Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oktober the Ninth: The Drowning Fields

I took the title of today's short, and some of the not-quite-realized concept, from a song I wrote in February:  If you can't steal from yourself, who can you steal from?

But my idea here really started with the first sentence, "Her seas washed him..." which got changed a bit. Sometimes, the origin of a piece needs to get ditched to make it work, and that may turn out to be the case with this... having just written it, I can't know. Is it a sketch that needs bigtime fleshing out, or could slashing it to the bone help clarify? We'll see.

Following the story is a set of definitions I found online that explain the title. The historical inaccuracies will eventually be rectified: I did a little research, once I knew what I was writing about, but not much.

 Peace, Mari

The Drowning Fields

By Mari Kozlowski

 Her waves washed him, held him, cooled his hands and eyelids as he worked, unknotting the memory of a time before he had crossed back. When the water had been between them, half the world between but not separating them. When letters that took months to arrive and moments to read were his blood and breath. Sailor’s blood, half rum, half strange waters, falling or flowing always to a new urge. But his, his ran steady and clear. His sailor’s hands worked in sun and wind for her alone. Two years he worked and waited and read, till the letters stopped.

 Now his mind played and lived in the memory of her words: her sweet accusations, her terrible loneliness laid out in rhyme and curls of hair sliced off and wrapped like candy in scented tissue. Love talk filling one page, overflowing, till desire sickened on the next and became bitter, impotent, neglected. Her following letter would be gentle, a hopeful essay on their life together when he came back to get her. And at the end, tear stains would ripple the perfumed paper’s edge.   

 But his exotic gifts went unmentioned, his replies unremarked on as if she never heard from him. He went hungry sending replies, the second year. Her pain broke his resolve, and he sent to her to come, come to him now, and began to lay aside more money for a homestead in the West.

 Four months later the ticket he’d sent came back to him. In London, her father had introduced her to an old man who wanted a lively young wife, and she’d tired of writing instead of living. She had a country estate and an apartment in the city, with servants and jewelry and Paris silks. She wrote of a party she had given for the Mayor, noting who had honored her entertainment and what she had served, as if he would care to know. She wished him well and asked that he leave her in peace. She regretted that she hadn’t gone with him.

 He used the ticket himself. The first trip across he had worked to pay for, living in filthy quarters with slaves and indentured laborers. This time the ship was clean and the passage rough. They were thrown off course by storms and arrived weeks late, their rationed food dwindled to crumbs and their sails in rags.

 Three men had been lost overboard and two more confined for madness. They thought they’d seen land, green fields amid the waves, and had to be restrained from jumping in to join their dead mates. They were chained by the foot when the ship came to port and brought ashore to sit in jail awhile, that their madness might have time to clear. The rest of the crew got as drunk as they could as fast as possible, pissing away their pay without a thought.   

 In the narrow streets off the docks, William found a room with few rats and fewer comforts. He rested and sent a post to her apartment, then found his way to the shops. A good suit tailored to fit him and a hat trimmed with beaded lace for her, used up most of his savings. He hadn’t a plan. He was out of plans after living on them for years, but he could make one when they met. When they met again, her coppery hair would be piled in the style of the city, not falling free to tickle his neck as she laid herself over him. Her hands would be neat and soft with expensive oils. With luck, she might be alone.

 But she wasn’t in London. Her parents, when William finally came there, cursed him and wept. Her father showed him the death notice and swore she never married. She tired of waiting, yes, tired her mind with it till she fell sick. Doctors prescribed rest, calm and fresh air, so her mother took her to the seaside, and she went missing the first night. They found her body a fortnight later: she walked into the ocean, they thought. It was hard to tell, from what was left. William should have sent for her.


Calenture / Calentura
A febrile delirium, said to be peculiar to sailors, wherein they imagine the sea to be green fields and will throw themselves into it if not restrained. [Hooper1829]
A violent fever, attended with delirium, incident to persons in hot countries. Under its influence it is said that sailors imagine the sea to be green fields, and will throw themselves into it, if not restrained. [Hoblyn1855]
Fever. The term was used by the old Spanish navigators to denote any form of fever with delirium observed in the tropics, and from them Sauvages adopted it as the name of a special disease (which has been described as peculiar to mariners and characterized by a particular form of delirium in which the patient, unless prevented, will jump into the sea, thinking that he is walking into green fields); but its use in the sense has been discarded. [Applton1904].
A name formerly given to various fevers occurring in tropics; esp. to a form of furious delirium accompanied by fever, among sailors, which sometimes led the affected person to imagine the sea to be a green field, and to throw himself into it. [Webster1913]

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