THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE
On a routine fishing trip with her husband, a woman is pulled by an octopus into the North Sea. She fights to free herself from the beast; he fights to free her from the sea.
Thank gods I remembered to breathe. This was her thought as her yellow strands of hair danced about her head in the bubbly darkness. It was surprise that pulled her off the boat, let her get this far beneath the surface. The morning storm made it murky above, but still enough light penetrated. She was able to orient herself, and she pushed herself toward that light. Suckered tentacles drew themselves tight around her. They clutched at her arms, adding resistance to her upward strokes. Still, she managed to break the surface, gasping in the salty, misty air above. The beast released a jet of water that rushed over her chest, past her neck, and she was under again. What it lacked in brute force, she thought, it made up for in determination.
He had trouble relighting the lamp. The oil sloshed with every wave, extinguishing the wick before the flame had a chance to take hold. After several tries, and several precious minutes lost, the fire filled the glass globe fully. He slid a mirrored backstop into the lamp to focus its light. He strained to see into the impenetrable water. They had set out early as usual, before dawn, in relative calm. But as the sun had begun to rise, a storm brewed, diminishing the daylight. With the darkness, there was wind. It was impossible to discern how far off course the gusts had blown them. He couldn’t be sure of exactly where he had lost his wife. One moment she was leaning at the bow, like a hero crossing an icy river, and the next moment he was alone with a few empty lobster traps at his feet.
She remained near the surface, able to take quick, chaotic gasps. She could not loose herself of her captor, however, and she wondered if her wild flailing would be seen by her husband. In the brief moments her head was above water, she sought out their small boat in the surrounding water, but could see nothing. They were not boat people naturally. That is to say, they weren’t born into this life. Sent to live in the remote village by His Majesty, they sought sustenance from the sea by sheer necessity. There was no farming on the rocky shores, and no market as no one wanted to live near a prison. After this many years, they had learned their way— a symbiotic, nautical extension of their terrestrial marriage.
The mist turned into rain, biting cold pellets blown onto his face. They collected in his beard and his eyebrows, and as the temperature continued to drop they threatened to freeze. He did not break away from his search of the roiling surface about him. He had fixed the lamp in place with rope which freed his arms to push the boat around with an oar. It was not without great effort that he kept his position in what he believed was the spot his wife was pulled in. In his head, he heard her scream again and again the beast’s name, and saw her fall, unnaturally slow, into the blackness. Had he seen the tentacle on her leg? Had he thought there was no need to warn her, that she would somehow feel the arm creeping toward her bent knee through waxed canvas and several layers of flannel?
She counted to ten, took a deep breath and pulled her arms to her sides. The leather ties that held her dagger in place were waterlogged and seemed glued together. Her cold fingers felt doubled in size. She was sinking, and just as panic was setting in, she felt the wooden hilt in the palm of her hand. With each upward beat of her arms, the grip of the tentacles grew tighter. She thrashed with her dagger at its gelatinous mantle, every breath drawing in just as much sea water as air as she bobbed violently in the swells.
In the distance, his eye caught a glint of gold in the foamy surge. Too far away, he thought. The storm had pushed him more forcefully than he had gauged. But the glint was enough to empower him, fill him with the rage necessary. It was the same rage of survivalism he felt when the inmates had risen up against him and his gaolers. The same instinct that allowed him to fight off their make-shift weapons provided him now with the strength to propel his boat against the wind, against the angry waves. He would make it to her, he would get her back from the sea and its beasts.
She slashed at the tentacles with ferocity. They loosened and fell away, but she kept fighting. Beneath her canvas gear the flannel she wore for warmth was soaked with seawater and sweat. The weight worked against her efforts to remain afloat. She would be deplete of energy soon, a thought she pushed out of her mind along with a creeping panic. Tiny stars of yellow light appeared before her. A calm dulled the edges of her freneticism. In another moment, a gaff hook would catch under her arm and pull her back into the boat.
He gripped her tighter than any sea creature could ever hope to, his frantic anger washed away by ecstatic relief. She returned her husband’s embrace for a long moment before surrendering to her exhaustion.