He saw the first dim stick figures, watched them gather on the pier off starboard, no doubt full of brew at this hour. He paused to draw breath, then took in the oars and pulled out the pouch, rolled a cig as the sea gently turned him and pointed him away, offshore. The sea knew best if you listened. He struck a match but it was damp, as was the next one, as were all of them. He spat and cursed then put back the pouch. Oar in oarlock, swish, exhale. The dark glass of sea; waves from the pier, barely visible. Ahoy, someone called. If only they knew. Ahoy. Then fast loud words, pointing, calls and quiet; retreat. All but one, who sucked on a pipe and sighed at the arriving narrative.
Oar in oarlock, swish, exhale; the sound of propulsion now part of him, coaxing the currach home. The phoenix on his chest was a turkey-necked burlesque dancer, her skirt aflame, her eyes on the coastline. Not long now. He leaned into another stroke.
We have our myths, they’d said, our story. Ours. They flashed anchors and ships, Neptune with coiled deep-sea denizens. Take the wind that brought her here, and be gone. Back to your mother’s cave. Be gone or—
He’d pretended not to hear, then to mishear, then the world asunder and he was lucky to flee. Oar in oarlock, swish, exhale; down the years.
The final stroke.
You shouldn’t have come, the old man said. Good to see you too. The old man stooped to help pull the currach ashore. He shushed him away. The phoenix stirred and the dancer stretched. Ash now all around, in his mouth and in his very words. And heat, rising, bigger than the years.
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