He said the sea would speak to him.
“Just like Jack Kerouac. At the end of Big Sur, he wrote a sound poem about what the sea said to him one night. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.”
I furrowed my brow. “How can the sea speak?”
“How can you not listen?”
When he answered me with questions, there was no point in arguing. So we walked down to the water for him to listen to his muse and for me to stare at the back of his head.
“It’s not Big Sur,” he commented. He took a deep breath, looking from the water to me, then back to the water. “But the sea could find me anywhere.”
“We’re actually on a lake.”
“It’s all relative. It’s still water.” He was getting defensive. “Water fuels creativity. I read that somewhere, ages ago.”
I didn’t doubt this; he read a lot of books. But he was always getting them mixed up and tangled with his own life like this.
“I should be married to the sea.”
I sighed. This week the sea, the next the forest. This wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. He always wanted to be married to something that was never his to begin with.
“But if you write a sea poem, you’re not doing anything creative. You’re just ripping off Kerouac,” I told him with a shiver.
It wasn’t like him to agree. He had been staring at the water, but now turned his attention to me.
“I’m not going to write a sea poem. I’m going to paint her instead.”
So we got a small house. It was on the edge of the lake. The sea, I mean. He wouldn’t let me call it anything but. He put a sign over the door to his art room when he painted that read: “Big Sur – Listen.” And then the translation from the sea: ‘Boom, shish, wahhhhh-la.’ He insisted they were words and that they could form their own language. He called it Sea-Shriek. I called him crazy.
When he painted, he didn’t speak with me at all. He was too busy having conversations that he thought I could never understand. I was cast out for being a body of bones and skin. He wanted bodies of water.
But I didn’t leave him. Instead, I got up at dawn and decided to walk to the water myself. I walked along the shoreline every morning I could. I talked to the fish, not to the sea, but I eavesdropped as much as I could. I watched him as he painted what the sea told him from the open window with the red drapes flapping in the wind. That window was always open. Even when autumn turned to winter and the nights grew tremendously cold, he refused to close it. He never wanted to shut out a muse.
When the doors were open to his room, I would bring him his breakfast on iron trays that the old owners had left here. Mostly toast with butter and orange juice. He started to put sea-salt on the toast and I didn’t bother to question him. When he finally realized I had been walking by the shoreline, he didn’t ask if I had heard her talk. He asked me to bring stones and shells and twigs. “Maybe if I knew what she gave, I’d understand her more.”
He said her name was Amphitrite. She was the goddess of the sea, wife of Poseidon. He learned about that in another book he had read and then mixed up with his art supplies and canisters of sea-salt. I always wondered if he thought he was Poseidon. With the way he flung those brushes some days, his arm muscles bulging like that of a god, I knew he thought he was channelling some kind of higher power. But with each failure, he was reminded that he was just a man.
The months of winter passed. I brought sticks and stones and metal and my own bones up for his collection. Sea salt rotted the insides of our mouths. And he had still painted nothing. I prayed for our redemption by the jagged rocks of the water each dawn.
Then one morning, the wind blew in strong from the east through that always-open window. It knocked over his ultramarine onto an egg-shell white canvas and I breathed a sigh of relief. Amphitrite had emerged; the sea had spoken. From the shoreline and through the window, I watched him wait as the other bottles – viridian, sepia, and cobalt – fell over in succession and flowed onto the blank canvas. When I came back from my walk, he rushed over to me and showed me the sea, as if I had never been aware of its existence before.
He sold it that spring. Some fool bought it for a ridiculous amount of money. After the check cleared, I called the buyer crazy, but never him anymore.
We took the money and we moved to Big Sur. “It’s not the same as before,” he lamented. “The sea doesn’t speak to me here.”
He always did have that habit of rejecting what he wanted when it was finally given to him. I said nothing when he abandoned the water for the woods and insisted that the leaves were now his muse.
I still watch as he paints, only now the conversation is between the leaves of the trees. The window is still open, only this time the drapes are purple, and I am still all bones and very cold at night. I still bring him his breakfast when the door is open for me, but now his meals are on black trays that we bought ourselves with our own money.
And I still walk on the shoreline at dawn, because now the sea is only speaking to me.