Alice waits a long time to pick up the book. On the deck, beside her, the cover is damp from the ocean spray, but she doesn’t mind. Traveled, the book is heavy in her hands when she flips to the beginning, wet. At first, she can only stare through the worn pages – it takes time to focus on the words. She hears her mother’s voice (faint, as though yelling from the kitchen) telling her that the first line of a story is the most important. Her dull and grey eyes scroll down to those crucial first words.
I’ll either be great or nothing at all.
Now that’s how you start a book, she thinks. Deep. Legs laced through the ship’s rail, she reads on, occasionally lifting her head to stare out at the horizon. The lava-red sunset bleeds into the darkening sky, seeping into the black, giving the panoramic a sloppy finish, like God tipped over paint cans. She reads, waiting for the rest of the book to offer more of the infinite pearl glimpsed in those elegant first words.
It never does. Great or nothing at all. Like my story, like everyone’s story, she thinks. Things always start out simply: It’s only after we keep pushing deeper and deeper and pulling everything apart to look for something unknowable before putting it back together only to realize that now it’s just pieces. Commitment is complicated and petty and you can’t see that until the only people left to comfort you are an old book and the sea. He left his name and address. Who knows, maybe things will return to our initial simplicity. She won’t know unless she finishes the story.
She wipes her face and tastes salt on her lips. The last of the sunlight streams across the water. She reads. The ship beats slowly, steadily toward the horizon, and she wonders if the last line will be as good as the first.
word by Josh Elyea
colour by Pablo Amargo