Unfurl the Sail
"I'm going to disappoint you. But you knew that already." My wife, Jocelyn, said this to me so many times that it seemed like a stock phrase like, "How are you?" or "How was your day?"
I stood in the shadow of my two daughters, Sophia and Olivia, as they were sitting on the rocks near the sea looking at a reflected strip of sunlight. Olivia gently pressed her head on Sophia's shoulder. They told me that they pretended the strip of sunlight was a runway and they were waiting for their mother to arrive in her private plane. She would step out and give us a big hug.
While we were waiting, we traced the flight of a sea gull flapping her wings over the water. She swooped down; beak dipped in and bobbed up and caught - nothing. Would her babies be disappointed when she returned to the nest with no fish?
After several hours of waiting, they forgave their mother by saying that she'd missed her flight, her flight had been delayed, she'd arrived at a new destination. Jocelyn, meandering through an unknown town, talking to strangers, adopting a new family - these thoughts chilled me.
Or, perhaps, she was arriving by boat, a longer journey. She'd been captured by pirates and was forced to maraud neighbouring islands. The smoke that we saw far off was her doing. Or she might arrive riding on a dolphin's back. Or she was afraid to unfurl the sail and come home to us. My daughters were not the only ones with an imagination.
What I didn't tell them, as of yet, was their mother was lost. But they probably knew already.
After the birth of Olivia, Jocelyn's flamboyant behaviour became apparent. She'd flutter around the kitchen leaping and grabbing at imaginary objects. Then less than five minutes later, she'd be sobbing on her pillow pleading with me to kill the spiders crawling up the wall.
I'd left my job at the firm. We'd packed and moved to a bungalow high on the hill overlooking the sea. The milieu - the breeze off the sea, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the sea gulls - delighted Jocelyn.
After we'd put our daughters to bed, Jocelyn and I would sit on the veranda, fingers interlaced, listening to John Coltrane. We would dance; I would twirl her around and around until we both collapsed from exhaustion. After reading the Ghost and Mrs. Muir for the fifth time, Jocelyn called our home Gull Cottage at Whitecliff-by-the Sea after the house Lucy and her imaginary ghost lived.
The dream ended - tears streamed, the fear of everything gripped her again. I dreaded to think that she'd fling herself into the sea. The doldrums returned and shrouded her face. I commiserated as best as I could. She glanced up and said, "Kevin, I'm scared."
The green-blue hue of the sea transformed into the green sterile walls of a hospital, a hospital that would be her home for two months during shock treatments.
The sound of her screams as they wheeled her into the operating room wounded me. Afterwards, despite the vacuous stare, I knew Jocelyn, my wife and mother of my daughters, was stranded in a place only she knew. I sat by her bedside reading to her about Captain Greg telling his sea adventures to Lucy as she was writing them down.
For now Jocelyn is off on a journey in her mind. Who knows, maybe one day she would unfurl the sail and come back to us. We will be waiting on the rocks by the sea, waiting for one more twirl on the veranda.
Matthew Hefferin enjoys writing short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry. He has taught English as a Second Language and U.S. History to non-native speakers of English.
The Ekphrastic Review
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