grace in the waves

Most of the men keep their eyes on the deck, because if you look beyond the ship all you’ll see is a lonely horizon. There’s nothing to see here but oceans all around. No silhouettes of rescue ships, because we were sent on this voyage to die and no one’s coming for us. We’re all of us liars, killers, traitors, and thieves, with no grace in our homeland and no hope on the ocean. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from coming together to try saving ourselves. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll find some port where we won’t be immediately rejected. And perhaps the ocean will dry up before we all drown.

I’m the youngest criminal on board the ship, but not the least deserving. I don’t want to discuss my crimes. I know them well, the courts know them well, and God knows them well. Disclosing them here will not change my fate.

It’s storming today. “We’ve survived worse, men,” says our de facto captain, but the more the rain pours, the more the lightning flashes, the more the thunder crashes, and the more the ship pitches beneath my bare feet, the more I become concerned. What if this is it? Even though I know I’m going to die, I’m not ready for it.

We all know how we’re going to die. If it’s not starvation, it will be drowning. I’m not sure which one would be worse. And honestly, I haven’t thought about it much. Like I said, I know it’s going to happen, but I haven’t felt it yet. Death is such a foreign phenomenon, so incomprehensible, that its inevitability doesn’t even feel real.

But now, today, the waves are as wild and choppy as I’ve ever seen them, and my stomach is as roiled as I can remember. “We’re going to make it,” I tell myself, because frankly that’s my only choice. The one option I have is to trust that we can save ourselves from this nightmare. We’ll sink for our sins someday, but it won’t be today.

Men scramble all around me, screaming orders at one another and pulling on ropes. I see a group of burly men playing tug of war with the gales and for whatever reason I decide they could use my help. I grab a hold of the rope and pull. It burns my hands like fire, but I bite the inside of my cheek and pull again. I’m not going down with the ship.

My palms feel like they’re being shredded. Rain soaks my clothes. My arms ache. The winds whip my hair around my face. My feet are being stabbed by little splinters poking out of the deck. The smell of unwashed men burns in my nostrils.

But I’m not going down with the ship.

And then I’m flying. It seems almost surreal, like I’ve been plucked from the horror by the hand of heaven.

But I slip through the fingers and hit the water with a crash and the deafness of drowning. Deeper and deeper I sink. No flailing of my arms or my legs can fight it. I never learned how to swim. I was a guttersnipe, after all!  When would I have had time to learn to swim?

My heart seizes with terror and I open my mouth to

i killed my mother

scream. Nothing comes out, but

i stood over her sleeping body and gripped her throat in my bare hands

only water rushes in. That’s when I realize I am going to

she never even woke up

die. I try to look up, but I don’t even know which direction that is. All I know now is

i’m a killer

the burning in my lungs. Everything else is

sink sinner sink


there is no grace in the waves


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