Inspiration: This Sea by Voltaire
On October the twenty-second, a boy was born to George and Catherine Silvers. They named him Marcus, after her late father. After all, it was a good, honest name. They were not a rich family by any means, but they had enough to get by and to be relatively happy, though it could not be said that they did not want for things. Every family wants, and they all wished for the simple things: a little more money, some new shoes, bread that wasn’t a day old…
In spite of the poverty, or perhaps to spite it, the boy grew up happily. Marcus would take daily trips to the nearby shore and would just sit and watch the tide and the ships on the far-off horizon. Very little, he wondered if they sailed off the edge of the world and into heaven. He loved the sea, loved the taste of the salt water when a wave overcame him, loved the sound of it. As he grew older, his family would go out later at night to watch the stars. “That star, right there, the big, bright one… you look for that star every night, and it’ll be there. That’s the North Star. Some men say it’s a guardian angel, watching over all who travel. It helps men find their way when they’re lost.” At the boy’s request, every night, George would tell Marcus about a new constellation from a worn astronomy book. He was as fascinated with the night sky as he was with the ocean, and hoped some day that he could sail on them both.
While Marcus grew contentedly, he also grew quickly, much too quickly, for his clothes never quite fit right. By the age of thirteen, he was already as tall as his father, and began to work with him at whatever odd jobs they could find. The two had a hand in construction and factory work. Marcus grew up marveling at the wonderful industries blooming all around him, at the progress of it all. His curiosity and eagerness to learn, combined with the admiration he showed to those who would teach him, made him quick friends among the management at the work sites. He was an expert at flattery, and knew exactly how to please people enough to get what he wanted out of them.
Unsurprisingly, this also won him favor with women, when he was old enough to have interest in them. He had his share of lady friends, mostly involving picnic luncheons by the lake and his own special brand of homemade poetry. It could never be said that he mistreated the women, for he did not use them; his mother had taught him well in that regard. Eventually, Marcus tired of the mere company, of the hollowness of having a woman on his arm for the sake of not having it bare. He craved what his parents had. He had grown up understanding the natural order of how a man should live his life as including a wife with whom he was deeply in love, and at eighteen years old, he felt he was falling behind. While pondering this one day as he looked out his window, he caught a glimpse of the girl who lived next door, Grace, who he had known and befriended his whole life. He realized for the first time that she had grown into quite a fine young woman. Marcus pursued her feverishly, at first convincing himself that he could love her, then realizing that he did. Her smile was radiant and made his heart skip beats and lodge in his throat. He did all he could to make sure she wore it as often as possible.
When Marcus asked Grace’s father for her hand in marriage, after a year and a half of steady devotion to her, he was surprised to hear the man refuse. Her mother explained, being able to put it more delicately. “It’s just that… we want her to have a good future. It’s nothing against you, you’re like a son to us. But we think you should have… a more stable financial footing.” Money, he thought to himself, as he slumped back into the chair he was sitting in, looking at the tiny diamond he had saved for a year to buy. It’s all come down to money, like I have to buy her. At first, he was discouraged. Grace asked him repeatedly if he was well, but he could not answer. He was so ashamed.
Then, he began to think. For years, he had been forming an idea. His father and even Grace had helped him work out some details until he thought he had the workings of a solid business endeavor drawn up. He was still young, and if he waited, he would never see his idea to fruition. He would turn into one of the old men at the work site, talking about grand ideas as thought they could still happen, running on coffee and hope and denial. For years, his town had produced wares in factories to ship by road to nearby towns with proper harbors for shipping. Marcus had worked out his figures, and had worked out a way financially to begin his own shipyard. It was just a matter of finding an investor.
By happy coincidence, the man who owned the construction company was a rich man, eager to expand his renown and pockets. He helped Marcus start his business, signing on the construction with his own company and investing the necessary capital to get things going. The only caveat was that the shipyard, and it’s profits, would be split in half. Marcus had found himself a business partner.
Soon enough, they were established, and the factories signed contracts. Since none of the debt fell onto Marcus because of the generosity of his partner, he immediately saw profit. He did notice, however, that the man mostly took money and offered occasional advice, leaving Marcus to manage the place himself. Still overwhelmed with gratitude, and somewhat jealously possessive of his idea, Marcus preferred it that way.
Marcus returned to ask for Grace’s hand, and, finally, he was worthy. The diamond this time was twice as large, perfectly scaled to her dainty finger. When the day came, Marcus marveled at the flowers woven into Grace’s hair, like he had caught some wild wood nymph for his own. He had a crafted a special pendant for her with his own hands, his own rendition of the shine of the North Star. Her smile had never been so beautiful. He was sure he had never and would never see anything so lovely ever again.
Years passed, and much changed. Marcus’ business grew larger and more profitable as the local industries grew. He had a palace of a house with apartments into which both his parents and Grace’s parents had moved. Though all were content at first, Marcus saw his mother washing dishes one day and became angry, not at her, but at the lowliness of the task. They were a family of status, and could not be bothered to do such things. The next day, a maid and a cleaning woman were hired, and Marcus was again content.
In these years, Grace and Marcus decided to start a family. Marcus desperately desired a son, to whom he could endow all of his wisdom and his company along to when the time came. Despite these years of trying, Grace was unable to conceive. The best doctors were called in, and none could find anything amiss with her. One doctor suggested that the problem was Marcus, but he was thrown out without payment for the insult. From then on, none suggested such an issue. Marcus assumed it was because the doctor was a fraud. It was more likely that Grace had warned them. In time, they stopped trying, defeated. He never forgave her.
Marcus fell out of love with Grace quickly after that. If she were barren, she was of no use to him, and it made him desire her less and less, until they began to sleep in separate rooms. Marcus had grown a fierce temper in these years, and so, despite their wishes for Grace to have better, her parents remained silent, from her request and for fear of homelessness. The three suffered in that time, trying to stay unnoticed. They barely had any food to eat, since Grace was beaten for buying what Marcus thought were too many groceries. Soon enough, from malnutrition and stress, her mother fell ill. Grace was afraid to ask for permission to call a doctor, and was surprised to find Marcus so willing to help. It was too late, and the poor woman died. Her husband followed some months later, pining for his wife the whole time. Grace was broken, but despite Marcus’ willingness to find the best doctors for her parents, he had still not softened toward her. She fell silent, until she was all but a ghost.
Marcus’ own parents were unhappy with the situation, but said nothing, too content in their fat and comfortable lifestyles to bother. They hired themselves personal servants, slaves to their will and whim. Marcus found himself hating what they had become, but let them be. He had his own vices to attend to.
For Marcus had found a woman. He was in a bar after a business meeting when he met her. She began to tease him, knowing he had money. He knew what she wanted from him, and it repulsed him at first. Then he realized who he was: Marcus Silvers, founder of Silvers’ Shipyard. He was now a man who could do whatever he damn well wanted, whatever the consequences. So, he went home with her. She was lovely and young, with a supple and agreeable body with which she let him do whatever he pleased. He loved her willingness, and she loved his money. He stayed with her until she one day wore flowers in her hair. He could not recall why it disturbed him so, but he walked out and never saw her again.
Marcus had become a fan of gambling, and was of enough status to be invited to high-society’s clandestine functions at which this vice could be exercised. Here he laid money on dogs, cocks, cobras, men… whatever there was a call for bets on. He lost more than he won, but he had so much that it never mattered. The men who ran these establishments learned quickly that his bets grew larger and riskier in proportion to the brandy he was provided with. Marcus did not notice when men began to bet on how much he would bet. He never noticed when they laughed. He was too busy believing he belonged.
Marcus found other girls, too. He had before been ashamed of his unfaithful ways, but on a particularly drunken night, he brought the girl in question to his own home. The noise was so great that Grace came out of her room. In his state, the look of hurt astonishment on her face upon seeing her husband bent over another woman was an elixir. He found himself hating his wife, hating her so much that he continued to bring women to their home. Sometimes he could hear her cry. He loved it.
Marcus one day found himself wishing for more. He had plenty, to be certain. He had more than he had ever dreamed of. But as he looked out to the ocean, as he had since he was a boy, he wished it was his. He looked up to the North Star and saw it shining as it never had before, as though its light was pointing away, into the horizon. It became clear to him then, as clear as a vision: he would go forth with his business, expand it until every major port on the coast had Silvers’ Shipyard as its foremost shipping industry. And from the coast, where would he go? Where could he go? He could go anywhere he wanted, anywhere at all.
For the first time since the early days, when he took his whole family out onto the water in one of his boats, Marcus set out to sea. He wished his parents goodbye quickly, not wishing to have his mother hug him, for she disgusted him so. As he walked out, he saw a door to his left close, and suddenly wondered if he should bid his wife goodbye. He shook his head at the silly notion. But as he walked down his driveway, he looked back to the window of his wife’s room. She stood there, her eyes full of a lifetime of sadness. She soon closed her eyes, shook her head, and turned from him, just as he was about to wave goodbye to her. Before she turned, he realized that she wasn’t wearing his necklace anymore. He wondered when she had taken it off. For the first time he could remember, he felt hurt.
That first evening at sea, the ocean began to churn. The clouds were dark and foreboding, and it soon began to rain. As the sky grew darker, the conditions worsened. The captain was trying to turn back, but he could not tell where to go. Marcus desperately searched the sky, but for the first time in his life, his North Star was nowhere to be found. He barely had time to register his shock. It was not long before the ship struck a great black rock, and the shouts of men were drowned out by the fury of the ocean.
It’s true what they say. Your life, the important parts of it anyway, does flash before your eyes right before you die. This is what I saw of mine. The more I had, the more I thought I needed. Or maybe it was that my dreams were scaled to my means: the more I had, the more I could have, and the bigger my wants were. It hardly matters now.
I saw the man I wanted to be, the man who had everything, and I ignored the man I should have been. I should have been better, especially to you, Grace. You were my North Star, the one I should have followed. I killed your parents and I broke your spirit with my cruelty. I thought I hated you once. I think I hated myself. I love you, Grace. There was a time I could have spent my every moment trying to make you smile. I wish I had.
I feel like something is pulling me down… my own guilt maybe? Fitting then, that I should drown in this sea of regret. But look there, it’s my star. As I look at it, I recall… what was that, in your hands as I left? I remember it now, a blue ribbon, with a charm. You didn’t give up on me after all, did you? I’m better now. All better. I can make everything right for you now.
I deserve this.