The Sea: A Triptych 1 One day, the sea falls in love with a man. It goes like this. The man lives in a village nearby. Each morning, the villagers walk to where river meets the sea to wash and draw water. Sometimes the people sing and talk and hum, and the water does not move. But today, the man sings as he bathes, softly, just a little, under his breath. His voice is soft but his singing reaches something deep within in the sea, makes it shiver and shake. When the man comes back the next day, to wash and fill his buckets, he comes a little closer to where the river meets the sea. And the sea, caught between pulls of the earth and the moon, strains to flatten its surface, desperate to listen, to hear the sound of him singing again. When the tides go abruptly still, some of the villagers pause and turn back to the water to dip their fingers and feet, watching the drops sparkle in the sun as they fall. The crabbers and fisherpeople shake and rattle in their boats, the hulls starting to hum loose — then apart. Others on the shore start to pack their things and go, knowing that nothing good can come of whatever tense shimmer vibrating across the water means. Just upriver from the shore, the man keeps singing. He doesn’t hear the commotion, he doesn’t notice how the river’s skip and burble seem to slow where his eyes touch upon the water. The sea is not the river, the river is not not the sea. If he were to look out to the larger body of water, for a moment — the sea becomes aware of how the individual parts of itself are, together, a moisture that wants to steam. The sea would beg him to look if it knew how to ask. The man dries himself and carries his buckets back the way he’d come. Some of those who’d been to the water tried to describe to those in the village how the water had been so calmly uncalm — or was it uncalmly calm? Putting words to what had happened was difficult, and many didn’t attempt to. The next day, the sea traps gleaming slender fish in its currents and flings them into the air to catch the attention of the long-throated birds swooping overhead. The man was one of those who hadn’t heard about the water’s odd behavior the previous day but he notices the birds screeching in excitement. Finally — forever, it feels like — he turns to look, shading his eyes against the morning sun. His gaze makes the water shimmer with color. The sea sprays and sparkles; it can’t get enough. When he looks away, the tension goes out of the water’s surface. Slowly the waves start to sway and pull away from the sand once more. The next day: the sea flings more fish to the long-throated birds, who dart and squabble, knocking each other out of the way. Their legs and gawky beaks become tangled, some tumble, some fall and right themselves, some get the fish time and time again. The sea flings all the fish it can, until the sea is just water again, just so much, just itself. The next day: the man carries his buckets to the sand, strips down, and walks into the sea. He does not sing. When he steps onto shore to dry, the sea feels for the first time the shape of the absence of his calves and heels, of his nine toes, and longs for how his body fits.
2 (The villagers mostly become used to the still tides in the early morning, though some still don’t trust it, and draw their water earlier or later in the day. Not even the man puts it together, you know how men be. He thinks the birds, the fish, before him, each is just one of those things that happens in the world, an occurrence with enough mystery in it that he doesn’t question. It doesn’t occur to him that the sea might exhaust itself for him. No one notices the effect that the man had on the sea except for one of the local children, who sells gum and flowers and firewood to the tourists lazing in the shady band of trees between the river and the shoreline. The child kicks over the man’s bucket by accident, and sees how quickly the earth gulps the water into itself, that water, in the presence of the right people or conditions, could behave differently. And though the child doesn’t have the language to put to what they’re witnessing, they recognize with certainty that a connection. Years later, they too would sing, to different body of water.) The next day: the man comes to the mouth of the river — the mouth specifically, it seems, not too close to the shore but near enough that the sea remains visible. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t approach the sands. He ignores the birds when they dive for fish. He ignores how the water of the river seems to have changed course subtly, how it’s all pulling toward the source of the noise. He goes so quiet the sea wonders what it means to hear, how it can, how it only cares to hear this particular body’s sounds. So the sea tries to become stiller still, to silence itself so that it can catch the sounds of his body — let him hum or grunt, sigh, gurgle, burp, sneeze, cough, fart, anything. But he’s silent, just breathing. The next day: the man doesn’t come at all. He’s always come alone — it’s taken this long for the sea to notice. Alone isn’t unusual, other villagers come as groups. Water, like air, has so much space that can be filled — with animals and gasses and things that grow, with image and sensation. The sea tries to sing the man back to itself, the only language it knows one of melodies shaped in the crash of the waves pitched against the shore. The sea sings want in a language that shakes loose the birds from the trees and sends the small things scuttling. That night, the fat orange moon flickers and whisps across the surface of the water. Rush the beach and the riverbed, it seems to hiss, overflow and find him. Who is he to resist? Night is slow is passing but the moon eventually leans close enough to the horizon that it starts to pulls dawn with it. As the sky pinks, the sea starts to swell and to shake small parts of itself back and forth. When the sun comes fully up, the sea’s shallows begin to mist and steam in the day’s white heat. Children scamper and kick their feet in the warm water before their parents call them back; some adults come to soak joints loose of their aches. Some of the crabbers and fisherpeople, woozy from being land bound for so long and bored of fixing their boats, grab carts and buckets and hurry toward the freshly revealed seabed, trying to beat the dogs to whatever steamed sealife there was to find. Salt remains. Thick, crunchy.
3 The sea is the mist and the mist is not the sea. The mist blows into the village, evaporating up from the forest, thickening the air. The wind cools the mist and draws it together, the mist now a thing straining to contain itself. One drop falls, then two. One, two, too many. It wipes away the village. But it is worth it when the first drop lands on his hand. Another traces a line through the grime from his forehead to jaw. Those blessed few who fall into his mouth, his ears. Those who manage to touch him beneath his clothes. The many that don’t reach him linger on the ground’s surface, resisting the earth’s gravity long as they can before the soil pulls them deep into itself. No one, it seems to whisper, will hold you like this, here, as tightly as I do now. The rest migrate. Some are lucky to meet him again.