Two of the screws in my porthole have fallen out. Five rusty ones remain. The window shakes with every wave that slams into it. Water runs down the wall, making puddles on the floor.
If our captain wasn’t oblivious of the world around him, I might bother to tell him we’re sinking. His nose is too high in the air to see the moldy wood at his feet. It’s coming in through the cracks in the wood and the rain from above. We’re being drowned, slowly.
He only cares about his pile of broken things. He dreams of fixing everything that lay at his feet. Yet, he won’t look down.
I took the liberty of collecting his precious things and tossing them overboard. It’ll give us a few more days until we join them.
“Esmerelda,” he pleads, dragging a finger across my collarbone. His eyes trace every feature of my face. They never stray below my waist, where wood replaces flesh. I am, and always have been, the captain’s favorite broken thing.
For months, he’s whispered promises in my ear. This captain, full of scars and wasted youth, confesses all his secrets to me. He knows we’re on a fool’s journey. Shame keeps him from accepting his mistakes. Even as the crew walks past, watching our every move, his eyes never leave mine.
On the other trips, he’d only come to me at night. I was the captain’s secret. Now, he doesn’t care who sees us. His fingers trail my body every hour of the day.
“You are all I have left,” he whispers to me. The sound of rain rivals his pounding heartbeat. I can’t tell if it’s love or a distraction for him.
I wait until the dead of night before I run my fingers through his hair. He releases a tight breath, burying his face in my neck. “What about your crew?” I ask him.
He shakes his head. “Just you,” he mutters, “I’ll never leave you, Esmerelda. Do you understand? It’s you and me until the end.” He’s breathless now, confessing his devotion to me. There’s nothing I can say to sway him. There’s no point in trying. Instead, I pull his lips to mine. For tonight, we’ll pretend I’m not broken.
I don’t let him pull away when a splash echoes behind us. More of his things are being tossed overboard. It could be the gold chest his father gifted him or the royal crest from his uncle. Both items were heavy enough to drag us down.
I suspect the crew will throw everything overboard to save themselves and their noble captain. They’d throw me overboard if the captain would let them. Anything that would give them a few more hours.
I’d let them do it. If it meant I could give the man holding me a few more hours, I’d accept that fate. He’s made it clear he’d do the same for me. Despite the pride and reckless mistakes, I’ve fallen for the captain just as fast as he’s fallen for me.
Even now, as he whispers sweet words to me in the rain, I debate never letting him go. I make him happy enough during the long nights. It’s when the sun comes out and he avoids looking too low that I know I can’t have him.
“Your crew needs you more than I do,” I tell him. He’s holding on too tightly for me to look into his eyes, but I know he’s listening.
His hold on me only tightens, “I’m not leaving you.” His hand finds its way back to my collarbone, tracing the shape. We’ve spent too many nights stuck in this embrace. Neither one of us wants to let go.
It isn’t until his breaths turn shallow against me that I make the difficult decisions. As the captain’s favorite broken thing, I let him think there’s a chance he could fix me. Even when we both know, I am forever broken.
The captain’s been at the bow of the ship, holding onto the woman carved in wood, for weeks. He sleeps drenched and shivering in the rain. The only reason he’s still alive is because of the food and water we’ve forced down his throat. He’s gone delirious.
We can hear him talking to her when we pass. The figurehead’s only human from the waist up. He ignores the block of wood she juts out of. We know he dreams of her from the way he mumbles as he clings to her shape. It’s a good thing he holds on tight. One badly placed wave would knock him into the water with all his things.
It’s hard to remember that he’s just a boy. The months at sea have aged the little lord beyond his years. This voyage has broken him. His helplessness lay bare at our feet.
It started with the broken cargo. No one bothered to check the crates before we set sail. Bits of wood and chipped glass filled the boxes like confetti. It was a wasted trip from the moment the ship left the docks.
He convinced us he could fix it. Our captain was trained in swords and trading, not fixing broken cargo. We all knew there was no hope, but we didn’t want to break his spirit. Our captain has dreams bigger than all of us. He sat on the creaking deck for hours with his tools.
We lost the cargo to the worst of the storms. It almost tipped the boat completely. With it, our rations have become unsustainable. The boat itself is leaking and old. Walking across the deck makes you think twice about where to rest your weight. Mold eats away the foundation around us.
Out of respect to our captain, we waited until he was asleep to throw the heaviest things overboard. Family heirlooms don’t mean much if you’re dead. The portrait his mother added to his cabin weighed as much as I do. It noted every blonde hair and curving muscle on that kid.
He looks different than the golden boy that left the dock months ago. Scars cover his hands, and his blonde hair has grown shaggy. His family will be stunned when we deliver him to the doors of the palace. By any means necessary, we will deliver him back to his family. The country will have our heads if we don’t.
That’s why it was such a relief when we spotted land an hour ago. This ship’s going down fast, and we’re not going with it. If the captain won’t wake up from his fever dreams, I’ll drag him to shore myself.
While he was sleeping next to me, shaking from the cold, I was navigating the storms. His home is on the horizon. This is the place he’s longed to see for months.
He chokes on air when the crew drops him onto the hard dock. His clothes cling to his shaking body. I watch him breathe in the familiar sights and sounds, realizing. The place comes alive around him. Slowly, people recognize the man on the docks. They swarm him. One girl drops to her knees in front of him, pushing the hair out of his face.
Even as water bubbles up around me, I watch my captain scan the people around him. He examines the horizon next. Spires from his family’s palace rise above the city. He pushes himself to his feet. Instead of turning to his home, he faces the water.
He raises a hand to me. It might be a goodbye. It might be thank you. Either way, we both know we won’t see each other again. I cherish the sight of him, with his hand raised to me, until the water swallows me whole. Then I store it away as my most precious memory.
I’ll miss sharing dreams with the captain. I always liked joining him there.
I imagine he’ll get a new ship and I’ll watch his great adventures from the bottom of the ocean. The letters in the hull will fade, but I’ll always be his Esmerelda. His first love.
Someday he’ll become king and I’ll watch his children sail past. Then, I’ll watch his grandchildren and their children. I will always be trapped down here, watching the life I could never live.
This is the start of his dream, but this-
This is my worst nightmare.