The Eternal Ship
By Astra Crompton
Astra Crompton © 2012
The waves pounding against the planks went boom, boom in the dark. The musty smell of wet wood and cloying salt filled my nostrils. I bit off each breath, holding them all painfully long, as if by bringing in air I fed the fear clawing its way up from the burning pit of my belly. Each thud of my heart rocked with the ship, and with it I rocked the baby against my breast. The child was blissfully quiet, sleeping soundly, peaceful despite my flight, despite the danger we were still fleeing from – fleeing as fast as the boat would take the waves. Yet its hold was still no haven.
I braced my sodden boot against the curve of the hull, gathering the weight of my wet skirts and squatted, trying to rest, to recover some of my energy. I was keenly aware that at any moment I might be discovered – the baby might wail, the sailors might come below deck, the cat hiding in my kirtle might dart away from me… And if so – what then? There was no more earthen track to pound with panicked feet. No shacks to hide in or carts to steal here. Just the angry ocean, grey as dull metal and just as cold, as unforgiving. Even if the cold did not kill me, there was no way I could swim – even if there was land to swim towards – with all my woollen layers and shawls, carrying an infant not yet a year old, and a cat that thought all water anathema?