By Sean Dempsey, 6/26/23
(Written as an homage to the song of the same name by Nickel Creek. The story is haunting and demanded to be told in full…)
In a quaint coastal village embraced by the ebb and flow of the sea, there dwelled a young woman named Lily. Her radiant beauty and gentle spirit captivated the hearts of all who knew her. Though she lived a contented life, her heart yearned for a lost love that eluded her long ago.
One evening, as the sun began its descent, casting a warm golden hue upon the shore by her house, a familiar melody reached Lily’s ears. Drawn by the haunting tune, she followed its enchanting trail, leading her down the beach. There, standing against the backdrop of the fading light, was a weathered seaman—a simple fisherman perhaps? His gaze was fixed upon the horizon.
Coming closer, Lily seemed to recognize the silhouette as from a forgotten dream. She inched forward. Her eyes widened with surprise. “Are you a ghost from my past?” she called out, her voice filled with both nostalgia and curiosity.
He slowly turned to her, his weary eyes meeting hers. A bittersweet smile played upon his lips. “Well met, me dear! Yes, ‘tis me,” he replied, his voice laced with half a lifetime of memories. “… returned from the depths of the salt, salt sea, drawn by the love that has never left me.”
Overwhelmed with a flood of emotions, Lily beckoned him closer. This was a tune she used to sing long ago! The two stared into each others eyes—then embraced as two lovers long kept apart.
“I believed you dead!” She gasped as her lips pulled away from his. I thought your ship had foundered years ago when you did not return to me!”
She suddenly slapped him! “You left me and I thought you were dead!”
She started to cry. “By God. You are home. I have drained my eyes dry waiting for you and praying to a deaf god. My soul is barren. You are now alive but I am near dead.”
The Sailor hesitated, a mixture of longing and regret etched upon his weathered face. “I wish to join ye, to sit by your side,” he confessed, his voice heavy with sorrow. “Will ye let me tell the tale?”
Lily’s eyes welled further with tears. “Come, Sailor; walk with me back to my house. Tell me why you left me for near half a score. Was I not your one true love?”
The Sailor took her hand in his as they walked. He told of his ship lost in a fierce storm some ten years ago. He was shipwrecked and marooned along with sixteen other men—lost at sea. Several died over a series of days from thirst and desperation; the rest died as sharks circled around them and picked them off.
But miraculously he was finally rescued. On the verge of death, a ship of the Spanish crown found him on a wooden board adrift, unconscious and emaciated.
Lily gasped as he told his tale. Hot tears continued to stain her cheeks.
“I thought of ye, I swear by me very soul, and with me very last breath—when all me companions were gone I held on just a wee longer because of ye lovely face. It was ye that kept me alive, Lily dear!”
She bade him to continue. He explained how the Spanish sailors who rescued him considered a serious debt on his ledger—and so did he—which must be repaid before he could return.
He came into the employ of the captain of that ship. After being nursed back to health, he started as a lowly servitor. But after several months he had worked his way up to a deck hand; and, following that, he was learning the ways of the vessel and its operation. The Captain took him under his wing and taught him nautical guidance.
After a year at sea, they put in at a port city in Italy, as the Captain had official business with the governor of the town. He was more a king than a governor, and had riches exceeding any other man within a thousand knots of the city in either direction.
The Captain introduced him to the Governor. And, for reasons he could not fathom, the Governor was fascinated by him and his story. He was so intrigued that he begged for his tale of survival be told to his courtyard that very night to his wealthy friends and courtesans!
The Sailor continued, “I told me story to the whole lot of wealthy and fancy people. And that’s where I met Jade…”
Jade was the Governor’s grand daughter. Basically a princess, and treated like one by everyone. She was watching as he told his tale and was fascinated by it. She became convinced he was preserved by God and saved by His divine intervention. Over the next few weeks at port, the two of them spent a great deal of time together. She fancied him; he could tell.
They laughed and walked together on the beaches of the Italian sea almost every day. Finally one day she looked him in the eyes and said “Dear Sailor, be my husband. I am rich beyond measure and will lavish you with power and happiness. One day you might even be Governor of this province!”
But he politely refused. He told Jade he had a true love across the sea and explained how he pined for her daily. She was distraught and grief-stricken by his reply. She offered him gold and silver if he stayed, but still he declined. She offered him gold and silver anyway—just as a reminder of her wherever he may go. But he said he already had a debt to repay and did not need another.
It was with a heavy heart he boarded his ship the next day to return to the sea. The next few years he gained some meager stature and amassed a minor amount of silver while in the employ of the Captain.
Then one night while commanding the helm, he wound up saving the Captain’s life. There arose a great typhoon. The ship jerked to starboard when taken suddenly by the wind and the Sailor caught him before he slipped and went over the side of the ship.
The Captain asked him the next day if there was any way he could return the favor of saving his life. The Sailor replied that he wished to return home to his lost love. The Captain agreed and they embarked the next day.
Wild tempests waylaid them for several months. They were blown off course multiple times and lost their way thrice. Three separate occasions he believed he was dead, lost forever at sea and would never see his love again. But every time, the sea god spared his life and allowed him to somehow survive.
“And now me comes to today.” the Sailor said slowly. “With every danger, ye were me guiding light; ye were me port when lost in the storm or when the winds were dead whispers. Ye was me lighthouse, Lily.”
They arrived as he finished speaking at a meager hut. Lily had not spoken for a while, so engrossed was she in her lover’s tale. Tears still stained her cheeks and she had stopped trying to wipe them away.
She led him inside without knocking. Hope kindled within the heart of the Sailor. He had dreamed of coming home to his love many, many times. He had dreamed of this moment.
As Lily morosely opened the door and they stepped in, he stopped. It was so quiet; he waited for her to say something. Instead, he became aware of a noise. A small baby was lying in a cradle across the room. It was sleeping peacefully and if not for the death of movement or sound he would have missed it.
“Meet my baby boy,” she whispered, choking back tears.
The Sailor’s heart emptied all at once. “Ye…ye be married then?”
She nodded without looking him in the eyes. Her face stared at the floor, and then to her baby. “I married last year. To a good, hardworking man. He built us this home. He is out at present, but will return soon.”
The Sailor stared into her eyes. He didn’t know what to say. “Are ye happy then…?” he murmured stupidly.
Lily began to cry again. She stared deep into the crib as if expecting to see something lost or unexpected there.
“I do not think I am. Well, yes and no, I suppose. I love my baby boy. More than anything. But my heart was emptied after you left me. And I never refilled it. Not fully.”
Hope rekindled in the eyes of the Sailor. He took a step forward and embraced Lily. He took her head in his hands and forced her to stare into his eyes; he then kissed her passionately. Over and over again. It was a tidal wave of passion, a decade in the making. He felt like he was going to drown.
Finally she stopped him. “No! We cannot. My husband. He will find us. We must hide our love if it is to be.”
The Sailor now was the one to look down. “Me lovely Lily. Me ship leaves in an hour’s time. I am gone again from ye. I came to fetch ye; ‘tis why I’m here. Come away with me! Come and join me on the sea and I will bathe ye in an ocean of love, the depths of which ye cannot yet know.”
Lily stared at him. She did it believe what she was hearing. Tears again poured from her eyes. “Can this be true? You ask me to leave my husband? My home?”
“I do. Come with me and be me one true love.”
She thought about it for many moments. With brazen resolve she finally replied. “Okay, I will go with you! Let me just gather my clothes and clothes for my boy.”
She turned. But the sailor grabbed her and pulled her close. “Lily, dearie, ye misunderstand…”
She looked up at him. “You jest with me, sir. You did not speak true with your desire to take me away. Why did you play this game?”
“Lily, oh no. Me meant each word… but ye misunderstand.” He stopped and let his next words ring clearly, “But ye cannot take ur wee child. He would not survive out at sea.”
Lily almost fainted as she caught his meaning. Her eyes nearly bled for the tears that were raining from them. “I cannot … I cannot leave my baby boy! He is all I have. All I love and hold dear.”
“Tha’tis not true. I will be ye love. And ye will be mine. And it will be enough. Please, sweet lass. Please. We’s are meant for each other. Kiss ‘er baby while he rests now, and let we be gone.”
Lily fell to her knees. She looked up at the Sailor and cried—pleaded with him. “Is there no other way? Must you leave? Must it be this way?”
“God is indeed wicked and plays cruel games wit us,” the Sailor spoke softly. He brought Lily to her feet and kissed her again. Tenderly he kissed her head and her neck and her mouth again. “Say goodbye to ye boy.”
Lily walked over to her sleeping angel and looked down into his face. He was still sleeping peacefully, unaware of the choice his mother was making as he dreamt sweet dreams.
Finally Lily brought her face into the tram and very slowly kissed the forehead and then each cheek of her boy with a force that almost roused him. “Take good care of your daddy now,” she whispered. Her final tear fell onto his cheek just below his left eye, almost as if it had been his.
Then she walked out of the house.
The ship took sail within minutes of them coming on deck. The Captain did not normally allow women on board, but given the promise to his man, he agreed to depart if she stayed out of the way and below decks.
They were on the sea for just two weeks when Lily began to weep miserably. A storm was raging outside. She moaned and cried out into the wind. She screamed into the night like a mad dog howling in pain. She made the other men on board scared out of their wits. They avoided her at all costs.
The Sailor came to her in her fit of panic and tried to settle her distress. “Me sweet and lovely lass. Me princess. Why do ye make such fuss? We are away and ye have me by your side to keep ye safe. We have seen many storms. This one will pass.“
Lily cried as if her very breathing depended on the tears as oxygen to sustain her.
The Sailor continued, “What do ye cry for? Do ye wish I’d accepted the gifts of silver and gold from the princess? Is it that I am still poor that you weep?”
“Of course not, you fool.” She bellowed louder.
He reeled. “Do ye weep for your husband, the house carpenter? Did ye lie when ye said ye bore him no real love?”
“Leave my sight, you sea wretch!” Lily shouted at the top of her lungs.
The Sailor stood and stopped caressing her hair as he had been doing. Hurt, but with great care he attempted again to learn why she moaned and wept so frightfully. “Are ye weeping for ye baby boy—who‘ll ye will never see no more?”
At this Lily reared up like an animal and pushed her way past the Sailor and ran for the top deck. Once there, she made a motion as if she was going to throw herself overboard and into the sea. But the Sailor caught her at the last second and brought her, kicking and screaming with all her might, down below the decks. There he locked her—in his cabin. And he shed a tear to see her so distraught.
She had settled by the morning. She appeared calm. But she spoke to no one. Nor did she eat or drink. A few days like this proceeded, and the Sailor begged her to consume something. When she did not even look at him, he again locked the door and went up to resume his duties on the top deck.
By evening a somber quiet settled on the ship and all its crew. It was a foreboding silence that seemed unworldly. Even the gulls emitted no noise and the winds were completely and utterly still.
Hours passed. The Captain noticed something was wrong before anyone else. While steering the wheel and attempting to move the ship to port by a few degrees, the rudder appeared quite sluggish. He asked a seaman to check on it. Moments later there was yelling and screaming from the crew.
“We’re taking on water,” several of the men yelled fiercely. “The hull must have a fissure!”
“Bring down the masts!” The captain ordered and called his men to post and for the vessel to stop. “Find the damage and repair the ship. Fetch all souls to the top deck!”
The Sailor ran to the aft stairwell to get Lily and ensure she was safe. When he got to his cabin in the lower quarters, however, he knew there was a problem. Water was everywhere. It seemed to be pouring into the ship from several areas.
And there to the left he found his lover with an axe in her hand—savagely ripping at the wooden boards of the ship wherever she could. She attacked the wood with a passion and fierceness he didn’t dare stop.
“Lily!” he screamed over the water flooding in. “Why?? What —- what are ye doing?”
She didn’t answer and continued to slam the object at the wood and puncture large holes wherever she could…
“Lily, please. Answer me!”
She turned. Her look was savage and fierce. “Curse you, Sailor. A curse upon you forever. You… you took from me my baby. My baby boy. I will never see him again. I left him forever and ever.”
“Ye left because of love!” the Sailor replied, confused and wide-eyed. “For love.”
“My love for my baby will fill this whole ocean and wipe away the guilt from my tortured and empty soul.”
The Sailor stood and stared at his Lily. “If that is how ye feel, my love, then we will go down together. My love for ye is all that sustains me. If ye aren’t happy, then the sea will carry our love together to its depths.”
The water was pouring in fast now. It was too much to even move. But neither did they try. The water flooded around them and they stared into each other’s eyes. The cabin filled and still they stared. The tears in their eyes fell down and mixed with the ocean water surging around them.
The ship capsized and went down within 20 minutes. All hands were lost. Its water-filled husk sank to a watery grave miles below the waves.
If there were an onlooker to gaze at the surface of the water, all appeared still. Not a stitch of wood remained of the ship. It would be near impossible to believe that two-and-two-score souls had been there just moments prior. It would certainly be impossible to measure the magnitude of love and despair that mingled together, diffused, and then sank below the pacific surface.