(Read Part IV here)
The waves pull at me, prevent me from sleeping. It’s been at least an hour since Captain passed out, a half hour since Marco fell asleep, judging by his snoring. It sounds like he’s competing with the waves tonight.
I lay on my bunk staring at the bottom of Marco’s bunk, knowing, feeling he’s up their sleeping easily. I can’t find release.
It’s my mother’s face, my dad’s voice. It’s Captain’s stories. It’s the dead fish and seasickness and cold wind and early mornings. It’s loneliness. No release. No release.
I sit up in bed and pick my shoes off the floor. Standing, I pull my coat on and creep across the room. Outside, the wind is biting. I walk to the railing and look out at the sea. Marco walks up behind me, but I don’t hear him. It isn’t until he puts his hand on my shoulder that I realize he’s there.
“Oh hey,” I say and turn back to the water.
“I heard you leave the cabin. Something wrong?” Marco asks.
“I can’t sleep. Not a big deal.”
We don’t talk for a while, but I can sense him watching me out of the corner of his eyes.
“It’s hard to adjust to sleeping out on the water like this. I haven’t gotten used to the sound of the waves yet,” I offer as an explanation. I grip the railing, but let go, trying to relax.
He puts his forearms on the railing and leans over it. “It takes time to get used to being out here, cut off from everything. But I like it. It’s good sometimes to live a solitary life. It helps you think about things. Whatever you need to sort out, you have plenty of time to think about it when you’re hauling dead fish all day,” he says and laughs. I can feel him giving me advice.
“I’m gay,” I blurt into the darkness. My words fall from my mouth and are swallowed by the ocean.
“Yeah man, I know. It’s not a big deal.” He pats me on the back when he says it, a physical gesture meant to show he means it.
“Is it that obvious?” I ask, suddenly insecure. We’re having the conversation sideways, both looking at the water. But I turn to him now since I’ve already laid myself bare.
“Yes and no. I see the look you get when Captain talks about women. He’s harmless, by the way—just an old fuck who doesn’t realize the world moved past 1969. But really, Kevin, I’ve seen a lot of the world and I know a lot of different people. I’m not only a convict and a fisherman.”
“Why didn’t you say anything to me earlier?”
“Why would I? It’s not a big deal. Plus, it seems like a private matter to you. Why would I call you out on something you don’t want to talk about?”
I could hug him I am so thankful he said that, so thankful he doesn’t care. But all I can muster is a “Thanks.”
“What about my dad?” I ask him, or myself.
“He’ll still love you. Or he won’t and you’ll find love somewhere else. My dad left us when I was ten. Some dads aren’t there for you, even when they are.”
I tried to picture my lips forming the words to tell my dad, but I couldn’t quite get to the visual. Maybe when I returned from fishing. Maybe after a year away at college. Someday, when I knew I was ready to handle his response either way.
“So what are you doing out here anyway? Looking for sirens?”
“I needed the fresh air. It feels so claustrophobic in the cabin when I can’t sleep.”
Marco backed away toward the cabin. “Alright man, I’ll leave you alone. I’m tired as hell. Come back to the cabin soon. If you fall off the ship and leave me alone out here with Captain I’ll jump overboard.”
“I’ll come back soon. Please don’t tell Captain what we talked about out here,” I beg him.
“No way would I do that to you. I’m your friend. Don’t worry so much. Now, go back to staring at the water and maybe you’ll see something interesting. Every sailor needs a distraction.” His laugh trails behind him as he walks away.
When I crawl back into bed, not long after Marco has returned to the cabin, I find myself more tired, but still unable to sleep. I feel something different from restlessness. That was the first time I ever said it out loud. The words came out so easily, like small pebbles being dropped onto still water. I stare up at Marco’s bed like he’s my savior, like his acceptance will get me through the rest of this summer.
My eyelids begin to feel heavy. Then Marco’s arm falls down from the side of the bed, bare and dangling. I watch it tick away the minutes like a pendulum, and I feel myself relax. I think that maybe if I let it, his snoring could be like a siren song, drown out the sound of the waves, wash over me, be the death of me.
I reach out for him. Just a touch—his sea hands, his rough skin. I could die, let my skin fall away, for one touch. I touch the palm of his hand with my fingertips, a graze really. He doesn’t move. I grow confident and touch him again. For just a moment our fingertips touch and I wash away in quiet release. I am sea foam. I am peace. I am sleep deep as death. I am okay.