Calm as glass, Isaac heard a crewman speak so of the flat sea and windless night.
The Captain stands with her face reflected in the leaded windows which grace her cabin. That glass is anything but calm. Her cheeks are flushed and ruddy, her hair unbound in the privacy of her quarters. Her eyes contain storms he fears might blow them both apart, tear the ship asunder, consign the crew to the monsters who dwell below.
All this Isaac knows from the watery reflection in her cabin’s windows, for she has neither turned nor spoken since he announced himself.
There are gifts from the cook who rules the galley on her table–poached fish, cooling, and precious sliced fruit, untouched. Fine silver gleams from the pocked and patinated wood, laid out as if for a duchess. The china, like his Captain, is both delicate and stronger than it might appear; despite appearances, it is completely at home aboard the Siren.
His imagination takes wing in the quiet: this treasure, the heirloom silver of some noble family in pursuit of riches in the West Indies, the china perhaps a second son’s consolation when he was sent to manage the far-flung sugar interests. A drowned bride’s dowry. How the Captain came to have her table settings is yet another secret she keeps close.
She lifts her blazing tangle of hair from her neck and blows a hot breath against the window. Her silence speaks eloquently of frustration, he thinks.
The Captain turns from her contemplation to address him. “She is restless.”
The burden of her belly is no longer something she can conceal, even in ill-fitting men’s clothing. She wears a linen shirt long over loose-laced breeches, but her legs and feet are bare as a child’s. Isaac feels the stain of lust rise in his cheeks at the sight of the soft, gold hair on her lean, muscled calves, just visible like an aura in the candlelight. His gut twists–such thoughts for this woman, for any woman in her advanced condition, shame him. He is her captive, bound to her like a possession since she took him from his ship–spared his life in hopes he would save hers, devoted to her as a hound in the sheltered chambers of his heart.
Still, she keeps him as her physician, so that is the voice he uses to speak to her. “Your time is near, I believe.”
Her hands, worn and cracked with work, stained around the nails with ink and ash, rise to rub the roundness of her child. “She’ll need to be strong if she wants to survive.”
“The sea is a harsh home for a child.” He does not mean to admonish. It is not neither his place nor his privilege to hand out judgement, but he cannot help worrying for a baby born into its pirate mother’s saltwater legacy.
The Captain meets his eyes. Her voice is strained. “I did not mean the sea. I meant the world. A weak woman is a dead woman, even while she walks.”
“You’re certain, then, that the child is a girl.”
When she does not reply, but turns from him to her vigil at the glass, he steps tentatively around the table to join her there. The linen over her belly ripples.
His hand hovers between them. “May I?”
She spreads her arms in a mock bow, opening herself to his inspection. Such shocking informality would never be permitted by his sister or her circle of fine ladies, and yet he cannot help but think again of the Captain as a duchess.
He rounds his palms over her distended figure. The life within strikes out at him with such force that he laughs. He dares a glance up at the Captain’s face, and is rewarded with a slight smile which quickens upon her lips and kindles for a moment in her eyes. He explores the topography of her pregnancy through her shirt, marveling at the fierce and tiny life she carries.
Having granted him this intimacy, the Captain stretches, rolling her shoulders and pressing her hands into the small of her back. A groan of pleasure escapes her, and Isaac is once again conscious of her body. She smells of salt, sweat, and a sweetness he believes to be her milk coming in, and he pulls away.
“All is, as far as I can tell, as it should be, though I am no midwife.”
The Captain strikes an imperious tone. “You will be.”
Conscious of his position, he retreats with a courtly bow to mirror her own. He gestures to her bed, simple, but luxurious compared to the rest of the accommodations aboard, then raps the table top with his knuckles. “You should rest. And eat.”
She says nothing; Isaac accepts this as his dismissal. She is mercurial and accustomed to command.
His hand is on the door when her voice floats across the room.
“You’ve gentle hands. I’ve half a mind to take you to my bed. Perhaps that would tame this terrible unease I cannot escape.”
His fingers clench on the handle. Four long strides and he could do her bidding, take her, be her lover. The silence, once eloquent, is charged like the tempest in her gaze. A moment becomes an infinity over calm seas.
She laughs, quietly, bitterly. “I’ve shocked you. Goodnight, my Physician. Give my regards to the watch this night.”
Isaac dashes through the door, praying his body doesn’t betray him to the crew, to the men who would kill him for far less than his baffled and helpless desire.
If you’d like to hear it read, you can check it out alongside what one of the authors described this way:
This story originally appeared as a contribution to R.B. Wood‘s Word Count Podcast, Episode 39. To hear me read it, along with six other authors and their contributions, click the podcast link above.
The prompt was: “I was walking on the white sands at Magen’s Bay in St Thomas when…”
Magen’s Bay made everything more beautiful.
Lottie wrapped her arm around my waist, her palm gritty with the fine sand from the beach. She fell into step with me, our feet sinking and rising in the damp beach, our steps vanishing together into the tide. Her pearl skin was smattered with fresh freckles, kisses of sweet Caribbean sunshine.
She pressed her lips to my shoulder before laying her cheek against it, leaning into me while the tide tugged and tempted.
My thoughts meandered with our path along the crescent curve of white. Inevitably, they soared in a northward arc over the Atlantic; without fail they skipped along the stony shores of Maine. Another crescent entirely. I pressed those dull, wintry remembrances deep into the pockets of Before–my other life, shed like a parka under this fair, Equatorial sun.
Paradise was hard won. Best to remain a voluntary amnesiac, to let the past ghost away like our trail into the sea.
“Bart, you’re looking a little pink.” Tilting her chin, Lottie shot me a wicked glance from under her lashes. “Time for some fresh sunscreen… in the bungalow.”
God help me if I ever forgot how her hot gaze brought my body to attention.
Miranda fell in with us, unbidden, on my right side. She held herself a hand’s-breadth from me, though her stride matched ours footfall for footfall. Peering sidelong at Lottie’s milky complexion and wind-tumbled mahogany mane, at her toned form in the pin-up swimsuit, Miranda snorted. “Nice tits. Well done, Bart.”
So much for voluntary amnesia.
I straightened my spine, sucking in what remained of my former paunch. Lottie liked to run; I was a runner now, with the slimmer limbs and flatter belly to show for it. Reinvention is the sincerest form of flattery, and I liked Lottie to know how much I loved her.
Miranda raised an eyebrow. “Don’t suck it in on my account, babe. I’m not in a position to appreciate your fleshly delights, am I?”
There was a new softness to her, a hazy quality she’d lacked Before. Her wild curls were tied back, her feet bare. Her swirling skirt and tank top revealed a body bronzed in the garden, muscles tightened by hard work. Had she always looked like that? Even her sardonic expression was appealing.
Magen’s Bay made everything more beautiful. Even, it seemed, Miranda.
Lottie shaded her eyes to examine the horizon, where a line of fluffy clouds was forming over the lush hillside on the west side of the bay. She pouted prettily. “Shade. Boo.”
I patted Lottie’s arm and pitched my voice low. “Maybe it is time for some sunscreen.”
I couldn’t help but look for Miranda’s reaction to the playful exchange. Just a hooded flick of the eyes in her direction. She sighed loudly, setting her lips in the grim line I recalled most clearly. More like the Miranda who fit the shape of my forgotten life.
Lottie caught my expression and the corner of her mouth turned down. “Barty?”
I squeezed her hand, delighting in Miranda’s radiating disapproval. “Just watching the waves, sweetheart’. Let’s grab some daiquiris on the way back. I want your hands on me. Now.”
Lottie released my arm and clapped like a child. She stretched her arms up, catching her hair in one hand untying the strings that kept her bikini top anchored with the other. She released her hair in a waterfall as the fabric slipped down, nearly baring the most gorgeous breasts I’d ever seen in person.
“I’ll take the rest off for you while you watch, lover. Come on.” With a provocative hip-twitch, she turned back up the beach in the direction of the little place we shared.
“Oh, for Chrissake, Bart. Really?” Miranda hissed her disapproval. “I hope they find my body soon, you miserable sonofabitch.”
I grinned as she faded into the salt spray and followed Lottie’s damp footprints across the dry sand towards the trees beyond, my thoughts already turning to the things she would do to me once we were alone. Voluntary amnesia was really the only way to live.
Magen’s Bay made everything more beautiful. Even murder.
I’ve been lurking for some time, listening to episodes of the Word Count Podcast thanks to Eden Baylee‘s frequent participation and promotion of R. B. Wood’s monthly show for and by writers.
When I saw he was calling for submissions, I knew this was the fearless thing to do. It was time to write a response to the prompt and get it recorded and shipped off before I had time to over-think it.
The theme this month was tropical, and who wouldn’t want to escape to a gorgeous Caribbean beach for a while? So I wrote a piece called “Voluntary Amnesia” and made the requisite recording.
Did I mention I hate listening to the sound of my own voice? Or that I’m sure that I flubbed it? Always a bundle of nerves, but determined to push myself to do new things, especially this spring!
Colin approached the ruins with a heart as dull as the sky above the empty rise. He hadn’t been back since the wedding. Like unshed tears, the remembered incandescence of fairy lights in the gnarled ash trees around the foundation burned against the backs of his eyelids.
She’d been incandescent. The bride of his dreams dancing among the ruins they’d studied together, dreamed in together. It had been impossible to tear his gaze from her light.
He was standing in the gap-toothed front entry before he saw her, folded in on herself among the ferns in the northwest corner. “Amy?”
She startled hard, knocking her head against what remained of the chimney.
He rushed over, crouching next to her. “Hey. I’m sorry.”
She blinked up at him for a breath before recognition cleared her expression. “Colin.”
Her smile spilled over him like sunshine. He wrapped a steadying arm around her shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
She rubbed her head, wincing where her hand found bruised flesh. “David and I had a row. I needed some peace, but I must have dozed.” She leaned into him. “I’ve missed you.”
He did his best to capture the feeling of her cheek pressed against his faded flannel shirt. “I’ve been around.”
“You always are.” She pressed her hands into the spongy earth; he steadied her as she rose and dusted off her jeans. “It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about you.”
He swallowed the declarations, the pleas that choked him. He forced his rebellious voice to stay even. “Everything’s okay?”
She shrugged, letting a touch of her familiar snark slip. “You know my temper. David’s still adjusting to Life With Amy.” A quick glance at her phone for the time. “He’ll come ’round.”
“I’m sure.” Resentment kindled in his belly even as a breeze teased her hair and his heart flipped over.
She stretched up on her toes and hugged him hard. He could barely trust himself to return the embrace without bawling like a child.
Amy framed his face between her palms. “Promise me we’ll see one another soon?”
She searched his eyes. He feared what she would find there, but whatever she saw, it was not the love for her he bore like a shaggy-haired Atlas.
Colin sought the lightness that had once existed between them. The lightness that David stole from him by winning Amy’s heart. He gave her a crooked smile. “Whenever you like. I’m yours.”
“Good.” Satisfied, she rocked on her heels and pocketed her hands in her coat. “Take care, Colin.”
He watched her head down the dirt drive, unable to speak his thoughts aloud.