by James Smart
A storm in the North Sea takes the lives of three fishermen.
The captain thinks himself big, the subject of myth, and pushes the engine.
“We are on the near side of legend,” he says, and sails into the maelstrom, confident as Moses of performing a miracle.
The first mate agrees.
Battening hatches, he shouts, “This is the way men are made.”
He grips the lines and mast, believing himself Samson, with strength enough to hold everything together.
The third man knows the ocean is bigger than any of them.
“All men have limits,” he says.
“I prefer not to know them,” the captain replies, staying his course, all caution thrown overboard.
The third man’s heart mutinies but he stands firm. He gathers the two life jackets not taken by the sea and hands them to the captain and first mate, the bond of men beset by nature.
The third man remains himself, as always.
For a moment, they stay afloat. Their vessel crests the waves. They are brief kings before the ocean drags them down. Puts them under.
The bodies of the three fishermen are never found.
The first drowned man returns home. Disembodied, he is a terror. He insists himself upon the walls, rattling the pipes and slamming doors. He drives his wife to madness. She flees the house, selling it to a bidder who promptly knocks it down.
The second drowned man emerges in the sleep of his children, two boys. He is a nightmare, believing he still has something to teach. He will not let them dream. They wake screaming, shaking, damp with sweat. The boys are exorcised, all thoughts of their father removed.
The third drowned man knows he is done. Of his life, he lets go. He beds down on the ocean floor, forgets his name. To the bottom feeders, he gives his bones, his ego. He thinks not of regret, grief or vengeance. His soul fills with ocean. He is gone.
On land, his family live long, happy lives. His daughters marry humble men. In their memory, the third man remains whole, perfect.
James Smart is from the north of England and is a Creative Writing MFA student at the University of East Anglia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train — where he won an award for Best New Writer — Reflex, After the Pause, Bangor Literary Journal, Memoir Mixtapes and elsewhere. He has been shortlisted for the 2018 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize and is working on a novel. He tweets @notjamessmart.