Adrift In November’s Mist
by Stefani Hutchison
Heavy, gray mist danced a silent, sinuous ballet across the still St. Mary’s River. The fog muted everything. Sight, sound, even reality was unsure, balanced on the edge of certainty by the swirling, wet blanket. So still was the morning, the river herself was careful not to disturb the quiet. Gently ebbing and flowing, she caressed the beach like a silent lover.
The overpowering tang of wet seaweed drowned out all other scents, so sharp and strong it left a taste in my mouth. Above, the sun was muted to a weak, silver disk, casting only enough light to blur all together. I could not tell where the sky ended and the water began. The constantly moving fog canceled out the world. I felt suspended, small, vulnerable. At the same time, I felt expectant. I had been called to this moment, this place. Blinded by the fluid world around me, I waited.
All at once, time shifted. Off shore, the banks of fog roiled and parted. A shadow formed in the haze, grew larger. Slowly the vague outline of a three-masted ship took shape. Ghostly, she sailed out of time and drew me into her world. As her form solidified, I saw The Dove, making her way through the fog to her berth in St. Mary’s City.
She brought life in her wake. Around her a bubble of clarity had formed, like a ship in a bottle. I could hear the cries of the gulls as they wheeled and fought for scraps thrown overboard by the sailors. I could not make out words, but voices carried across the water. Her rigging creaked; the river stroked her sides; a bell clanged. It all seemed surreal as I stood wrapped in the cold mist, a chilled, damp, spectator out of place, lost in a moment, adrift in time.
I held my breath and willed the vision to last. If I waited long enough, would the time shift become permanent? Would I look down and see skirts where my worn jeans had been?
I wondered what it would be like to stand on her decks, to climb her rigging, to wrestle her sheets. In her time, her now, would I be able to face the danger of the sea? Face into the wind and taste the salt on my lips and feel the power of the water under my feet? Was there a young woman, somewhere, some when, standing on a long forgotten shore waiting for her sailor to come home? Did he long for home and his family, or was sailing in his soul?
Caught up in my reverie, I almost missed her disappearance in tendrils of mist. The swirling gray fingers gently softened her lines. As she faded, I was pulled back from my musings.
The raucous calling of a flock of geese drew my gaze up into the nothingness. In that instant of distraction, time re-shifted. When I again looked out at the river, the ship was gone. No trace remained to prove her existence.
Where had she gone? Back into the fog? Was she ever really there? Looking down, I saw my feet were precariously close to the edge of the pier. Ignoring the danger, straining to find some sign that I had not imagined this wondrous experience, I stared vainly into the distance. The silence taunted me, dared me to believe.
Sighing, I turned back to shore, convinced that I had somehow missed my chance. As I reached land, I froze, then whirled back toward the river. Nothing? Maybe.
I waited, hardly daring to breathe, willing my heart to quiet its hammering. Then I heard it again, the distant, muffled sound of a bell.
Stefani Hutchison writes from Calvert County. Her last work in Bay Weekly was a photo for Helen Beard’s reflection “Dancing Creatures” on August 5. This is her first story in the paper.