Jules Lissy sat on the shore, thinking about the Ancient War—how it had begun because of a woman’s abduction, how he had made a name for himself by exhibiting prudence, sagacity, and valor, and how he had repeatedly devised means to dupe the enemy: “I am an artist who excels in the art of deception and among my masterpieces the wooden equine mare on wheels with the womb from which the sackers of Troy came into existence ranks first.”
Jules watched the waves roll in. He pictured his life rolling out across “arrow-feather-smooth” waters to his island home, where “my faithful wife and proud son will be waiting for me with open arms.”
Jules focused on his wartime heroics riding the crests of waves, fanning out in every direction, reaching island after island, touching peninsula and mainland.
The sailors who embarked with the war leader were irresolute veterans. Their mission in life was to go where Jules Lissy went; his destination was their destination. They would arrive at a life together, a united birth in a place they would call their home. Unlike his sailors, who had all been single and childless, Jules had a wife and son to oar towards. The thought of family crossed his mind, but not when he was in the presence of a woman he fancied.
Jules’s first day on the sea pacified him. He became hypnotized by the sway of the waves, which compelled him to plot no course and to move in a direction the air assigned. Jules began to maneuver in his own “wind trance.” He was at ease on the water, a sea-farer in a floating house, peeking out a picture window curtained by sails.
Penny, Jules Lissy’s wife, maintained the villa’s gardens on Attica Island. Penny disliked having Jules’s servants on the premises: “They make one feel superior.” She carried out the household tasks by herself and managed the affairs of the Lissy estate with pride.
After Jules had departed for the Ancient War, Penny had established a platonic relationship with a man named Anthony Newton, whom Jules Lissy had nicknamed Ant Newt. Such denigrating namesakes typified Jules Lissy, who wielded his vocal sword of abuse to subdue all individuals who threatened him. Anthony was the son of a wealthy shipbuilder on Attica Island.
Jules Lissy coursed the sea without navigational instruments: “My sailing prowess consists of having a built-in compass stored in my sense of direction. I coast like an eagle that flies to northern sights and lands exactly where it wants, going on instinct alone.” Jules was a mariner who felt the wind in his sleep. His full bag of skills also included the ability to motivate men. He set an example and those under his command emulated him. They listened to “the governor of the waves,” keen on obtaining an aural peek into the mine of information Jules Lissy exposed. They oared, while he related tale after tale. He spoke of battles at home and abroad, described the warriors “from the skin to the bone.” Jules Lissy narrated stories designed to draw the attention of male ears: He spiced his yarns with women that first whispered in the blood in these men’s hearts then gained a momentum that paralleled their rising heartbeats.
Jules Lissy disappeared from the deck. He sought isolation, but soon witnessed the company of gorgeous female gypsies and goddesses that penetrated the emptiness of his loneliness and irritated the lining of his desire to remain faithful.
Jules submerged deeper into the abyss of the daydream. Preoccupied with thoughts of romanticism, he failed to take heed of the moody sky outside, which looked on the sea in anger, appearing to focus on a patch of water Jules’s boat was stitching.
Clouds cut off the progression of the sun. Winds started menacing the waves, making them stand taller than Jules Lissy’s vessel. The speed the shift in the air and water had generated caught the skipper and his crew off guard. Water changed the boat’s center of gravity: The deck leaned on the sea. The crew tumbled.
One by one the oarsmen fell into the deep, clutching for objects, but their blind fingers slipped off planks and floorboards. Lives sank. Jules, resourceful and adroit, seized a part of the keel that had snapped off in the tumult. Wave after wave battered him. He used his elbow to protect his head from the crushing weight of the water that bombarded his dangling body. The tempest dampened the cries of the crew. Jules, in despair, strove to assist the scattered victims the sea grasped. He clutched shreds of sail, attempted to wind the pieces like rope. He extended the torn lifelines out to the void, fished for signs of human nibbling. Nothing was on the other end of the line. He let go, kept paddling, while the wind moved him in leaps and bounds farther and farther from the cemetery in the sea.
In time, the sun angled some light towards Jules and his wood, and the waves returned to their former height and size. Jules, who had fallen asleep, weary from the struggle with nature, opened his eyes. He was looking at land. He mustered the final strength he had and shoved ahead with a newfound energy that was characteristic of the Ancient War hero.
Once on land, Jules turned to the sea, scanned the waters for signs of comrades who also might have borne a fortunate fate. He looked down the coastline for pieces of wood from the boat. Jules saw nothing but calmness, and a stillness surrounded him: Death itself shipwrecked.
It took Jules hours to abandon hope: He cast one final glance at the flat waters, then turned towards land, saw the tallness of nature waiting, inviting him to enter its unknown.
Penny was reciting poems to Telly, Jules and Penny’s son. Before the Ancient War, Telly had been force-fed his father’s war stories.
Jules Lissy had coerced Telly down a path of early youth that branched off like his own tributaries of adolescence. Young Telly had other interests. He brushed aside sports and preferred to put his hands on books instead of spears or bows: Penny had taught him how to read at the age of three.
Telly favored his mother. The boy had not been pained by the sight of his father’s departure to the Ancient War. Jules’s absence allowed Telly to be himself, to lead a life of his own, to shed the paternal shadow.
On the forested island the sea had driven Jules to, the Ancient War hero was a scavenger, clawing the soil, intent on finding something edible, or shinnying up trees in search of fruit whose surfaces were made iridescent by the sun’s light angling off branches and leaves. Jules put all his senses to work in order to sate his appetite. He put his ear on the ground, like a lion listening for vibrations that lead to prey. Jules nosed every seed and fruit before tasting what he had first touched in this picture-book jungle setting. Most of all, he used his wary eyes to scout his new surroundings. After a dozen footsteps, he glanced over his shoulder, fearful he could become the prey he was seeking. The deeper he penetrated the jungle, the quieter his movements became: He feared the dark shadows that mutated themselves as he approached. Tree trunks stood like men in a battlefield. Jules Lissy stood still. He cocked his head, leaned an ear to the west. He listened. Waited. Jules sought cover in the underbrush. What he heard was no utterance from animals, creatures, or insects. Nor was it some pitch of nature resonating: The wind was asleep. The sound Jules Lissy had detected was familiar, threatening, suspenseful, seductive.
The sound was not a single tone; it was a row of different tones, an overlapping smoothness, like notes of butter melting into themselves. Jules grew curious. He raised himself from the cool earth, approached the direction of the golden melody that was glittering in a remote distance only his forward advancement shortened. First, he took baby steps, then his stride lengthened. For a man fresh from wresting his life from the sea, Jules exhibited an energy only desire, wanting, and hoping know. The melody gained clarity. Jules knew from the highness of the vocal register that the gender behind the sweetness was female. Jules’s pace soon acquired a buoyancy. His footsteps hastened into a run. He glided towards his human destination, disregarding the overhanging branches his face scraped. In the last meters that separated him from “the woman that will free me from my chains of loneliness,” Jules sprinted. He came to a clearing, where the sun shone unimpededly. The woman there sat and sang, only taking notice of Jules Lissy when his huffing and puffing drew the attention of her ears: He was standing behind her, out of air, breathless for more than one reason. The woman before him had on no clothes, but she was not naked; she was a model for a sculptor. A piece of marble already shaped to perfection. In front of her was a recess, a sunken abode she resided in. On hearing Jules, she left her cross-legged position and stood up, exposing a torso that surpassed any polished marble. She was the art of the island.
Her name was Calliope; Jules nicknamed her Calf’s Lip because she had reminded him of a story he had heard in his youth of a golden calf; and Calliope possessed a youthful bovine bottom lip, which was her most prominent facial feature. Jules was tempted to test her kissable lips. However, he had a fondness for hair and preferred to wallow his time helping her braid and unbraid her long flowing locks. It was a ritual the two partook in excessively. Calliope would lick Jules’s war wounds and he in return would shower her with caresses.
The year came when their love grew thin and its “lockline” started receding. After the initial in-love hypnosis the two’s hearts practiced on each other, Jules and Calliope both experienced withdrawal symptoms that they attributed to a lack of carving out a long-term relationship together. They were whittlers, not woodworkers. They sanded the facade but had not nailed any depth together. Jules’s island time resulted in rocking in the cradle, while his lover soothed him into sleep day and night. She was a singer. She was what she produced. Calliope was a living lullaby.
The couple failed to part on a good note. Calliope had promised Jules immortal love. He opted for mortal love and left behind two sons. At the time of Jules Lissy’s departure she was inconsolable. His island amores had lasted seven years. Calliope presented him a sailing vessel that was to assist him in his homeward journey. Jules embarked without looking back. It was as if the island and his lover and sons would all turn into salt, like Lot’s wife, and dissolve in the waters and end up incorporated into the brine of the sea.
Unlike Calliope, Jules was not a man to be bound, neither to the battlefield nor to a beauty. Adrift in the sea, he was an untethered, unmanacled soul, free to go where he oared. The infinity of the waters enticed him. He felt as if he had been a man traveling at the beginning of a boundlessness the horizon foreshadowed. Meanwhile, the breeze combed his hair and the sun brightened hours that the island palms had come to shade. Jules enjoyed being mysterious. No one knew of his whereabouts. He had become the incognito hero.
From time to time, Jules landed to replenish the food and water supplies. In the boat harbors, he would strike up conversations with other sailors, who were often seeking new adventures. The appearance of Jules alone invited challenges: His athletic physique and suave behavior struck them instantly. In a matter of minutes, he received entreaties from a host of men who desired to place their services at his disposal. He picked and chose, going on his shrewd instincts and character judgment of sailors.
After considerable island-hopping, Jules Lissy had plucked enough “wayfaring weeds” to crew for him. His respect for sailors wavered. Sly to the marrow, Jules conned “the gullible harborers” into believing there were riches tucked in distant coves only he had mapped in his mind. He also used the Ancient War to his advantage in order to convince the others that he had conquered the enemy elite, but had always “made them talk and reveal their wealthy hide-outs before I bladed the vein,” the slitting of a man’s jugular with his sword. In the back of Jules’s mind was the thought: “I will reach my family at breakneck speed with these oaring passengers hungry for jewels on my side.”
Jules added yet another element of seduction to motivate the lascivious sailors towards his destination. He spoke of an island where he had arranged for the most beautiful widows of the Ancient War dead to be transported. The females were to be concubines for a select group of men only Jules Lissy elected. These women were to be a part of the salary he offered, or in Jules’s own words, “premium-grade Pegasus mares.” On hearing this enticement, the deprived men displayed centaur-like grins, and Jules, forever keen on seizing the opportune moment, promptly ushered them on board with a smile of his own, one that extended all the way to his mind, constituting a three-dimensional picture of inner and outer satisfaction. It was, however, not Jules’s winning smile that defeated those facing him; it was his intense look. He had eyes that gripped, held, and latched on to all space that separated him from human movement within his magnetic ocular clutch.
Jules Lissy and his crew stopped at an unmapped island. They were greeted with an unexpected hospitality. The benevolent inhabitants helped moor the vessel to the pier and assisted each man out of the boat. The welcoming committee comprised harbor locals of the lush island, where exotic flowers prospered and colors charmed the landscape. Some male islanders had decorated their shoulder-length hair with floral barrettes and most women sported lavender, cobalt blue, and sunburst-hued petals in their locks. The islanders cultivated sea-roses in a climate conducive to horticulture.
A nature paradise untouched by shipbuilding yards, temple and amphitheater construction sites, stone wheel mills, and the weapon industry, the island radiated peace and fertility. The islanders lived well off the land and water.
Communal living flourished. Males and females crisscrossed in times of lovemaking. Jealousy stayed below the surface of possessive-oriented emotions. People grew up sharing. What they raised belonged to all.
Jules and his shipmates sensed the profuse sharing and generosity. Jules thought: “A feast is on the horizon.” The sailing carnivores were soon to be initiated into a cult of sea-rose eaters.
The crew quickly understood that everything available on the island was theirs to delight in, including the thinly-clad women, who smiled at them in an innocent, kind manner. Timid at first, the oarsmen soon sought female companionship. The women spoon-fed them fragrant leaves from plants grown on the island. The leaves that had been sunned and tightly rolled were passed around to be smoked. The men ate and puffed, enjoying the pleasantries of the island. Copulation took place in the open and the sailors and island ladies began spicing more pleasure to an already agreeable afternoon. Freedom respired. Inhibitions vanished. Jules’s men had their plenty and lay on their backs, sniffing the sea breeze that wafted overhead.
Jules had escorted three women to his cabin in the boat to indulge in a sea-rose eating ceremony. Each lady picked a different flower from her hair and channeled the colorful dish into his mouth. Jules nibbled the petals as if he were a domesticated animal with no teeth. He grinned after each bite. He fondled each woman after digesting his spoonful of sea-roses. At one point, a lady handed him a cocoonish leaf she had lit for him. “Blow the island whistle,” she said teasingly. He held in a deep breath after drawing from the leaf, then ejected a wave of smoke into her parted lips. Jules proceeded to exchange smoke with the other two women. All four smokers ended up on The Ancient War hero’s bed. Their naked bodies twined like tender roots in the earth of ecstasy.
The next day, Jules left the boat and rounded up the crew. “It is time to gather water and food of a plain sort that will not stimulate your senses beyond repair,” the Ancient War hero advised. After executing Jules’ instructions, the men headed to the sailing vessel. They waved to the islanders until land was out of sight. Limitless patches of the old gray sea began emerging in front of the sailors’ rhythmical oar strokes.
Telly had not reckoned with the reappearance of the half-hero. Penny also began to question his return. Sailors passing through rumored that Jules Lissy had been afloat, signifying that he had been lost at sea, or grounded, meaning an attachment had kept him secured to new soil, or headed the waves, implying that he had been riding the waves in whatever direction the wind chose to guide to him. Penny deemed her husband to be partaking in the second of the three purported possibilities.
Penny was deepening her relationship with Anthony Newton, who, for several years, filled in the gap the head of the household vacated. Penny believed she had a right to life. She knew Jules was alive. “He will be out there somewhere living his life to the fullest, spending little time thinking about my semi-widow state.” Her desire to remain loyal to “the invisible coaster” waned. Penny saw herself “having a life ahead of me, not behind me like all the widows on this island who wear black after their husbands’ passing.” Penny never longed to be an eternal mourner. She saw daylight and welcomed the sunrise.
Jules Lissy led his men astray. All drifted beyond familiar land, nevertheless imbibing spirits and reveling in the convivial nature of the voyage. Under the pretense he had charted every route to a tee, Jules maintained his composure in periods of sailing uncertainty.
He had no idea of the horseshoe-shaped harbor he approached. He scanned the surroundings, hoped to glimpse a sight that would rekindle signs of his past thalassic adventures. Jules Lissy scented “dangerous foreign terrain.”
The crew docked at an island of gigantic size and shape. Before Jules stepped off the vessel, he went to his cabin, opened his log, and scribbled a location on a blank page. He marked the territory he had skippered to. He called the place The Land of the Lop-Sided Sea, in short, The Land of the Sea Lops. He had sensed an out-of-proportionate state, a part of the waters that had tilted his sense of direction.
A brawny folk, the insular Sea Lops population had corporeal dimensions that outsized those of the continentals or other islanders. The Sea Lops lived in a part of the world ideal for cultivating agricultural produce and livestock. Their rich fertile valleys abounded with crops. The inhabitants lived in posh residences that overlooked the wealth and riches they amassed, preserved, or siloed. Contrary to the sea-rose chewers, the Sea Lops thrived on private property and delineations: Fences, walls, doors—even vegetation divided them. The Sea Lops grew more than they could eat, threw away more than they could eat, and made sure generations to come were provided for.
The population had acquired a sense of unity, although lines had been drawn, barriers put up, and divisions of class made visible. Worship existed and the inhabitants made offerings to spirits on high.
Concerning threats from abroad, the population took a narrow approach, looking straight ahead with one eye. Peripheral vision disappeared. A tunnelled destruction of the enemy ensued; the elderly and infants were massacred. The Sea Lops talked of “one aisle through the world,” a pathway they blazed and policed, “an extension that empowers us to cast an eye over every civilization, in particular, over civilizations that do not see eye-to-eye with us.” In times war was waged, the Sea Lops went by a different name, the Sea Ops, a nomer signifying “our having all options, as well as optical instruments, to see things to the end.” They lived by The Rule of Sight, which read “an eye for an eye.” By standing by this rule and enforcing it at home and abroad, they became the population of one-eyed citizens.
Jules and his crew saw they were outnumbered. Jules spoke to the oarers, “We shall refill our depleted supplies and embark at once.” They all hopped off the boat and were encountered by solicitors, who wanted to buy “sea toilers for the hands-on production of crops.” The boatsmen strove to understand the language of the Sea Lops. Words were contracted, suffices truncated, syllables used as complete words.
Days passed and Jules Lissy noticed his men were succumbing to the ways and means of the Sea Lops. A few sailors underwent initiation into religious cults. Some oarsmen bit the bait of gaining higher pay for their services. Others were promised “brides-to-be if you can demonstrate that you are in the position to provide.”
Jules Lissy grew troubled at the sight of his men being eaten up by the Sea Lops’s customs. He sat on the deck of his boat, studying the sea “to see if a solution to my problem of how to regroup my troops will surface.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jules Lissy saw a gargantuan shadow crawling towards the shoreline. Soon the black beast, taller than any man or edifice, obliterated all light. Twilight charcoaled The Land of the Sea Lops. The sun took on an ebony glow. Darkness showered the earth, the air, and the water. The inhabitants let out shrieks, thinking the world was coming to an end. They fled to their storages, huddled together. The Sea Lops thought: “The hungry big onyx mouth will devour our tasty fields, and the colossal feet of this evil being will trample our homes and pulverize our possessions.” The seconds the gloom of air breathed were like hours to the inhabitants. It was an earthquake that rattled the sky. The Sea Lops felt no tremors. They gripped their faces, groping for their eyes to see if their orbs of vision existed. They blinked, squinted, drew their brows up, trying to pull sight out of their optical tunnels. They shouted out in the bleakness of their quarters. “Who can see?” or “I’m blind, I’m blind!” or “Evil has befallen us!” Thousands clung to one another. Sweat streamed down bodies. A frozenness shivered and covered the land. An ice of silence surfaced. A paralysis of fear struck all victims.
The all-embracing darkness began to thaw. Light whispered in corners of the land. Jules’s crew, who had recently abandoned him, seized the opportunity the bare light provided to scramble their way back to the harbor. Jules Lissy wanted to leave “this firmament-forsaken place before the return of the sun-slayer will once again seek revenge and instill darkness in the eyes of the Sea Lops and all men.”
Jules welcomed each oarsman back on board. He made them take an oath: “We will never again be seduced by societies beyond the length of our oars.” The sailors settled in their rowing places and Jules engineered them out of the harbor. The winds were slashing the water, incising the surface. Once on the safe sea, all men calmed. A clear sun had revisited the sky. Jules uttered no word. His men muscled the waters better than ever before, determined to steer into familiar territory that would not model the gigantic black umbrella that had temporarily shaded their lives.
Anthony, Penny, and Telly were sitting on the statued terrace, discussing literature. They munched on fresh grapes Anthony Newton had picked from the choicest vines in his family’s possession. He also had brought the latest fillings he had siphoned out of the best white wine barrels. Penny had come to realize: “My husband was the result of an affair of youth, a time of romance that went on facades and vibrations and a thin heart, one that is easily pierced and cored by the opposite sex.” In Anthony Newton she had a man who possessed the Greek combination of mind, body, and appetite. He kept his biological needs in bounds, unlike Jules Lissy, who unbridled his love on any occasion. In the abode of lust, his soul was the garage behind the house.
Jules and his men were coasting the sea. Fertile winds propelled them, making the sails pregnant. After days of sailing in this protuberant condition, the vessel arrived at an eerie port.
The men were hesitant to leave the boat. The vessel had become their sanctuary, yet they hungered for meat and thirsted for fresh water. Jules went ahead of the group. He urged them, “Herd and do not go off as sole seekers as you did on your previous island stay.”
The day was dimming. Dusk hatched darkness. The moon hung like an opal pendant on a chain made of black air. There was a haunting stillness stagnating over this island, which appeared to be uninhabited. The island was elevated above the water level, but sunken, with a swamp-like appeal and haze blanketing the surface. All men inched towards the forest that lay ahead of the bogside passage. Suddenly, every footstep froze. The men looked at the sky. They thought: “The black posse has tracked us to this island snare.” Their ears pricked up. The men heard a long whining sound that could only come from the cavern of a four-legged beast. They stared at the moon. The main watcher of the sky, Jules Lissy whispered, “The sound we hear is familiar, no alien utterance we have to shudder from.” The sounds multiplied, coming from different directions. The pitches started apart but ended the same.
The moon cast such a glow that the island was illuminated. Jules and his crew saw where they were headed. What the men heard was the unison choir of howling wolves. The men became a posse and began to follow the tracks of sound the wolves imprinted in the trail of air that was pioneering a path some ten minutes from their listening outpost. Soon the howling subsided and the men paused, waiting to scent the fresh remains of the wolves’ vocal movements. All men continued to glance over their shoulders for the guide of moonlight accompanying them through the jungle. Jules bent down on the ground and put his hand over a fresh footprint. He had keen eyes and the crew was impressed with his nocturnal vision. Jules said, “It is an animal’s, but no wolf print. Men, take a look.” The sailors had never seen such tracks. While all men questioned the origin of the footprints, the answer thundered.
A lion roared. All men drew their swords. Jules dropped his left shoulder, releasing his bow. Without turning around, he extended his right hand over his right shoulder and pinched an arrow with his thumb and forefinger and drew it from the quiver. Jules Lissy was a master bowman. He carved his own bow, selected a particular gut for string, bartered for the best feathers of fowl obtainable throughout the territory, and dipped his arrowheads in a unique poison he manufactured. Jules had boasted: “This secret homebrew is concocted in a way that it tracks and engulfs every weakness or flaw in the target’s body. If the arrow hits a foot, the poison shoots like a comet and chokes the heart or the throat or the brain.”
Jules sidled his way forward, with his arrow in a launching position. In the distance, he spotted the beast. When no one else expected it, Jules Lissy fired an arrow through the dozen branches knotting the space between him and the creature. The arrow went straight through the lion’s eye. Jules ran to the spot where the king of the jungle lay. The lion’s legs flinched, then deadened. Jules unsheathed a great knife and scalped the animal. He placed the mane on his shoulders for decoration. He looked to his men and let out a roar of laughter. They laughed with him, at a volume that could be heard all over the island.
The laughter turned to fright. A female being stood twenty paces away, holding a candle by her face. She had an otherworldly beauty that silenced any speech. She looked like the apotheosis of a combination of every nymph that ever graced the land or earth or water. The sublime spirit was a wood nymph, a dryad; a water nymph, a naiad; a mountain and grotto nymph, an oread; even a meadow and flower nymph, like one of the Limonaides. The earthly goddess who parted the air before them was, in Jules Lissy’s words, “a beauty of the unspeakable sort.” All men realized she was mortal when she opened her mouth. The honey-coated words came, “Welcome, gentlemen!”
A pair of wolves appeared out of the woods and brushed her side. Jules Lissy said, “I can not believe my eyes. I do not know what to make out of this celestial being who has wild and big game animals for pets.” She offered two sentences to all men, “I see you have appetite in your eyes. Follow me.” The men, bewitched by her stunning looks and mellifluous tongue, heeled her like well-trained dogs. Jules turned to his men, “Be on your best behavior as you may be rewarded bountifully by this sylvan woman.”
Jules came up with a name for the forest empress. He saw her as a woman with keen insight. An aura of mystery haloed her. She seemed to be forever young. The witchy woman appeared to have a look into the past and a view into the future. Jules thought: “Her voice always soothes and she has the visage of someone who haruspicates, or reads palms, or tells fortunes.” His views on her led her to being named Soothsay.
The men entered her estate, a palace above tree-level. She saw the sea from all sides of her plush temple. Jules whispered to his men to be courteous. She sat all the gentlemen at a long wooden table in a room similar to a banquet hall. A group of maidens emerged from the various doors that led to the ornate hall. The golden-haired goddesses, whose beauty nearly rivalled their sovereign, were carrying silver chalices steam fumed from. Although the chalices were masterpieces of great silversmiths, the men failed to take their eyes off the maidens, whose hands cupped the simmering beverages. After all men had drinks in their hands, they toasted to the hostess and sipped from the chalices. Different sailors commented that the contents were redolent of wild cherries, or brambles, or anise. Jules, noticing the silver liquid lining of these chalices was beginning to alter the classy behavior of his men, admonished them, “You should not fall prey to Soothsay’s ploys and potions.”
A sextet of women entered and laid velvet pillows and cushions on the parquet floor. They seated themselves and began playing instruments, lyres and flutes and Pan-pipes. The luscious music-makers spiced the feast with background music. The men stared as the women shaped their lips on shining horizontal and vertical objects or plucked the taut silken lines of their string instruments. The combination of the shape of sounds and the shape of the women overwhelmed the womenless men. One by one, the sophistication and the manners of the crew members evaporated like the drinks that came and came. Animals and birds loitered on the premises outside the palladial paradise estate. The merry-making drowned out the howls, roars, screeches, coos, and chatter of all creatures. Grand moths with indigo and violet wings frenzied before lights. Jules was also feeling the effects of the potent drink, but he was determined to drink little in order to corral Soothsay.
Jules Lissy pawed her lower leg, rested his hand above her knee, put his face a breath away from hers, let his eyes pet her eyes. He neglected the unbecoming behavior of his men, who were rapidly degenerating. The merry-making was rising and their short-lived code of conduct was falling. The men started arming the women, pulling them with their arms and forcing them to sit on their laps. Men and women drank together, sipping from the wicked cups that distorted truth and any semblance of reality. Trays topped with meats were brought into the hall. The hungry men grabbed the carvings of venison, boar, kid, and lamb with their fingers, leaving the silvery utensils by the sides of their plates. The crew swallowed pieces whole, chewed like the wolves outside. They fondled the women between bites. They teethed on the flesh of meat and maiden.
The presence of the other men did not hamper their lust. The oarsmen began acting like typical harbor-visiting sailors. They ate and drank. At one point, trays of grapes and nuts and cheeses were presented. The maidens invited the men to join them on the floor cushions. The men lay, while maidens poured more of the foaming fluid down their gullets, also letting the men pluck the luminous ruby and glowing green bunches grape by grape with their razor-like teeth. The men became swinish. Soothsay managed to reduce the human beings to animalistic proportions. As the hours passed, their human behavior elapsed. The men grunted, snorted, slobbered, belched, broke wind. The effects of the potion sustained throughout the night and into the days and nights ahead. The swinish crew begged for more. Jules Lissy had long since exited the banquet hall, which stank of “male animal” excretions. The porcine men experienced a gluttony that lowered them to helpless creatures, penned in Soothsay’s domain. She tried to use her womanly wiles to entice Jules into drinking and eating, but he refrained from the mortal delights and continued fasting day after day. Love-making meant more to him than merry-making. His appetite had been one of a different sort and Soothsay obliged, playing the part of nix and vixen at the same time.
Jules Lissy enjoyed the enchantress’s company to such an extent that he lived with her a year. Her magic was physical: She had an endless, insatiable drive she vented on the hero of the Ancient War. His men seemed content in their stall, getting their daily feeding. The female and animal fodder never depleted: Soothsay saw to that. Before Jules Lissy took leave of the “forested loft abode,” he seeded her, as he had done with most women he had paired with since his battlefield days. By her, he had a son, perhaps two sons. Wherever Jules Lissy traveled, he left his mark, generating generations he would never return to witness.
On his last day on the island, he implored Soothsay to withdraw both her women and the venomous herbal potion. He wanted his men “ripe for sailing home.” He demanded that his men be restored from “pigs to people.” Soothsay complied. She also made one prophecy: “Jules Lissy will meet the painful past before he meets the joyous future.” With all words spoken, Jules left Soothsay’s lair, and the rehabilitating men left the pigsty. As the boat nudged deep waters, hosts of rare birds looped the sky.
The men labored sluggishly, bloated from the last twelve months ashore. With each day, the recent venomous existence wore off. They regained a true hunger from a hard day’s work. The tone returned to their muscles. They also were able to steer clear of thoughts on the “female inner and outer contours”—having partaken in what Jules Lissy referred to as “a period of a type of animal over-indulgence that would satisfy the basic instincts of the average man for five years.”
Years passed and the trio of Anthony, Penny, and Telly had become a quartet. Anthony and Penny named their son Omeros. They deliberately did not name him after an Ancient War hero like Achilles, Ajax, Nestor, or Agamemnon. They raised young Omeros in such a manner that the youngster was not allowed to play with weapons or any objects of destruction. The three taught the boy how to read and provided musical instruction for him. They taught him about foreign lands, foreign languages, foreign customs. All four went on sailing trips to nearby islands to explore the remains of civilizations. They went to a land called The Island of the Four-Pronged Cross and visited the ancient ruins along the coastline. They enjoyed the mixture of African and European cultures, an unusual, fascinating blend no longer foreign to them. The four came to hear rumors of “a water vagabond who tramps about the seas aimlessly with just a boat on his shoulders.” They heard the man had spent seven years in a tiny nearby island cavern. They dared not say that they had known “the sea-hobo.” They were embarrassed by the wake Jules Lissy was leaving behind.
Jules Lissy and his crew boated through rough waters. A morning came when the waves flattened. Water leaked into an evenness the sun fried. The men oared but their wood lapped hot tar. The wind deserted the sea. All men waited. The sun persisted in radiating light. All men experienced dizziness. The glare blinded them. They thought about their thirst. The water supply was low. Even their leader grew weak: Jules Lissy showed signs of delirium. Talk died out. The crew’s energy had emptied. The only comfort came at night when the sun retreated. All men feared its return.
Jules Lissy lay in his bed. His eyes blinked. He dozed off. Woke. His mind was swirling. The Ancient War hero revisited sleep. Again he stirred, yelling out family names. Sweat beaded all across his naked body. He dreamed. Jules Lissy heard a voice, one that strained because of a hindrance in vocal passages that had been the result of surgery. It was a woman’s voice that was as rough as a man’s. A voice that had smoke behind it.
Jules, in his dream state, saw the lady’s face appear out of a gray, dusty backdrop. He gazed. She approached him. Tears welled in his eyes. His barricade of heroics and psychological courage and masculinity crumbled. He put his arms out to hug the familiar figure. Jules embraced air. She put out both her hands and gestured to him in a way that mollified his tension. He was at ease. She placed the index finger on her hand perpendicular to her lips. Jules knew he was to listen. The woman spoke softly: She had not the power to speak up, yet the thin woman had enough spirit in her to survive the speech to come: “Jules, I want to tell you how proud I am of your accomplishments. You have upheld the good name of the family. You were a winner from childhood onwards—in sports competitions to combat on the battlefield in the all-important war. You had the respect of your comrades. You alone brought the best out of them. It was you who picked up the great warrior on the way to the Ancient War. Jules, my son, I know it was not easy for you to spread my ashes on the peninsula of my ancestry.
That was my wish—to one day make it back to the valley of my birth, where the river flowed between the vines, while the eagles soared by steep cliffs. Jules, my ashes solidified into feathers and the feathers into wings, but I longed for the ground, for contact with those I built temples of love with. I belong on the ground. My feet need to move. My heart needs people. That is why I have come to you. The dead talk if you listen to us. I know your life of late has been zigzagging across land and water. You have always managed to go your own way. You have done your duty seeking wife and having a family. Women have always been interested in you. It did not come as a surprise that they made you betray your wife. These women wanted a winner like you. They wanted your noble blood. You gave them sons, made male lines in many places. Home is not for you, Jules. That effeminate son of yours is not up to family standards. It was good that you did not have to witness his upbringing by that educated wife of yours. You did not need a woman with books in her mind. You yourself used to say, remember, `Women come and go, speaking of Carthago.´ You forgot that line when you got married, but I will forgive you. But that woman fed your son’s brain. Thinkers do not go down in history. Men like you make history. I can see why you have taken your time to reach home. She was not, and is not, good enough for you, Jules.
It will be thousands of years before a woman achieves the status of a man, and, rest assured, there will always be those around knowing where there place is. And, your son is too bony. She can not even feed a man. Good thing you could hunt with the best of them. We always had fresh food on the table. Remember that time you got wounded on that boar hunt. That was some scar. Stayed with you. Good thing for a man to have battle scars from youth. Manhood needs a few marks. Jules, I tried to do my best for you. You inherited a lot of craftiness from your father’s side of the family. When you were born you had the face of a fox cub. Later, your bearded face brought back this fox-like picture. Well, I must leave you now to feed the dead. People are always hungry. Men’s mouths are always open. There is a hard sea ahead of you. Beware, home is not where the heart is.”
Jules Lissy’s mother vanished. He called out in his sleep. Her visit to his sick bed had truncated: He had been left swishing around the aftertaste of disappointment. His eyes twitched. Jules heard the oarsmen in the galleys. His body cast a feverish appearance. He fell into a similar dream state, hoping to retrieve his mother.
Jules concentrated, trance-like. He stoked his subconsciousness to make the embers of the recent fresh vision re-glow. The anticipated female facade stayed behind a hazy shield. Instead, a young man stepped forward. He too was akin to Jules Lissy. Again, tears overflowed the basins of Jules’s eyes. He recognized the countenance. The youth the skin projected grieved him. As before, Jules Lissy’s manliness went astray. For the first time in his life he sobbed. In his reverie, he scanned the area to see if someone had seen him in “this anti-androgenic state of mind.” He was alone with the phantom figure. Jules swiftly regained his composure. His eyes seemed rinsed of sadness. He was face to face with his brother. Jules’s brother was leaning over his sibling who was sprawled out on a subterranean bed. This nether world was an ether world. The brother, behaving like his mother had in the same nebulous atmosphere a vague time before, also gesticulated to the bed-ridden hero. His sign language also served to pacify the lying Jules, who was dying to talk, but the hand signals of the phantom brother interrupted the movement towards speech made by Jules Lissy. The Ancient War hero heeded the physical utterances and held his tongue. His brother spoke:
“Brother and friend, it has been so many elongated years that have separated us from the abode of the living, the blessed. Here, this place is haunted by the abode of the accursed and its residential victims: Ixion, Sisyphus, Tantalus, Tityus, and the Danaides. You know some claim we come from the “slope roller,” but if it is true, it is no shame for us. The man ended up with a mission. What is on plateaus overlooking the world below is not always worth the stay. We all climb up and down sooner or later. Rising and falling is a matter of relativity. I must say my time with you is limited in this constrained sleep of yours, so let me say that I cherished our days together. Although my life was nipped in the bud, I still saw some branches of my youth blossom out. You were not a bad example, I must say. Your persistent ambition and competitive nature could not be contained. No one ever had to tell you to be better because you were always in the process of making yourself better. You built on the right ground, developed that gift of gab our fatherly line had passed down to us.
Whether it was allies in war or women in waiting, you resorted to your speech mastery. It was as if you had the finest selection of words that were like arrows in a quiver that was your throat. There were things outside your range of speech that did bother me, though. You took too much pleasure in hunting. You lacked respect for animals. In reality, you only fancied the animal in women. But you are not going to change your ways with them. Maybe you ought to have a look beyond your definition of beauty. Maybe you ought to examine your own island—if you know what I mean. You ought to know it is not a case of when the heroes exit the stage, the clowns come on.”
With those words, Jules Lissy’s brother faded. The Ancient War hero reached out, touched a void. Other faces passed by, but all in a blur. Jules thought he saw fellow war heroes who encountered tragic fates. He could not discern any tell-tale facial features. The fog of friends and foes veiled his vision. Jules waited for the dream to lift. In time that had no concrete mathematics, a moment of reality left the womb of sleep.
Jules Lissy woke, telling himself: “Now I can truly say I am finally more determined than ever to head for home.” His curiosity and bloodthirstiness egged him on. The winds had found a niche behind Jules Lissy’s sails and pushed the vessel ahead, and the oarsmen in the galleys ground the waters hard, intent on reaching land soon—to satisfy their hunger and thirst.
Talk of Jules Lissy’s return had subsided on Attica Island. Jules was one of those heroes who blossomed for a time; but he was no perennial bloomer: His time came to wilt.
The life of the quartet paralleled that of a string quartet, a family that tuned up together, rehearsed together, played together, and performed together. Each one complemented the other: Penny and Anthony were the first and second violins; Telly, the viola; Omeros, the cello. All four of the varying players counterpointed the other’s vices, yet harmonized the virtues of a family that shares, making a whole out of the parts.
Jules Lissy’s boat skirted an island that had a lava-like landscape. Black mounds seethed. On closer examination, these hills were piles of charnel-houses. A song wafted across the sea, which cupped the soprano voice. The sweet cliff-hanging melody narrowed the distance between Jules’ ears and heart. His thought processes entered a rare realm: Jules recollected his past-decade sea-chain of infidelity and instructed his men, “Bind me to the mast, otherwise I will leap from the bow and swim to land to seek out the feminine face behind the irresistible tone and timbre.” Jules noticed there was a second voice on top of the already bewildering lower one. He urged his men, “Tie me faster. Knot my body before my heart bulges.”
The boat hemmed the cliffs. Jules ordered his crew to wax his ears, after catching sight of the distant meadow specter that had partially resembled an ornithological species. Jules begged
not to hear. Before the wax was tunneled into both his ears, he heard the sentence, “I will be your bird of paradise.”
The melodic words agonized Jules Lissy. He gnawed any rope his mouth reached. Other pieces of this rope lacerated his body, leaving burns the sun stung. Jules snapped his head back and forth, trying to shake out the pieces of wax. He moaned for the buttery voices he wished to have melt on the palette of his listening. The sea water kneeled to these dual creatures that molted more than feathers.
Jules gagged on the hemp fibers. His mouth bled. His vessel stood still. The coxswain lost control of his senses, let go of the rudder, and dived into the gleaming skin of water. He stroked the numb water with incredible ambition, reaching the shore in minutes. He failed to hear Jules yell out, “Seel their eyes like a hawk! Seel their despicable mouths!” The coxswain bellied his way up the dune, panting. The louder the music grew, the faster his elbows punctured the sand. The coxswain looked like a crab struggling to edge up space with broken legs. Once the oarsman reached the plateau of the dune, he halted. The music disappeared. His teeth clattered. He turned around to scurry back to the safe waters. At that moment of decision, talons hooked his quivering body. The coxswain felt his legs loosen from solid ground. All his limbs dangled like the dead legs of sacrificial lambs draped over olive tree branches during the time the Ancient War had been fought. He cried out in vain. The creatures deposited their prey on the grill below that was made of male human skeletons. The coxswain sizzled, lost consciousness, lost his human shape. Vulturine creatures pecked his fleshy remains. While they ate, the winds returned to the sea and Jules Lissy’s boat scooted away from the dreadful place. In safe distance from the smoky heap, the crew unbound their leader. Not a word was spoken. The crew oared until no land was in sight, never to forget the sound of the ruffling feathers the creatures generated while swallowing the life of their sea-mate.
Anthony, Penny, and Telly founded a shelter for ill child-orphans from poor neighboring islands. Telly was designated “to handle shelter activities and to set sail to seek the ailing youths in need of medical attention.” He enlisted the services of young Omeros, an intelligent lad exhibiting perspicaciousness, graciousness, and altruism. Omeros had a command of languages, demonstrating oral and written skills in a half a dozen languages. He also understood several island dialects.
The employment of medical personnel contributed to Telly’s gaining professional assistance by means of specialists who accompanied him on his voyages “for the purpose of examining the children on-site to determine if their illnesses require that they be treated at the shelter.” The initial medical assessments showed that children predominantly suffered from illnesses of the respiratory and intestinal tracts: watery diarrhea, pneumonia, worm infection, peptic disorders—illnesses attributable to malnutrition, lack of hygiene, poor potable water quality, and poor social conditions.
Jules’s crew was beginning to long for women again. They had not forgotten Jules Lissy’s promise of “a cornucopia of selected seasoned and unseasoned delights.”
In his nether quarters, Jules sensed the impatience and the boredom his crew had been generating in the galleys. He decided to choose the straightest and the fastest way home. His men had no idea that Jules Lissy had plotted to funnel them into a vortex. He went to the galleys and began to speak of “an Olympus of women in the direction you are oaring towards.” The men sat up; their eyes widened. He explained to his listeners, “You have the option to go left of the sea, the wider and longer route, or the alternative of going right of the stone, the ultimate test of men’s marrows.” He waited for a response. When no reply came, Jules uttered, “The right way implies that a short-cut to a lady’s heart always has to go through the crevices.” The new head coxswain yelled out, “Lead us along the rock!”
Jules Lissy returned to his cabin. He went to his chest, unlocked the padlock, and took out a sealed, drinking vessel, one he had conned Soothsay into brewing. He had asked her for “a beverage that would even distort Charon’s mind.” Soothsay had mashed rare jungle plants with those cultivated in her palace greenhouse. Jules took the flask, which had lion and wolf heads engraved on its golden surface, to the crew. He said, “Take a slug to lighten the upcoming load of sailing through the straits.” Each oarsman swigged from the magical flask that had the shape of a woman with an hourglass figure. A drop of the devilish drink had not remained. Jules pretended to pour “the rest of the woman” between his puckered lips. Chuckles followed.
Jules exited the galleys. He went to take a look at the mood of the waters. The winds tangled. Air hacked the waves. Blackness drifted closer and closer. The sea became turbulent. Water smashed the deck. Jules Lissy looked overboard, saw the level of sea sprout to a height that towered over the boat. Waters spun the vessel. An oarsman dashed to the place where Jules Lissy had been observing the situation. The man eyed Jules, yet the oarsman who had deserted his post had hazy eyes that lacked focus. The man babbled. His vision was lost, and his speech, slurred. Jules asked the man to talk. The drugged sailor hesitated. He curved his lips. He began relating to Jules what he had sighted a minute before. The man informed Jules, “A dog is barking with a stony mouth, and the creature has got some dozen feet, and its head is connected to six necks, and the face looks like a turtle that has the fangs of a cobra.”
Jules grinned as he knew the ingredients of Soothsay’s potion had speared their way into the minds of his crew members. Another sedated oarsman approached Jules Lissy and equaled his predecessor’s tale, “I saw a beast that swallows water with a mouth the size of a bay and spits it out again.” Jules found the comment entertaining and asked the sailor, “Does the creature also have the dry heaves?” At that moment, the ship was sucked up by winds and chewed by waves whose tongue turned the vessel over as if it had been a piece of well-done meat to be savored from all sides. Water filled the boat, whose heaviness matched that of the waves. The drenched vessel capsized. Jules had anchored himself to a rescue raft crafted in between his spells with Soothsay. The water devoured boat and man, and the jagged cliffs sank their teeth into the water that rose and fell as if it were teasing the manacled rock. Jules Lissy paddled with his arms and legs. He beat the waves. His ship had become one of thousands that had chalked up defeat in the one-on-one challenge with the straits.
Jules Lissy rafted his way home. Near his native soil, a mist veiled cliffs that jutted from the hillsides. He maneuvered the raft into an emerald river vineyards and olive orchards lined. The shrouded air over his homeland troubled Jules. Superstitious, he looked for omens everywhere. Returning home in “a sunken cloud” portended evil. “Have I ruddered to the right land?” he asked himself. “This weather stages no hero’s welcome.” Jules slowed his pace. He absorbed the area that had once been “a chamber in my heart.” Jules felt the texture of the island, but the surface had been upholstered in the twenty years that had elapsed.
The air cleared. Jules Lissy felt exposed. He landed his dismantled craft in order to leave no traces. Jules cut down the soil and chopped the canvas into the shape of a human body, sliced holes for his arms and legs to protrude from. He scooped up mud from the riverbank and smeared the cloth. With his strong wrestler hands, he shredded parts of “the beggar’s tunic.” He felled the mast and fashioned it into a cane. Jules Lissy had disguised himself “in a way that opposes my image of yore.” Under his costume was “a treasured item I keep with me at all times, a pouch Soothsay hung from my neck.” The bag was her farewell present: “a gift of silver and gold coins and gem stones that glisten more than my lions’ and wolves’ eyes.”
Jules Lissy hobbled to a lone hut, passing several animal pens. The open hut door invited Jules to enter, but he hesitated and asked in a stentorian voice, “Any fellow islanders at home?” An old swineherd and shepherd came out. He waited for Jules Lissy to talk. The Ancient War hero asked the swineherd, “May I be graced with lodging for one night as my hours aboard the sea have made my eyes heavy?” The old man replied, “My home is too small to accommodate a second dweller, but I am glad to offer you a bed under Grecian stars behind the shed by the boars.” Jules accepted and bedded down on the soil before the dusk tucked daylight under its soft dark linens.
Jules, cocooned in the fleece the swineherd had handed him, spent the night in deep sleep. The next morning Jules woke and tiptoed into the hut. The swineherd was sleeping by the dim fire. Jules laid the fleece by the old man’s feet. Jules Lissy took one last look at the hermit as if he had wanted to make one final comparison of the swineherd’s looks twenty years ago and on that day.
Jules Lissy returned to the riverside, where an old trail led to his palace. He was more at home by water than on land. Jules read the current calligraphied on a page of water. “The flow of the waters tells me to delay my trip to the estate and to make brief stops at my boat harbor and in town.”
Jules took a path that snaked to his boat harbor. The sight of his trusty ship, The Sun of Lair Tease, accelerated his hike. In minutes, Jules Lissy was stroking its side. He knocked its wood with his hard knuckles. It was sailable. Jules considered testing the sturdy vessel, but he let the boat lie. He headed for town.
Limping his way through streets of civilization, Jules Lissy viewed the faces of passers-by. He recognized no one. Jules strolled into a shop, where he purchased “an old-fashioned hat that looks used.” Next door was a fledgling shelter. Jules entered and a kind man with a pleasant smile put a fresh nightshirt in his hands. “Thank you for extending generosity. You must be a man of noble birth and solid upbringing.” Jules was unable to place the man. Discomposed, the Ancient War hero left, with the familiar face on his mind.
Jules Lissy trampled roses and rhododendrons on the plateau his palace crowned. He paused, looked for servants. None appeared. A window permitted him to see a youth ensconced in a book. “The boy bears resemblance to Penny.” A couple passed behind the youth. Jules ducked.
He saw Penny first and loathed “the slattern painting of her face with midnight shadows bleeding around her orbs and lips redder than the blood Achilles drew out of Hector’s veins.”
The trio left the palace and walked out on the terrace. Jules grasped the glossiest silver coin in his pouch and wedged it atop his oak cane in order to mirror the scene from the left corner of the palace. A piercing reflection of “a family foundation and house fortified with binding relationships and insulated with bonds time and love builds” overpowered his heart and soul and wounded him.
Writhing in pain, Jules Lissy angled off his own face with the reflective coin. He saw the wrinkled mask of an Ancient War hero. He had become a foreigner in his own homeland. Jules Lissy realized his return would signify the return of a violent past, a violent present, and a violent future.
Jules Lissy would apply his tactical skills in counsel with himself. Jules Lissy would make a final attack on his own vices. He would carry off the spoils of war, he himself, by himself. He would make a dead human sacrifice to his living self. Jules Lissy would escort the onetime war hero to the “vast water prison,” a self-banishment to the sea. Jules Lissy would “age like the waves.”
By his boat harbor, Jules washed his face in the coastal waters. He cleansed himself, purified his existence. He tore the tunic in half and threw the “beggar half” on the sand. The canvas sack met the wind, and the sacker of cities tied the other half around his waist. Jules Lissy unbound The Sun of Lair Tease. Once again, he freed another vessel from the fetters of land, and he freed himself at the same time. He looked in the direction of the town and knew the identity of the man that had handed him the nightshirt. Jules Lissy looked towards the palace. He saw a life an Ancient War hero does not know how to live.
Jules Lissy felt no remorse for leaving his family behind. Attica Island was not home. Jules Lissy was not a father or a husband. He was a lover, a lover of women he always had to leave, a lover of the sea and its fathomless surprises. For Jules Lissy, the sea meant double movement: the water itself and the boat on the water. He added his own restless soul to the motion and completed the triangular sail of time his life to come would watch setting, raising, filling, luffing, and lowering.
Attica Island grew smaller and smaller, shrinking into a memory for Jules Lissy. The Ancient War hero, a person who had grown up retaliating, had achieved, after his shallow return to his homeland, one special depth of the human sea: He had outgrown revenge.
Jules Lissy sailed off. The wakes and courses his boat left behind were like roots under a soil furrowed with waves. His mast was a moveable tree of life.