There. Just over the horizon. Hidden behind the loping gallop of grey waves against a grey sky. There was land. None knew it but the captain and his navigator…and Samuel Bellamy, a lowly sailor, though his good looks were unsullied by the hard life of his rank. Samuel paid no mind to the constant sway of the ship beneath his feet. He did not bother with the smell of rotten wood and flesh and food or briny air with the metallic threat of rain.
A calling as strong as the sea, a scent that rose in the air. Loamy and dusty. A tender shoot, brand new that fluttered on the spring wind and sang to Samuel of earthly things. That place of new beginnings, opposite of the ancient sea. Samuel felt his heart rise in his chest the way the gulls rose to the sky.
“Land ahead!” he cried before he could stop himself.
The first mate spit over the side of the boat. “You mind your place, boy, or it will be a lashing for you again.” The first mate pointed a finger swollen with gout. “Land ahead!” he cried.
Land. Samuel tripped his way down the docks, but the ocean called out to him as old friends do when they part. He stopped to watch twilight spread over the harbor.
“You are my last,” he said to the decrepit ship that had been more a home to him than anywhere else. He turned his back on ship and sea. The town streets lit happy and yellow. The townspeople dressed bright and lively. Out on the cliffs beyond the city a white clapboard cottage stood dark and silent.
“When I have the money,” said Samuel. “I will buy that cottage. I will fill it with food and furniture and neither of us will ever be empty again.”
He found a tavern to drink off his sea legs. His first steps on the soil of the American colonies, where a man might work hard enough to own a bit of soil for himself.
Can land be owned? A voice poked at the back of Samuel’s mind. Can you really own something that can’t be carried away on your back?
“Ach,” Samuel yelled at himself as he stumbled through cobbled Cape Cod streets, “that is nothing more than the drink talking. Men own land. That’s what men do. Land isn’t like the ever changing sea. And it isn’t plate or a fork or a farthing either.”
You haven’t told me one thing about land but what it isn’t, said the voice. You know nothing of land. It is a thing as living and breathing as the sea. Your ancestors gave up the land long ago, Samuel Bellamy. You will never own one speck of dirt because you are of the sea.
“No, not anymore I’m not. I’m a man.”
Are you now?
Samuel took another beer and drank it fast. The voice drown beneath it, but that night Samuel dreamt that he swam inside the dark and endless sea. The dark was frightening, but he was free. Free of the smell of rot. Free from being owned by the ship’s log and captain and company.
The land ties you down, Samuel Bellamy. The ocean sets you free.
Day came bright and sunny. Samuel’s head barely hurt from the night before. He walked down a path that wound into an orchard of apples. The blossoms on the trees blew everywhere in clouds of white against a blue sky. Here was a world fresh with spring. The call of the dark and endless sea faded from his memory.
Today holds promise, he said to himself. I can feel it in my bones. No voice invaded his mind to tell him he was wrong. Maybe that voice was dead and gone.
“Would I walk down that path again?” Samuel often asked himself when the apple orchard was far behind him. “If I knew then that the feeling in my bones was the promise of love. If I knew then that with love comes the torment of hope…would I walk down that path again?
Maria sat on a bench in the middle of the orchard. She started to sing, her voice as pure and light as the apple blossoms that fell all around her.
Here is my hidden place
Where I grow the dark
To shroud the light of love
That mythic, burning passion
Acceptance and desire
Hope and longing
The push and pull of twin souls
Kisses turned to constellations
I will not share the lost belief
Hopeless hope grown timeworn
She looked up from the reverie of her song. “Who are you?” she asked.
Samuel smoothed down his tattered clothes. He ran his fingers through hair that needed cutting. I am not worthy of her, he thought.
“Samuel,” he said.
“Why are you walking so fast on such a beautiful day?”
He wanted to leave her before she laughed at him.
“I am walking so fast because I haven’t got any place as pretty to sit,” he said.
“This half of my bench is free.” Maria slid to the edge.
“I have found very little in life to be free.”
“Hmmm,” Maria tilted her head, and blond curls fell across her face in a way that made Samuel hold his breath. “You are more than welcome to pay for it if that makes you more comfortable.”
“Do I look like someone who has much to pay you with?”
“There is more a girl might want than money.”
“What else might a girl want?” What else in the world could there be?
“If a girl asks a man to sit with her on a bench, chances are she might only wish to be repaid with a kiss.” Her words were bold, but she blushed and looked away.
That bench, which was the only place Samuel wanted to be, seemed a million miles away. It would take an eternity of steps to get there. Yet somehow Maria’s lips pressed soft against his, she laughed (not at his expense but at her pleasure), and then she was gone. The best day of his life stretched a lifetime and over too soon all at once.
Samuel thought every meeting with Maria would be his last. He woke from his endless ocean dreams in the middle of the night and burned with the thought of her.
“Send Maria to me one more time,” he prayed to the stars. “Let me kiss her once more, and I will give you anything in return.”
With all of his bartering and promises to heaven, it never dawned on Samuel that Maria came to him each time of her own free will and simply because she liked him too.
But she was rich and he very poor. Her parents didn’t approve of the match.
“I want run away with you,” Maria whispered to him under the moonlight.
“To be a poor man’s wife?”
“You will not be poor for long. I know it.”
“But I am poor now, and I have not got any prospects for that to change. I will not have you alone to scrub the floors with a baby tied to your back and another at your knee and another in your belly. I won’t have you miss meals for children that keep coming. I will not listen to the crying and see them ask for more, and you look up at me with eyes that know I have nothing more to give.”
“Oh, Sam. I would never look at you that way.”
“You say that now because you can kiss me and then go back to your safe and comfortable home.”
“That is not my home. Not anymore. My home is with you.”
Samuel kissed every part of her face.
Tell her you love her. Every part of him ached to say it, but he would not let himself. He spread her out below him instead, and they both learned how to take the ache out between their legs.
Maria sang with joy the whole way back to her parent’s house. Samuel dragged his feet with dread beside her. What if he had made a child that would grow up as hungry and scared as he did? What if Maria was taken from him as his own mother had been?
She is not like your mother, said the old voice.
Samuel pushed the voice away, kissed Maria goodbye and tried to meet her radiant smile with one of his own. He walked to the cliffs and let himself feel the pull of the tide under the full moon.
You are a prince of the sea, the waves sighed. Come back to us. Come back.
“I will only come back if I can bring wealth right up to these cliffs.”
Oh, we will give you wealth. We will bring you back, right here in this place where the moon gives light to the sea foam. It is your destiny, Samuel Bellamy. Will you come back to us?
The smell of apple blossoms danced all around him, and the feel of Maria still clung to his skin. Maria wove deep into every dream he had for his future, and the waves offered all the answers.
“Yes,” he said.
Come. The sea swelled higher. We will make you King of the Pirates.
Maria woke with a lover gone to sea, and the first spark of new life in her belly. She went to the cliffs and looked out over the waves with only one song on her lips.