A Celestial Undoing

Sara Dobbie

Credit: PicMonkey

Henry is obsessed and there is nothing Celeste can do about it. She emerges from below deck, fraught with disappointment. Sees him standing starboard side, aiming his telescope into the ebony blanket of night sky swathing the sea.  High above them Orion mirrors Henry’s intent, and Celeste envies the constellation this kinship with her husband.

She leans against the railing for balance like some forgotten castaway as the boat rocks on the waves. “Come back to bed,” she says, but Henry doesn’t answer, unwittingly scorning her final offer. His starved gaze roams over turbulent waters, in search, Celeste knows, of the mythical beings that have captivated him beyond retrieval. This passion, his life’s work, has taken her life as well, siphoned her very essence drop by drop. And now she finds herself on the brink of some untamed vortex from which she might not return.

“They say there’ve been sightings here,” he tells her, but Celeste doesn’t believe in Henry’s elusive beauties. There is no uncharted island out here below the eastern tip of Nova Scotia, no mystical waters flowing into the Gulf of Maine. She is certain the famed creatures of ancient mariner’s lore do not exist, but Henry’s reason is convoluted by visions of these lost descendants of a fabled tribe. She wants to scream Look at ME! Instead, she is silent, far past any plea for resolution from him.

Celeste watches him now and sees nothing but a beached vessel aching for the storm that threatens him.  She knows that he misses the enchanting sound of a mysterious melody simply because he has never heard it. That he’s haunted by a secret so singular, so obscure, he fears he cannot penetrate it. The infamous Siren Song, intoxicating voices said to lure seafaring men to ruin. Tales of ships dashed against the rocks in pursuit of beautiful immortals were bred into his bones, the genetic residue of generations of sailors. Celeste resents the long deceased lips that whispered this legend into Henry’s young ear and rages endlessly against her imagined rivals.

She remembers how she fell hopelessly into the ocean behind Henry’s eyes on a night exactly like this, on the polished deck of another pristine yacht. It wasn’t the first time she had met him, but it was the first time she truly saw him, the first time she glimpsed his churning depths. A laugh, a brush of fingertips against a thigh, a forlorn smile, and she gave herself over. Dove right inside him, wanted to drink up his sorrow and take it for her own. Wanted to swallow him whole. He named her then his own North Star. Said that if someone found his heart hiding within his lonesome soul and pricked it, beams of celestial light would shine forth, because that was where he kept her, would keep her, always.

The Sirens, though, were there too. Forever calling to him from cavernous ledges at the end of the world, singing with voices that pulled the strings of his spirit taut and drew him into the mist. He read, he researched, he travelled the seven seas. He hoped, he dreamed, and Celeste couldn’t change it any more than a star in the sky could alter the whims of the ocean. She shone as bright as she could, but only recognized her own reflection in those irises, could never pierce the fathomless darkness lurking underneath. Could not fulfill the all-consuming lust for a realm beyond this one, a satisfaction that only the Sirens could provide. 

This night should belong to Celeste. This night, when the taste of Henry is a memory so distant that her eyes turn blind and her inner light burns down to embers. Her fair foes lie waiting in the vacuous distance to steal the person she no longer understands, and she is full to the brim with the pain of wanting to be enough for him. Saltwater stings her tongue, the taste as bitter as the disappointment of failure.

She steps forward to cross the deck of this floating shipwreck. A museum of Henry’s fixations filled with the loot of a boy playing pirate. Sextants and sundials, spyglasses and swords. She sheds her night gown, and it flies off on a rising gale. Her image in the window of the cabin reveals windblown tresses trailing lithe limbs, a glint of steel enclosed in her grasp. The hilt of the dagger, a favored treasure of Henry’s, melds to the palm of her hand. He turns, eyes widening with realization and Celeste is sure that he sees her at last.

She can almost hear the names sputter from his throat as the blood blooms, his chest a flower, finally opening. She’s heard them so many times that she learned them by heart, Parthenope, Ligeia, Leucosia She hisses them now, a catechism of desire. She kisses the open mouth that once consoled her, and a great cacophony rises between them, a litany of a thousand hurts. She inhales his life as it flees his body, breathes his last breath from him.  Her long nails scratch the skin of his arms as she drags him to the rails and heaves him overboard. 

The thing that is no longer Henry sinks into the deep, and she is gutted like a fish. She becomes an embodied emptiness adrift under a pale crescent moon. She pictures him sleeping in his watery grave like an anchor, flesh bloated and bitten by creatures of the sea. An eternal wanderer in a dark kingdom of longing, Henry is home now. Her sight clears and she notices a glimmer, a golden speck glistening far across the black horizon like some storied oasis. She hears the dulcet strains of a beckoning chorus singing, calling out. But not to Henry. No, the Sirens are calling for Celeste.

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer based in the Niagara Region of Southern Ontario. With a focus on literary fiction Sara creates short stories, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in various on-line journals and in print around the world. Her story “Beneath A Vacant Sky” is a Best Small Fictions nominee. She is a Managing Editor at Versification Zine, and a reader at Tiny Molecules.