My name is Calypso...
No it isn't. But I do live on an island and no one comes here, not even Ulysses...
That's not true either. Someone came here once. He had no wife waiting at home. No home but his ship. That's what he said. I licked the salt of oceans from his skin. I thought he tasted of home, and other worlds, worlds I knew the names for once, I'm sure. But I only think I'm sure. The truth of me is lost.
There are times when I know that I am Calypso. A name scratched into the sand everyday I am here on this world, this island, surrounded by plenty, but alone. Every night the ocean washes the truth away. My hair is so long now, I can scarcely tell where it ends and the story begins.
Washed upon the shore is a man, his body rocking in the surf. The waves are like the hands of nereids. They pull him to safety now, but if he doesn't wake up soon they will drag him into the sea again.
A woman watches from the top of the white dunes. She comes to the beach everyday to see what has fallen from the sky, what flotsam and jetsam the oceans of the world have cast upon her shore. She's seen the bodies of many creatures, some of them men, swollen with water, very dead. Sometimes the sea washes them away; other times it takes a week or longer for their bones to be picked clean by the crabs and gulls. But this man is different for the simple fact that he isn't dead. And that is something she doesn't want to think about, both hope and the fear of hoping, for if this living man has been washed upon her shore then it is possible, it is possible...
Hope is a terrible gift. Yet she goes down to the beach and drags the man back to the warmth of her cave.
She pours fresh water between his lips. He coughs then swallows greedily. His swollen eyelids break open, ripping out some of his lashes as he blinks. He forces words out and over a thick tongue.
He says, "Thank you."
It's not the question she thought he would ask, that anyone would ask. The one she would answer with soothing assurances that he need not worry about where he is or why, or who she is or why. He doesn't ask the questions he should and she will soon discover he never does.
"The fire feels good," he says. "It's a good fire." Then he shudders and she leans across to tuck the blanket round him again. But he keeps one hand free and it reaches out to touch her hair as it falls across him. Fingers twist in the strands. He rubs her hair between his thumb and forefinger. Is it real or am I touching seaweed? Is this a dream I am dreaming on my way to death? She knows the feeling. She's been there herself. Only there was no one's hair to touch.
"Do you remember your name?" he asks.
You see what I mean about his questions? Curiously phrased, not what you expect. If he had asked, "What's your name?" I would have no answer. I am Myself and Me and I. The only names I need on this island with no one to answer to. I can't answer his question. I feel my eyes screw up and maybe a tear will slip through the cracks. I turn my head away.
"May I call you Calypso?" he asks. "She was also beautiful and she lived on an wave-ringed island much like this."
I am beautiful then. It means something only because he is looking at me.
"Oh, but that would make me Ulysses, I'm afraid."
I ask, "Who is that?" He tells me some of the story. Ulysses rescued by Calypso after losing his ship and all his crew. How Ulysses and Calypso lived together on her island in bliss for a time.
"It ends badly then," I laugh. The laugh doesn't come out the way I hope. "She was better off without him," he says.
He recovers quickly, seems in no hurry to leave. His love, when it comes, is out of obligation, duty, good form. It is also true sacrifice in the old sense of the word, made with reverence and respect, both for the life I saved and the life I am. But I know, I know the reason is he owes me.
I have handed him the bowl brimming with our supper, fat shrimp and lotus blossoms, and he takes it and sets it aside. He looks at me. It is a strange look.
"Do you know what a body memory is?" he asks. "When you remember something in the blood, the pith, the crux?"
"Yes." But I don't like the feeling.
"I know you in here." He jabs at his solar plexus. Then smiles, wistful, melancholy, and taps his temple. "But not in here."
"I don't think I'd ever set eyes on you before I rescued you." I put subtle stress on the word 'rescued' and I'm ashamed of it. But it is his cue. He leans into me, kisses me, there, just at the edge of my mouth, then our lips together and our tongues and teeth. My thighs open to his not so humble sacrifice. The night comes and goes and comes again. He turns me over and over and around and around, loving me from every direction possible, until I feel myself floating weightless in the womb of night and there is no endless prison, Time, no forever that can outlast his love, no terrible thing I have forgotten, nothing but friction, saliva, sweat, mucous and fire.
In the morning I find him building a raft on the beach.
The man is singing. He is naked, brown from the sun, hair streaked with gold, eyes as blue as the sky. The song he sings is wild and gusty. She thinks, even an ugly man would seem beautiful using all his muscles like that, building something full of promise that will get him nowhere.
He sees the woman standing at the top of the dunes, watching him. There is a corona of light behind her head as it eclipses the sun. He can't make out her face and so can't read her expression. In this she is like a goddess - that naked, unknowable Divine.
"You take the breath from me, Calypso," he says. She says nothing, just stares. He is suddenly uncomfortable, too vulnerable in his nudity. He turns and gestures to the raft.
"What do you think?" Silence. "I know it doesn't look very seaworthy at the moment, but it will be. We'll have to take enough water for eight or nine days. But if I'm as clever a sailor as I think, we should reach the Rock in less than that and then my ship will come."
"I thought your ship was lost," she says. It's the first thing she's said to him and he is mistakenly relieved.
"No," he laughs. "My ship is eternal. It is I who was lost."
"And I saved you."
"Yes. I can't thank you enough apparently." Not bitter yet. But he will be - in a week, a month, another few years. He looks upon his handiwork. "I'm trying to return the favour."
"Are you unhappy here?"
"No. But if I stay I will become a fat hedonist, eating figs from your hand all day and drunk on your body all night. You would soon grow bored with me." She is walking down from the dunes, bare feet sinking in the white sand. He can see her face now and turns his own away in shame, for she has seen the truth of who will be bored with whom. He explains, justifies. "I can't stay here. I have friends who will be worried."
The woman has no friends, no people left. Once she commanded vast armies. They marched a long road built from the bones of their enemies. But at the end of the road they found only a mirror.
She doesn't tell him this. She only remembers feelings, none of the details. Instead she says, "I can never leave. This island is my prison."
"Who dares imprison the mighty Calypso?" It is only half a joke. In his body, the battle stance of a smiter of infidels, righter of wrongs and liberator of the oppressed. Naked as he is, it's almost ridiculous.
"Does it matter?" she says.
Two days he works on the raft, and at night, such hunger. I feed him oysters and tamarinds. I sleep and dream of storms, strange storms without wind or rain. Without sound, though I feel the roll and clatter of thunder - a memory in the blood, the pith, the crux. I awaken to his, 'hush, hush now,' and his arms around me, rocking me like a baby, comforting at first, but then, only anger, as if he is the cause of my exile and has returned to remind me of it. Outside, rain starts to fall, and farther out upon the sea, the wind churns up a hurricane. My grief and my anger distract him long enough to mean the difference between escape and another month with me.
Twice Ulysses builds his raft and twice the wind and rain destroy it. He returns to her half drowned, ripped and splintered, pitched and torn. He does not blame her for the first storm, but after the second one he knows. And in the calm that often follows storms, with mists rising from the ground and glittering droplets on the leaves, and the cries of birds and the soothing rhythm of the waves, a storm begins to gather in him. His love is not love so much as a fierce and desperate tunnelling to freedom through her body. He hurts her and she lets him. And after, remorse. And after remorse comes hate.
"Let me go, Calypso. If you won't come with me, then let me go."
"I don't control the weather," I say. Even as I say it, thinking it's true, I realize a more accurate statement would be, I can't control how I feel.
"Come with me!"
"If I leave I will die."
"How do you know? Have you even tried?"
Of course I haven't tried. The warder has no need to escape.
He looks past me, watching the gulls swoop and dive. "I hate prisons,' he says, "especially pleasant ones."
Ulysses makes camp on the beach, and begins to build again, working through the days and nights without rest, eating his catch raw from the ocean, taking nothing from the hand of fair Calypso, not even water. Sometimes she watches him from her place atop the dunes, and sometimes he glances her direction. The hollow place that was filled with him begins to drain away, swallowed by the sand.
The third raft is finished. It's better than the other three. Stronger. And when the final rope is bound and knotted and coated with pitch, he sits beside it, one hand on the raft, the other shading his eyes as the ocean swallows the sun. He is waiting for the storm.
I pick up a handful of grains. Nothing but sand falls through my fingers.
He turns and flings a challenge in my direction, chin out, mouth set firm and fine. Bring it on Calypso. I'm ready.
"Go," she says and gets slowly to her feet. White sand clings to her body in mottled patches and flakes away as she turns from his startled expression. Perhaps he is disappointed that there will be no hurricane to challenge his resolve.
"Come with me," he cries. "I will show you wonders!"
She stops and faces him one last time. "I have tortured more wonders than you will ever see, Ulysses. Perhaps I meant well. But it hardly matters. This is my prison. I am its only guard. And here I will keep myself until I have been punished long enough."
"Even the gods do not judge as harshly as we judge ourselves. How will you know when your sentence is up? How can you know?"
"I will know," she says, "when you return to me." And walks away, long hair blowing a farewell.
The body remembers what the mind conceals. And as I sit wondering if he was ever really here, my Ulysses, I think perhaps I shouldn't wait upon his return to commute my sentence. My hair is so long I can scarcely tell where it ends and the seaweed begins. It will make good rope.