Dreaming on the Sea
In a tiny home, a young woman cradled a sleeping baby. The wind outside shook the house and rain seeped through the cracks in the ceiling. Humid air from the Summer thunderstorm kept the rain from chilling them, but the woman took care to keep the infant mostly dry. She had traveled to the deepest part of the mountain, carrying her shame on her back. The baby kept quiet on the way up, as if aiding her escape to that forest sanctuary. Finding a suitable escape took months of planning. Out in the dark woods, in this place so far from her old village, no one knew them. She didn't bother leaving a note for her family. They wouldn't miss her. Looking down at the child, she saw her lover's face again, and felt guilt at thinking of the sleeping child as something shameful. Her family had already arranged a suitable husband for her when she met the kind fisherman who always brought her seashells from distant shores. There was nothing that would convince her parents that he was good enough, and her wedding date crushed down against her heart likes tsunami waves. On a night as stormy as this one, she had snuck out of her family's house to see him. Three days later, the fisherman's boat washed ashore in two. She thought that was where the story of her secret love would end. The new moon brought her betrayal to the women's eyes. After three weeks, her mother didn't believe her pleas of innocence. To keep the secret from the men, her mother tried to push the date of the wedding closer. Her fiancé had different plans. He wanted to push it back further to deal with his family's business in a nearby town. In whispers, her mother gave her a solution. "Seduce him now." Reluctantly, she went to him. Her presence only angered him. "I don't have time to entertain you. This trip is more important than anything someone like you can understand." The wedding was moved to five months from that day. When her fiancé returned, he was even angrier with her once he discovered her secret. Only a week before the date, the wedding was canceled and the whole town knew her betrayal. For the last months of her pregnancy, her family kept her isolated inside the home. She cursed the life inside her, her family, the sea, as she wished she had been born in the city. From the few magazines that she had read, women's lives in the city sounded so grand. Her only role here was to become a wife and raise children. As she waited for the baby's birth, her restlessness grew. She wanted to be free, as free as she had been that stormy night. She kept those magazines hidden in her clothes and dreamed of being anywhere else. That's when she started to develop her escape plan. Once the baby was born, her family allowed her to go out again. People in town muttered and laughed behind her. The loudest voices came out when she boarded the bus. For the first time, she went wherever she wanted. The closest city was massive and busy. She could hardly catch her breath before a stranger pushed passed her. There were work options not like at home, but she found most of them still paid too little for her to live on her own. As she came to understand, the more people around, the more expensive housing was. She tried asking the women working in the city for advice. "They pay us less, and it's barely enough between my husband's pay and mine. You can't do it alone, not unless you have high paying skills. You should find yourself a good man." No, that's not good enough, she thought. She kept looking. There had to be a way to gain her freedom. The responses were mostly the same with the women she talked to. A few even suggested she sell herself. In time, she learned that the women in the magazine weren't the average city woman at all. Only the women already born into high class had that kind of freedom. Still, she refused to give up. She would keep on looking until she found a way. One day, by chance, she ran into a farmer with three daughters. His daughters had all come with him to help sell their goods. She had watched them unload their heavy goods, with no men coming to aid them. She approached the farmer to find out more. "Why do you bring only daughters to help you?" she asked. "I only have daughters, but they work hard for their father. Good girls, they are." The man smiled. "Do you need more help? I am not as strong as a man, but I will work hard!" The man looked at the baby in her arms. "Are you alone now?" She shifted her gaze away. "Yes." "I see." The man handed her some money. "There is a village at the edge of the mountain to the west. Find a home there, and then come to the farm where the forest begins at the bottom of the mountain. You better work hard though. Everyone does their share, no exceptions." "Yes, thank you. I will look for a place to stay first thing in the morning!" With that, she was one step closer to freedom. Dreams of the city life quickly faded away as she focused on a much more concrete goal. Finding a place to stay was still a difficult task. The only available place was a half-collapsing, tiny home deep in the mountain. This was blessing too, since that left plenty of the farmer's money for other things. Once the matter with the house was settled, she packed her things and took the last train of the night in secret. The ride was long, and the rain never let up. At the base of the mountain, she ran. Her mother's insults grabbed at each step, sinking her down into the mud. "You've ruined us! For what? Who is the father?" Her belongings drenched in rain sunk her further. "Stupid girl. Couldn't you have fooled around with someone worthwhile?" She could hear the townspeople from the bus stop cackling. "She's not satisfied with our men anymore. Now she has to whore around other towns." Long nights waking up to crying and screaming echoed in the wind. "Shut that child up! I have a right mind to shut it up for good myself!" In her mind, she saw one of the women from the city. "Just leave it somewhere." There was a time when she considered it. Things would be easier that way. When she looked at the child, she felt all the shame the world had placed on her and the greatest sense of betrayal to her lover for feeling that shame. The baby was stuck with her in place. She could neither let go or hold tightly to the child. That night, int he fragile safety of the little house, she dreamt of the fisherman. The two of them were drifting in an endless sea. Ripples flowed out from their boat on the steady waters. She reached for his hands, but she couldn't hold him. His body became transparent like the water. He stood up and fell back toward the sea. He faded more and came apart into droplets that hit the ocean like rain. She rushed to the edge of the boat. The water only gave her reflection back. She reached in for him. When her hands touched the sea, her skin began to fade. Reaching further into the water, the boat started to tip more and more. With her face nearly touching the water, the boat was about to flip. Suddenly, the water grabbed the other side of the boat and knocked her back in. She looked up at the sky and found the ocean above her instead. Rain poured down on the sea as she lay in the floating boat looking down at it. She didn't know how she wasn't falling. Water trickled down through the cracks in the boat. Patches of her body were stained in transparency, but the boat kept her mostly dry. In the sound of the rain, she understood a voice she couldn't hear. Morning came with gray still hanging overhead. She carried the baby down the mountain to the farm. The farmer greeted her. "Ah, you've come. And you've brought the little one too. Why don't we leave the child with my mother? She loves children." "If that would be alright..." She followed the farmer inside and handed the baby over to the elderly woman. The old woman seemed happy to see the child. With that matter taken care of, the young woman began her first day of work. Life in the mountain village had been more freeing than she could have imagined. No one whispered cruel words about her, and all were satisfied with her answers about the child's father. He was gone. They pried no further. Over time, she fixed up the house with the help of the farmer's daughters. The shame and memories of her old life melted away. All that remained was the storm and the beach three days later. With time, that pain too lessened. Whenever the rain came, his voice dripped down from her memories into the echoes all around her. He was gone, but she was at peace with that. The little child grew quickly. Soon, he was in school and reading. Much as reading had fueled her dreams, the boy could lose himself for hours in written words. Before long, he was creating his own tales to share. The stories were still those of a child; adventures in the woods facing the sorts of terrors one naive to the world would invent. His school teacher saw promise in his words, and spoke to the woman about his future. "He's a very bright boy. Have you considered him attending university when he's older?" "If he wishes it, I would not be against it. But I don't want to push him into anything." While she never pressed the issue at home, the school had no intentions of respecting her wishes. At every accomplishment, he was told he needed to go. He soon became quite talented at translating works as well, and the pressure only mounted. The boy himself, now a teenager, never lost his wonder for the world around him and telling stories. At that time, however, he was far more interested in using those language skills on one of the farmer's granddaughters. Words danced in his head and rearranged in ways he could never compose before. Everything flowed out of him. His hand covered page after page in black ink like a river bursting through a dam. True to his nature, his most grand piece of art was a letter asking for her hand in marriage. The girl was no scholar herself. Out of all the women in town, her hands and feet were the roughest and her academics always came second to the farm. True to her own self, her reply was simple. A single word in poor handwriting, "Yes". His mother was the first to know, and none in the farmer's family had any objections to the union. Shortly after, the boy was given a very prestigious offer. A university had offered him a scholarship to study abroad. The university was interested in expanding its foreign language and literature department, and were willing to pay all of his expenses under the assumptions he would work for them later. The village celebrated his accomplishments, but he was unsure himself if he wanted it. His fiancée told him, "Of course you must go. They're guaranteeing you a job as a professor." His teachers gave similar remarks. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!" Drunk off of praise, he agreed to the terms and the celebrating went on. The high of everything kept him from feeling fear. His fiancée agreed to wait until he completed his university studies to marry, and he went into the city for the first time to buy things for the trip. The city had grown even larger since his mother's first visit, but it didn't impress her anymore. On the last day before he left, his mother took him down to see the ocean. "In all this time, you are the only one who never asked at all who he was." The woman cupped seawater into her hand. A few stray streaks of starlight shimmered in her hair. "I didn't think I could ask." He confessed. It had always been an awkward subject. No one around him asked. "He was a fisherman. A kind man who always brought me the most beautiful seashells when he returned." Her voice lowered as she spoke. "He didn't return, did he?" "The sea swallowed him up." She let the water in her palms fall back into the waves. "Back then, I wasted so much time caring about what other people wanted. That was so important to me that I lost all that time I could have given to him. Only one day...there was only one day I gave him all my time. For all those years, it was the only day I had truly felt happy. I could have had so many more days if I hadn't been such a coward. My child, I want you to be as free as I was on that day everyday. If this path is really where your heart is, I would move the earth to make it happen...but, if not..." The boy smiled. "Mother, I know, but I'll be fine. This will only lead to great things for my future." "Greatness is not in man's control." She walked towards him. "Don't lose yourself." "I can't lose myself. How can I be anyone but me?" The day came for the boy to leave. He shared a tearful goodbye with his fiancée and his mother. He dreamt of all sorts of wonders about the countries overseas. His mother waited for his return, alone in her home for the first time. She carried on, telling herself that children will always inevitably leave. To her poor luck, she caught a sickness that was spreading around the village. Keeping future duties in mind, her son's fiancée came to care for her in his absence. Together, they eagerly awaited the mail. He sent them each letters regularly. Everything was amazing and even bigger than their cities, he was mastering the language more every day, class was wonderful... She sighed with relief. "So, he truly is happy..." The sickness plaguing the village soon took three victims, and the mother's condition worsened. Her symptoms were somewhat alleviated each day when she waited on the mail. She often requested the farm girl read one of the old letters when nothing came. While she missed her son, she was happy to spend so much time with her future daughter-in-law. She grew weaker, but her smile never faded. The mother dreamt of the fisherman one more time. He was exactly as she remembered him. They sat together in his boat, drifting on the ocean. This time, he reached out to her. "Come with me." The sound of his voice filled her inside and surrounded her. She embraced him, and the boat tipped over, splitting in two on the surface. The little house was occupied by only one again. The young farmer woman gave another tearful goodbye. On the other side of the world, the boy, now a man, was crying too. The last few years had been hell. He could never tell anyone back home what he was going through. The strange stares and rude comments, his cultural ignorance causing so much embarrassment, and even academically, he could barely keep up. The language he had lovingly spend so much time cultivating inside him was eating him alive and leaving him with only a broken understanding of all words. Letters and sounds became his enemies. He tried to drown out that other language with records in his own tongue, but it only served to remind him what he was losing and of what he left behind. Several times, he considered stepping out of his fourth story apartment window. All that kept him grounded was reminding himself of time. Only a year, only six months, only two months...It was almost over now. Tomorrow, he left for good. Under the hot rush of the shower, he buried his face in his knees. His daily torment came through the thin apartment walls and lingered around him. Everyone was always shouting here. Even when his neighbors were out, the shouting went on in his mind without them. Nothing shut it out. There were no more classes to attend for the time being. He spent the day alone in his apartment, packing his things for the trip home. He still had more schooling to do when he returned. That was the reason he had come here to begin with. A few more years, and he could teach. Then he could provide properly for his soon-to-be wife, working for a prestigious university. This was what he needed to do. Once last time, he played one of his records from home. He sat quietly by the window, watching the world below him. There was no comfort in the view. The song brought forth a memory from long ago. The old woman who took care of him when he was small, she used to sing a version of this song to him before she put him down for a nap. One day, he had spent the night at the farmer's place when his mother went out of town with the farmer to sell goods far away. The old woman was singing that song then too. That night, her voice blended in with the rain pouring down. She had taken him outside that night and they sat under the shelter of the house watching the rain together. The air was humid, as it always was in Summer, and he could hear the frogs and crickets singing along with her. Everything joined together as one beautiful melody. He knew it couldn't be, but he remembered there being another voice in the mix, one he couldn't connect to anything. When he arrived home, he had expected two people to greet him. Only one came. He was unnerved by her attire, and her eyes told him what he feared. Her first words to him on his return were, "I'm sorry." He embraced her and she cried into his chest, coughing in between breaths. The following day, he informed the university that he could not continue with his schooling. He had to stay home to take care of his family from now on, and he apologized that he could not meet his end of the agreement. The university staff were understanding of his situation. His home village was emptier than he left it. The sickness had hit most of the residents at this point. Some seemed to have survived it, but most were left bed-ridden or worse. Getting permission from his fiancée's mother, the two married quickly. There were few in attendance for their wedding, most missed of all were his mother and the old farmer who had brought them all close together. The village's healthiest people all worked extra hard together to take care of the sick and still bring in money for them to all survive off of. The outlook was bleak, but no one could abandon those who were laying helpless in their care. In time, his wife became bedridden like the others. He worked her place on the farm, and cared for her in all the time between. He never told her of the hard time he had in the city. There was no reason to let her hear those things while she was like that. Instead, he used his words to tell her stories. All the pain words had given him in his time away dissipated as he spoke to her. What had been blocked before flowed freely from him again. There was never a shortage of imagination so long as he looked into her eyes. For his final story, he told her about a fisherman and the beautiful woman who he always brought seashells for. He held her hand long after she left him. After that day, there were no more stories in his heart. As with all the others, he too started coughing. Fear didn't come to him when he contemplated his fate. He didn't see it in his wife's eyes, and she had told him his mother smiled until the end. He tried to keep smiling too, though there was no one left to care for him. He continued to work in her place on the farm and came home every night to his empty home without sadness. Despite the emptiness, he felt at ease. Time didn't matter anymore. He accepted where the flow of it would take him. There was no point in fighting the current of a river. Alone, he played his records and sat by the window watching the rain. He hummed the song, taking in the sounds of the drops hitting the ground and the animals in the forest joining in on the song. Like that night with the old woman, this time again, he thought he heard another voice join in. It was still unfamiliar, but he was happy to hear it. A strange contentment filled him, and he knew what turning in for sleep meant. When the record finished, he cleaned up the house a little, closed the windows, and laid down. In his dreams, he was walking up the mountain. His body was free of weakness. Behind him, he heard a voice from the sky that spoke no words he could understand. He turned to face it, and his body drifted back against his will. He fell against the path, and another vision blurred with the blue sky above him. He could see waves above him. The longer he stared at it, the clearer the water became. When he looked back at himself, he wasn't on the path anymore. He was upside down in a boat. The water was still below him, and rain poured down from above him. He heard another voice, but this one was familiar. "Come with me." His wife rose from the waves, her body like the water. She reached her hands out toward him. Their hands touched, and the waves carried on endlessly.
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