The Anchorous Sea

Author: Claudia Terry

Iseult struggles to stay afloat in The Anchorous Sea (a metaphor for depression), her state of mind clinging to the floatsam jetsum of life. She feels strongly about fate and destiny and believes that she is the reincarnation of Sylvia Plath.

As a child she saw the world differently; as all children do. Now she hears whispers of her younger self. Yesterday when the house was empty of her children, children who never whisper, she paused briefly in the arch separating kitchen and sitting room. With alert ears of a young mother, instinctive and feline, she drops back on slippered heels and waits for the sound to come again. When it does come she simply draws her dressing gown nearer anticipating the sigh of wind that will end the whispers. The kettle shrieks beckoning her into the present and she continues on into the kitchen and the ritual of her day.
Seated with coffee (that her sister says tells her not to drink because (her) doctor believes that it promotes the growth of tumors) she reflects on the elusive sound. It comes again and she recognizes it- the flutter of clothes air drying on a windy day, a breeze whistling though the mesh screens (that he put on the windows to keep the house cool and the insects out), the dancing of onion peels on the dirty kitchen floor (she meant to throw them out yesterday). It is not the individual sounds that she knows-but the orchestral combination of all and the wind that conducts it. She sits quietly for a long time anticipating the sound and relishing the feeling that it brings.
Her mother kept the onions and the eggs in one basket on the windowsill. His mother despaired at her doing this and now she keeps the eggs in the fridge. A wire chicken half filled with onions sits on the sill. She is not like her mother. Her mother would not change her way to please another. She kept her name and her eggs and her way of living intact throughout her life and lived comfortably and knowingly beside what was expected.
The phone rings, ‘Just checking if you’re alright. ‘He asks.
‘Yes.’ she answers and hopes that this one word will be enough to begin and end the conversation.
‘What are you doing? Are you still in bed?’
‘You should get up, try to get up and have a coffee…a shower.’
‘I will.’ she replies to end the conversation, realizing that ‘yes’ will not do.
‘Good. I’ll call later. Take care of yourself Zottie. Bye now.’
He has used a nickname that was once endearing but now seems out of context. She turns off the phone.

Cataclysm n. violent break, disruption.
Numb a. & v.t. deprived of feeling or power of motion.
When he’d asked her to think of words to identify herself she could only think of two words: cataclysm and numb. Pink Floyd had been a favorite. Back then she’d listened to ‘Comfortably Numb’ hearing the music and knowing the words but they did not yet ring in her head like a mantra. Later the peculiar word combination haunted her. Lying in the dark, wrapped tight in a feather duvet trying to stop her heart from beating by holding her breath…she knew the possibilities that ‘comfortably numb’ was. But her heart was strong and the duvet always fell free in the mornings’ light.
He said that ‘numb’ was not surprising. ‘It is common to feel numb when one has been through such an ordeal.'(Ordeal n. an experience that tests character or endurance, severe trial).
She felt that numb was a place somewhere deep in the center of her being. It was a place she might wish herself, often or not, but she always had it and she felt it like a shiver down her spine It was a void where she might forget to feel or a hollow, echoing dark place that was somehow comforting like the smell of wet dog. Numb was not a conclusion, as she felt his words implied.

“Tell me about ‘cataclysm’.” he asked, pronouncing the word as a Latin scholar might.
“Which one?” she challenges.
“Why do you identify with this word?”
“Doesn’t it sound grand?” she tries to be funny but he remains straight faced and expectant of her answer. “Maybe I meant cataclysmic, like the big bang…is there a difference?”
“No, there isn’t a difference. Tell me why these word mean something to you?”
She answers, ” Do you know I once walked in on a friend. She was bent over a toilet bowl retching and I asked her if there was anything that I might do to help. Which of us, myself or the vomit, were cataclysmic?”
“You were trying to be helpful.”
“I was disruptive and tedious. She didn’t need me. My sister told me that the only thing comparable to childbirth is retching; you know when you can’t stop and say, ‘that’s enough now,’ and go home. All my life I’ve struggled to hold back a little, to pull back, to compose myself, but I’m not like that. I am cataclysmic. Like birth and retching.”

In the afternoon the children return. ‘Can I? Can? Can I?’ echoes through the house and the expected ‘When you have finished you homework/lunch/cleaning your room…’ follows suit. Would this be missed? Wasn’t it what she wanted? Again she finds herself at the kitchen table-making time with the weekend paper. Why didn’t she take this moment earlier? Now this casual retreat fills her with guilt.
When she announced no.1 to her best friend Kay the question of ‘keeping it’ was put forth.
“Yes.” she’d replied stunned by the query. The idea hadn’t entered her mind to do otherwise.
Kay told her that she admired her strength of character-to take on such a commitment, “I couldn’t do it…it is such a sacrifice and you are so young.”
She wondered now if ‘it’ had occurred to Nick.
Now the little “Can I’s” were her every moment – the ‘sacrifice’ had multiplied.
Kay can’t have babies and Iseult wonders how a woman must feel without the hysterical afters of a pregnancy…the brooding, selfless hormonal flux that encourages the body to instinctively want that feeling of fullness and rightness again. She quite can’t remember wanting or willing any of the children. The waiting she does remember well. When the third baby arrived and it all became too exhausting she remembered to turn her back to him at night.

Coincidence n. notable concurrence of events or circumstance without apparent casual connection.
Iseult is not surprised by the coincidence. Certainly he could never know the things that she believes, they’ve only just met. It is another sign that what she believes is real. Is it a coincidence that his office smells of anesthetic, like a surgery, when his only vice are a paper, pen and his forever questioning tenor?
The book is red, not like a crayon but an ancient sort of red-cadmium or vermilion; Her mother might call it maroon. It is blood red and the binding has the texture of cloth. He has given it to her to write down her memories (if she has a chance). It is a memory book. The pages are legal sized…official and the book doesn’t weigh her down as she chooses to walk the long way home.

‘First Memories of Iseult Thorne’ she writes this at the top left margin of the first lined page and almost immediately regrets having used a pen; Her writing looks so cramped and juvenile. For a moment she considers tearing out the page, but he might notice this and ask more questions. What follows is written with a self-conscious hand. The writer wonders if one day she might not recognize her own (false) penmanship, she would like this. She writes,

I remember. I must have been really little. If I’m right it was Christmas so I would’ve been a couple months old. Someone was holding me, probably my mom because I was scared of my dad’s voice and I’d hold my breath “til I passed out if he came near me. I remember a big beautiful ball, shiny red with an odd-looking face staring out of it. I think that mom must have been holding me close to a Christmas tree and that was my fat face staring out of a tree ornament. My first memory is my own distorted face.
My other 1st memory must come from around the same time. I am again in my mothers” arms because I’m not crying. She is holding me cradle-like and we are going up into the snowy sky. The snow was falling down and we are flying. I know now that this was an illusion, we were not going up, and it only seemed as if we were.

He didn’t notice that I didn’t bring the book. He asked me if I had anything to share and I felt a bit queasy then I told him about the Christmas ball and going up and he was really interested why I knew that I wasn’t in my dad’s arms. I explained that I’ve always been told that I was scarred of him as a baby, crying at the sound of his voice. He asked me if I thought he had a mean voice. I said it was just a big voice. Then I told him that I don’t remember being scarred of my dads” voice but I’ve always been told that I was. Just like I’ve always been told that I’m Duck and that my sister gave me the name because she was very young when I was born and couldn’t pronounce my real name so she called me Duck. I’m still Duck. Recently a family friend came to visit from Oregon and she told me that I was called Duck because I was big and fat and waddled like one. And she would know because she was an adult back when I was waddling

It’s early. The sun is just rising. I think it’ll be a good day for drying clothes.
I must confess that I lied about my first memories.. .