Cheryl Somers Aubin
and Cathy Stevens Pratt

Abstract painting with yellow, purple, black

Cathy Stevens Pratt
“Peace, Love, Profound Ideas”
Inspiration piece

The Sailor
By Cheryl Somers Aubin

He lay on his bunk on his side. He is glad that he has finally gotten over the seasickness he had for months when he first joined – that his stomach had finally adjusted. He hears the new men who were picked up at the last port heaving up their breakfasts – a mistake they will not make again.

The ship rose and fell. The seas were rough. The ship itself moaned and cracked, and he knows it worried them. Soon, like him, they will know the sounds, the movements of the ship, be comforted by the knowledge they will gain about life on the sea.

The bunk above him is close, and it makes him feel like he is in a coffin. Because the waves are high today, those on deck need to take care and hang onto ropes so they won’t be swept overboard. He will soon join the other men up top – but for the few minutes he has he writes her a letter – a letter that he will never be able to send.

A few months earlier, the ship had docked after months at sea. All the men worked unloading the cargo and then loading on silk, rice, porcelain, tea, and spices. It was hot and tough and tiresome work to do. The sun blazed down on them all.

Finally, he had a few days off and headed up the hill into the lighter air and into the town to a tea house. He sat there for hours, adjusting to the soft light in the room, listening to the foreign languages and drinking green tea, trying to relax his shoulders. He asked the owner, miming what he was looking for (hands to the side of his face, closing his eyes, feigning sleep), if she knew of a place to stay for a few days, She had a room at the back. The room wasn’t much. It was small, with just a mattress on the floor and light filtering in and a breeze through the bamboo slats. Still it seemed like heaven to him.

The first thing he did was clean up. He found a basin where he could wash his clothes and then paid at a nearby bathhouse for a good long soak. He knew the smell of the sea never left him, but he felt finally clean, finally good. His muscles started to relax. He legs felt funny walking on the ground, as if he needed to get his “ground legs” adjusted and moving right.

When he got back to the room – one of his shirts he had hung up was gone. He could not figure out who would want it – or who would take it.

Fatigue overcame him so he laid down on the mat and fell sound asleep. It was the closest thing to a bed he had been in for years and it felt wonderful. He slept hard. It was light when he awoke and he stretched. He was starving and walked back out front to the tea room for dinner. That is when he saw her. This beautiful, dark-haired woman wearing black and gold necklaces around her neck. Her skirt was multicolored jewel tones with mirrors on it. And she was wearing his shirt. It was buttoned up but also tied up in the front.

She gave him a sly smile, but another waitress approached to take his order, then deliver his food.

Still, he could not take his eyes off of this woman. Who was she?

The tea house got busy and he tried to catch her eye. He watched as she got angry with a sailor, raised one eyebrow, scowled, and pressed her red lips together. That was enough, that sailor did not bother her again.

She looked over at him and faintly smiled, then turned away and didn’t look at him again that evening. Finally he left and went to his room where he fell into a deep black place – but she was there in his dreams – he reached for her but could not touch her.

The next day he was there at the tea house again. Spending almost the whole morning and into the afternoon when she finally came over. She spoke a bit of English, and he asked her her name: “Sumitra,” she answered. Her name was exotic sounding to his ears, Sumitra. Like a song. Like the sun – a flash of beauty and anger.

Eyes that have seen more, witnessed more, a body that moved liquidly. A woman who would teach him things he never knew – never even knew there was to know.

She was getting off so they left together and walked through the town. He wanted to kiss her, possess her, but all they did was walk close, not touching. Already he was aware that time was passing too quickly – his ship would soon sail. There were a few days, a few hours, a few minutes. He never wanted to leave her.

The next day he returned to the tea house, and she looked for him and smiled. They left early again and walked around the town. This time their hands brushed together and she flushed. Finally he took her hand, and she did not pull away.

When he got close, kissed her cheek she smelled musky and hot. Her hair was damp on the sides.

The relationship started quickly and intensely. They could not bear to be apart and slept side by side on his mat. The minutes, then hours, passed and an ache in his heart started.

He tried to tell her the job he had was working as a sailor – but first he was a man and in love with her. Maybe he could find something to do there where she lived.

She laughed and pulled away. But there was a sadness in her eyes.
Often throughout the few days he watched for the ship – for the first unfurling of the sails which meant he needed to return quickly or be left behind. Then, one day, it happened. He looked toward the ship and saw the faint lofting of the smallest sail – it was time for him to go.

He took her hands, looked in her eyes. “Please, I want to stay with you,” he said. She replied, “You must go – and I must stay.”

As he said goodbye and held her he felt the coarseness of his shirt she was wearing. It was what he could leave her. It was all that she wanted after all…

He will take his memories with him. He will write the love letters to her that she will never receive. He will stand at the railing on the deck and release the letters into the air. They will catch in the wind and be swallowed by the sea.


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