Tuo bel cielo

August 8, 2010 at 9:30 pm (Skrifa) (, , , )

It is going to rain. Air that is sweet with the darkening sky kisses her bows and she remembers, dreaming, as she is tipped back and forth by ripples of brackish water. Look! Here, under the water line, a scar where a great fish, heaving against an enemy he couldn’t see, has dented her belly. At her stern, white letters spell her name: “Aida”.

A sea bird shits on her deck. He lands and ruffles his feathers, and stares over the water. She provides a good lookout for fishing, but he’d found a newly discarded pile of crab shells in the afternoon and later, a fried dinner that someone had left behind. He’d gorged on potato, on fish skin coated in batter that had been picked from the flesh underneath, bending his neck into the plastic basket with its fluttering red gingham wax paper so comically that a family of people sitting a few tables away had not bothered to shoo him.

He preens – combing each feather. He has all the time in the world.

The wind picks up. It blows a breath of salt from over the cold oceans of the wild North into the bay. Her cabin doors – on springs that have been weakened by salt and water – knock against her stairs. An adult man must bend at the waist to enter, but the seagull has no such trouble. He sees the rain coming to the bay. He’s been inside empty human dwellings before, and this one smells dank and unused. If he sleeps through the storm he will be able to weather it easily.

At first he beds down on the stairs, under the overhang. Once the rain begins, clattering over her glass and washing her deck, wet air sweeps down her stairs and musses his feathers. He shakes droplets from his head and beak. Her slatted cabin doors are open – their maple, varnished many times, glows even in the dim evening sunlight.

She doesn’t feel him enter the cabin; how could she? Her motor pulls her into the water half-an-inch more than she was built to lie. It is a working motor, started with a switch, not with a pull-rope, and was put there when her last motor had rusted so that the blades could no longer move, by a fisherman, who had bought her and restored her. It hangs above the water, a promise, a little menacing, rain water sluicing down its sides.

The seagull turns his head, not side to side, as humans are wont to do, but around: parallel to floor right, perpendicular, parallel left – his eyes aren’t used to the dim light. Nothing moves. He walks forward, this time turning his head on its vertical axis and back again. No, the cubby bathroom is uninteresting. But! There is a table.

He hops onto it, sharpens his beak on one rounded, metal-tipped corner. There isn’t any food in sight. He lies on the table, next to one of her gaping, sleeping eyes, settling his feathers. He sleeps, and dreams with her, peculiar dreams.

“What do you think, baby?”

“Yeah, it’s great. Real great, John.”

“Oh god, I love it when you wear lingerie-”

The girl rolls her eyes, and reaches over him to pour herself another shot of vodka, and she notices (she can’t help noticing) that he has a mole right under the slight overhang of his left nipple. His chest hair is white.

He doesn’t take his eyes from her breasts. She can make all the faces she wants.

“I do everything for you,” he says, breathing wetly into her stomach. She lets him do whatever, and concentrates on the clink of the ice in her glass. She stares out the porthole, glassily, stares at her car in the marina’s parking lot, at the bleached white bones of the docks, not really seeing, until there are hot pink pumps nearly in her face.

She starts, spilling vodka on him.

“Jenny, what the fuck?” he yells.

She scrambles off the bed, breathing. She hides under the table. She sees the hot pink pumps clack down the stairs, come under the swinging cabin doors.

“Oh god,” says her lover, more from disgust than fear. “What?”

Jenny is dragged from her hiding place by the elbow. Her lover’s wife spits in her face, then turns and says, “You’re an idiot, John.” She turns back to Jenny. “Did you even want my goddamn boat named after you?”

“No,”Jenny says. She likes his wife more than she likes him.

The seagull tucks his bill into the other side of his wings. The dreams don’t bother him. Outside, the rain is a sheet, churning the surface of the bay. He is lucky to have found her.

The sun sets sometime during the rain, but the clouds are still weeping violent tears. The seagull is not a night bird but after a few hours he wakes and sets about rummaging for food. There are cupboards, and they are within reach. The upper cupboards are closed, but one on the bottom, next to the floor, has come open.

He tosses aside a box of pancake mix. There is a hole in it, and it spills out over the linoleum floor. Behind that, crackers. These are open. He disembowels the box on the floor. The trash can smells faintly of fish; at the bottom there is a mostly eaten tin of partially rotten sardines, which he eats.

This time he sleeps on the bunk, bare of any sheets. It has only a foam mattress with a plastic green and white striped cover. He did not remember her dreams in his search for something to eat. They have continued in his absence.

He sees a man in sailing shorts, a striped polo shirt. The man’s hair is gold, parted on the side. A small girl clings to his striped kneesocks.

“Daddy?” she says.

“Mmm,” he replies. He is checking the compass.


“Just a minute, girly.”


He ignores her, putting the boat in a higher gear, altering course slightly.



“Can I have some juice?”

“Ask Mommy, sweet pie.”

She turns around, not steady on her feet. She holds to his knees still with one hand. Her cheek is pressed to his thigh.

“Mommy?” she calls, over the spray and the sound of the motor.

A woman comes out of the cabin, hitting her shoulder on the door frame, and exclaiming involuntarily. “Yes?”

“Are you okay, Mommy?”

“I’ll be fine. What is it?”

“Can I have some juice?”

Her mother nods. “In a minute.” She puts her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “How’s she doing?”

“Beautiful,” he says. “What a beaut.” He thumps the wheel affectionately. “Our Aida.”

The little girl is grumpy. “What about me?” she says.

He looks down at her. “She’ll be yours when you’re old enough, goof.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“And then you can name her whatever you want.”

“No,” says the little girl. “That was a pretty name, the one you said was pretty. I wish that was my name.”

In the morning, the gull suns himself on her deck. The cabin, though it had been safe, was damp. The bay is olive green in the bright sun, but there is some ocean blue mixed with the rich mud, where the clams lie and crabs jerk their limbs, swimming with the current that sweeps in and out with the ocean. At about ten o’clock, the seagull leaves her. She doesn’t notice his departure. He flies out to sea, out to the deep waters, where the storms can kill him, where he must sometimes sleep on the ocean, tossed about like a toy over the waves.


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