Nin by the Ocean

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You only lose when you give up. - Imran Khan
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We walked through the forest for days. My heart hardly limped at all anymore, but it didn't start running again. It walked steadily and picked its way very carefully around any holes we came to.

The forest changed. The trees became thinner and their leaves smaller. Then there were fewer of them. Then there were none of them and we were walking on grass. I was just starting to worry about the lack of berry bushes and rivers to fish in when we reached the sea.

It was a beautiful, dark, huge sea. A black ocean. It tossed and turned and went straight from black to white at its crests. And in the distance, beyond the restless waters, I saw a mountain. A huge, beautiful mountain, stretching up so high I almost couldn't see the top. But I could see the top. It had a white-touched peak that brushed the clouds.

"Do I want to climb that mountain?" I asked my heart.

My heart chirruped.

"Okay then," I said.

I walked to the water. I didn't reasonably think I could swim to the mountain, it was too far away and the sea was too fierce, but I loved water and my feet were sore from walking. The water raced up the beach towards me and buried my feet up to my ankles.

The water was not as cold as I expected. It was cool and fresh. The soreness in my feet vanished. I laughed and kicked the water, spraying sand and wet. My heart chirruped and ran in after me. We splashed each other. The water was lovely. It numbed the aches and itches that came with sleeping on the ground and living in the forest.

I knelt down in the water and let it rush over my legs. I realized how tired I was. Leaving the crevice had been hard for me as well as my heart, and I'd been walking for so long. It felt like my legs vanished into the cold water. There was a numb, comforting lack of sensation.

My heart started barking when I leaned back and let the water rush over my entire body. The water spread my hair and soaked everything but my face. It felt so pleasant. That wasn't quite right. It didn't feel like anything at all, and it was so relaxing not to feel. The scratches from the forest were gone, my frustrations with my heart, the aching longing for the man across the crevice. Gone, gone, gone.

I felt the sand start to shift under me, and the tide start to tug me closer to the body of the sea. I realized I couldn't get up. I had lost track of where my arms and legs were, but that didn't seem to matter.

The last thing I remember hearing before the sea rolled over my eyes and ears was my heart yowling.


I woke up wet and freezing. I was soaked and the water was no longer comfortably numb, but properly cold. I was wrapped in something thick and heavy. My heart was perched on top of my legs, barking and bouncing. There was a woman. She shooed my enthusiastic heart off of me and helped me stand.

"Up you go," she said. "Let's get you inside."

I walked with her, leaning on her and blinking saltwater from my eyes. She took me to a small shack, built on the border where sand met dirt. It was warm inside the shack--that was all that I noticed at first. The woman took off the coat she'd wrapped me in and set me down by the fire to dry. My heart flopped down on my lap, splaying itself heavily.

"You've got a nice strong heart," the woman said, hanging a pot over the fire to cook. "Dragged you right out of the sea. Not all hearts are strong like that."

"Thank you," I said.

"Yes, well. Rest a bit and then have some soup."

The soup tasted like fish and pepper. My clothing dried slowly. I watched the woman move about her tiny shack. She was in the process of gutting fish and soaking their bodies in a bowl of liquid. The entire shack smelled of fish and brine.

The woman herself was wearing a tattered gray dress. Her gray hair was up in a long, whippy braid. She looked young enough to be my sister, but the slow, practiced way she moved made her seem old.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Nimue," she said, slicing open another fish. "You can call me Nim."

"Thank you for helping me," I said.

"It cost me little," said Nim. "My coat will dry, and fire is free, and you're tiny enough you don't eat much soup."

I nodded and smiled. Nim let me sleep on a pile of mats and furs, which was much nicer than sleeping on the ground. Despite this, I had trouble getting to sleep. My heart kept trying to lie on top of me. I got the impression it was trying to keep me from moving.

"I'm not going back to the sea," I told it.

It growled. I put my arms around it and whispered poetry.


I stayed with Nim for a while. My close call with drowning had spooked me as much as it had my heart. I wasn't ready to even think about crossing the sea for a while. I helped Nim pickle fish to preserve them through the coming winter. We also smoked them, dried them, and salted them. Nim said that if you couldn't have fresh fish, it was best to have many different kinds of old fish, so that you didn't get bored and start hating life.

We also candied nuts and berries, which was my favorite activity. Mostly due to the lack of fish.

My heart learned to fish for itself in the sea. The numbing waters didn't seem to bother or tempt it as they had me. It ate constantly, whenever it wasn't whining to be pet, or sitting on me, or staring at me to make sure I didn't go near the water.

I was watching my heart one day. It was standing over one of the rivers that emptied into the ocean, waiting for a fish to swim past. It was getting bigger. I wondered how big hearts could get, and how I would manage it if I ever had to put it back in my chest.

After a while I turned to stare out at the black ocean. Nim stopped grinding salt into salmon to look with me.

"Tempting, isn't it?" she said.

I nodded.

"S' why I live here," she said. "When I was a girl, my mother went into it. Got tired and just lay down and sunk. Didn't have a heart strong enough to keep her away, or drag her out. I swore up and down I never would. But what's the point of swearing if you move on inland and it never troubles you? No. Best to stay here, and prove every day that the warm and painful's better than the cold and calm."

"Not that I have much to stay up here in the warm for," she said, turning the fish over and slapping it down on the salt covered mat she'd laid on the ground. "Fish, rubbish, and watching for fools that almost drown themselves."

"Your fish are delicious and your house is cozy and you're wonderful," I said.

"Hmph," Nim said. I had learned quickly that compliments and gratitude made her uncomfortable, but often I couldn't help myself.

"I need to get across it," I added, motioning to the sea. "I need to get to the mountain."

"Mm!" said Nim. "Well, you're in luck. The ferrywoman lives down the beach.

I turned and looked at her. "There's a ferrywoman?"

"'Course there is! You can't think you're the only one what wants to get to that great lump across the way. Anything a man can see, he wants to walk on. Put a flag on it, probably, or some such."

From far away, there was a splash. My heart had caught another fish.

News - 10/20/12

The comfortable numbness of despair has a certain allure--but it's not worth it.


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