Friday, October 15, 2010

History With That Sea Witch

Every morning Matthew Flinders puts on his white shirt and treads the pathways through shafts of steaming, green light. The gravel in his bladder is getting worse. He chafes at his gaoler Daecan, that vindictive upstart Gaul. He worries that the French governor will steal the map Flinders is working on, to further his own flailing career. He also pines for his Anne. He is embittered, incapacitated by the coitus interruptus to his marriage and to his life’s work.

After his daily walk, he returns to his hosts, the beautiful French women of Mauritius. They give the handsome Englishman succour, enchanted by his condition of house arrest. One of the youngest sisters wants to marry him. Her slender white neck and doe eyes bother him. 
Blame it on Calypso, he thinks. There is a history with that old sea witch.

Calypso awoke in her cavern to the alarmed shrieks of the raptors.  She went to the sea shore and the man stumbled through the shallows towards her. Calypso, that lonely island beauty, sighed with relief and welcome, her arms outstretched, her hips swaying with shells and feathers. She took him into the cavern and fed him heady wine, the juicy flesh of abalone. She laid him out on the furs of her soft bed and watched the wrecked sailor sleep for two days.

She tried to make Odysseus forget Ithaca and Penelope. She offered him immortality and managed to detain him for seven years. But Odysseus pined. He wanted a full life, not an endless one. He stared out to sea while Calypso tended to her sea crows and falcons. Every morning he would walk the island while she dived for crayfish. One day, in her soft bed, he turned away his head.

Indiana Jones After the Party
Away from the gleam of winter stars, Calypso sheds her belt of seals teeth and seashells. Indiana Jones pulls pelican feathers from her wind-tangled hair. Outside the motel room, cars wait like tethered ponies. Outside, her sea crow clatters on the tin roof with impatient, flat feet. Sea storms the shore. But in here it is warm.
“Take off my dress.”
“You take it off.”
“Take off my dress!”
“I want to watch you.”
Calypso takes off her dress. She minds the wounds of Indiana Jones. She licks him well again.

A cold alarm bleeps at five in the morning. He dresses and pats himself down.
“Stay with me,” she says.
“Today, Calypso, is a most important day. Much travel ...”
“We’ll have some breakfast and I’ll take you to the sea shore.”
He searches for his whip and his whiskey.
“Stay with me ... “ she will not beg. “Is it not good enough that I receive you, I nourish you, I lick the briny from your barnacle’d wounds?”
Poor, lovely Calypso. She wonders if she may be wiser to find work in the mines, join the yacht club, internet dating maybe. It has been this way for millennia, she thinks. The moment a questing sailor wades wounded and broken into her arms is the same moment he begins planning his escape.  Calypso strokes her golden thighs and jingles the sea shells. Their focus on their quest is admirable, she muses, if a little misguided.

In the 1940’s, writer Ernestine Hill sailed through the Gulf of Carpentaria with a fisherman who seemed to know his way.
“Whose chart are you using?”
“Flinders’. No one has produced a better chart in the last century and a half,” he told her.

The Greek Myths, Robert Graves, 2002.
Map by Matthew Flinders, National Library of Australia.
My Love Must Wait, Ernestine Hill, 1941.



  1. Yes, I know I've been there before ... I'm just trying to work this story out. Needs an ending.

  2. "She took him into the cavern and fed him heady wine, the juicy flesh of abalone. She laid him out on the furs of her soft bed and watched the wrecked sailor sleep for two days" This is beautiful, hinting at the sexuality of their coming together, and yet without fully declaring the heat between them. Beautiful writing this...!! And an ending??? I want to read more on her offerings of her heady wine, and the juicy flesh of her abalone, not to mention her furs and soft bed...

  3. This is great..

    I'm trying to describe Roe's nearly drowning at the mouth of the Kalgan in 1818. Just spent two hours on exactly that part. I finish then go to check and find this.

    Ces't trez extraordinaire...

  4. Can't resist, sorry..

    When the sand gave way without warning his feet were gone. He sank instantly as his boots and satchel filled. He hadn’t time to draw breath and waving with his hands to try and gain buoyancy his lungs quickly begged for more. Dragged mid-stream, he was at the water’s deepest in no time and it drowned his cries as his eyes screamed at the receding surface. His boot straps tangled and his satchel and clothes became leaden, working to nullify the effects of his frantic struggle. Then his feet touched the bottom and hope surged. He bent his knees, sank more, then straightened his long legs and sprang only to find the soft sand absorb his energy and leave him exhausted, airless and fading, four full feet from deliverance.

    He drew breath from where there was none and knew then there was no way out. Darkness closed in, all sound was gone and his fear began to subside when a cold hard thing knocked the final kick of his ankles and he stepped onto a rock and pushed. Miraculously, he broke the surface, sucked, coughed and sank again, but not before he saw how close he was to finding his way out. His feet met the rock again and he bounced upwards for another stolen breath then down again for a third time, his sight returning, to where the rising bank met his feet and received his desperate drive for grip and push with god given traction and he climbed and found air again and this time with his head above water he heaved himself up the bank to gain height and safety only to find a great weight about his throat and his air gone once more.

    His water laden boots had swung over his shoulders so that the straps had wrapped about his wind pipe hard enough to close it and with the shore just a few feet away and his body lunging toward it, he stumbled and fell, exhausted and unconscious, face first into the last four inches of sea.

  5. I'll shut up in moment...

    Sarah, is this part of something larger or a piece on its own?

    To my mind it nearly is complete, though I'm not sure Ernestine's part works at the end..

    Love lost and found, given but unrequited, mariners and sea witches alike, across the ages..

  6. Nice Ciaran. Have you read the description of drowning in Perfect Storm? Not 'art', more factual but interesting.

    ST I reckon the last bit will work with a bit more From the comments so far you can see why the 'blokes' get sucked in by the sirens - classic! Archetypal....and that was going to be another of my suggestions....what (who) is the archetype?

  7. Sorry, I have been reading this 'feminist' stuff that puts a completely diferent and non-destructive slant on the idea of woman as 'seductress' preventing her 'man' from becoming the hero. It is actually empowering to realise that Eve was like Lucifer in delivering something valuable to humanity - er, try 'knowledge'. I just wonder where all of these sirens fit into that paradigm because although I accept the role of seductress (and have enjoyed it on occasion) I want women to be recognised for the brave and smart souls they are as well. (I'll get off my soapbox now)

  8. I think that is a fantastic point Michelle, the role of the 'siren' to waylay and teach. Interesting. Thanks for all your comments and engagement, and your excerpt Ciaran. The story is just as it is but needs some kind of closure...maybe there is no such thing!
    I like ciaran's point -
    "Love lost and found, given but unrequited, mariners and sea witches alike, across the ages.."
    because that's what i'm on about in this story, really.
    But I'll put some more abalone in there Tim!

  9. I only meant to post the drowning because I was kind of staggered that i'd just done that and come here to find the story about shipwrecked mariners. It needs work alright... No Calypso for Roe, he seemed contently married. As with King, for that matter. I haven't read Perfect Storm. Tim Winton does good drownings too, in Cloud Street anyway..