Portrait of My Wife as a Boat Samantha Murray
From the editors:
My favourite story since beginning my time at Flash Fiction Online, the one that I recall most often, is “Portrait of my Wife as a Boat,” by Samantha Murray.
Time and again I return to the image of the coracle sitting on the tides edge with the sun sinking into the horizon.
In this story the conflict between the two women is strong, but so also is the tenderness and the intimacy. This story is about the point in time when, although you love someone, you know you must let them go. The main character’s voice is like the wind blowing her wife away towards the white tipped waves. She, in response, is silent, instead showing through action her departure to her lover.
The description is beautiful. The imagery is potent. I love the feeling this story leaves me with – the sad romance, the salted sense of freedom.
She comes home later and later even though the nights are starting earlier than they were.
I feel cross and wronged, and pretend not to see her as she hesitates briefly on the doorstep. I bow my head to my stitching. A new quilt this one–with gold, russet, and red, colors for the Fall that is coming.
I do not look at her directly, but I notice that her hair is stiff with salt and spray. She is barefoot and leaves little curved dark marks on the floorboards as she crosses. I cave and tell her, “There is rice on the stove.”
“I am not hungry,” she says, and her voice creaks like old old wood, “I am tired, I’m going to bed.” She rests her hand for a moment on my shoulder, but lightly, so lightly.
That night she tosses and writhes like she is caught on the tides. The bed-sheets are twisted asunder, and I wake and sit up in bed. I touch her arm and whisper soothingly, but she will not be soothed.
* * *
She smells of linseed, of citrus, the oil that she rubs into all of the tiny little cracks in her face. When she leaves, she kisses me, and I taste the sea.
* * *
Then comes two days and two wild gusty nights she is gone. Most of my stitching I have to unpick again and again. When she comes in, I swell up to her. “Where have you been?” I cry, and my voice rises high and wails at her like a spiteful wind, “Where have you been?”
She opens her mouth, but she does not seem to have any words left. She holds her palms out towards me, and stands there squelching.
She looks both harder and smoother, and deeper brown. I can see that she has come back just for me. I can see too that four walls are four too many, and that the hooked rug and the narrow bed heaped with pillows just make her obscurely miserable. She has come back for me, and I am not the sea.
* * *
The next time she leaves I sit with my stitching and stare at it. Then I put it down. I follow her across the old reserve where you can smell the big, old peppermint trees, down over the dune and across the sand. The sun has baked the sand hot, and I feel the heat under my feet, but I do not hasten my steps. Some things are meant to hurt.
She stands at the shoreline, and I see she is already curving, curving, stretching, turning, curving. Till she lies, half in the water, rocking.
She is the shape of two open cupped hands pressed together. The shape of a coracle, in welsh cwrwgl, the light little boats from the place I was born. She has a mast though, as they did not, standing proud against the sky. Her hull is heartwood with swirling shades of gray, like ilmenite in wet sand. She is a thing of beauty, but that doesn’t surprise me at all because I knew that already, I knew that always.
I lift my leg over the side of her. There is room, just for one. She rocks back and forth, and her sail unfurls and billows out. I think she is pleased.
Her rocking motion edges us forward off the sand-bank and into the deeper water. Light and delicate she whips along towards the white-tipped waves. I do not speak to her again, but I run my fingers over the sun-warmed wood of her gunwale. What are words but an anchor that drags behind her, slowing her down, making her stop, binding her to the land. You don’t say I love you to a boat, you don’t, you don’t.
* * *
The wind has picked up and is blowing my hair back from my face. She will take me to shore now I know. I will stand on the sand and watch her as she heads out towards the sun that is drowning itself at the horizon. I will go back to my hearth and sit and wait although I know she will not come. I will start a new quilt, one for winter this time. One with pelagic hues–cerulean and cyan, with flecks at the edges white as the tips of the waves.
Previously published in Flash Fiction Online, July 2015. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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