He had seen the sun.
He remembered it the way he remembered his mother. The memories of her were much closer, but they seemed to blur the same way. A drawer somewhere in his brain contained them both. Bright things.
The memories he had stuck out, because there weren’t many of them. He had time - more time than he wanted - but there was nothing in it. Nothing had happened that hadn’t happened yesterday as long as he could clearly remember.
The last person he’d talked to was his father, but he’d been a boy then. He’d never been hard or cried all night through the pounding darkness or seen the hair on his face in the water. He’d never heard himself singing across the endless sea. Now he did every morning and every night. He liked hearing a voice when he watched the white light growing or sinking.
He knew the sun was there. The days were dark and grey, but they were days. You could follow the white across the sky, behind the clouds that were as thick and as deep as the sea beneath his boat. When the white was gone it all went black.
But white or black, there was always rain. That was almost all there was. A neverending storm that waxed and waned, thick misty to wide even to beating down. All he knew was the endless puckering sea and a sky as big as everything.
That, and his boat: small, very small. He could only lie across it twice. There was an open heart to it where he slept, like a closet on its side. It was never dry, but he could keep it from filling up, and inside it was the only time he didn’t feel the rain.
Sometimes when he’d been bailing for hours he looked at his fingers and saw them wrinkled, and suddenly they changed light. They became tiny, like they were when he was a child. The color was this soft orange that came from nearby, so close you could almost reach out and touch it. He saw his hands in front of him as he lifted them up from the tub of warm water. It was as though tiny drops had fallen on the surface of his skin and stayed there. Like time had stopped.
He caught some fish in a net that dangled out of the back of his boat; little things he hit with a paddle and ate raw. Water he drank by closing his eyes and looking up.
He liked to jump. To hop up and down on the tiny deck. Sometimes he’d lose himself doing it, jumping and jumping until his legs gave out and he fell and shook on the ground. Sooner or later his eyes would close and everything would fade away for a while. That’s when he’d see the brightness.
And now his eyes opened into light.
He didn’t know what time really meant anymore, but he lay there with the rain misting on his face for a long while when he saw it. Here was the best dream. It wasn’t like the other ones, the big ones with the sky an empty blue and the great big orange light everywhere at once. This was one long stream of it, and that couldn’t be true. The sun wasn’t a river. The sun was a sea.
It was beautiful, though, and that’s what stopped him. It wasn’t anything empty. It wasn’t anything old. It was something that couldn’t be in his dreams any more than it could be in the sky. That was what brought him to his feet.
He breathed and breathed and stared and stared, harder and harder. He closed his eyes and opened them again, over and over. He opened his mouth and tried as hard as he could to feel the mist on his tongue, to swallow, to wait, to think of it there, to not think of it there. But every moment was the same new thing: something bright. And he knew it was real because everything else looked different too - the darkness of the sea became a shadow.
It was the only thing in the world, and so he had to get there.
He’d been nowhere for so long - for nearly ever - that the idea of going somewhere was as old as the memories that had all but washed away. There were no places. But now there was one, and he had to go.
The sail that used to fly in his bright dreams he kept in a box. He’d open the box like the light was inside it, and feel it with his fingertips. He was gentle with it, touched it like it was skin or silk, but it was hard, brittle, and broken.
As frightened as he’d ever been, he went down to find the box thinking the brightness would disappear before he came back out. His whole body fluttered as he opened it and tried to tear the sail out, to pull himself through the fear so that he might have a chance to get where he was going. To see the light.
He didn’t remember how any of it worked - where anything went or even what he would have to do to get it to catch the wind. He just kept pushing things towards each other, loops and broken hinges and knots, his fingers and the papery sail against the silent mast, rising to the sky.
A long time passed, and the shadows changed: the light spilled out and swirled and gasped back towards the charcoal walls of cloud. They had never seemed so black.
But when at last the sail was raised - wrapped and ragged around the mast, flapping and heaving with the wind - the light was still there.
The boat moved beneath him, but it wasn’t the sea. For the first time he could remember, it wasn’t the sea. It was the sky. He was flying.
And the wind didn’t care at all about the waves: it rushed him towards them, through them, along them, tearing up the sea into spray. It didn’t care about the boat either, which lurched and bent like a dead body carried. The boat simply fell, and he fell, and all of them rushed on together towards the light. And the rain washed the tears out of his eyes as though they’d never been there.
As the light grew closer he saw that there were circles: the orange light at the center faded out to grey in big loops, like it was drinking the shadow, like a line of water that started and ended somewhere. The outermost silver hit him and his eyes burned white. He blinked his eyes open and shut again, trying not to miss a moment more than he had to. The burning slowly faded to an aching, then to a pulsing, then to a tingling. Suddenly he could see like he could never see before: distances, shapes. The glorious place that had fallen from the sky before him. Most of all he could see the darkness - how it stretched out forever, how it looked like something. And out there in all that darkness he could see a boat.
A boat, way out beyond the light, in the grey shadow cast by it. A boat, or the light.
He closed his eyes. The rain was turning to mist, and he could smell it more than he could feel it. The hand at his side moved. He felt it drift across his body. Slowly, slowly, he reached out a finger, felt it uncurl and stretch outwards. He felt a raindrop beneath the tip before he felt the other hand, and the water fell between them.
His eyes opened, and he threw himself against the sail.
He didn’t push the sail; he fought it. Pounded it with his body, pulled at the mast and threw himself back. When none of that worked he grabbed the paddle and threw himself belly first to the front of the boat, and splashed madly forward. He screamed, but he didn’t know he was screaming.
At any particular moment it didn’t seem like the boat was changing directions. But as it plunged forward - faster and faster, lower and lower - the light started inching away. And the boat in the shadow started looking bigger and bigger before them.
Paddling wildly, screaming, he expected the boat to keep moving faster, and it did - and it also kept falling towards the sail, the sail that flapped less and less, that suddenly became silent with fullness. The water’s touch kept advancing like a creeping arm, stretching, wrapping, fondling, until the sea finally started spilling over the deck and the boat began to fill.
As the boat tipped into the ocean - somehow both slowly and all at once - he slid and rolled and caught himself on what he could, dropping the paddle into the rushing lost beneath. Pulling himself up pulled the boat down, and the water took it as an invitation. The boat lurched and fell and the sail caught the sea.
He felt the water all around him all at once, the dark hug he knew was coming, and when he opened his eyes he saw nothing at all. No memories flooded back to him; he didn’t remember his mother, or his fingers in the bath, or the sun. He just became the rain. The place where it all fell, the silence it all came to. From falling to fallen, from the white sky to the black sea. The rain had stopped.
He didn’t know why he was feeling it again. Rain doesn’t feel rain. And yet here were drops on his face. How it ever went on. How it ever began again. There were his fingers on the side of the boat again. There was the swirling light in the sky, the place without the clouds.
When you’re not yet rain there’s nothing to do but breathe and push, raise yourself up against the falling. He felt the boat there beside him, above him, still over the sea, and here he was with legs dangling in the dark. He remembered something then. He remembered jumping.
Like an angry creature of the sea that breathes the sky he threw himself up, again and again. He didn’t know where to push but he pushed, grabbing the sinking mast with both hands, pulling the sail back, climbing the sideways hull of the boat and making it fall, making it fall, making it fall once more.
Above him in the heavens the sky had suddenly lost the glitter of its gold as a thin veil of cloud closed the gap where the sun had broken through, but he didn’t notice. There was still enough light to see his boat. There was still enough light to see the other boat.
Falling, rising, falling, scrambling, screaming, falling, falling. Feet kicked against the bottom of the boat. Hands bloodied and washed away on its side. The mast tilting, shaking as he shook it, pulled as he pulled it, sinking into the sea to hold it.
Him beneath the boat beneath the sea, pushing. Pushing. Rising. Falling.
And how it all came to be that he rose again above the sea. And how the sail touched sky again, and rushed on with the rain above. His breath rising with the mast that stretched up towards the closing clouds. And the other boat before him.
It was far bigger than his boat. Far lovelier, with heavy shining wood beneath his feet. As he walked along it almost felt like earth.
There were paddles and boxes with cloth and bottles in them. There were round things and square things hanging from a rail that encircled the deck, another world. There was a cabin with a door and clothes inside. There was a wall of metal and tiny grains of sand beneath his feet. There was a room with a little bed, and a book he couldn’t read. There were glasses. And there was no one there.
He walked back on the deck and saw what he’d seen when he stepped on board: deep scratches torn into the beautiful wood. He ran his fingers along them, the straight lines, the place where it became round.
He looked up and saw the last of the light fading in the distance, the clouds thickening to black, the sky becoming rain again. He closed his eyes and let it fall.
He had seen the sun.