By Emily Murtagh

 

Once upon a time there was a man on a boat, a man on a boat with a dream, and the dream was to sail away, which is a rather clichéd dream at this stage, but we are still allowed to dream dreams that many have had before us, without them losing their intensity. And there was a girl, and all she wanted to do was stay, stay in that caravan, and grow kale out the back. Kale isn't even that delicious, even she would admit that, but that iron content though, you can't argue with the science. Everyone thought she would go away, learn how to teach, then come home and watch others learn as she teaches, because she has a soft face and a soft voice, which most agreed were essential qualities for teaching five year olds, who don't know they want to learn to read, to read. She has red hair that she twists in a bun sometimes, and some say they've never ever seen it down free, but really they are just people who haven't seen her all that often and don't know her all that well. She wears woolly jumpers and woolly tights and scarves that are also woolly and she has woolly ankle socks with ribbons that she loves, and brown boots, that you could wear to a party or wear climbing a mountain, which is useful as these are two pursuits she very much enjoys. And she wants to grow kale, and he wants to sail away.

 

She didn't go and learn to teach, because she felt there were enough things by the mountain and by the sea that she still needed to learn, cracks in her understanding that needed to be filled, before wisdom and knowledge could pour out of her into others. So, she is still here, and the kale hasn't even been planted yet. She works in the craft fair on Saturday mornings, selling expensive soap that someone else made, soaps with extracts of things she's never actually seen in real life, except that seaweed one, she has seen quite an amount of that. And she does an underground, black market trade in poems that she's written, that she has to have printed and rolled up in ribbon before she has a chance to read them again, because they embarrass her. But in this way they escape into the world, and no claims have been made that the world is a worse place since they've been unleashed, so she's taking that as a small victory. There is no eye contact made or maintained as the poems change hands, and she lets the customers decide how much they pay for each. She doesn't know it, but often has it been that a poem purchaser has disappeared around corners, leaned against a wall, dropped lower, and found tears, because in the cracks of what she knows there is a knowledge of something - something of life, light and beauty, and they like it and come to know things they didn't before, as is the way of good stories.

 

She's happier than most think she is, the character they have created for her is a lot more melancholic than she could ever have the energy to be. They have painted her in shades of grey and streaks of blood red, to represent a passion she does not think is part of her. She paints herself in pinks and oranges, colours of sunrises and sets, bursting through blackness and the blackness is ever less and less. She once asked him what he would look like if he was a painting. He paused for surely not long enough, in her reckoning, and said that he was a watercolour painting of a boat on the roughest sea, and she should have known better than to be disappointed. 

 

He rang her on Saturday afternoons. After her morning in the market, she would sit in Joe's café, and eat a bagel with mozzarella, spinach and relish, slowly. She would lay her phone on the table, almost casually, almost casually enough. She would drink two glasses of water. She would talk to Joe about the market. She would use the bathroom. She would text her mother, to tell her that she loved her; in case that wasn't a reality they had both lived knowing for 24 years, and probably another nine months before that on her mother's side of things. Then he would call and she would answer, and she would take the call outside and walk the promenade, because he was in the sea and so there she was closer to him, at least fifteen metres closer to him. 

 

They took turns to be the one to talk the most, it was always about a 7:3 ratio, depending on whose week had been the most thrilling. He was racing, racing through details of islands, and ports that almost sounded familiar, Barranquilla, Puerto Merelos, but all the puertos started to blur to one, and she wondered if he would send her a list of them all so that she could look them all up and place him there, in beautiful places, faraway beautiful places. He was racing and she wished he would slow down, because the dullness inside of her recognised that he had somewhere else to be, than on the phone to kale loving, non-teacher caravan-dwelling redhead, standing on a promenade wishing. 

 

"Love, I just remembered…" The words don't even have to fall all the way out of her mouth, before he says something about understanding and something about goodbye, and maybe something about how he loved her, and definitely something about chatting next week, and she probably made adequate responses in each case, and he hung up and she didn't cry. She knows that she will next time hang up the phone and not pick it up again and he will continue to sail and she will commit herself to the growing of kale and the writing of poetry, and maybe someday she'll go learn how to teach, so she can teach the children how to read, though they don't yet know that's something that they want or need. 

 

She sits for longer than she should, until the cold touches her a little too deep and the sun sets and the colours begin to run and like melted crayons smear across the sky. He once said that nights like this were like God's pink highlighter had leaked in his pocket, and it was by far the truest and subsequently most beautiful thing he had ever said. And she smiles at her beautiful life and she goes home and thinks of kale and heightened iron levels and dares herself to write another poem and dares to know there will be more than this.