This is the song that this story is based on. I’ve always loved it, full of longing, loneliness, and the sea.
The sailor’s voice echoes each night as she walks.“You’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be.” His voice is the echo that follows her as she walks through the dark streets each night. She hates it sometimes, for she can only hear him when she’s near the sea.
Sailors fought over the color of her eyes. Those who’d seen her walking around the harbor town in the daylight said they were green, like the bottles half-full of vodka that sat behind the bar.
She worked nights at the bar in town– serving them whiskey and wine and beer– whiskey for a broken heart, beer for a good voyage, wine as dark as the sea they all returned to. Those men said her eyes were blue, sometimes dark like sapphires, sometimes light like aquamarines, depending on whether she came to their tables to serve them, or if she stood behind the well-lit bar. The man who’d accidentally seen her crying once, sitting on an old keg outside of the bar, said her eyes were grey, the kind of swirling grey that only happens when a vicious storm is about to hit your ship.
In the end, their color didn’t matter. They were Brandy’s eyes, and they all loved her, some a little, some a lot. When their ships finally docked, the sailors would scramble off their gangplanks and swarm toward the harbor bar like ants in a line, trailing after a dropped apple. Their lovers and mothers knew they went there first, to see Brandy, and get their whiskey and wine. Even thought most suffered some mild jealousy, none of the women in town hated Brandy. They knew she would make a fine wife one day, and she wasn’t the type to steal your man. If she flirted some with the men to get better tips, well there wasn’t a one of them that blamed her for that.
They were swarming the bar now, a load of ships having just returned. Brandy was serving each table individually to avoid crowding at the bar. Once she got each man a drink she went to the back to clean some glasses, and came back to find the men clustered around a sailor who sat on an old stool by the unlit fire. Golden-hour light filled the dirty windows of the bar, streaming through the pipe smoke so that it looked solid, like bars of gold.
The men were listening to the sailor intently, drinks forgotten or drunk without thought. “The kraken slipped closer, elegant in the waves, it was almost like watching a ballerina dance, and the men on the ship waited and waited… sweat grew on their brows and slithered down their backs like tiny snakes.” The sailor’s story went on, and Brandy had a strange feeling as she saw his eyes. They were more alive than she’d ever seen before, a brown that raged or quieted dependent on the part of the story he told. Once the story ended the whole bar was quiet, the kind of quiet that comes after a thunderstorm or when a screaming baby finally sleeps.
After a few moments, perhaps minutes, they slowly started moving, talking, laughing. They were always most jubilant after they’d returned, still enjoying the land before the sea called them back. They reached out to pat Brandy’s hand as she passed, not grabbing her around the waist as they might at another bar. Brandy is a lady, their queen, as precious to them as the figureheads that guard their ships.
“You’re a fine girl, Brandy,” one sailor says, as she brings him his third beer. “What a good wife you’d be,” says another, as she takes his empty glass and refills it. “Your eyes could keep me from the sea,” says a young lad of nineteen, who’s not sure if being on the sea is his choice, his mother’s, or the sea’s.
The sailor who told stories is sitting at a round table, with ten other men crowded about. The sailor has deep blonde hair, not the same color as the gold coin he’s rolling across his knuckles, more like the color of wheat fields.
He looks up and notices Brandy, and the coin tumbles to the table. He looks at her for a long moment, not really staring, but looking at her. Then his attention is pulled back to his bag. He pulls other treasures out of it, coffee that smells rich and deep, making Brandy think of Morocco. She’s never been there of course, but the sailors have told her stories of the rich colors, the luxurious carpets and nearby sand dunes that flicker in the sun like silk. The sailor pulls out cinnamon and pepper, pink salt that looks like crystal that the sailor says comes from the Himalayan Mountains. He finishes taking out the contents of his bag, and then stands up and looks again at Brandy. She’s lingered by the table, letting cups pile and men grumble as she looks at the things scattered across the polished wood. “Brandy?”
How does he know her name?
“Would you go for a walk with me?” She looks at the clock, and sees that her shift has been over for half an hour. She’s been too distracted tonight to pay much attention. She nods and pulls on her jacket, a deep green, soft as velvet, a gift from one of the sailors. They walk out of the bar and Brandy sees that night has fallen. She hadn’t noticed that either, and she’s glad for the jacket. The air is brisk even for summer, sea winds sweeping in from a place still cold.
The night is heavy with stars. It’s a night to fall in love in. And Brandy does.
She falls in love with his laugh, which flings itself into the night with vigor. She falls in love with his long fingers; fingers she imagines would be as adept at painting, or perhaps surgery, as tying knots. She falls in love with the way he walks, straight-backed, striding across each bit of earth as if he is conquering it for the first time.
She falls in love with him, even as he tells her that his life is the sea. He calls the sea his lover, his lady. The sea is his all, as he becomes hers. Brandy can’t, won’t, couldn’t stop her love for this sailor. Like he cannot stop his love for he sea.
Her eyes are grey that night as she cries for the sailor who loves the sea.
The sailor spends the rest of that summer in that western harbor town. He and Brandy take walks, and he tells her stories. And the sailor knows that Brandy loves him. And Brandy knows that he loves the sea. And sometimes, Brandy thinks that summer will be enough.
They sleep, sometimes, tangled on the beach. The sailor can’t sleep without hearing the sea. Some nights Brandy wakes and listens to the sea, hoping to hear a discordant note or a break in the rhythm, something that will wake her sailor and make him realize that the sea has broken faith with him. She never does hear that note though and the sailor sleeps, lulled in the lullaby of the sea, and Brandy has the uncomfortable feeling that she is the mistress, that she’s somehow wronging the sea.
“You’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be,” the sailors continue to say each night, as she fills their glasses –whiskey for the broken hearted, beer for happiness, wine, dark as the blood many will shed when they sail again.
The days grow shorter, and Brandy wears her jacket more. Sailors come and go, but the sailor stays until the leaves are gold like his hair, before they become brown like hers. One night, their last night, when the sky is purpling as the sun sets, he hands her a braided chain. It’s silver, from the north of Spain. A locket, shaped like a tiny egg, lies at its base and the sailor’s name is engraved on the back. She puts it around her neck and it falls between her breasts, close to her heart. She doesn’t cry. Brandy and the sailor just listen to a ship full of fishermen singing a sea shanty as they approach the harbor.
When Brandy wakes the next morning, alone on the beach, she knows that he’s gone back to the sea and she tries to understand, twining her fingers around the silver around her neck, until they are imprinted with the interlocking pieces, as if her hands are held in chains.
She continues to serve the sailors whiskey and beer and wine. For the broken-hearted, for happiness, for the pull of the sea that eventually takes all of the sailors from Brandy.
She walks the town at night, it’s silent, except for the sea, which is never quiet. But still she walks through the silent town, and the night is often heavy with stars and it’s often the perfect night to fall in love, but she can always feel the dulling silver against her skin, his name touching her heart.
And the sailors say what a fine girl she is, what a good wife she’d be. And she serves whiskey for the broken-hearted, and beer for a good voyage, and wine as dark as the sea that will call each of them back.
“You’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be.” The sailor’s voice echoes each night as she walks. Sometimes she thinks it’s actually his voice in her ear, but perhaps it’s just the sea.