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maiden voyage

by Tony Rauch


The trees seem so full, pregnant with expectations, everything just waiting out there for me—the sun so high in the sky, the sky so huge and vast, so filled with possibilities, spreading out to forever. It all feels so big and just all so right there for me. But I’m alone and bored in my apartment with nothing to do. I consider taking a walk, or maybe inventing a ray gun that makes people’s pants disintegrate. I think about inventing a juice that tastes like squirrel fur. I wonder about building a really cool go-cart. I hypothesize about stealing a city bus and run­ning it through a laundromat. I regard genetically engineering a bed bug up to the size of a cow and then riding that bug in a slow, disturb­ing crawl through the supermarket. I postulate a “silly cream” that you could apply to yourself to make yourself 23% more silly. But I just end up drawing on the walls out of frustration at the blank windy voids of emptiness awaiting me out there in life. That’s all I feel is left for me out there—just the blank windy voids—that there really isn’t anything interesting out there at all. So I take that feeling out on the walls, drawing faces and bodies—twisting and grotesque, stretching and distorted—bodies mixing, intertwined and circling. They become like flowers to me—swaying in the breeze, bending and looping and flowing around one another.

After awhile I flop down on the couch. I try to read a book, but just can’t concentrate for some reason. Gradually I slouch and even­tually fall asleep and dream of a long voyage on a clipper ship. I am a member of the crew. On the bow we have large candles in front of a curved mirror to project the light ahead and light our way at night. One of my jobs is to keep that golden glow going. On our trek we encounter many wonders and hindrances—a giant chicken that men­aces us from the sky; tiny snapping turtles the size of nickels that spray up from the waves and bite like mosquitoes; giant seahorses that you could ride; a school of mermaids swimming in the water and glowing in the dark; a large island inhabited by people no more than four inches tall; a small island with a tall stone tower; a forested island with a maiden standing on a rock at the edge of a narrow beach who shyly waves to me. The dream drips with bright colors. After I awake I feel fresh and vibrant. “What a great dream,” I exclaim, sit­ting up on the couch. Finally, I decide that I’m thirsty. “Must be all that salt air from that sailing ship dream,” I figure aloud as I spring up and bob enthusiastically into the kitchen.

I snap on the light and find a six-foot-tall seahorse bobbing in front of me—just floating in the air in the middle of the kitchen.

“Well?” It speaks in my mind in a deep, guttural growl. “What did you think?” It slowly undulates and writhes and bobs in the air before me—the way seahorses do.

“It was enchanting,” I gasp in disbelief, swallowing hard, figuring the great creature is asking about the dream I had. Then, outside, through the window, I notice a strange glow coming from the bushes on the far side of the yard. I watch the golden glow for a second, then return my attention to the giant seahorse slowly bobbing up and down before me. The seahorse is watching me with great, dark sea­horse eyes. Then it wiggles on past, gliding out the kitchen door as if swimming in the air. I turn to watch it zip around the corner. I hear the front door open and close. I peek around the corner into the liv­ing room, but no one is there. The place is empty. Then I look out the window again at the bushes. But there is no golden glow in the bushes, no strange, alluring light beyond, no light beckoning me, calling me out. I stand there for a moment, then shrug and realize I’m still thirsty, so I reach for a glass of water.

I just stand there for awhile, looking out the window, looking all around, not realizing right off that I’m searching for that giant sea­horse, that I’m trying to locate that strange glow of light. Was it the light of that sailing ship from my dream? I scan the view, but find nothing.

I’m disappointed to find no ball of glow, no seahorses swimming in the air outside, so I return to the living room. I kneel down and begin drawing on the walls again, reaching to start the outline of that seahorse. But then I feel sad that it is gone. I retract my arm, place it on my lap, and hang my head. Then I find myself on the couch again, a little dejected. Here I was shown this great adventure and now it’s been a letdown that it didn’t last. Maybe I should have said something better to that seahorse in my kitchen. Maybe if I would’ve thanked it, been more gracious and grateful, it might have stayed longer, it might have kept me company, it might have come back, we might have been friends. I was just so surprised, so taken away by the moment that I couldn’t speak right off, couldn’t find the words. If I only would’ve known what to say. If I’d only said the right thing, maybe it would’ve stayed longer, maybe I could’ve gotten to know it better. Maybe we could’ve become friends. Maybe it could’ve explained my dream. Maybe it could’ve taken me away from this stale apartment and shown me exciting things, maybe even introducing me to that fair maiden who waved to me from that rock.

I’m sitting on the couch feeling bad about missing out on an opportunity, when suddenly that large seahorse floats into the room again. It stops right in front of me, bobbing up and down as if swim­ming in the air again. Its black marble eyes bore into me in a silent stare. It just hangs there, twittering and bobbing. I sit up. Then another one, a smaller one, enters the room from the doorway to the hall. It’s half the big one’s size. It swims up to the first one and posi­tions itself to bob and undulate at its side. Then another small one enters. This one swishes around to situate itself on the other side of the big seahorse.

All three hang like sheets on a line, undulating and slowly wig­gling as if swimming under water. I stand and make an effort to greet them, to try to gauge their scale, their mass. I want to do this right this time. I don’t want to blow this chance, but at the same time I’m not really all that sure what to say, what to do. So I just try to speak from my heart. “Hello,” I wave. “Thanks for stopping by.”

“Climb aboard,” the deep, comforting voice appears in my head. And I comply. I step forward to the largest one. I reach up to its neck with both arms and swing myself around, jumping in the air and pull­ing myself up onto its back.

“Giddy-up,” I sing, settling in and hugging its neck. Its skin is rough, like sandpaper.

It swings around, bobs me out the room, floating in the air, down the hall. There is a glow of light at the end of the hall. I see it out the glass doors of the apartment’s entryway as we rush along. It looks like a ball of fuzzy, golden light, churning beyond the trees. The smaller seahorses are swimming in the air at our sides, undulat­ing and bobbing to keep up. The glass doors open before us and we’re outside, and just like that, we’re off to who-knows-where.