The fiddle’s melody floats over the air like wind, never ceasing its call to dance. It’s a good tune, one you can rollick to if you take the mind. In my younger years I would cavort with the best of them. Or with the worst of them. My father would’ve said it was the worst of them. Sailors and wenches, scoundrels, pirates; these are my eternal company. As I said, I danced along without care in my youth. Now?
In the corner of a bar sits a man with a jar.
It’s grog he swills, and if the fate so wills,
he’ll spy a lady from afar.
His soul’s aflame with desire for her name
There’s no telling what he will do;
He’s been on a quest for a break in his rest,
To sail again into the blue.
“So,” he thinks, “if I ask her to drink,
Will she throw down a coin and commit to join
My flirtation with the brink?
Or will this fate I’ve worked to create
Finally, a companion deliver?”
He prays to his God, that poor rotten sod,
And swears never to leave ‘er.
I’ve been writing that poem for God knows how many years, and that’s the best I can come up with. I’ve stared at the words until my eyes smarted. Yes, even here in paradise, there’s pain. You have to go out looking for it, but it’s here. The physical variety, anyway. The other kind? The grief that cuts deeper than any blade, that takes and twists love– love, that ultimate joy– and uses it to break you? That’s here in spades, masked by mulled mead and dancing.
You can drink yourself into a headache and smoke until your throat bleeds. Most folks here don’t; most haven’t tried. Why ought they to? Everything is unceasingly pleasant. You have to work for that hangover and keep the pipe burning far longer than you have any reason to. You have to throw yourself off the dock with stones in your shoes and struggle against the water’s pressure against your throat. You have to be willing to scream, to run against the current of the dance and cry out against the veneer of joy. You have to-
What do you mean, “why?”
Tell me, do you remember your mother? It comes down to mothers more often than not, I’ve found. Sometimes it’s wives, but usually folks in our set with terrors for mothers never sought wives. The same’s true for the ladies, I’ve found. It’s usually the mothers that get ‘em, not the fathers. So I ask, do you remember your mother? Yes? Pahst- positi- In a good light?
Picture her. Remember the way she could, when you were scarce old enough to think, banish the evil of the world with an arm around her shoulder. She bathed you, yes? Did you not stay in the barrel until the water cooled and you shivered, just to spend an extra moment with her?
Look around. Is your mother here?
Nor is my wife.
My son? Verdict’s out if he’ll make it. God, I hope not.
My daughter? I’d kill to keep her far from here.
I’d kill to see her face again. Any of their faces.
My father warned me against the life of the sailor. He was an idiot, my father. Of course he knew nothing of adventure, of the spice that invigorates young blood and turns the horizon into a possibility instead of a limit. What did he know, a bookkeeper who often couldn’t keep food on the table? So I cursed him, and I ran.
My father was wise. I was a fool.
I am a fool.
I am a fool who managed to cobble together a good life and hold it for some time. I loved my wife– I never touched a wench again after our wedding, though I was gone for months at a time– and that love was the mortar that held everything together.
One storm, and deep joy was replaced with cursory pleasure.
One storm, and my soul was rent asunder by the very love that composed it.
“Supposed to be heaven,” you say? Drink up mate; if you’ve got to be in hell, at least pretend to enjoy it while you can. Do you hear the fiddle? See, even I can’t keep my foot from tapping for long. Come, let’s dance, you and I and everyone else who's been cast to the sea.
As I walked by the dockside one evening so fair
To view the salt waters and take in the salt air
I heard an old fisherman singing a song
Oh, take me away boys me time is too long