Voyage Of La Bailarina
By Michael Sean
Voyage Of La Bailarina
Bella’s hands shook as she fastened the rigging in place. The swells over Old Cuba rolled higher as clouds swirled above. She knew not whether her hands shook from hunger, fear, or anticipation. Two fish a day in the belly of an eleven-year-old girl amounted to nothing. The hunger plagued her with shaking hands, belly pains, and a dull ache behind her eyes. With a storm on the horizon, fear filled the empty place between her last fish and her longing for the next. Dark brown eyes, full of hope, scanned the eastern horizon.
Papá had built La Bailarina with his own hands with every intention of crewing her with Bella. The small single-mast sailboat earned her name. She glided gracefully over rolling swells. Her polished mahogany deck and rails spoke of Papá’s impeccable attention to detail. Her blooming triangular sail flapped pure white stained with the hue of too many storms. Papá’s words echoed in remembered instruction from the bow to the stern.
Bella’s only crew member was a pathetic, yet cute substitute for Papá. Día mewed from her box just inside the cabin door. The kitten’s belly had been empty for too long and she stared up at Bella with pleading hungry eyes. Bella relented with a sigh, “Fine, I’ll cast until the wind picks up.”
Bella eyed the grey swollen sky with a shiver and dreadful groan. She swung her rain poncho over her shoulders and hurried to the long crate containing her rod and tackle. A cool front glided in on a steady breeze as Bella cast over a dark swell. The drag of the line pulled more aggressively than usual do to La Bailarina’s dance over the rising waves.
Bella tried not to think of the drowned world below. She had not known asteroids could carry such an exponential amount of water to Earth. Nothing could have prepared the world for the dystopian ocean that now covered the globe. An asteroid named, Eirene, smashed into Antarctica. A shockwave of hurricanes dumped Eirene's water all over the earth.
Papá built custom sail boats for a living, but La Bailarina was a special project. The sailboat was a gift for Bella and named for her first love. First came ballet then sailing. He had chosen the worst possible time to meet with his old clients in Santa Domingo. Bella intended to be his skipper for their summer trip through the Caribbean. Papá had flown to his childhood home, last minute, with promises to return soon.
“Whoa!” Bella shrieked as the rod’s tip dipped with an assault of violent tugs on the line. She recovered from the shock of the fish’s assault and abandoned herself to ecstatic laughter. No matter how many fish Bella caught, it always felt like the first time. She decided to stow her excitement as she jammed the rod’s handle into its rail-mounted holder.
“Oh, please, please, don’t get away,” Bella begged the fish below as it fought with great skill against the line. She strained against the reel with burning arms and locked shoulders. The fish would probably not pull Bella overboard, but just the thought of it required action. She locked her knees against the rail in a half squat that made use of every muscle in her back. Raindrops pattered onto her poncho and beaded on her face as she wrestled with the line.
Small bouts of relief vibrated up the line as the fish jumped out of the water several times. The sprinkle of rain droplets grew gradually heavier just before the fish jumped. This time it battered the side of the boat. Bella shrieked, then laughed at herself and grabbed a long pole net to lift a large snook from the water. She whooped and punched the air in excitement as the snook flopped on the deck. It had to be close to four feet long.
An hour later rain sizzled and hissed as it beat the lid to the hot deck grill. Día sat in Bella’s lap and shared a large plate of flaky white grilled fish. The plate steamed into the air of the cozy cabin as a downpour battered the deck outside. Bella had survived so many storms in La Bailarina she had lost count. The trip to Santa Domingo did not take four weeks under normal circumstances. A stormy planet covered in ocean was not exactly normal.
Santa Domingo was not Bella’s exact destination. Pico Duarte was the highest peak in the Dominican Republic. Papá had called Bella to give her the coordinates of the peak before the first storm wiped out communication. Bella checked the GPS to find it was searching for a signal. She did not despair, she knew the signal would return after the storm. She only hoped she would not go too far off course in the storm.
Under Bella’s bed a waterproof locker held a music box with a dancing ballerina. Hidden in the bottom of the box was a heart-shaped locket with a kraken engraved in the dull gray metal. Bella pushed a pin and the locket snapped open. Tucked inside was a picture of Bella with her arm around Papá’s shoulders. She sighed as she tucked the locket into her wetsuit and thought to herself, one more storm, you can do this.
Bella donned her harness over the wetsuit and tucked Día into her floating crate. The wind blew over the deck in menacing gusts. Glad she had not taken down the storm sail, Bella checked the rigging before heading up to the stern. La Bailarina rocked dangerously as Bella stumbled her way into the semi-covered cockpit. She quickly secured her harness and double checked her deployable lifeboat. The harness was attached to the stern base and the lifeboat crate. If she capsized, Bella would have to break away from the stern. If that happened, she wanted the lifeboat attached to her.
Though Bella instinctively knew the direction of the swells, she confirmed by engaging the fog lights. As if in response the storm stabbed the sea with a blinding bolt of lightning. Seconds later, the rolling thunder vibrated across the deck and through Bella’s body. The rain blew down against the windshield in gusty sheets.
Sleeping during storms had produced some of Bella’s best naps in life. On this night, she was captain of La Bailarina and there would be no sleep. Lightning gave Bella occasional glimpses into the wall of rain. She steered the boat into the swells at an angle. The GPS was still down, but the compass told her she was moving southeast.
Bella gasped; the wind changed direction dramatically and drenched her with a torrent of rain. She cranked on the wheel desperate to keep La Bailarina moving into the rolling swells. At their highest the swells were taller than the boat’s main deck. If one of those monstrous waves caught her broadside, the boat would capsize. Fighting with the wheel and squinting into the wall of rain, Bella fought her way into the heart of the storm.
Minutes felt like hours. The rain was apocalyptically loud and unrelenting. Wave after wave rocked the stern up and down. Bella was convinced she on some post-apocalyptic amusement ride. The swell was a wall ahead as La Bailarina struggled to ascend. With the bow pointed skyward and the swell rolling too fast to climb, Bella’s breath caught in her chest. Her last thought was a memory of holding her mother’s hand bedside in a grim hospital room.
Bella’s feet slipped on the deck, her hands lost the wheel, and the bow entered the wave. Ocean water washed over La Bailarina in a sweeping blow. Bella cried out as she hung at the full extent of her harness. She couldn’t think of what to do next, only that she was about to die.
Her body hit the deck, which felt like a river was running over it. Using her harness to orient herself, Bella pulled her way to the stern. La Bailarina rumbled and tossed as if she were about to come apart. Bella reached for the carabiner that attached her to the stern when lightning lit up the night. Somehow, she had managed to stay afloat. La Bailarina was descending the large wave. Ahead the swells looked smaller as dangerous dark purple clouds swirled overhead.
A sigh of relief at being alive passed through Bella. Her legs and hands shook as her thighs and hips throbbed where the harness had caught her. The storm was not over, so Bella recommitted herself to surviving it. She thought of her father’s grief over the loss of his wife and knew he could suffer no more loss. The whole world was lost, but if they could reunite there was hope.
The people who weren’t already drowned would struggle to survive the storms. Not for the first time that night, Bella had to push the thought of humankind out of her mind. She robotically committed to the actions of sailing through the storm. She ignored the emotion that sat heavy on her chest, and the throbbing within her exhausted body.
The rain came softer as other sounds returned to the world; a kitten crying in her crate below deck and flapping of a broken sail. The late night gave way to early morning and stars peeked through the clouds. Bella felt she had run a marathon before losing a boxing match. The breeze chilled her as she inhaled the petrichor lingering in the storms wake.
Bella replaced the tattered storm sail, reset the GPS, and aimed La Bailarina in the right direction. She was too tired to calculate the distance, so she dried herself and donned a fresh pair of pajamas. Light bruises showed on her dark skin where the harness had snatched her. Giving her pain an acknowledging thought, Bella fell into bed and slept with Día curled under her arm.
A soreness lay over Bella like a lead blanket. She woke with a groan and climbed out of bed. Día was already awake, chasing sunlight reflected through the portside window. Bella knew she would spend her day working on the boat with no time to fish. She ate a handful of leftover fish and turned on the water desalination system. She waited wondering if there had been enough sun to charge the battery, then it hummed to life.
Squinting against the afternoon sun, Bella strolled to the bow for her morning stretch. The routine had been one she learned in ballet and would give her muscles some relief. Her arms felt like lead from wresting the wheel all night. Her belly rumbled as she stretched, and she ignored it. Next to her Día watched curiously.
The rail was cool in Bella’s hands as she used it to twist and pop the tension in her back. Eyes closed she focused on her breath and the release within her body. She opened her eyes and laughed out loud. There was an island in the distance off the starboard side. As La Bailarina grew closer, Bella realized it was not an island, but a mountain top. It was the first land she had seen since the world flooded.
Unlike islands there was no beach. Rocks and grass made up the shore with trees in the distance. Standing from his blanket in the grass a familiar man waved at La Bailarina and shouted, “Mija!”
“Papá!" Bella shouted back as the boat drew near and tears clouded her vision. She laughed again and wiped the tears from her eyes. She loved La Bailarina for seeing her through the apocalypse, and she loved the man who had built the hearty sailboat.