And So I Sit, Looking Out Across the Water
But I can only sit still for so long.
When I move, they come. And so I sit, looking out across the water, staying as still as possible for as long as I can.
It seems a waste of my time and energy to think back on the path that brought me here. But what else am I do with either of them? Sometimes, I feel that if I spent enough time looking back, focused enough energy on the past, I would perhaps open my eyes to discover myself back there. Returned to the moments when I believed I was happy.
But I can only sit still for so long. Turning my head, I look around at surroundings that have not changed. The movement tilts the boat, sending concentric ripples cascading out into the water, leaving me at the centre of an ever-expanding target.
I still cannot put my finger on exactly when I lost sight of land. I tried to escape it for so long, I wasn’t watching when it finally slid from view. I’m sure when I could see it, my boat was larger. I can remember thinking it almost too big. The thrill of knowing I would soon fill the space with treasures. But as fast as I collected them, they fell away, one by one, leaving the space feeling smaller each time.
I watch as the ripples die and the water stills. I could be sat on a sheet of glass. I’ve often thought that if I could convince myself this was true, I could step out onto that deep green expanse and simply walk away, unburdened by the memories I have collected. That I could transform this water into the wide expanse of possibility it once was rather than the prison it has become. Yet I know each time I move, the glass will be marred again by the shifting of my keel.
And soon enough, it shall be disturbed by other things.
I could swear there were more of us when I set out. I did not intend to travel alone. An entire fleet filled the bay. Some on their way out onto the water, others tied to wharves as they prepared for launch, all of us filled with excitement for what was to come. When our own flotilla broke away, picking our course by casual consent, our sails filled with a grand sense of adventure. So many of us then, our boats weaving in and out of each other as we broke free. Coming together at night, we would bind our vessels together, jumping from deck to deck for sweet moments of shared experience. Many boats as one. Then in the morning, we would separate, mingling once more as our voyage continued.
There. A little way off to my right, I see it. This one doesn’t look familiar. I do not know where this feeling comes from. I’ve simply grown to believe I have seen some shapes before and others not. Some come most days. Others only once. I have begun to wonder, were these here, following us, from the beginning? Had we simply perhaps not been looking.
I watch the water, stretching out from horizon to horizon. This vast, deep, unending body of liquid has become my entire world. It’s funny, for so long we sought to escape all sight of land. Were we seeking our own? A place for us to settle? Or did we simply strive to leave the old behind us with too little thought as to what came next? I can no longer remember for sure.
I turn my head, watching the shape as it approaches beneath the surface. As always, it never quite breaks the surface, rising in a low mound with trails running behind it to betray its approach. The way they move feels almost familiar, in a way I cannot put my finger on. Almost as if they were something I once knew. That I once studied, only to allow the knowledge to be forgotten. Did I not pay enough attention? Or was it simply too long ago to remember?
Our numbers steadily thinned without my realising. And even when I looked around to see fewer boats sailing with my own, I told myself it did not matter. Some sailed away alone, others in small groups. They when their way, we continued on in ours. I convinced myself those who remained would be stronger. More likely to stick it out with me. When we found our destination - if indeed we had one - there would be less need for compromise.
The shape under the water comes closer, almost touching the boat but swerving away at the last moment. They never do make contact. Only swim by, adding their ripples to my own until the once flat expanse becomes choppy and unsettled. Maybe if I were able to keep still, others would not come. But I am never able to hold myself back from leaning in to try and catch and glimpse at the creature beneath the surface. To recognise these, my only remaining companions.
When we realised we could no longer see land, none of us could say exactly it had slipped away. We simply looked up, and the horizon remained flat in all directions. The endless deep water had overtaken us. And only then did I realise how much we had relied on that land we claimed to have left behind. Because without it at our backs, where were we actually going? That evening we first saw the shapes beneath the water. Small at first. Inconsequential. Something to be discussed over a lazy evening’s conversation. One day they might become a problem, but today merely exist as a curiosity. In the past, there always felt there would be time to prepare at some later date.
I turn away from the water. It will be night against soon. They seem longer now, but perhaps that is because I am alone. It is at night that the fog comes, so thick I cannot see more than a few feet from my bow. Any one of my old friends could sail by, and I would have no clue of it happening. Perhaps that happens every night, with neither of us knowing what we have missed.
The first few nights, the fog was light. A mist hovering on the surface of the water. A curiosity, nothing more. Then one night, it came thicker, so fast it was too late to tie our boats together. And when the day came and burned it away, I was alone. The endless body of water lay empty. I sat alone in a sea of memories, unable to believe our grand flotilla had become reduced to myself alone. Did they leave me? Or did I float away, leaving them on our original path while I drifted off in the night? I cannot even say how many of us were left when I last saw them. The voyage had become more routine than adventure, and I fear it had begun to lose my attention.
More shapes have come, as I knew they would, circling around me, churning the water and causing my boat to rock and toss. I sat straight, hands grasping the rail. I don’t believe they can tip me over, but I have begun to fear that maybe their strength is growing. I have lost the confidence I once held in my craft. No longer what it once was, I fear it could one day prove unsafe in ways I would have once not even considered.
Soon, it will come, bringing the night with it. I am used to this routine now. First, I remain still. Then, eventually, I will move, sending out the ripples that will summon the waiting shapes beneath the water. Then, after they have played and gambolled around me, it will come. And behind it will trail the fog that denoted the fall of night.
I cannot remember how long I have been alone. But then, I cannot remember how long ago we set out. Or why. Or what came before. Did I not pay time enough attention? Did it abandon me for my failure to pay it its due? All I know is I was alone today, as I was yesterday. And the day before that, I think. Then all becomes memory, distorted and unreliable.
There. I see it now. Out on the horizon. A great shadow under the water. This one does not disturb the surface, simply casts an impossibly great shadow upon it. I cannot tell if this is some great creature of the far deep, or perhaps some chemical agent in the water itself. Nor do I know whether it is attracted by the dance of the things around me or if it follows its own schedule. But the shapes around me will scatter any second now. There. There they all go, dropping away into the deeper waters to wherever it is they wait out the night. The way they flee its approach makes me wonder if I should fear it more than I do. Yet what good would fear do? There is nothing I could do to avoid it. So I simply watch. I could not tell you how long it takes to reach me from the horizon. Time no longer touches me in the way it once did. All I know is when it reaches me, it brings with it the fog which will billow around me in an all-encompassing curtain. Then night will fall, and I shall wait in silence for the day to come. Then I shall see the infinite horizon once again.
And when it comes, that horizon shall be a little closer.
I am certain of this now. Each morning, the world around me grows smaller. Gradually, day by day, the horizon closes in around me, drawn tighter by some hand I cannot perceive. What will happen when it reaches me? I wonder if I should be afraid. Yet what could fear do to save me?
So I simply sit, looking out across the water.