The Sirens again. They begin when the dawn breaks, so we must wake, too. We sleep in shivering piles, huddled against the black salt spray, and during the night the ropes at our waists keep us safe from the rolling pitch of a ship adrift. By day, the ropes shred our palms as we tug o’ war against death; every day another man gains impossible strength, charging down the deck, leaping. They laugh when they devour him, giggling, delicate bites like daughters might take. They leave so much of him behind, but not enough. Bored with our horror they retreat to the rock, just out of sight, and begin to sing again. It’s so beautiful we forget everything we’ve seen.
We babble about whose voices the song recalls. Taft says his girl, waiting for him at home. One last time out, he told her, and he could afford the ring she deserved. Morgan used to joke about tavern girls, each one bustier than the last, but not anymore. Oliver, the ship’s boy, is too young to have known any woman but his mother and no mother sounds like this. I’ve known plenty of girls, beautiful and dark, terrible and fair. None come to mind when I listen, though. So, when the men sob and remember, I keep silent. I strain to see the singers through their misty veil, but I know better than to approach the side. Something in my gut churns like a live thing when I move to my feet, so I stay low. There are fewer of us every day. A man is moved to listen closer, to see, to touch. We try to keep hold of him, and then he’s gone. We are too few to crew this vessel home, so we linger and dwindle, and the song gives us hope. There is beauty, out there. Someone will come.
Only Morgan and I remain. The song told Taft his girl had forgotten him. Oliver heard there was someone for him, just there, not too far for strong legs and a brave heart. I know I cannot hold Morgan, nor can he restrain me. We clutch each other in the dark and promise what we will do if we are the one to reach home. He has a son, he says. I promise to tell him.
I wake untethered, Morgan’s name in my mouth. I’m the last, it seems, so why hide my secret? I strip off my ruined jacket and shirt, unwind the length that binds my chest. The chill wind stings my bare breasts, but I owe them a glimpse of the sea and sky. The song begins, just for me. A different melody than before, like the mischievous laughter of maidens at weddings. The secret kiss of a best friend, one no man will ever quite match. What do you miss so about the land? the song pouts. Why not journey a bit further? What promise have I made, in truth, to men, that I should die as one of them? I can almost see my sisters’ smiles, wide and welcoming. The water is warm and calm.
I slip the rope from my hips. I run, and I dive.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was selected from entries submitted to our Creative Challenge 64: First Sentence, which required that the first sentence must be used as given. Read other Creative Challenge winners. To find out how to participate, go to Creative Challenges.