On Deck

On Deck
by Nicholas Su

He can still feel it. That day he departed in a slow drifting off the docks and the lazy waves rocking the craft up and down and side to side. He can still smell it, smell of smoke rolling out of brick chimneys, and the smell of ash from the factories, dangling in the air. But he cannot remember: how much easier it is to say farewell than it is to fare well when all is not. There is a difference, he knows, between the departing and the departed, evident in the fact that while one may be measured in footsteps, knots, or hours, the other is immeasurable. Who knows how long it may be before he even knows how long it may be before he ever makes it back on to any land, let alone his own? There is the perpetual uncertainty of the salt mist, he knows, and so he cannot remember; he will not remember.
At night, the sky is mostly clear, and he lies down and looks at the stars. They are the same stars, he thinks to himself, belonging to me and belonging to the world. The boat will sway back and forth, and he will feel it too. The old planks slowly decaying despite all efforts, someday will give way, and then there will be water. There is nothing here, nothing binding him in place. And because there is nothing, there is no backwards anymore. Every direction is moving forwards, traveling onwards to a different future. Right now, his world is ungrounded.
During the day, the sky will blue, and the migrant birds will fly round and round over the deck. The canvas sails will hang, and the ship will move either forwards or forwards. There are things to be feared, but no fears in sight. There is the visible and the invisible, the birds drawing circles in the air and the mysterious beasts that go unnoticed beneath the blue hue of the sea.

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