LOVE AFFAIR • by Cat Rambo

Two ships pass in the night, and try in vain to transfer cargo, hampered by fog and darkness.

“Son of a BITCH!” one captain growls, a lean, restless woman, green eyes and a pierced eyebrow, t-shirt reading Hard Rock Cafe: Armageddon. The other captain, long eyelashes and a tattoo of a pineapple, Southern symbol of hospitality, on the small of his back, sits in meditation, driving his ship through languorous force of will.

Dolphins, the reincarnate souls of drowned sailors, slip effortlessly through the waves between the ships, nosing the rusting hulls. The waves are steep walled, so high that sometimes the ships are on entirely different planes. The second captain murmurs drowsy recipes to the wheel spinning by itself. His counterpart, face intent, holds hers, pulls the ship around like a balky shopping cart.

Sailors rush around the piled boxes, cubes of fragrant wood held together with copper bands strewn with runes. “Hard a-PORT!” the captain screams over her shoulder as the ship turns again, deck tilting, loose items tumbling, sliding into the water’s dark embrace. Once again the ships rush past each other, diving deep into the troughs.

Until at last, a careening crate hits the railing, splits open, spills its contents. Both captains look up, their faces caught between despair and joy as a thousand goldfinches flutter, flying free into the darkness. They are the birds of the heart and, once loosed, can never return.

Cat Rambo lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest, in the shadow of doomed Mt. Rainier. Her short story collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, appeared from Paper Golem Press in 2009. She is the fiction editor of Fantasy Magazine.

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 average 3.7 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • “…a careening crate hits the railing…”.

    Careening is rolling a ship or boat onto one side, maybe on a beach, e.g. to scrape barnacles off that side of the hull (usually doing each side in turn), or to get at damage to repair it. Careering is flying about wildly.

  • Linda G

    Too many adjectives, detailed descriptions, and metaphors for me to wade through as I tried to understand what the story was all about. A lot of them were good–just too many of them. Also, the rhyming and alliteration was unnecessary and that’s from someone who usually loves alliteration. And the “balky shopping cart”? It just didn’t fit in a maritime story. Sorry…

  • Bob

    Loved this story, although I don’t know why. But I’m in agreement with Linda G: the balky shopping cart was a clinker.

  • Kit

    I liked this. I could smell the sea water and feel the spray. I loved the description.

  • Thanks, P.M., but “careening” is in fact used correctly (

  • No, this is one of those cases where a neologism/change of meaning doesn’t work (where we should be prescriptive rather than descriptive), because it obstructs the original meaning and makes it unavailable – particularly in a story involving a ship; it’s not too hard to imagine a situation where it would have led to unresolved ambiguity, say if the box hadn’t been specified.

  • vondrakker

    I’m echoing Linda G
    Not sure what this is all about
    Sorta like an Abstract painting

    3 * * *

  • The fog in the first paragraph seems to have disappeared by the last.

    This piece holds two much unnecessary description. The captains appear quite whacky characters, but I’d rather find this out through the text than through a dense second paragraph.

  • Jen

    I loved the detail and description in this story. Beautiful.

  • To me, this story is an allegory for sex and love, in which case the maritime symbolism was spot on and very well done. Unfortunately, it hung up at the same spot for me as it did for a couple of other commenters: The shopping cart. It seemed jarringly out of place amidst so many wonderful maritime metaphors.

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