Tremblay lay against gunwale, smoking a cheroot. The wind whipped up around the ship, and snatched away his smoke. A thousand miles of open ocean lay before him but hells, he loved a challenge. He didn’t have magic, or money, or even a crew; he had a boat, and a broken heart, and the wind behind him. Welta would’ve known what to do but he was–
–elsewhere. Elsewhere with his beautiful smile and his wonderful strong arms. Elsewhere with his mushy poems and his big eyes that teared up when he heard the wrong song. Tremblay ran a hand through his greying hair: was he really getting so old? When they’d met, they were the same age. As Tremblay’d got slower, and heavier, Welta had stayed the same. It was, well-
Came the day it became obvious, they’d fought, then held each other and kissed and fought again. Came the day when Tremblay came home to find a poem on the bed:
An immortal man cannot love
a mortal without seeing time
writ in the reflection of his lover’s
eye. With all my heart, I wish
Amazing: ten thousand years alive and still a shithouse poet. The soul in the eyes? Boo. Tremblay took another long drag of his cheroot, then straightened the ship’s lines and maneuvered his way back around to the rudder. The taste of tobacco calmed him. He didn’t know how long his supply was gonna last but it was far from the most pressing concern. He’d run out of food days ago, though the ocean was seeing him through. Water was going to be a bigger problem but he’d choke on that one when he came to it.
The wind took his little boat skipping across the waves. The spray got in his eyes, but he was used to it by now. His hands were paved with salt: white lines wending their way through dark skin.
“You’re gonna die,” he said to himself. He laughed – yep, that was indeed the problem. The wind stole away his words and his laughter. Sooner or later he was gonna die and Welta wasn’t and it didn’t make either of them love any less. He’d be an old ghost with rattling bones, reading mushy love poems left on the bed at midnight. He’d be dead, and full of love.
Would be would be would be. Would that Welta had the goddam courage to stay. Would that the sea weren’t so wide. Would that love made the wind go where you wanted.
He checked his compass, then adjusted the rudder to take him north. Last known heading, hah! Dead man’s heading. The hours tore by and in time he saw a treetop canopy, then a small island. Not on the maps, but what place worth being was? He took the boat in, around a small shoal, then jumped out and hauled it up on the sand. His pants got wet, but his pants were always wet: that’s what living in a tiny boat does to a man.
A boar peeked out at him from a nearby bush. He nodded at it. “You seen my husband?” he said. The boar went snrrreeeeeeekkkkt then ran away. Well, at least he wouldn’t go hungry. The canopy burst with brightly coloured birds, and the smell of sweet sap hung heavy on the air. It was paradisical, almost, though he knew he couldn’t stay. Water, then food, then onto the next island. Birds, and boar, and–
paper? He wandered over to a tree, and found a small sheet pinned to it. He recognised the handwriting immediately.
I knew you’d follow
though it breaks my heart.
it said. Right-o. Soppy motherfucker. A creek creeped its way out of the jungle. Tremblay took a sip, then spat it out: brackish, but with the promise of freshwater upstream. He followed it, ducking under vines and periodically frightening the wildlife. After about an hour, he found another piece.
I don’t want to watch you grow old.
it said. The creek kept going. A snake peered ruefully at Tremblay from a nearby branch. It was bright green, and very long, but it didn’t look like a strangler. Good thing too: he’d seen more than a few stranglers. This wasn’t his first strange island. It had been, all things considered, a very strange life. It should’ve ended a long time ago, with a bullet or a blade or a snakebite. It hadn’t. It had kept going, and time had started its implacable course on his face and his guts and everything in between. He tried the water again: better, but still not drinkable.
Tremblay kept going. The interior of the island was darker, and strange animals followed him. He kept his gun at his side, but they didn’t want to approach. In time (how long? A day, an hour?) he came to a lake. The water was cool, and fresh. He filled his belly, then he filled his canteens. Something fluttered from a nearby tree trunk: very high up, the bastard. Fine for young strong muscles, but Tremblay’s body didn’t work quite like it used to.
He took a stout vine, then wrapped it around the trunk. He braced his feet against it, then tensed his core and forced the vine upwards. Slowly, by fits and starts, with his arms screaming every inch of the damned way, he made it to the top. The menacing whisper of the jungle stopped. A cool breeze came down through a gap in the canopy, and for just one moment he felt alive again. Five words greeted him.
I love you. I’m gone.
He didn’t cry – he felt too good to cry: vital and strong and filled with goddam life. He slid down the trunk, and took a moment to collect himself. He let out a whoop, and the jungle didn’t respond.
“I’m going to die,” he said to himself. He smiled, then headed downstream for the shore.