Follow the Fellow Who Follows the Sea

The water off Plymouth was so calm that even after four hours’ rowing, as France appeared behind my shoulder like an eyebrow on the horizon, I could still hear those drunks caterwauling on the Barbican. And it wasn’t a hymn for my days-old wedding the wretches sang, either, unless a ship’s peg-boy taking a prick in his behind was to be considered a marriage or sorts.  My unmindful oars kept time with these abhorrent lyrics, I’m loathe to admit, even as salt dried across my lace cuffs.  Why were my hands not all blisters?  I put that down to lanolin—thirteen years of shearing sheep, from the age of five, my elder brothers all gone to sea at twelve.  That horror of a song did not involve my brothers, though.  Our family lacks the capacity for being anyone’s fool.

For the space of six strokes I couldn’t hear the louts—only the squawk of those seagulls resembling wisps of steam a mile above my head—then I listened to the ladies singing in France, their words like the mewling of kittens down a well.

I found them with crocheted skirts pulled up to their knees, stomping about the tidal flats to fill their buckets with cockles.  Girls with faces like wheels of cheese.

    “Can’t you get me a bowl of oats?” I asked.  “With a dab of butter?”

They belched and rolled their eyes, so I pulled the boat after me to a stone cottage arrayed in drying nets, but before knocking I hiked my dress and had a good long pee on those hot stones.  I’d been waiting an age.

The old woman was willing to trade one of my antique garters for a haunch of salt pork.  Would I even have use for that much meat?  On such a becalmed day I couldn’t conceive how Endeavour could have sailed more than a few minutes ahead.  Perhaps my Hubert had already spied me from the rigging.


After the exertions of the storm my sodden veil hung heavy as lead, and I knew the dampened pork would spoil.  I rowed alongside the Azores, for monkeys’ chatter carried across the water.  Sharks encircled me like a halo.  I had not peed in half a week and found that untenable, so I sat lithely upon the gunwale and strove to be quick in my business as the wretches’ bloodlust frothed the sea.  One impudent fish bit my uncovered behind but succeeded only in breaking a tooth off in the snowy flesh.  I plucked out the serrated thing and hid it within my desiccated bouquet.  It would make Hubert a fine pendant, a keepsake of our reunion.


My bait of rotted pork delivered no sharks; indeed, the ocean seemed entirely deserted that afternoon until my line gave a vague tug just a moment before a single great swell bore my boat directly up like a kite in a gust.  Once ten yards above the glassy water, I looked southward for sails but decried nothing.  Certainly I did not see HMS Endeavour.  Against my keel I espied barnacles and deep rubbery divots, and a dozen feet astern a blowhole as large as myself erupted with spray.  Yet again I regretted having mislaid my parasol. 

I calculated that I sat atop the melon of a great sperm whale, and indeed as the mists cleared I saw my line trailing down an iron-grey forehead as wide as a church.  The great fish had a taste for my pork, but how long would it remain afloat before it dived, taking the line and Hubert’s bride to the bottom?  I had better throw the tackle away! 

As we plunged down I saw the line had encircled the heel of my twelve-button boot.  I held to my dear oars though green water enveloped us, the fish’s pitted hide always beneath the boards.  The sunlit surface flew away, ten feet above my head, then fifty, and denizens of the South Atlantic surged past my eyes.  The small fish resembled insects with beards.  I endeavoured to keep my lungs filled with air and my mind untroubled.  The rowboat’s buoyancy overcame the loving sentiment between us, though, as it turned sideways to unseat me before flying to the surface like a starling. 

I felt quite alone then.  The whale, meantime, continued its descent, and I was dragged by boot-heel into the darkening deep.  It appeared Hubert would not receive his shark’s-tooth pendant, nor would he keep me for his wife.

I pictured his heartache.

Adam Lewis Schroeder is swimming for land.

Published On: February 14, 2015
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Volume 8, Issue 1
Valentine's Day, 2015

Forget @ 14


Canadian sadness
Pasha Malla

follow the fellow who follows the sea
Adam Lewis Schroeder

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