finding Hope

by dm gillis

It was the day the water vanished, as though the Pacific had taken a deep breath, and held the Ocean in its lungs, creating a tide so low that it revealed all that was secret beneath. The water had rapidly ebbed out past the miles of muddy tidal flats and kelpy stone, to where the channel buoys had floated, and now lay on their sides. There were fish flapping abandoned, the bones of suicides and disgraced gangsters, and torpedoed foggy port steamers, each with captains still stalwart, if defunct, upon the bridge.

And from the beach, we could see long forgotten Hope, where it had settled on its port side, so long ago, its bow pointing east.

Hope was lost in ’22 as it smoked into port, in calm waters, with all aboard. It had disappeared in the night, in a mystery, with its lights still seen from city streets. There were rumors of witches and Leviathan. And at the Mission to Seafarers, they prayed like demons to God for the souls of the lost.

Now the ship was revealed in the dusk, and we walked out to see her.

She was a barnacled thing – her railings, decks and hull, in spite of the bottom paint. It had once displaced two hundred tons. Water still poured from hatches as we approached, and her knotted ropes must have been mermaid tresses in the currents. The propellers were muddy and the once high bridge was now dark, and ninety degrees to the Ocean floor. Then we saw her nameplate, Hope, still visible, as though its namesake remained a reasonable thing to have in our hearts.

“What could have happened?”

“Vancouver was so close.”

“She failed all aboard her.”

But that may have been too harsh.

Then we saw her, a woman stepping out of nowhere, too young to be a ghost, but what else could she have been. She wore a flapper costume, a wet beaded dress, sodden bob and cloche hat, water dripping from her fingertips, mascara running like dark streams.

And all of us standing there heard her speak.

Hope was lost in a dream,” she said. “She failed no one. It was a waking dream I had as we steamed in from the coast, with the band on deck, the coloured lights, liquor and cocaine. The men wore tuxedoes, all of them still crazed from the 14-18. No one knew what it could be, as the water flowed through the portholes and up over the deck. We were invincible, after all, with jazz in the air. Some tried to swim, but were held back by tides. I was below, in the arms of a lover. She died with Hope, too. We all did. So close to home.”

Then she warned us, “The Ocean is returning.”

We waited for it, but there was no tsunami roar, only a mute surge, moving rapidly round our feet, and we ran. Over the tidal flats, and the bones of those who had gone before us, by way of water. When we returned to shore, we saw the Ocean flooding the bay. We looked back on Hope, and saw the lights and heard the jazz, until it was once more submerged by our pocket of the Pacific. Then Hope was gone once more.

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