This is the story of Saul, and Meredith, their daughter Bethany, and their family ship. It starts like this.
The ship plies the sea.
“Daddy?” asks Bethany. “Have we tamed the oceans?”
Saul is at the helm. He’s wearing his captain’s hat, so he has to think carefully. He turns the matter over in his head. “I don’t rightly know,” he says.
“Every year,” says Meredith, “every year, people come up with new and better boats. New and better ways to sail.”
It’s a narrow sea. It’s not much more than a straits, really, with two marked lanes and an elbow. The ship sails on.
“That’s true,” Saul says.
They pass a sign. It says, CREW REFILLS 1.5nm. Saul begins to slow the ship and move it towards the shore.
“That’s true,” Saul says, again. “But there’s something untameable in the sea. Something that laughs at man.”
“Huh,” says Bethany, and goes back to her coloring book.
“That’s how it’s different from the land,” Saul says.
Saul pulls away from the sea and into a cove. It’s a small cove covered by a pavilion. There are lanes marked in the water. There are two rows of great tanks, each full of crew. Saul parks the ship beside one. He tosses a rope to the tank. The attendant grabs the rope. Saul uses it to pull his ship close. He opens the hatch to the deeper deck. He connects it to the tank. He begins to fill his ship with crew.
“Don’t spend too much, honey,” says Meredith.
“It’s a big sea,” Saul protests. “We won’t get where we’re going without crew.”
“Use the wind,” Meredith says. “We’ve got time.”
“Feh,” says Saul. He adjusts his captain’s hat sulkily. But he stops with the ship only half-full of crew. He closes the hatch. He pays the attendant. He starts up a drumbeat on the stereo. It pounds. Beneath him, the crew begins to row.
They pass a sailboat. It’s straining at the wind.
“I drew a picture!” declares Bethany.
“Let me see?” Meredith asks. So Bethany shows her.
“It’s sirens,” Bethany says. “They’re the daughters of the sea!”
“They’re very nice.”
They pass a sailboat. It’s straining at the wind.
The drumbeat sounds. The crew rows.
They pass a sea serpent. A man and a woman are riding it bareback, outside the riding pavilion. Their faces are covered with salt and spray. They are laughing.
“Tsk,” Meredith clucks.
“Hm?” asks Saul.
“The sea serpents,” Meredith says. “They’re such crew-guzzlers.”
“They have to eat, honey.”
“It’s wasteful,” Meredith says, primly. She goes to the back and gets out a basket. She takes one of three foil-wrapped sandwiches out of the basket. She offers it to Bethany, but Bethany shakes her head.
“Unh-unh!” says Bethany.
So Meredith unwraps the sandwich and begins to eat it. “It’s bursting with peanut butter and jelly,” she says.
“Not hungry!” says Bethany.
They pass a giant sea urchin. The sea urchin surges purply through the waves. Its riders are impaled on its spikes. It’s not that they like being impaled. It’s just the only way to stay on a giant sea urchin for any length of time.
“Some people,” mutters Saul.
They pass a sailboat. It’s straining against the wind.
Then they come to Odysseus.
He’s ahead of them in their lane.
“It’s Odysseus!” cries Bethany. She jumps to her feet. She goes to the front of the ship. She waves.
Odysseus is riding a giant tamago sushi. It putters and grumbles unhappy as it floats through the sea. The sign on its back says, “Wide load.”
Odysseus waves back. He looks somewhat resigned.
“Wasn’t he here the last time?” Saul asks.
“Nuh-unh!” declares Bethany. “He was back at exit 157. This is exit 169! Circe!”
She points at one of the sea signs.
“That’s very good, honey,” says Meredith.
“I’m hungry,” says Bethany.
“I wish he’d get a new ship,” says Saul. He points ahead. “That thing takes up two lanes.”
“Well, pass him, dear.”
Saul tries to look around Odysseus. It’s somewhat difficult. He sighs. He turns the drumbeat off. Slowly, the crew stops rowing and relaxes. Saul’s ship glides along gently, caressed by the wind, staying just a little bit behind Odysseus’ tamago.
“He looks like he’s having some crew trouble,” observes Meredith. She cups her hands to her mouth. “Hey! Are you all right?”
Odysseus makes a neutral gesture in the universal language of sailors. Then he bangs irritably on his tamago. The sea is getting harsher, the winds more stormy, and he’s low on crew. With a resigned look, Odysseus begins to pull over towards the exit.
“I’m hungry,” Bethany states again.
“Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
“No,” Bethany says.
“We don’t have anything else, honey.”
“I don’t want that.” Bethany sulks. “Can we stop at McDonalds?”
“Today is a sandwich day.”
“I don’t like sandwich day.”
Odysseus’ tamago bumps into a reef. There is a terrible shredding noise as its seaweed binding comes undone. The last they see of him is Odysseus, atop a large clump of rice, desperately dog paddling towards shore.
“Oh, dear,” says Saul.
“Oh, dear!” says Bethany.
“Serves him right for buying a Pinto,” says Meredith.
“I don’t know,” says Saul. Their ship begins to pull ahead, now that the tamago is scattered. “I think the sea was against him.”
“Maybe,” Meredith agrees. Bethany is leaning off the side of the boat, feet kicking for balance, and tugging at a tamago iceberg. “Honey!” Meredith says. “Get back in here!”
“It’s made of food,” Bethany explains as Meredith drags her back, a head-sized chunk of tamago clenched in her hands.
“Good little girls don’t scavenge,” Meredith says.
The drumbeat starts back up.
They sail on.
“The sea is cruel,” says Bethany, tragically, as Meredith returns the tamago to the waves.