BY ALYSON FAYE
Copyright is held by the author.
RED-TILED ROOFS glow in the sunset as a ragged stick of a boy leaps, bare-footed from one to the next. He is a grease monkey in training—an orphan and a story in the making. In the distance he can glimpse, if he squints, the navy-blue rim of the ocean, a wavy line, drawn by a ship’s mast on the sky.
It calls to him. An ancient song.
His ma was fond of telling him he was a son of Neptune — a pearl born from an oyster. She wasn’t his birth mother. She’d found him one dusk, when out mudlarking. He’d been wrapped in knotted seaweed strands, lying on the shore.
Blue-skinned, nearly dead, sodden and salty, she’d carried him home in her wash basket, wrapped in her cleanest linen. She’d burnt rosemary and lavender all night long to purify the air and help his tiny lungs draw breath.
She’d prayed for years for a child, and now the sea had provided, as, in her experience, it always did one way or another — be it marbled sea glass, copper coins, clay pipes, bone buttons, iron hair grips and occasionally, gold, in the form of a suicide’s ring.
“Sad for the poor soul who died. It is a miracle for us,” Ma would say. “The dead feed the living.”
She called him Firth, as it meant “arm of the sea”. From as far back as he could remember the ocean had been his haven and his school.
The grey-lipped dawn, when Firth had found Ma dead in her bed, was the last day of his childhood.
At 14-summers old it was time to find his true mother. At the harbour, Firth stowed away in the “Barley Jane” due to sail at dawn. That night he slept soundly, lulled by the sea’s whispering.
“Come to me, my boy . . . ” He heard his mother’s voice in his head.
It mattered not that he was discovered on the ’morrow, for he was safe on board, miles from land. The Captain, laughed, clapped him on the shoulder and called him, “My good luck charm.” Firth did not blink. He knew he was anything but that.
The older sailors took him under their wings, showing him how to tie knots, swab decks and work the rigging. Firth waited, scanning the horizon. At night his mother’s voice filled his dreams, becoming louder and clearer.
“Come to me . . .”
Seven days out, the weather turned stormy, the air filled with electrical charge and thunder groaned and heaved in the heavens.
Firth stood, alone, on the deck, rain-lashed, staring seawards. “Mother, I am here!”
The ocean surged at the port side, waves lashed the decks, a massive torso rose up from the waves, long seaweed hair streamed past shell-encrusted cheeks.
The Siren opened her arms and Firth leapt into them. She sang as the sailors wept, the ship spasmed and sank.