The man awakes to cow noises, throat-clearing grunts and bovine flatulence, a world of sounds to match the smells. He awakes to the ringing pail, the pissing milk, fouled tracks left in the grassy defecation. There are clues in the trail that he does not feel up to pursuing, rather leaning a tired head against a coarse cowhide stand, pulling for milk by hand when a machine could do better and dreaming of the sea.
The man feels his heart beat with the rhythm of the waves, the choppy rise and slaps of salt spray, the diving bow slicing its way to a southern port. There are men with him; good and bad men, young and old men. They are living together in one dream, dying simultaneously in other, less vibrant, pursuits. There is a vastness to their world together; so much room, such infinite space, roofless sky, bottomless ocean, an endless journey, just as there is emptiness within each individual soul and the points from which they entered and departed. The journey is everything.
At every landing, the peaceful glide of the sea halts and its further promise hovers along the arms of the topsails. At every port comes a city attached, a distraction, for the city does not rock and sway despite its proximity to the water. It does not demand sea legs. It does not smell of cow pies, though it smells of worse. It is steady and unsure and makes one feel unsteady and sure and it steams like a hot spring rising from Hell. Its women ride the damp mattresses and maintain the forward glance of sea maidens on their own journeys – its pimps and thieves poise like rocks and reefs along the coastline, waiting for the cocksure pilot, welcoming the unwarranted risk.
Meanwhile, the ship’s holds are emptied and loaded and its crew gathers itself once more, counts heads and worries a loss, but not worried enough to fail to grab another sleeper whose hands were grasping the teat at one moment, and then hauling nine yards worth of canvas in the next. There are dreamers in the city, but they never dream of the sea. It’s the country lad that seeks such freedom and wishes that cows were mermaids.