She emerged as an apparition one night, a glowing ember on reflective waves, and danced her devotion to the star-flecked sky. She did this every night, for her admirers spanned galaxies. Constellations pushed through the dark cloak that is always thickest over endless water, and as the years passed, the sky became even whiter with birthing stars. It is said that she is the cosmic mother, that her movements send a ripple of light upward to undulate with ether, and from this holy union comes a new chapter in a never-ending tale. The universe will end if she stops dancing.
But she must dance, or she will die: The energy inside of her is vast and untamed, a fire hotter than Earth’s molten core and greater than the lightning in the clouds. It is because of her alone that the ocean warms each season, that shoals of pilchards flit the coast in a sinuous mirror made of scales, that hurricanes roll off the hip of Africa to slide westward, in pursuit of her inimitable path. The energy consumes her if it is not expressed, just as the Sun would burn into oblivion were it not for the nine tiny dependents cradled in his gravitational embrace. She dances for herself, but mostly for the newborn stars: In their pure reflection, infinitely white, she sees herself as love.
As in any saga of destruction, there was a man. He was not a bad man. But he was empty. He grew old on the turbulent sea, his own fire extinguished long ago as he sentenced himself to solitude on a vessel welded with the armor of his heart. He had dreamed of the sea since he first saw it, his young eyes peering over the damp wall that protected his village from the waves. He learned to speak the language of tides, intoxicated himself on the kelp-coated wind that carried news from other lands. His was a fishing village, so a seafaring life was his lot. But he was not one of those men: the arrogant ones who filled their hulls with the greed of conquistadors, the drunken, salt-hardened thieves who took and took and took from a bounty that never ceased. When the man gazed at the sea, he only wanted to give. In its glimmering reflection, he saw himself as love.
There was a woman once. She held his longing like a warm, safe home, and as the years passed, the fire in his soul flowed into her arms until she held his very last cinder. And then she left. She was not a bad woman, but she was empty. When there was nothing left to take, the man ceased to exist, for without the fire in his soul he was no longer a man.
Fallen and forgotten, he cut anchor and set out for the horizon. He would sail until he got there. He didn’t care that he would never get there, or that in a matter of months the gulls would be picking at his bones. Each day was a waiting room in eternity. The waves were gray and bleak, lapping the boards in a rhythm that drove him mad. This was not the same sea that enchanted him as a child. The water was the same, but seen through eyes that no longer burned with life, it was only an element, a collection of molecules. The dolphins and fish and the shy drizzled rainbows all fled his forcefield of despair. Every move is a navigation error when a man is adrift. Instead of flowing with the current that carries those who are one with it, a man who is adrift repels himself with polar intensity, the blackness of his sorrow like metal shards driven from the magnetism of all that is good.
A ship directed by a compass would have never crossed into the goddess’s realm. But his did, and on that moonless night, when she emerged from the sea, the man felt his dormant heart begin to stir.
She did not notice him, because the ship was dark. There is no use for candlelight when the only company is one’s own misery. With the flick of her wrists, sparks ricocheted off foaming crests while the stars spawned celestial families of their own; beneath her, flecks of plankton stretched with light, setting in motion an evolutionary wheel that will one day become the beings that save the Earth.
As the man watched her disappear into the inkwell of the sea, time began again, and for the first time in many months he did not want to die.
The ship did not move. Like the fevered remnants of a lucid dream, the otherworldly figure occupied his every thought. His thirst was a drought-starved jackal, and he siphoned her motions into veins that once again pulsed with blood. He grew stronger with each passing night.
She, on the other hand, grew empty. It happened slowly. She did not notice it at first, but when she retreated to the ocean floor, her limbs, normally electrified, felt numb. A quiet discontent grew in her. Maybe it was her imagination, but the stars no longer gleamed. They were dull and flat, distant and still. The discontent soon grew into distress. She couldn’t lose them. She didn’t understand why she was losing them.
One night the man lit a candle, for with her in his veins he was no longer alone. The brightness startled her. She only knew light as it appeared from above. And yet, there it was, on the horizon, a star so close! Joy trickled through her. She yearned for the divine balance that nourished her, a union so precious it cannot be described.
As the weeks passed, she danced, but the star did not move. She danced harder. The love flowed from her, hemophilic, like a river after heavy rain. With her last bit of resolve, she came closer to plead with the star. And that is when she saw the man: his eyes locked on her, his face glowing and powerful. In an instant she understood. The goddess dove beneath the waves and vowed to never dance again.
Her energy consumed her. As she thrashed, fault lines split the ocean floor. The water heated to a boil and reefs from Tasmania to Samoa turned white in shock. In the north, glaciers mourned as they lost their stature, watched helplessly as the history encased in their prehistoric skin slid unhindered into the sea. Ice dwellers swam confused circles around their dwindling home, while the creatures who surfed the tumultuous currents landed continents away from where they hoped to be. A brave white shark, ambassador of the deep, ventured close to offer his strength, but his sinewy flesh was seared, and he and his tribe fled to coastlines where frightened humans wielded spears. Her tears were so unrelenting that they doubled the Pacific’s salt; each of her thunderous sobs produced a wave taller than Kilimanjaro that destroyed ships, destroyed villages, and threatened to destroy the world.
When the sun set the next day and she did not emerge, the man stared vacantly at the wooden deck. He tried to recall the memory of her but could not. Her energy was gone.
A single tear turned to twenty. They seeped from the calloused corners of his eyes and from the pores of wind-burnt skin. They escaped from deep within his chest, where they had been banished to unspeakable darkness. Twenty turned to twenty thousand. The carefully guarded walls in his body began to crumble. Twenty thousand turned to twenty trillion. Tears from his throat and his gut and the small forgotten crevices calcified by time merged into a torrent. His sadness flooded the ship, and the man began to drown.
What flashes before a man’s eyes when he is grasping for his last breath in a quarry of his own emptiness?
The sea. In its glimmering reflection, the man saw himself as love.
For the salty water released from his soul contained everything that was not his: the hardness that replaced what was taken from him, and the life force thieved as his own. The man did not die that night, but the illusion of himself did. As daylight broke, he saw the sea with new eyes, the eyes of a child peering over the village wall, and for the first time in forty years, he only wanted to give. He brushed the dust off his compass and hoisted his sails.