Being careful to step over the slumbering masses of seamen scattered about the deck, Enoch continued to search for her lover, Aasir, but her small glistening frame was nowhere to be found. Considering the slight shine that radiated from her translucent form and the dozens of jewels embedded throughout her tightly wound curls, Enoch thought she would have been easier to find. But at last, her star-like-lady had yet to grace the night.
“Looking for someone?” called Matty from overhead. He stood on the quarterdeck leaning against the helm and slightly adjusted the steering wheel to keep the ship from going astray. For a moment, Enoch thought it better to ignore him as she always did, but started towards him anyway if only to escape the quiet ramblings of her inebriated crewmates.
“You didn’t partake in the fun?” Enoch asked as she kicked aside an empty bottle of ale and climbed the short set of stairs to join Matty. From afar he looked like a model seamen with his dreads neatly pulled up into a bun above his white collared shirt and a red sash pulled taut around his waist.
“I had work to do,” Matty glanced at Enoch’s disheveled appearance with disdain. Her off-white linen shirt was riddled with alcohol and untucked from her baggy brown breeches; she looked as unimportant as any of their unranked crewmates. Matty found this an issue considering Enoch’s high level position as first mate to their captain, to Aasir. She deserves better, he thought.
“We all do, but it wouldn’t kill you to take a break” Enoch leaned against the upper wooden railing and took in the reminets of the crew’s earlier celebration – men and women were strewn about everywhere. Some drunkenly hugged bottles to their chest while others unconsciously clung to each other in search of warmth as a cold breeze wandered through. Honestly, it looked like any other night aboard if not for the strong stench of alcohol. Even the quiet, while abnormal, felt welcomed. For once, everyone seemed at peace despite the sobering circumstances that brought them here.
“It’s not often that we have something to celebrate,” Enoch added as she looked at the scars on her wrists. After years of being free, the skin still hadn’t completely recovered. Sometimes, on particularly chilly nights, Enoch swore she could still feel the cold grasp of shackles locked around her hands and feet, as if a phantom limb her body refused to forget despite her mind’s insistence.
“I know,” Matty absentmindedly rubbed at his own scars, “Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for my freedom, for all of our freedom,” Matty briefly closed his eyes and thought about the first time he saw Aasir aboard this ship all those years ago, “For what she did for all of us”.
Back then, Aasir was a ghastly sight for a dying man. Brought up to deck for the first time in weeks, still in shackles and surrounded by his enslavers, Matty couldn’t believe his eyes. Drenched in seawater, dressed in the torn remains of some white sheet, and practically all bones, Matty could have sworn he had seen a ghost. How right he didn’t know he was. But it had made sense; he was near death after all, nearly skin and bones himself. It was a mystery the shackles hadn’t slipped right off his wrists. But Matty would count his blessings. If this strange woman dressed in white, that only he seemed to see, was sent by his ancestors to return him to their homeland, at least he would die with fresh air in lungs and the sun on his skin. He would go seeing the infinite blueness of the sea while standing on his own two feet, instead of being forced to lay on his back in the dark while wading in the piss and feces of strangers chained to either side of him. But Aasir hadn’t been sent by Matty’s ancestors and she wasn’t a ghost either. At least, not like any ghost Matty had thought of before. Aasir was his salvation.
Matty shook himself from his thoughts. There’s no time to reminisce; I have work to do. Gazing up at the stars, Matty realized they had drifted slightly off course and slowly set about fixing it.
“Hey, Enoch– ” Matty started to ask Enoch if she could adjust the mainsail, but stopped when he noticed she was laying on the ground with her ear to the wooden planks.
“Do you hear anything,” he asked instead. Enoch held up one finger signaling for him to wait as she continued to listen for any sounds of life from the inside of the hull of the ship. After a moment, Enoch somberly shook her head “no”. As silly as it may seem, when Aasir arrived all those years ago, she gave her crew a funny sense of hope that maybe there was life after death. That maybe, her semi-corporeal ghostly existence wasn’t an accident, but a blessing bestowed to those enslaved individuals killed at sea. So foolishly, without any evidence of it being true, the crew made it their mission to save as many dying or dead enslaved persons their ship happened to stumble upon in their pursuit of liberating other slave ships as Aasir had once done for them. After fishing the bodies from sea, they would temporarily store them below deck and pray for their resurrection as Matty and Ennoch did now.
“O Merciful God, of the stable, of the Cross, of the Resurrection, and of the ever-present Holy Spirit, we implore your help in protecting those souls who died on this ship and the others who were lost to sea. May you greet them at your heavenly gates or resurrect them on this earthly plane however you see fit. Your children, us seamen and formerly enslaved, we pray. Amen.” But no matter how hard they prayed, no one was ever resurrected.
“We gotta dock soon; those bodies need to be buried”, Matty spoke in reference to the three women, two kids, and eight men they currently held within the ship’s belly. He had lost hope in their resurrection
“I know,” Enoch stumbled to her feet, “I’ll go and tell her”. Waving goodbye to Matty, Enoch made her way to the only place she hadn’t checked earlier, the captain’s cabin.
Knocking on the large bolted door, Enoch was met with silence. She waited a second before entering.
“What’s wrong?” Enoch whispered as she gently closed the door to the captain’s cabin. Despite the cresting waves crashing against the hull of the ship and resonating throughout the lower deck, the normally boisterous room was silent. The cedar panel walls adorned with aged navigation charts, stolen golden candelabras, and an array of weaponry no longer spoke of their treasure. Even the mice were quiet, for not a scurry of feet or gnawing of teeth could be heard in spite of the mounds of unfinished food scattered about the floor. Stepping over a plate of beans and sea biscuit, Enoch wandered closer to the center of the room, closer to Aasir – merely a speck of dust hidden within a sprawling mess. With her head bowed and knees tucked to her chest, Aasir seemed lost in thought, there, but not quite. Standing before Aasir, Enoch waited for an answer not wanting to rush whatever conclusion she came to.
“It’s time to go,” Aasir muttered to herself. Frowning, Enoch glanced out of the porthole at the endless expanse of sea surrounding them. She knew Matty had mentioned they needed to dock soon, but she knew he had meant in a couple of days. Not now, it wasn’t possible; there wasn’t a harbor in sight.
“Darling,” Enoch started as she squatted in front of Aasir and softly gripped her chin, “are you okay?”
Enoch rubbed her thumbs across Aasir’s brows, smoothing out the furrowed skin. It was dry and cracked from a hard life’s work, but not from working at sea. Catching a glimpse at her own callused fingers, Enoch knew their wounds were different. Aasir’s were from a time before her, before pirate ships and scurvy. Aasir’s were from a time lived on land within bondage. “Another life,” Assir always alluded to whenever Enoch asked, but she never actually talked about it as if her memories were too painful to voice. But sometimes, after a particularly serene day, Aasir would let Enoch hold her.
Chest to chest Aasir and Enoch would cling to each other, listening as their heartbeats harmonized with the sea. Tu-tum. Tu-tum. The two fistsized organs would sing between the clang and clash of waves every fourth count. It was a soothing melody that grounded them to reality; reassured them that their peace was real. It was in those moments, when Aasir seemed to feel the safest, that she let her guard down.
Beneath the tender glow of the moon Enoch watched as her lover bared her soul to her. Ridding herself of any fabricated barriers, Aasir left only jewels and doubloons interlaced throughout her tightly coiled mahogany hair. Tracing her frame, Enoch’s eyes slid over the warmth of Aasir’s dark brown skin pausing at every pale scar and untold story before continuing their journey between her breasts and down her stomach. The trail continued, but Enoch was halted by the dull bulky cuffs strangling Aasir’s wrists. They were scuffed and eroded where the metal had eaten into Aasir’s skin, marring her burnished brown tone bruised blue and torn pink where the skin had ruptured. A series of silver links dangled near her knees before abruptly ending – broken – but Enoch could imagine what (who) they had tethered her to. Nervous, Assir clasped her hands behind her back in a feeble attempt to hide them, but the screeching of the chains as they struck each other continued to spew her secrets. It was useless.
Returning to Aasir’s gaze, the two just stared at each other. Enoch took notice of the crinkle of crows’ feet crowding the corner of Aasir’s warm maple eyes as she clenched them shut and scrunched her nose with worry. She fiddled her fingers and picked at the cuffs causing them to clink and clank, breaking the quiet evening.
Enoch simply smiled. She was amazed that Aasir, a woman who had managed to steal a Guineamen, the very ship Matty now sailed, from the Royal Navy using nothing but her wit and a bit of luck, who formed a pirate crew with men and women she saved from enslavement, who then voted for her to be their captain, was now standing her lover. A small ghost of a woman still haunted by a past that had killed her. No longer living, but alive, Enoch watched as Aasir’s semi-corporeal form glimmered in the moonlight. Almost a dream, she was made tangible by the gemstones, precious metals, and chains that tether her soul to the sea. Be it a curse or blessing, Enoch could find no shame in Assir’s unspoken past. She was just thankful Aasir trusted her enough to show it.
“Assir,” Enoch opened her arms inviting Aasir back to bed. Without hesitation, Aasir closed the distance and embraced Enoch.
“I love you,” Enoch gave a kiss to her forehead, “I love you,” another at the nape of her neck. “I,” Enoch pressed her lips to the inside of Aasir’s left wrist, “love,” again but to her right wrist, “you”. Both of their eyes connected and Enoch just wished she could convey how great of a person Aasir was, both living and dead.
Aasir’s lips tilted into a smile before she kissed Enoch as her fingers traced her silhouette. Enoch kissed her back. Assir grips the edge of Enoch’s shirt and tugged it over her long crown of black curls. Enoch slipped off her pants and joined Assir in her nudity.
It was in moments like those when Enoch would share in Aasir’s vulnerability. Back and forth the two would reveal the hidden parts of themselves between whispers of sweet nothings and cherished memories. But this present night was silent and Assir again had concealed herself behind the thick red velvet of her captain’s coat. It was by chance Enoch caught a glimpse of the shackles that still ensnared Aasir’s wrists as the moonlight refracted off of their silver surface. After so many years together, Aasir still looked as much of a mystery as the first time they met.
“No, Enoch,” Aasir lovingly touched her forehead to Enoch’s, “tonight you will become captain.”
“What,” how can she be smiling, “you’re leaving?” Enoch clasped Aasir’s wrist, making sure she was still there, still tangible.
“I’m happy; I’ve done everything I feel needed to.” Aasir flicked one of Enoch’s graying curls. And you’ll be joining me soon enough anyway, grandma.” She joked about how Enoch had very visibly aged over the years while she had stayed as young as the day she died. Frozen with shock, Enoch could do nothing but watch as Aasir removed a golden necklace with a ruby encrusted in the middle from her neck. As soon as it was over her head and no longer in contact with her body, Aasir’s appearance momentarily flickered. Like a dying light, her soul shimmered, bouncing back and forth between existence and something else before it eventually settled. Enoch could no longer see through her, but she appeared dimmer, less opaque than before.
Aasir placed the necklace around Enoch’s neck. “It looks lovely on you, Enoch.” Enoch slapped Aasir’s hand away and stood to pace. Aasir followed suit.
“No! You’re basically talking about–” Enoch stuttered at the finality of it all, “killing yourself.” She whispered.
“I’m already dead. If anything,” Aasir flicked open a golden pocket watch, “I’m running on borrowed time”.
“No.” Enoch feebly shook her head in disbelief.
“Who’s to say I won’t disappear tomorrow. Or the day after next. That whatever magic did this disappears!”
“So, you’ll disappear first–”
“Yes.” There were tears in Aasir’s eyes.
“I didn’t know this was weighing on you.” Enoch confessed.
Aasir stumbled backwards and collapsed onto their bed. She sunk into the sheets, tired. “You ever wonder what’s up there?” Aasir pointed at the ceiling; she traced grainlines in the planks of wood as if they were constellations. Enoch crawled next to her and rested her head against Aasir’s stomach. Her fingers tangle in Enoch’s hair.
“Not really. I mean.” Enoch tried to imagine what Aasir was imagining, what could be so great about it, but it was so murky. “There’s so much here to think about. You know?”
Enoch sat up and stared at Aasir’s sunken form; almost living, but less alive. “You really wanna go?” Aasir wrapped her arms around Enoch’s waist and nodded, further rubbing herself into Enoch’s side. Enoch let Aasir hold her and tried to feel her warmth, but there was none. Whatever magic blessed Aasir only made her tangible, a real illusion, but still dead. She could eat and breathe, but it did nothing; food was just another pretty accessory. Enoch pushed Aasir away so she could clearly see her face. “Will you wait for me?”
Aasir kissed Enoch for a long while, what could have been their last. “Always”.
Enoch pulled Assir from the bed until they were standing. She fiddled with the ruby necklace. “What piece would you like to start with?”
Aasir shook her hair. It jingled with all the treasure hidden within it.
Slowly they started to untangle all the jewels and doubloons braided into her hair, dropping the freed stones onto the floor. As the pile grew in size and brilliance, Aasir became less so. As they finished, Enoch could see right through Aasir. She was so translucent; Enoch imagined her hand could pass right through her. Enoch stared at the shackles on Aasir’s wrist. The last thing keeping her here. Tears fell from Enoch’s eyes as she smiled at her. Aasir looked so happy.
“I love you”.
Enoch gripped the brittle cuffs to break their seals. One in each hand.
“I love you, too”.
The steel fractures into pieces on the floor. Remnants of dust scatter throughout the air. Gone.