Eighteen-eighty – Fiction

Last night I dreamt of 1880. I know why. They’d been taking pieces of me away. 1880 was when I lost the biggest piece. Not mast, or keel, or frame – they can be replaced. 1880 was when I lost my Captain.

In truth I don’t know where I end or they begin. I feel different now, because they are different. Perhaps I am different too. They come and go, and a time comes when I realise the last crew has all gone, this crew is a new crew. My thoughts must feel different, because I am them, and they are me. Iron and copper and teak, flesh and blood and bone. And thought.

The waters no longer surge along my flanks, sliced by my knife-keen bow, swooping up the turn of my bilge to my rudder. My sails are gone, and the trade winds no longer tug at my rigging, vibrating through shroud and brace so my whole body sang and my crew sang with me. They felt my elation, though they didn’t know it was mine. Sometimes I dream of 1938 and the children, lad of fifteen at my wheel. Oh, that was joyful. I was young then, even as my ageing timbers creaked. The last time I felt sea around me, and 1880 all but forgotten.

The new crew honour me, put me back together, look after my copper and iron and teak. It’s pleasing, but it’s not the same. I am an old thing yet I must still pay my way. Conferences and visitors. I wish there could be one more cargo of tea, or wool, one more crew of youngsters, their fear and excitement tasting of spices and limes.

1880. Did I start to die that day? I knew he was a good man, a good Captain, and I was good through him. He cared for his crew, and for me. The other fellow, though, tasted of rot and rust. I did not like the feelings I got when he beat my others with a rope’s end, and killed one with a capstan bar. He killed the Captain then too, though I did not know. Captain let him go. As I felt him fade from me, I wept and smiled. Was I a bad ship?

Last year, another came to see me from the old days. City of Adelaide. Oh, he’d been through some times. But his new crew would look after him, and he was going to sea again. We cried together for what had been, and he dreamed with me. I asked if I was a bad ship. If the fire that nearly destroyed me was my Captain’s retribution. He said I was a good ship. The best. He was kind.

1880. I try to shout as Captain steps so gracefully over the rail and into the sea. I feel him go. I want to go with him, into the deep. But I can’t.

My new crew honours me. It’s not the same.


This piece was written for the monthly competition on the Word Cloud writing community (where it came second)

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