a final voyage
JB Mulligan

The rain hammers all of its nails into the leaves above us as our boat chests down the river, one lurch after another like a drunk down an alley to the next smoky bar, or the door of a woman who won’t be there when you knock.

Martin is beside me, shapeless in his gray poncho until he turns to me and his rain-slick dripping rat-face leers at me and says, above the drum and thunder of the storm, “We’re almost there.”

Music from the lands we left behind us twangs and rattles in our minds, perhaps the same song or woman or port, and the smile I return is an echo or ghost of his own, call and response, antiphon into antiphon like a chain anchoring us, link to link, to something we lost and cannot recapture.

Martin nods and I return his nod, and we are happy to be… approaching.

There is a light, or something like a light, in the bushes on the shore that rushes toward our boat, and at the same time slowly approaches, like a shy and eager bride, or a hesitant thief.

“That’s it,” he says with something approaching a sigh, or the gasp of a man who lifts his head above one last wave before the sea claims its child.  His eyes are matches in the storm, candles in the hurricane that snap out as soon as they light.

He is gone.

I look to the waves, the sky, the deck of the boat – he is gone.  The shore rushes like a whore’s kiss toward us, and Martin is gone. 

We grind and lean into the shore, and leaves descend like locusts.  I hear whispers of appetite and growls of desire close by, and the scrabble of claws on the deck growing closer to me, and somewhere in all of that song, Martin’s whisper like a promise or a threat.

I can’t stop leaning forward.

First published: February 2018
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