The Furniture Maker

The God of the Sea keeps our stories. When their time comes, he helps us find our way through them, even if we don’t want to remember. Stories are like icebergs, you see, most of them hide beneath the water.

This is the story of the furniture maker’s wedding.

It began when we brought the Narwhal into port to pick up a shipment and supplies. Narwhal’s my ship, you see. I was Admiral of the Imperial Navy once. Took my ship with me.  Hey oh!

Well, I sit myself down to a nice breakfast in the mess hall, when in struts my first officer, Reesha, with his ledger. Reesha’s cute as pie. Have girls breaking down the bulkheads if he’d take off the nail polish. Maybe get a decent haircut. A smile wouldn’t hurt him either.

 So here comes Reesha, with his ledger, and his uniform jacket chopped off at the nipples. That’s how the day kicks off, my first mate’s underboobs at nose level.

Yesterday, you see, I might have sort of suggested he’s a little…porky. He’s a bit thick to get away with those skinny little jeans he wears, and now I can see he’s gone and put a sparkly ring in his bellybutton. I know when a nose is being thumbed my way, so I try not to look.

“We’re meeting the furniture maker today, Admiral,” says Reesha, tossing his hair out of his eyes. He sharpens the th and s’s when he talks, got that sharp-as-glass accent from the North.

Don’t go North, they tell you. Learned that all the way back in the academy. That’s where the worshipers of the sea god live. Brosk, they call him, the shepherd of lost souls. You would know him if you saw him: more man than beast, carved tusks hanging from the shoulders of his fur coat, a human semblance over starlight and fire.

But that’s a story. You don’t go North because that’s where the ice is, and the ice gathers up all sorts of lost things that drift around at the end of the world. Like Reesha and Cookie.

Where were we? The ledger. The bellybutton. Underboobs.  Reesha taps the toe of his boot on the floor and says: “We’re meeting Miss Freda today. The furniture maker. She’s hoping to introduce her artisan furniture to the market overseas, you remember?”

“Yeah,” I tell him. “I recall.” And boy, do I.

Reesha blinks his racoon eyes at me. “Be nice.”

“Be nice? I already met the young … lady. It’s Cookie you got to keep the lid on. Cookie, always running his mouth about ten knots faster than his brain.”

Reesha shimmy-shrugs, and a sparkle off his damned naked bellybutton stabs me in the eye socket.

“You just drop anchor,” I tell him, and head down to the kitchen.

I find the kitchen door open and smoke bubbling across the ceiling like a volcanic vent. I lean inside and see Cookie, doing what Cookie does best.

The stove’s on fire, the food’s on fire, Cookie’s on fire. He looks about nine feet tall, bellowing away in that terrible language of his. He sings like a force of nature, a typhoon, a storm surge. If he catches you unawares, it’ll scare the fillings right out of your teeth. When he gets worked up, you can hear creatures in his voice, and glaciers cracking open. I swear he crawled straight out of Hell.

Cookie throws ghost peppers on the stove, and they smoke up like mustard gas.

“Cookie!” I cough. “Criminy sake, why are you cooking those?”

And Cookie goes: “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” Huge, greasy, dripping. “Didn’t hear you complaining at dinner.”

I tell him we need him to help load the furniture shipment, some of the pieces are too large for us to manage. I, myself, like to leave Cookie in the kitchen. Safest place for him. But someone has to pick up sofas.

“Now Cookie,” I need him to listen. “Cookie, I need your attention for a moment.”

Cookie sets his hand on the burners to snuff the flame, wipes a dirty towel all over his face, and turns around. He scratches the fishhooks in his eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“The young furniture maker is here with her shipment. You’re going to meet her. You’re going to see what she looks like.”

Cookie wipes a bloody cleaver all over his pants. “Yeah?”

“Miss Freda is a lovely young…thing, but she’s different, Cookie. Don’t gawk, don’t ask questions. And please, please don’t stare, Cookie.”

Cookie slides his welding goggles onto his hair. “That bad, huh?”

“She looks…quirky, you might say. Quirky. Please don’t embarrass her. Her work is quite popular.”

Cookie does that thing with his mouth, Smile’s evil cousin. He lights a cigarette by breathing fire over it. “You have my interest, Admiral.”

“Just keep quiet,” I say.

“You know me,” says Cookie.

Cookie and I take a motorboat to shore. Reesha’s there, lying in the sun popping bubblegum…and there she is, there’s Freda.

No one else quite like Freda, even around these parts. Big as a horse, grey as gun metal, teeth like that, sitting on her haunches, all polite like. Picture it, like a hound, but with scales in some places, and all these black glinty eyes, almost spider eyes—there might be more than two but you can never be sure. Makes you wonder who ever thought of such a thing.

She looks shy, Miss Freda, this hellhound monstrosity who makes artisan furniture. We’ll be representing her to the ghouls who need couches. 

We get off the boat and Cookie, the lout, what does he do? He stares. Even Reesha notices and gives him a little kick. And then a bigger kick, and it makes no difference. Kicks don’t mean much to Cookie.

I get in front of my cook and start conversing with Miss Freda, get her advance taken care of. People just love her work, I say, the advance is generous. As I hand her the money, she looks over my shoulder.

I turn around to see Cookie malfunctioning. That big, filthy, crispy barbarian goggle eyed and nearly drooling. I’m thinking he might have blown a fuse. Had a stroke. Something.

“Cookie!” I sputter, “Cookie, my god…”

I turn back to assure Freda everything is fine, my cook’s just an imbecile, and he starts growling. Growling!

Then Freda’s lips draw up to show her teeth a little. Good lord, I think.

Cookie draws first. His mouth opens and sparks come tumbling out. That growl becomes the long opening note of a song. He’s singing to her! Just there on the beach like that’s a perfectly normal thing to do with a hellhound furniture maker.

He flings his arms out, he’s got his hairnet on, bugling like a bull elk. Freda grins, then she laughs.

My darned first mate, Reesha, manifests a guitar from somewhere and adds a little ditty over top of the bellowing. I meet Reesha’s eyes and he shrugs.

It ends with Cookie leaning over to kiss Miss Freda’s paw. He’s all: “Let me show you my ship, let me cook you all the beautiful things, let me…let me… let me…”

“Your ship?” I’m still trying to get my bearings on the situation.

Reesha leans sideways with his ledger and pops his bubblegum in my ear. “We have to go shopping, Admiral.”

Freda glances my way, an eyebrow arced up in question.

I sigh. “You’re more than welcome aboard the Narwhal, Miss Freda. Forgive my cook, he’s…well, he is what he is.”

Whatever he is, Freda seems to like it, she keeps grinning, eyes only for Cookie.

And that’s that. Cookie guides a little bit of hair behind one of her ears and she closes her eyes, all four or eight of them. Suppose that might have meant something.

“You’re really going to town like that, Reesh? Maybe you could put a shirt on.” We’re loitering on the edge of the foggy town, gulls crying overhead. Way out yonder a foghorn moans.

Reesha taps his ledger and pops his gum. “We have to go sign for the grocery shipment at the Deal Dock.”

“You’re not cold, are you?” I try, the sparkly bellybutton has me by the short hairs. Back in my day, a Navy uniform used to mean something.

Reesha pops the gum again and squints his blue eyes. “Is my body an embarrassment to you, Admiral?”

“Golly, Reesh, what’s got you in such a mood?”

He ignores me. We sign for the shipment and head over to the Lucky Starfish for a bite.

“Look here, Reesh, they’ve got a nice selection of salads, you like salads, nice and green and—”

“Pizza,” Reesha tells the server, and glares at me. Daring me.

I suppose we’ve been coming to this. “You know, I’m just trying to look out for you a little,” I tell him.

He widens his eyes. “Please don’t.”

Our pizzas arrive, and let me tell you, Lucky Starfish knows its way around a pizza, yes sir, plenty of sauce, melty cheese. Makes me hungry just talking about it.

Reesha takes a menu and stands it up between us. I fold it and set it aside so we can converse like men.

“You remind me of my son,” I tell him. “Nice boy, cute as pie…”

Reesha pulls melted cheese through his teeth. “You tell him how to dress, too?”

“Point is, Reesh, you remind me of my son. I don’t know where he is, Reesh. Wonder what he’s up to.”

I know I had a boy once, took him away from his childhood and gave him a warship, and now, now I don’t know where to find him.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My son had these ugly broken bits inside that none of us Navy boys could see. Awful slimy eels in his heart. Maybe it was me who put them there. They must have hurt him something terrible, because one day they got the best of him…and you know what they say about souls getting lost in the sea. The currents run darkest beneath the easiest prey. And lost souls drift North.

“I don’t know where my son is,” I tell Reesha. We have an iceberg between us, my first mate and I. Thing about icebergs is, they go so much deeper than what you crash your ship into.

“I bet he crews a shitty ship,” Reesha licks pizza sauce off his fingers. “Bet he plays guitar. Bet you’d call him fat, too.”

“I’m just making talk,” I say.

Reesha marks squares off his ledger. “We still have to pick up a pallet of toilet paper. We should, you know, do that. Admiral.”

“Why you got to be such a sourpuss, Reesh?” I ask.

Reesha looks at me, deep into my eyes and asks: “Do you remember what you were looking for when you crashed your ship in the North?”

You give something up to bring a ship all that way. The journey is never free.

When I don’t say something fast enough, Reesha starts to get huffy and sniffly, his mouth puckering up. “Did you ever think, maybe I wanted to stay there?” he says.

“I’m sorry!” I say, “I’m sorry I called you porky. You aren’t fat, Reesh, just got a little love around the hips.”

Reesha scowls like a bowl of spoiled milk. “Maybe I didn’t want to get picked up by Admiral Airhead’s denial cruise line, and maybe you didn’t want to remember the kid who let you down, but well, here we are anyway.” Waving down the server, he takes a beer off their tray and chugs it.

“Come now, Reesh,” I reach across the table for his hand, but he doesn’t reach back. “Don’t you think it’s time we just…got the thing over with? Laid out the whole heart of the beast, so to speak?”

He drains the rest of his beer and clacks the glass down.

“It’s my fault, really,” I tell him, and swear he about chokes.

He’s all: “What did you say?”

“It’s my fault,” I repeat myself. “I accept the blame.”

Reesha’s gone very still. He watches me, thawing a bit at the edges, the scowl warming. He looks me in the eye and says: “Are you finally ready to have this conversation?”

It’s funny. I didn’t even know I had a son until a letter arrives for the Admiral of the Navy, from this poor little farm in some war-torn dump of a country. From the moment I first laid eyes on the boy, I knew I could give him more. Knew he could be better than the hand life dealt him. I thought I could make a man out of him.

“It’s on me this time, boy,” I tell Reesha. “You see, Reesh, I’ve never really put my expectations in writing for the crew. A dress code, if you will. Uniform, hair, belly jewelry… You just got to try a little is all I’m asking.”

Reesha chokes on his own spit. “You’re un-flipping-believable…” Except he didn’t say flipping.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask for you to wear a shirt in public. That’s just professional.” I say.

I can see Reesha’s chest heaving, all upset now. “You don’t even see me, do you?” He’s half-way across the table, candy-colored nail polish digging into the wood next to my plate. “You’ve never seen me. Not once since the day we met.”

I take hold of his wrists, I can feel him shaking, he’s freezing cold.

“Someday,” he whispers, and there’s beasts in his voice just like there are in Cookie’s, beasts and glaciers and pain. “Someday, you are going to have to see.”

Reesha waits, watching me with his pale blue eyes. He waits a little longer before standing up and dropping paper money on the table. “Good talk,” he snips, and stalks out.

With Reesha gone, I think about my boy again. A damn fine Captain.

I’d sailed the Narwhal up that way, to these backwards towns along the coast. All wrapped up in their old gods and their farms. One of the local girls was very interested in getting to know me. I was an Admiral of the Imperial Navy. I was the man to know.

We got to know each other pretty well, you might say. She even took me down to the beach one night at a stinking low tide to worship her god. They had this statue carved of him, tusks hanging from the shoulders of his coat, smile like a promise of damnation. First time I’d seen Brosk, God of the Sea. Before that, he’d just been a name in a book.

“He sings ships to the depths,” she said.

“And you worship this fellow?” I replied. She gave me a look, like I should know better.

We were two very different types of humans, the girl and I. At least I thought that then.

But I will never forget how she took the flower from her hair, an alpine gentian, shaped like a star and blue as a mountain lake. She took it from behind her ear and lay it in the hands of the god.

I left that town, and never looked back. Not until the letter came.

This is not a story about my Navy days. This is about the furniture maker.

Where was I? Ah yes. The next morning rolls around and I head to the mess hall to find Reesha lying on a bench eating a bag of potato chips. He’s got on honest-to-god fishnets today, and I wonder where I went wrong.

“Where’s breakfast?” I ask.

Reesha gazes into the bag. “I know nothing.” 

Nine o’clock rolls around, and still no breakfast. I go to the kitchen: Cookie’s not there, nothing’s on fire.

At his room, I hear snoring. “Cookie!” I yell.

Log sawing snores.


He comes to the door. You have to picture this. You really do.

He’s taller than the door frame, squinting down at me, a little singed, stubbly and smokey. Stark. Ass. Naked.  Half-mast, dead ahead.

Take a second. Let it sink in.

 “Yeah?” Says naked Cookie.

“Where is breakfast, Cookie?”

Cookie rubs soot all over his face. “Did you look in the fridge?”

“This isn’t funny, Cookie, do you know what time it is? It’s nine o’clock, Cookie! What are you doing, Cookie? Why aren’t you making breakfast?”

Cookie just leans against the door. And you know what he says? Busy. He says: “Busy. Took the morning off.”

I ask him: “Since when does the cook of the Narwhal take mornings off?”

“Whenever he wants to. There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge.”

“Leftovers? Where’s our nice Sunday Morning Breakfast, Cookie? Where’s the bacon and the waffles and the scones?”

“Reesha can make you a sandwich.”

Reesha can’t even put clothes on his own corpse!”

“Not my problem.”

“It is so your problem, Cookie!”

Cookie looks down at me, mouth pulled down in an unconcerned frown. “It’s very hard for you, isn’t it?”

“Did you just sass me? Did the cook just sass his Captain?”

“I thought you were an Admiral.”

He had me there. “Just put some pants on and grill some cheese or something. We’re disembarking in fifteen minutes!”

Cookie just blinks. “No, we aren’t.”

 “What is this, Mutiny Monday?”

“We go nowhere until I take the young lady home.”

It takes me a moment. I ask him if Miss Freda is still here, and he’s all: “Yeah,” like it should be obvious.

 “You kept her here all night?”

“Yeah,” he says, “she stayed.”

“Good god, Cookie, where is she? Where did you put her?”

 “Where do you think I put her?”

“I don’t know, the brig? Where else are you going to fit a sofa-sized murder-mutt?” I’m not thinking far enough ahead…

Cookie goes quiet, gets that evil cousin of Smile on his face, and shows me the embers in the back of his mouth: “She can hear you.”

I shut right up at that. Where is she? I ask with my eyes.

Behind me, say Cookie’s eyebrows.

What else can I do? I shake my head and leave. I ended up sharing Reesha’s potato chips for breakfast. The silence builds a moat between us, and I almost asked him to fetch that guitar of his. Almost, but not quite.

Around two in the afternoon, Cookie finally escorts Freda back to land and then watches the shore drift away as the Narwhal turns for the open ocean.

 “What a woman,” says Cookie.

I sigh. “I’m glad she seemed to have a good time.”

Patting his pants, Cookie drags out this ancient cigar and sets it between his teeth. “Good time, yeah,” he lights it with his finger this time. How cultured. “She likes my cooking.”

“Seriously? You…how, Cookie? How?” I splutter a little.

Cookie just blows out this cloud of smoke, cool as a clam. “Do you need to say something, or are you just making stupid sounds?”

And the rest is history. We went out, we sold the furniture, and brought Miss Freda news of a booming career. Every time we made port in the bay, Cookie went off to see her, and pretty soon I’m down one cook and have an invitation to a wedding. I’m the Admiral, I’m officiating, of course. I want to ask how they make it work, two such different creatures, if they’re planning on having kids or what, but you know? I see the way they look at one another, how they’ve learned to say so much without saying anything at all, and I’ve kept my mouth shut.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

Next thing I know, the wedding is tomorrow, and I’ve got to get my uniform in order. I’m throwing things out of the closet, looking for my dress blacks. Something heavy falls on me, a Captain’s uniform.

I didn’t know I still had it.

“Your son’s?” asks Freda. She snuck up behind me on her paws and leans into my cabin. Her spider eyes flicker in the twilight of the ship.

“Yes,” I hold the lifeless uniform. “He was Captain once.”

The rest of Freda follows her head into my cabin. “Your son has a voice like the moment before the sun goes under the water.”

“I never got to hear him sing,” I say.

Freda tilts her head over. “I’m sure he would sing for you if you asked him.”

I can’t ask him. But talking about him helps me remember. I can see him on the little farm, clutching a basket of potatoes as the shadow of my ship falls over him. He backs away as I walk closer. Son, I say, son…but I am nothing more than a stranger.

Then there is another memory. I’m holding him this time. It is the eve of a grand party, and we’re both in our dress blacks. He’s wearing this uniform. We’re in his cabin on his ship, on the floor, and I’m trying to shake him awake. The rank on his collar sparkles and his lips are blue.

“My boy,” I hold the old uniform tight and then put it back. “My boy is gone now…”

“I’m sorry,” says Miss Freda, and slithers away like smoke.

I blink and I’m back in the moment. The Wedding! It’s tomorrow! I still need something to wear.

Picking out two of my formals, a black one and a white, I decide to go ask Reesha for his opinion on the matter. The gods know I’m wearing the black one, but he likes to be included.

“Not the black one,” says Reesha, perfectly on cue, elbows deep in a vase of lilies. He wears a paisley apron and mumbles around a mouthful of hat pins. Kid might not be able to put on a proper pair of trousers, but he sure has an eye for color. Lovely little vases bloom atop every table in the dining hall.

“But you’re going to wear the black one anyway,” slurs Reesha around the pins. “You’re only asking my opinion to annoy me, so I forget the orchids or—get that thing away from me.” He spits out the pins and brandishes a pair of scissors at me.

It seems I’ve brought the Captain’s uniform by mistake. Coats get all mixed up in the dark, don’t they?

“Don’t you dare,” seethes Reesha. “Don’t you flipping dare.”

Again, he didn’t say flipping.  Never ‘flipping’, make a note.

I tell him: “Watch your mouth, young man, and put those scissors down while you’re at it.” I use a finger to steer the point away from my throat. “Must have gotten mixed up as I’m pulling things out of the closet. I don’t mean nothing by it.” I lay the Captain’s uniform over a chair two tables over. “No threat to you.”

Reesha doesn’t lower the sheers. He drips plant water. Now, the boy goes out of his way to go about half naked. Bellybuttons? Liberated. Nipples? Free as the wind. But he keeps his arms covered. Thing is, playing in flowers and water, and he’s got his sleeves chopped at the shoulder, and I can see the scars he normally hides.

What hurt him? Those slimy little eels in his heart. Put a voice in his ear and a knife in his hand. Now that I see the scars, I remember I should have done something, done anything. But I looked the other way, I told him to be a man, and then it was too late.

And that’s how you come to barter with Brosk. One mistake at a time.

That’s how I found Reesha. A lost soul at the end of the world. That’s where the lost souls go, they always said. North to Brosk, the God of the Sea.

Never been sure if Reesha was what I went looking for, but Reesha’s what I got.

Reesha stares at me staring at him and twirls the scissors around his finger all sassy like. I can’t look away, so he folds his arms and blushes. “Will you let me finish my work? I have five more boutonnieres before rehearsal. Who knew Cookie had so many friends?”

“I’m not here to bother you,” I try to say.

Reesha turns away from me. “Not the black uniform. There, we’re done.”

I put the rejected Captain’s uniform back over my arm. Reesha side-eyes me. We glare at each other for an extended moment.

“It’s a shame,” I start to say.

“It is,” he agrees.

I look at the coat with all its medals.  “I’m just wondering… if you haven’t picked out an outfit yet, something appropriate, this would sure look mighty sharp on you.”

Reesha rubs his forehead. I’d have a headache too, huffing lilies all day. “I’m not wearing anything you bring me until you can tell me who it belongs to and why you have it.”

My moment has finally arrived, clear as a bright blue sky across my bow. “Why Reesha,” I hold out the jacket so he can see the gleaming bronze name over the breast. “It’s yours.”

Reesha turns all the way around to look. He snuffles his nose, coughs a little, sounds like he’s got a touch of a cold. Or a pollen allergy.

“Leave it,” he says, focusing back on his flowers. He makes his eyes all big and snips the head off a rose. “Somebody’s got to throw the flipping thing overboard.”

The wedding turned out beautiful, just the prettiest thing you ever saw.

When I button up my Admiral’s uniform though, it just doesn’t seem to fit right anymore. I grudgingly wear the white one instead. Reesha’ll never let me live it down.

The dining hall bursts with flowers and the guests gather. Reesha arrives first at the altar, and I have to catch my jaw before it bounces off the floor. He’s wearing it, the Captain’s uniform. And damn is my boy handsome. He won’t look at me though and uses the altar as a barrier between us.

Cookie looms in next, showered and with his hair pulled up. He wears his fur coat, the one he wore when I crashed my ship into his iceberg. Tusks hang from the shoulders, carved with all the stories of the sea. Suppose mine’s in there somewhere.

We call him Cookie and he allows it. We all know that’s not his name.

Miss Freda wears wisteria braided in her hair, a beautiful creature, even if I don’t know what she is. I say my lines, they do their thing, he sings her a song in his magnificent voice. Embers fall from his mouth, smoldering all the way down the aisle in a celebration of their love. A tablecloth or two gets toasted in the process.

Everyone dances, the cake melts before the end of the night, and nobody cares. They eat it off the table, laughing and laughing.

The night grows late, and I’m leaning on the railing having a puff on the pipe. Should be partaking in the festivities, but I’m watching Reesha instead. Been so long since I’ve seen a body in that uniform. The medals shimmer in the lanterns, the black cloth tight across his handsome chest. What set of shoulders he has, and they sure look good in epaulets. Can’t even tell he’s a little porky. All it took was the right set of rags.

My heart should swell with pride. That’s my boy. What a handsome Captain of the Empire. But he just sits there on a beer keg, boots shined but not dancing, face pretty as a poster, and blank as paper.

I know this boy, his face grey and bloodless. His eyes look out to sea, blue and cloudy as the fog rolling in. I know that face, and I tell you, I can’t bear it.

Tears roll down my cheeks now. What a wedding it is! Can’t blame a man for getting sentimental.

I get a whiff of campfire as Cookie lurks over to smoke with me. He leans his shadow against the railing and lets the smoke fall between us. All I can see of him is the glow in the back of his throat and the starlight in his eyes. He smiles at me. Kindly, sadly, smugly. He moves his chin toward the boy.

“Well?” Asks his deep, old voice from the embers. “Isn’t that what you wanted to see, Admiral?”

I finally won the war and got Reesha dressed half proper. But the victory feels hollow. “He doesn’t look none too happy,” I say.

Cookie blows a ring of smoke.

“Maybe I should have let him wear an atrocity. Would have been nice to see him perk up, even a little.”

Cookie takes a long drag from his cigar. When he speaks, the deep bass of his voice rattles in my chest. “The thing about my ship is: the night is young here. You have Time, Admiral. But you choose how you use it. Nothing lasts forever, only just long enough.”

I don’t correct him about the ship. We all know who’s ship it is.

“I think it was a mistake. I wish I could tell him.”

Cookie grins at me, Smile’s accursed cousin. “Reesh,” he calls, “march that fat sulky ass kindly over here please.”

His words, not mine. Golly.

Reesha still won’t look at me. He pulls the cuffs further over his wrists, but he comes when Cookie calls him, as anyone would.

Cookie towers over us. “The Admiral wants to tell you something, Reesha.”

Reesha sniffles his cute nose. “Let me guess. Looking a little, a little—that is, porky lad. Shoulda coulda laid off the pizza, just a little bit.”

Cookie guffaws with such gusto, he showers us both in sparks.

Me though? My joy’s run dry. “I’m sorry, Reesha. I really am.”

He scuffs his boot on the deck. “I’m sure.”

I want to leave it at that. That’s a good place to end, isn’t it? But I do something out of character instead. I reach out, take him by the shoulders, and pull him to me. I hug my boy. I hug him close and try to feel the heart beating in his breast. And isn’t it the darndest thing? He hugs me back.

For a moment, I return to the conversation with Freda, the found memories in my coat closet. I find Reesha lying on the floor in his perfect uniform, and there’s so much more blood than you would imagine could fit in a body. I lift him, I shake him, but he’s as cold as ice. Blue eyes, blue as mine and empty. The black water had already taken him.

To the North, they say. Where the lost souls go.

I never knew him. I gave him everything I wanted him to have and took everything else away.

Tonight, at the furniture maker’s wedding, I hold him tight, then I straighten his collar. “I should have thrown this thing overboard long ago.” I should never have given it to him in the first place, I should have left him where he was, where he was happy. But I’m not quite ready to say that just yet. You understand.

“No,” says Reesha. “I think it’s something we have to do together.”

He doesn’t move. It feels so good to hold him. You don’t think about such things until they’re gone. His hair is so soft, I never thought to touch it before. Soft as seal fur.

“Go on then,” I tell him. “Take it off. I’m sure you’ve got something unreasonable underneath.”

He does, and he does. Together, we fold up my son’s uniform, and together, Reesha and I let it fall down, down to the dark water beneath us.

My eyes are leaking, weddings are emotional, you see. Reesha’s bellybutton ring’s winking at me, and I hug him again. I want to remember what it like feels to hold him, not how he looks in some clothes.

I know now, know what I needed to say, know what I went looking for when I sailed North. “I love you, son,” I say. “I love you, and I see you.”

“I love you too, Dad,” he whispers back. “I’m so sorry we’re here.”

“I’m not,” I tell him. And I’ve never meant anything more. “Now, go get that guitar of yours, I want to hear you sing.”

He nods, then he smiles, and heads below deck.

It’s just me and Cookie now, alone on a ship in the night. The party has gone somewhere else for the moment.

Cookie rests a hand on my shoulder. “When you crashed your ship into the iceberg, it was a noble sacrifice, Admiral. A soul for a soul. It does not work the way you thought it would. Our time together is not infinite, we all must go on. But before then…” Cookie reaches into his coat and plucks out this little blue flower, an alpine gentian, if I’m not mistaken, and places it in my hand.

He snaps his fingers and, like flipping a switch, we’re at the party again, the feasting, the laughing.

I know, I know. It’s not the story you wanted, but it’s the story you get. Stories are just like that sometimes. Like icebergs.

Reesha reappears with his guitar and his hair gelled up. He plays for a moment and starts to sing. He sings to Freda and Cookie, to me, and all the other things that lost their way and ended up on the Narwhal. And I’ll be damned, what a voice.

My son sings Cookie and his hellhound bride farewell as they set off into the moonlight. Then, he takes my arm, and we dance together among the flowers and the ghouls. I slip the alpine gentian behind his ear and see his mother in his face.

The night will last long enough and no longer. It is just a night, but sometimes, that’s all we get.

Image: @nathan_bch, taken with an Canon EOS 450D 01/08 2019 The picture taken with 28.0mm, f/3.5s, 1/1600s, ISO 200 The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.

Scroll to Top