The wood is polished walnut, warped by wind and waves, polished by sun, then jerry-rigged into place to make a built-in bunk, a low bench, a fold-down table, and bookshelves filled with paperbacks bought in newsagents and railway stations. A circular mirror reflects brass-rimmed portholes onto suburban shrubbery, and a gilded cage holds a stuffed plush parrot that speaks each time it rocks in the breeze. Beneath the bunk, behind a panel, an iron safe is screwed to the wall, rust attesting to its years upon inconsiderate tides. Every floorboard squeaks a different note, like a wheezing accordion fingered in a rum-soaked lowlife dive.
It’s that golden hour when the sun runs itself along the tops of neighbours’ hedges, drizzling them with honey; when windows turn to amber lights, readying birds to dip and dive into streams of insects that bob and wheel above flowers that nod their heads in tired prayer; when the church spire is a tanned finger raised to the breeze in thoughtful remembrance of those far out at sea. And with the sun come voices from the deep, from salt-stroked throats that propose quiet toasts to every dog who’s sailed before them, and to the women who wait in billowing white for golden sails to break the horizon. It’s that golden hour, and a bell tolls for time and tide, the crack of the rope and the curse of the wheel, and for treasure sunk in distant drunken rumours.
And down a line that’s spun from shore to shore, a voice like a cracked map remembers coarse blankets and the pitch of dreams under foreign sky, the stink of sweat and guttering oil in lamps that sucked the light out of tight cabins. It’s a voice that promises regret wrapped up in scarlet silk and sequins, scented with rose, juniper, and something of decay; it promises one last flash of a well-worn blade, and a brief eternity of scars tied blind to a sinking anchor. It tells lie upon lie until it stands true before me, a mirror to the person I have never been, edged in stiff brocade, trusting to nothing but my thousand-yard stare, the bright bird that whispers in my ear, and that parchment-dry voice from another land, another world, as it pours me one last drink.
And toppling into my own reflection, I wake to a swell of paperback books with gaudy covers, a birdcage with an open door, a ruby window half open, and a rainbow of feathers skittering like bats across the village green. A bell tolls morning, and a breeze from the sea insinuates itself between my soft sheets. Beneath the bed is a box of small treasures and jewellery I haven’t worn for years; beneath that are unplaned boards, and beneath that are caves that reach to the depths of the ocean. My lips carry the gentle sting of coarse spirits and coarse songs, and my hands are charts smoothed across the scored table of my past. The world tips and sways, but I don’t need to stand. The north star pins me to home, but I don’t need to steer.