The sun was still high enough to makes the waves a bright blue, changing to jewel green near the shore. Small darts of color moved in the current. The sand was pure white, still too glaring to look at. Laid out in the sand, with no towel, only his bare skin absorbing the heat, Roger reached his arm over his eyes for shade.
The skiff was a few steps away he’d come in; to sea, just beyond the coral reef, was his sailing boat, La Dolce Vita. It was a white line sprouting from blue at this distance. The skiff was made from polished wood, a warm brown in the light. Roger thought of moving, but the thought left him. A constant breeze flowed from the sea, leaving him warm and cool at the same moment. Individual grains of sand moved under his arms and legs. The sky was without clouds.
Roger turned his head toward the skiff. Between them a small crab walked up and down the ripples of sand. Its legs were little spasms of movement between rest. It found a patch of wet sand, ran quickly to a hole and disappeared. The sun was just a bit lower, but Roger did not notice. He closed his eyes.
In all this calm his thoughts were a storm. He considered life, death – all his usual preoccupations. Not one muscle moved along the length of his body. His fingers opened and closed once, but that was all. The wind kept touching him, caressing. He felt it all, parallel to his mind’s course.
Only with his body so empty could his mind be so full. No one knew the island but him, he supposed. He came here when the quiet of his city apartment was not quiet enough.
There were no clouds today. Everything was one color only, the anthem of the sea’s hue played in the symphony of the sky. He turned on his side when not turning was a greater effort. Dried sand trickled down. The sun was kissing his back, his hands, his legs; the wind and the sun together.
A new color came into the sky. He did not see it. It was the faintest green, impossible one moment, real the next. Had he measured, the sun would have seemed almost larger. It was fattening, gaining weight, slouching in the sky. Its cheeks were rosy. A jolly old sun, well past middle-age. Roger never saw the change. It did not ask to be seen.
The waves did not stop, but the receding tide made their sounds fainter. Only a whole day’s comparison could know the difference. He had spent a whole day. He did not compare or listen. The threads of his hair jumped about in the breeze: a flag to his state of mind. The stillness of his body was matched by the speed of his thought. Pressed, channeled, racing. He twitched a foot that itched for no reason.
The sun was only a flame now. The sea had the look of rippled glass. From shore to sun a red streak led into evening. The waves had left the skiff, drawing back. A single tooth had been added to the bite of the wind.
Roger turned again without realizing it. His body was aware; his mind spared no attention. The only sound was the sailboat’s main halyard, ringing on the mast. He had forgotten to tie it off. He had stopped hearing it hours ago.
The sun dipped and sank and the skies changed into night. Little points of stars winked into being one by one. The waves crept back up the shore. A sliver of the moon braved the horizon. There was still a shade of blue everywhere, but it was fading.
The sloop at rest was like a skeleton of some beast left to bleach in the sun. It did not drift. Nothing moved. Roger, his arm up, on his side, could not have said whether the sun had left. Its attentions were wasted. The wind kept up its embrace but slackened with the cooling of the day. Softly, gently, the night crept on without disturbing the placid figure. He may have moved even. It was too dark to tell.
At last his thoughts were complete and he took a deep breath as if remembering to breathe. He sat up and looked around for the colors now lost, for the sun now gone. It took a moment to name the vast darkness. Night. Night had fallen. He stood up and brushed the sand from his skin. Waves lapped lazily at his skiff as they had when he lay down. To a sailor, he knew what this lack of difference meant. Half a day under the sun.
Roger walked over to the skiff, its hull half wet, half dry, moored by its own weight. The world around him was like a revelation. So different from the day. He looked at the ripples of light on the waves, at the moon half-risen, as if his thoughts had conjured this place. Dapples of starlight played on the wet wood of the skiff. Light had left the world to become more precious, more poignant by its absence.
The wind was chiller now, though weak. The halyard had stopped slapping the mast. The waves and wind were a silence more profound than any lack of noise. Roger stopped in his walking, held fast by the tranquillity. When he could move again, he did.
The skiff was sluggish, in love with the sand. His whole back strained but it shifted only one inch toward the water. Then something gave way and its affections changed, reaching for the sea faster and faster until it was bobbing on the surf.
The moon was full, squat and huge on the horizon. Impossibly large. The night was a different world: a black sky and the sun’s ghost, the only cloud an arm of the galaxy. In this underworld the boat awaited him like Charon, to ferry the gap between life and the beyond. All the souls of heaven were waiting, points of light in the sky. The moon bore no crown, but was king.
Roger climbed into the skiff and set the oars, taking one last look at shore. It was empty, a single copse of trees only. It was also full of memories. A stage that fitted the theater of his mind. It had watched every act and its audience was the rarest kind: a reverent silence. How much he had seen where nothing was. Between the two, it was more bustling with energy than the cities he had left. Even a city, without its mind, would return to such stillness and void. He had made this place his city.
He pulled the oars, feeling a new resistance. The skiff did not like to move. His muscles bunched in his arms, straining against the weight and the water. Slowly the beach receded and a liquid form of sky collected around him. The oars dipped in and out, scattering pale lights in the near tranquil surface. Inside the reef, the waves were gentle, slight, breaking in thin lines on the sand. The moonlight streaked on the water, alive. It made the sea seem still and the lights in motion. He cut through it with his oars and watched the lights pass slowly by.
The sailboat was closer, enlarging as the moon shrank over time. There was an easy channel between the shore and the boat’s mooring. The reef could not be seen through the blackness of the water.
Soon the mainmast was high in the sky, the moon vaulting over. The wind had increased, from the shore. Or maybe it only seemed to change in relation to the island, submerged in vaster currents from the continent. It did not matter. While he was here all terms related to himself and his surroundings. The little island would have fit within a hug at this distance.
The sailboat was large and proud, a feline form relaxing but always ready. On the bowsprit the words “La Dolce Vita” were painted in blue letters. Along the waterline it was also blue. Or he knew it to be. In the moonlight everything was a shade of grey.
There was a cloud now from somewhere. It was small and brighter than seemed possible. The sense of its motion was supplied by the feeling of the wind. Otherwise everything was still, motionless. It was also all in movement – the cloud, the moon, the stars – but at its own pace. Roger reached to the boat and lashed the winch lines. He climbed the small rope ladder on the side.
The boat pulled tight at its anchor rode, straining as at a leash. From above it was only a slender white form in the void. It responded little to Roger’s weight. It was fifty feet in length and weighted for sea voyaging. The hull flared out with a generous tumblehome. The transom was slanted into the sea. The hull was a thick, white strip between the deck and the water. Roger covered the distance in four steps and stood aboard. He winched in the skiff, and it lay on deck slick with moonlight.
He turned on the arc-lights on the spreaders. The night was obliterated. As easily as a finger’s movement the stars were erased and the moon changed to a humble figure. The one cloud seemed darker now. It had not moved far.
Quickly, but with a practiced, neat efficiency, Roger awakened the boat from sleep. It was a sloop with jib and spinnaker available at a touch, electronically. The canvas was middle-weight, suitable for these latitudes. Roger untied the mainsail and latched the halyard, now banging again. His hand held the line with a sensual touch.
He hauled the main upright. Its weight resisted the call to duty, but it was willing. As the wind found it it became easier; the sail remembering its purpose and grew excited. The final pulls were both the hardest and the easiest. The canvas jumped playfully at the breeze; the leech slapped the wind in impatience.
Made fast, the luff taut, the boom shook from port to starboard and back. Roger tightened on the mainsheet and the sail filled. The only sense of motion was in the slackening of the rode. He steered over it, easing the anchor from the soil of the sea. He ran forward to haul it free and gathered the rode onto its drum. The links of the chain were cold and wet. The anchor held a few grains of sand that dripped to the deck. The boat was underway.
With a touch he unfurled the jib. It greedily drank in huge gulps of air and exhaled a fresh breeze into Roger’s face. The main took a firm, hard shape. The bow bit at the waves. Beyond the boat the night was calm, the waves low, but they gained speed in a close reach. The wind became stiff, ten knots increasing to twenty. The rudder responded like a waiting lover. The hull sang with inaudible music. The sail were full and proud, yearning into the distance with a palpable lust. She was alive and she was joyous, and Roger stroked her tiller’s curving shape with fondness. He could not imagine having left to visit the shore. This was his steed on which to ride the world – and he had left her waiting. It seemed unthinkable.
He killed the arc-lights and the night returned. The two were chasing the moon, making no headway at terrific speed. The one cloud watched them impassively, receding slowly. There were too many scales and measures of movement. He felt they were streaking through space on the wind itself; the wind did not notice their travel. The sea gave no clues, its distances intangible. The white spray at the bow seemed to come from nowhere: the wind brought low to the waves and fighting.
She kept on for hours without a course, preferring whichever direction kept the wind in his face. It was not the most efficient point of sail, but it was the most exciting. The boat seemed to deserve that after so much rest. He as well.
He steered with one foot on the tiller, leaning back, his eyes closed. Everything he needed to know his body told him – she told him through the tensions of her body. He listened to her song and adjusted whenever he heard a note of melancholy. She leapt at the loving caress, and the two fed each other’s soul until far in the night.
He did not know when the day came. They did not know. Exhausted, the wind spent, they merely lay still in the happiness of morning. When the day brought the winds back, they resumed. They were now as one, underway on the limitless reaches of the sea.
Roger and his craft, together, came upon the approaching day. Without the sun yet in the sky, it appeared as if they were nearing an island of light beyond the horizon. First, the heavens turned a shade of pale, draining color from the stars, until one-by-one they stepped out from the hall of the sky. Then the waters became tinted as though somewhere, a secret hand were feeding blue drops into the black of the sea.
Though at first, it was all grey, only grey, the way the world may have seemed on its first day, before the creation of colors and of things to reveal them. Just a faint, weak grey turning black into not-black. The suggestion of colors occurred to the mind alone, who knew what they would become, and where appear. Then the grey lost its somber purity, admitting a secret joy that it, too, was eager to see the day come to life. He yielded – that pre-eternal, robed greyness of the first light – and stepped aside for the ladies, blue and pink and rose. Quickly they came, playing marigolds into the sky, throwing bouquets that fanned the light all over, from one side of the horizon to the other.
The sails of La Dolce Vita changed through every shade of white, now becoming true, and even catching some of the colored rays as well as the wind. The teak panels of the deck remembered their coffee brown, the mast’s aluminum its silver, the brass fittings their almost-gold, and the flecked lines their flecks, as they ran fore and aft. The sun rose to mount its throne in the sky, and he bestowed favor on all his subjects, ranking them by the colors he chose to give.
All around, there was naught to be seen but the perfect sea. Nor line, but the horizon’s circle that kept the border of ocean from heaven’s blue. The sun, that could not be seen, made it all visible, and all one by the many shades of blue: light above, dark below.
In the interface between water and sky, the constant congress of waves made a stately progression from east to west. Some large, some small; some true on their course, others erring to north or south; some meeting, some parting, some synchronized at ever the same distance. No two were the same, yet all were of one name, one essence. It was a kingdom of forms whose brotherhood was absolute.
And somewhere in those depths, Roger knew, swam the great mammals of the sea. Their pounding flukes offered towering sprays to the wind. Their noble brow might gather ten thousand heads of men to equal such a furrow. Their back slapped the seas like a child’s hand in a bathtub. Their heavy suspirations could be seen at a mile’s distance. Their eyes roved in watchful contemplation, whose sight had known all the fathoms of the deep. And somewhere, they toiled and played, raised their pups, sang great, epic poems whose heroes may have watched the first fires of men with dark foreboding. Yet none were visible in all the folded carpet of the sea’s blue. It was empty, that sea; yet it was full. It was the limit of the eye that made the difference.
Ahead rose the sun’s ruby crown. The king awoke to his labors, setting the waters aflame with ardor, summoning adoration by a mere glance, and bowing all heads that could not master the vision. The sea was his cup of wine, from which he rising head was wont to sip. As the redness of morning passed, he lifted up a wreath of golden fire, and covered his face in a veil of light that denied the furtive peeks of the profane. He stood so his head looked over the horizon, and his considered his creation thoughtfully, and found it merited another day.
But how long, a pilgrimage to that king; how far, the distance between. La Dolce Vita climbed over the waves time and again, hour after hour, but made no headway. He was the easiest goal to sail for, but the hardest isle to reach. Even with wings she did not possess, the wandering ship would have deepened her sense of failure. The whole of the sky was his kingdom, forbidden to foot and sail; while the sea was her domain: a great, vast, beloved journey, never beyond the reach of his warm embrace. It was admiration alone that made the two as one, united in their roles of king and subject – as night and day are divided and united by the sun – so that in admiration she continued, her eyes and heart a well-spring of treasures, while all else served the clarity of her perception: waves and sky and sea.