The ship had taken three days to reach its destination. The rolling ocean gradually ground itself into Sam. In his tiny cabin, Sam could hear slapping waves. He could feel the cool sides of the hull, immersed in the dark waters. They had tried to make him come out of his cabin; it could wait. His stomach had been emptied so many times in the last three days he was skeletal, cheeks hollowed. He couldn’t stand the water. It felt like he was starring directly into her face. Her dark eyes pleading with him—to try and understand. Well, she could just go to hell, damn her—wait no, he loved her. He wanted to hate her desperately; he wanted to scream at her. Rage and agony. He wanted to hold her. His grief gnawed at him. He loved her. He felt betrayed and he wanted her back.
Sam sat on the edge of the bed, the wood ledge digging into his legs. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair. He should bathe. He should be presentable. This was undignified. Sam shut his eyes, a low guttural moan escaping his body. They would be here soon, he would have to go up there and face her, and he would have to let her go. A stream of sunlight poured in from the tiny porthole above his bed. The warm pine walls dispersed the light through the tiny room. One breath at a time that’s what he could manage.
He had refused to sleep since her death. She would visit him if he closed his eyes. Her pale hand touching his face. Her smile. Her eyes. Why did he ever bring her here? This would have never happened in back home. Her mother would have made sure her daughter—Christ! Why had he left her? When he returned to the colony he would find that witch. He would… He would do nothing.
The knock on the door startled him. “Mr. Peterson?” Could it be so soon?
“Yes,” he managed through his dry throat.
“The captain requests your presence on deck sir.”
“I’ll be up shortly.” What was left of his stomach twisted, he fought an overwhelming gagging sensation. Pull it together you idiot, it’s time.
“Very good sir.”
Unsteadily, he pulled himself up. Sam’s eyes burned. He pressed the flat of his hand against them, seeing little black spots jump as he pushed his hand into his face. Sam pushed his hair back, and pulled on his jacket. Smoothing his hands over the black cloth, he straitened his shoulders. Quietly, he made his way to the deck. He stopped only once at the bottom of the stairs. The light was blinding up there. He could see the ship mast piercing the blue sky, ropes crisscrossing—a latticework of tension. Cool air brushed his face. He heard footsteps above him; taking a deep breath he ascended the stairs.
The crew was assembled. Each man dressed in his finest standing rigid against the light breeze. The sun had settled on deck with all of the sails down. The ship felt empty, a floating skeleton. Excess rope lay curled neatly on deck. As far as Sam could see there was nothing but water, endless blue water.
She was lain out on a platform against the starboard side of the ship. Her body had been sewn into sail cloth. His beloved wife was now amorphous, and strange to him. Looking past the body, Sam watched the sunlight glitter on the cool water. He imagined her families’ stares resting on him, a missive had been sent. They would know that their Kate was dead. He would not answer any questions. Her wishes were to be honored.
“Let us begin,” the captain spoke, turning towards the body. The Boson let a shrill call escape his whistle. Every man on deck stood that much straighter. The ships chaplain stepped forward holding a bible. He stood head bowed, and in a low voice began the sermon. “He brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Sam was within arms reach of her body. He didn’t remember reaching out, but he could feel the tight weave of the cloth. There was heaviness underneath the thick cotton, finality. The sun warmed his back. The chaplain’s words were rhythmic rocking slowly with the ship, his voice deep gravel in the back of Sam’s mind. He closed his eyes. His cheeks where wet with the only visible manifestation of a storm battering his insides, ripping him apart.
Her letter was tucked safely in his pocket. Her words mixed with the sermon.
My Dearest Sam,
I said, I will take heed to my ways: that I offend not in my tongue. I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle, while the ungodly is in my sight.
Don’t be too confused love. I am hoping in time you will be able to forgive me. By now Thomas has told you what I want done with my body.
I held my tongue, and spake nothing. I kept silence, yea, even from good words; but it was pain and grief to me.
This is what I truly want. Before you try and upset my plans, chalking up my burial to a drug induced delirium, you must know why I want to be buried at sea.
My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled: and at the last I spake with my tongue.
We have been trying to have a child for the last six years. I know you already know all of this, but bear with me. My illness is why we finally stopped trying. To tell you the truth I was happy at first. I could relax. I know you wanted a child, the pain in your eyes… O’forgive me Sam! I really tried, but I couldn’t go through it.
Sam’s body shook overtaken by a tiny and violent tremor. Dreams dying are more painful than the actual loss. It was more than he could bear, almost; he hadn’t abandoned her—had he. He was here.
Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days that I may be certified how long I have to live.
You have always chided me for not dreaming enough. I was a dreamer once, remember, before Spain. I fell in love with the foreign climate while on holiday.
For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain.
I was so happy when I got back. Then I found out I was pregnant. You were trading. I wanted the baby…
Deliver me from all mine offences, and make me not a rebuke unto the foolish.
Meredith went into labor the week I visited her. She and I had talked about our children playing together. I was with her months before that day, the first time she felt her baby kick; it was amazing. We were having tea when the pain started, and it grew and grew.
There was nothing I could do. The midwife was late. I can still hear her screams. I watched her, twisted in her own bedclothes, torn apart by the life trying to escape her. She begged me to make it stop. I did nothing. I could do nothing. The midwife arrived. She was able to save the baby. I held her as they washed her body. I could hear the child’s screams from the other room. She would never know her mother. A wet nurse was fetched. I saw myself. I saw that I would not make it through labor, my health was too poor. I was not ready to give up my life for another. I couldn’t take the chance.
When thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment, every man therefore is but vanity.
I went to an old woman just outside of town. She gave me a small vile. I wasn’t sure something that tiny would work. She told me to go somewhere quiet for a week. Darling the questions plague me to this day. Would you have been happier if I had given birth? If I had left then, giving you a child?
Hear my prayer, 0 Lord, and with thine ears consider my calling: hold not thy peace at my tears.
I went to my aunt’s house by the sea. She was gone for the weekend.
For I am a stranger with thee.
The liquid was bitter. The cramps started soon after. Sam, the blood, there was so much blood. I called for you; I was so scared.
Sam wanted to hold her. Kate, Kate, my dearest Kate why didn’t you tell me?
I crawled to the water. I was covered in blood, shaking. The moonlight made the world enchanted and surreal. My body curled in on itself, my insides were coming out. The water was cold. It pulled against my dress. I lay there rocked back and forth by the waves, numb, and alone. I remember blood disappearing mixing with the sea. I must have crawled back to the cottage. I have no recollection of how I made it back to the house. When I awoke my aunt was there. We have never spoken of the incident. Sam, I gave our son to the Sea.
0’ spare me a little, that I may recover my strength: before I go hence, and be no more seen.
From that day forward I visited that old woman frequently for herbs, to ensure I would never get pregnant again. I could not be like Meredith. I chose my life and you. I am dying now; I know this, and if I can no longer be with you, please, please, let me be with our son. My cousin Thomas has agreed to my request, if you will also agree to it. He will take his ship out to sea. He will bury me there. My darling Sam, if you can bring your heart to love me after this, do as I ask. Your most loving, Kate
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
The two men holding the edges of the platform tipped it to the sky. Sam watched as his wife’s body slid, first into the air, and then finally with a loud splash into the water.
His mind followed her down. Her body passed through a mass of fish, tiny silver bodies caching the sunlight as they turned, opening a pathway below welcoming her passage to the deep. Hulking shadows twitched, gliding silently past. Jellyfish clung to her, an escort of sorts. The water darkened. The final traces of the surface disappeared. Blue, then darker, a midnight, unseen things brushed by, Sam’s body was cold; his wife’s body was cold. Was there an end to her descent? Closing his eyes, Sam faced oblivion. He felt no peace.
“We therefore commit this body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up her dead, and the life of the world to come….”
To the deep, to the deep, her body was to be fathoms deep. To her child, that is what she wanted. To my child. Sam, breathe Sam. The sun was warming his face.
“Through our Lord Jesus Christ who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
The wind has picked up. Sam blinked once, twice, the sun hurt his eyes. He looked around the boat. The captain, Kate’s cousin was staring at him. The rest of the crew had their heads bowed. The chaplain crossed himself. Sam caught the smell of the islands on the breeze, sweet and verdant. The water was calm; any ripple caused by his wife’s passing had been erased. There is no movement left in Sam’s body, he just stared, blankly.
“Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
The ship’s crew spoke in unison.