Lost At Sea
Even seventy years later my grandmother would only say, with a faraway look in her eyes:
"Ah yes- my big brother-Arthur George. Joined the navy at 18 years old- but then, in 1942, we heard the news- we heard the news that- that he was: Lost At Sea."
She would leave a space between each of those last three words, and in the spaces you could feel that, somehow, her brother lived on.
When I first heard the story of Arthur George from my mother I was twelve years old. I got nightmares thinking about him. I cried for him. Ashamed, sea-salty tears for someone I'd never met. Arthur George haunted me. A young man with my grandmother's nose spiralling towards the ocean floor. In my sleep I saw the salt water shattering on either side of him, saw his face freeze into endless shock, saw the sickening depths of the cold, cold ocean dissolving beneath him.
I saw his limbs tilted at unnatural angles, trapped by pieces of the rusting ship.
I saw his blood thread its way through the endless ocean in tiny beaded ribbons.
The light thick. The water heavy.
Bubbles from his flapping lips,
Bubbles from the pits of his eyes,
Bubbles from the mouths of the dust coloured fish which nibbled at his skin.
But when my grandmother spoke of him 'Lost At Sea'
She looked into the distance and saw something else.
Arthur George and his friends had driven their ship off the map. They had infiltrated the German fleets, had turned themselves into spies. They'd helped to win the war from within (him who'd been teased for being a coward once). And one day they would come back home and tell their stories and write a book with a glossy cover.
Arthur George had found a desert island. Paddled himself there on a raft, built himself a little hut. He looked different to before- his once pale skin tanned, his once smooth cheeks bearded. He ate bananas for breakfast, lunch and dinner (he who'd barely even seen a banana before the war) and he had a pet monkey who sat on his shoulder. Perhaps he'd got a parrot too. Perhaps he'd taught it to talk.
Arthur George was below the ocean, befriending the mermaids. What a sight he'd look flapping around in his Navy uniform! But they'd take pity on him and let him join them (him who could hardly swim before the war) They'd drape him in seaweed and teach him to sing and he'd snack on fish and tell them of his sister back home.
My Grandmother takes out a cardboard box and heaves it onto table. On the side she has written his name: 'Arthur George Loveck' and his status: 'Lost At Sea (1942).'
She reaches inside- a bundle of spidery letters wound together with string, like an offering; a few damp postcards, their faces stuck together with time and tears; a grubby exercise book from his school days. How can this be all that is left of a person? And at the bottom, a photograph of him in his uniform, the black and white yellowed to waxy shades of brown. He must have moved when the photo was taken because his face is blurry, as if he was already not quite there, already hovering between two worlds. Caught between known and unknown, lost and found. You can see his smile though, he smiles like my grandmother.
"That's him." my grandmother says, smoothing the picture,"That's my brother, Arthur George. Lost at sea in 1942." She pauses; sighs; smiles slightly, "We never knew what happened to him...."
She is not mad, my grandmother, she knows, of course, that her brother is dead. And these fantasies are my own, hinted at by the distant look in her eyes. But surely it is not unnatural that she should cling onto that phrase. Somewhere inside her, un-dulled by the years, her hope anchors itself around those words. 'We never knew what happened to him.' Those words leave space for the possibility, that perhaps, one day, one day, we will know. Hope is a world all of its own.
Arthur George is on a Viking longboat, he has taken the chance to see the world, he is the Captain. He has been lost all these years but now he has found himself. He has found himself, and now he is coming to find her. She will stand on the shore and there he will be, rushing towards her. He will balance on the front of the boat like the figurehead, with the sun above him, and the light from the sun shattering up from the water below him, cloaking him with light on every side. He will still be 19 years old like the day she saw him last, his hair full of salt spray and the water breaking beneath him. Her walking-stick will dissolve she will be 16 again, waving her handkerchief and smiling until her cheeks ache.
He will be there. And she will start again.
"We never knew what happened to him..." my grandmother says again. She presses my hand in hers, and I can feel her blood singing through her veins. "But the sea is a very big place. Remember that, my dear. The sea is a very big place."
‘It's what we’ve always wanted’,
you said, ‘A treat to celebrate
our long life together -
a world-wide cruise.
Shuffleboard is my new game
I move from deck to deck
avoiding dreadful people
while we take tiny bites
I’d starve to stay in.
I long to root through
freezer cabinets in exotic countries,
buy the rough ground spices
to make what they eat,
cook up their smiling warmth.
You are happier embedded
in prearranged itineraries,
shielded from taste and smell.
You shout from the prow of the boat,
‘I’m king of the world’,
my love for you drops
like a missed baton,
I see you in stark relief,
a dandelion clock about to burst,
the man I wanted you to be
an illusion, not just lost at sea.
I turn to watch the current's curl,
a web of drops sings to me.
lures me into the moment,
to crunch those wafered waves,
to find my true wavelength
in this salt wasteland.
"What's this for?" I said.
"So I can push it," she said.
It wasn't my only button, but it was the only one she went out and bought especially for me.
I don't know why I ever accepted it. I had plenty of buttons.
Some of them were in plain sight, but others were hidden, so hidden, in fact, that I never knew of their existence until they were pushed. Then I'd jump. Oh, man, did I ever jump!
You'd think I'd remember them, where they were, but I didn't. After they'd been pushed and I was all confused or lost at sea, angry or despondent without ever knowing why, they'd disappear like leprechauns and there I'd be, another lost soul.
I tried therapy, but it was no use. They were more confused than me.
I tried getting drunk and fell on my ass.
People pointed at me and laughed.
"Please Mister Henry," they'd say, choking back their tears.
"Please Mister Henry, do a dance for me."
But I was in no shape to dance for anyone, let alone myself.
All I could do was get up, brush off my clothes, and walk the hell
out of there.
I could hear them laughing at me.
"Please Mister Henry."
But I was lost at sea.