The Port's Call


In the port of Skye, the sailors go unleashed. They stumble from the phlegm of the sea, over sand-drenched banks to vestibule into the village, to drench themselves in the bar tap’s beer. Home bypasses them as a second-long thought; a glimpse of a mother from their saddle ride on the cycling carousel. They circle around each other in dense patterns, pressing trails of footsteps on the floorboards in curls of dancing calligraphy, veining and coalescing and hollering out drunken spatters.

Among the crowd sits a man, legs crossed under a table, shoulders hunched underneath his trouser-pressed suit. He is an actuary by day; by night, he holds his glass of watered wine to his chest, it spits at his shirt each time a neighbouring sailor bumps into his side.

            “Excuse me, please,” he says.
            The sailors do not hear, ears brimming with each other’s bellows.
            “Excuse me,” he says, louder yet mute. 

The sailors do not move for him but only for themselves, pawing over tables and falling into each other. As one leaves a space next to him, another hauls into it, suffocating him like flesh-tight packets of cold meat. The actuary’s glass is now empty, shirt damp with an alchemy of sweat and white wine. He sta– he sits, legs crossing like a closing jaw. The stripes on the sailors’ shirts cross over and crochet into visions of tied string, men spinning inside the Cat’s Cradle. The blotch on the actuary’s shirt spreads down, damp, reaching below buttons to the belt. He reaches for an arm pressing against his cheek.

            “Please –” Unheard.

His grip is no more than a phantom touch, fleeting smoke across the skin. The sailor’s arm rises high to slam down on another’s shoulders, shaking off the actuary’s hand so it slips into an armpit. Wincing as if burned, he wipes his palm against his shirt, wet on wet. Humidity swarms around him, the roof drips into the walls and the walls melt into the ground; between their sinews of perspiration, a pulse emerges. Darkness spills through the room, oiling over figures made indistinguishable, then light, acid-bright, bounds off the gleam of sodden skin.

The actuary peers down, just over his knees and underneath the table. Salt runs down his temple to his jaw, singing a razor-caught cut. A shoe shop display of boots bar his potential escape. He squeezes his thighs tighter, together in a vice. The sailors shake him into each other, without bounds in their own oblivious inebriation. Melody floods the air, her voice silencing all men, under her song they move for whoever is closest.

Crouched low, the actuary is invisible in his solitary discomfort. Face scrunching the bridge between his brows, he grasps at his abdomen – lower still towards his groin. Here in the below, the floor is not seeping, the table’s underbelly is marked with hard gum, the space is parched. He can see the dust float into dappled bursts of ruby and cyanic light, oxygen in the shape of sand. Drained.
            Liquid cascades over the back of his bent neck.

            He is powerless as he lets it seep into his seat, too.

by Imogen Burberry

FalWriting Team