Nightingale

by Kaylie Saidin 

Charlie says he saw the kraken but with no proof, he’s a fool, rotten-scented as the sea foam that coagulates beneath the hull. We’ve been on the Nightingale for one month now, sleeping in the red-twined hammocks, sloshing seawater all over the deck, gutting fish and slicing our fingers, eating stale bread and sucking on lemons. The endless round of a shanty echoes at all hours, even when no one is singing. Already we understand that the time we thought was time is not time at all. Each day the giant yolk of a sun rises, sends glitter over the water to us, and each night it disappears and leaves us alone. The stars hang above us, but the light from them is too dim for us to care. Francis says on his last voyage, he landed on an island somewhere deep in the Pacific and met people who could navigate the entire ocean using only the stars. He lifts his palm up and extends his thumb, shows us what they showed him: how to measure the distance between constellations. He’s a fool, brain full of brine, not worth his salt. No man can traverse the seas without a compass, without a cork for the bottle, without a captain who scowls and starves us. They say one year at sea ages you threefold. Hansen used to be a deckhand on a whaling ship in the Atlantic. One night, by the candlelight in the brig, he speaks legend of a giant sperm whale that sabotaged an entire ship, leaping from the surface to smash the bow. He’s a fool, we say to him. But his eyes widen, and he tells us he and his crewmates were the ones who found the survivors. We get up every morning at dawn and hear the gulls squabbling, the only birds we ever see. The horizon, in the distance, looks not flat as our maps show but instead curved, as if a pregnant swollen belly. The longer we are out here, the more we suspect that all stories are true. At night we lay with our eyes closed and our minds whirring to the sound of the sails slapping in the wind. We feel a suction surround us, as if the Nightingale is in a whirlpool, a calculated pressure slowly plunging us down. The ship is sinking, we think, or being sucked under, and we bolt upward in a sweat. No tentacles, no movement, the night is still. The stars mean nothing. But Charlie is awake in the crow’s nest, and he knows.

 

Kaylie Saidin is an MFA candidate at UNC Wilmington, where she serves as a fiction editor and reader for Ecotone Magazine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review, Nashville Review, Fourteen Hills, Columbia Review, upstreet #15, Catamaran Literary Reader, and elsewhere. 

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