right shoulder.
“No, I haven’t read it. I’m not very well read in poetry. I should read more,” I answered sheepishly, apologetically.
“No man, it’s no big deal. I read a lot when I was locked up. Not much else to do but read and lift weights.”
This was the moment to confide in him. No Captain. No Dad. Nobody else but Marco, whom I was convinced I loved even if he didn’t love me, see me that way. But the door opened and Captain walked in, a rush of night cold wind following him, washing bitterly over me like sea mist.
“What are you two still doing up? This isn’t a sleepover, girls. Go to bed. We have an early morning.” Captain lumbered to his bed and lay down face first.
Marco walked to our bunks and slapped me on the shoulder. “Night,” he said and climbed past me to the top bunk.