seaside ophelia

DISCLAIMER: don't own these guys, but the setting is mine. This was inspired by the songs "Daughter" and "Harbor" by Vienna Teng and "Albatross" by Judy Collins, and uses a prompt from tartlyours. Ophelia's monologue was, of course, written by Shakespeare and belongs to him.

He was a fixture of the town, he and his white empty house; a landmark more than a person. Many had painted him where most people found him—standing in the long grass at the lacy black gates, his tiny hands wrapped into their curls, facing the open water with his white sundress blowing. He stood there so often, for so long, every day; when passersby spoke to him, he seemed to join the conversation from a long ways away, and even when he spoke of normal things, he still seemed impossibly fey. As if he was humoring the townspeople by pretending to be a part of their mundane world for a few minutes.

The house was one-level with wide-open windows of fine glass. The windows had no shutters, but were covered from the inside with gauzy silver curtains that billowed and shifted like brides' veils in the slightest of winds. The walls were white, the floor was soft gray carpet, and there was only the most minimal of furniture, white and silver and red. The kitchen was just as bare, with beautiful silvery pots hung on the wall that looked like they'd never been touched.

Bare, but not threadbare. The simplicity seemed to be intentional; it had the beauty of a modern artist's magnum opus.

There was a day in early summer, before the weather had quite warmed all the way, when he made his way along the beach to the cliffs barefoot—sandals in one hand, a basket of seashells in the other. He sat on the cliff edge with his pale feet kissed by the air and gazed out over the wide expanse of the ocean, watching the seagulls stitching across the soft ripples of the waves.

Children were playing there, too, chasing each other with lengths of ribbon and kites; upon seeing him there, a few of the bolder ones ventured up to him, their curiosity overcoming their shyness of his eldritch nature.

"What are you doing?" one little boy asked.

He smiled and pointed out over the water. "The sea spray," he said by way of explanation, his voice velvety, whispery, gentle. "The way the light hits it—do you see? It makes prisms in the water. You can see rainbows."

"That's boring," the same boy replied, confused.

That secretive smile grew. "No," he said sweetly and assuredly, turning back towards the water. "No, it's beautiful."

The children stayed with him day after day after that, watching the water with him, as he showed them sketches of the birds or let them listen to the ocean in his shells; he read poetry and Shakespeare and sang to them until their parents discovered where they'd been spending their time and forbade them to go near him again.

There was a girl from a good family, a young lady about his age, about marrying age. Her father was in town on business, so people said; she walked the streets in a ruffled pink dress, wearing a straw hat whose brim shielded her eyes from the sun. She smiled at everyone on her walks through the town, and stopped in the marketplace to buy paper and charcoal and ribbons to weave through her hair. And she would walk to the town's outskirts, down the length of the low walled fencing and over the soft hills to the white house and the beach and the cliffs. And she would sit next to him in the grass as he stared out over the horizon. The wind plucked at her ribbons and the skirts of his sundress, and she would brush the hair from her eyes and shift her papers and continue to draw.

Once, he leaned on the rails and smiled down at her, resting his cheek on his folded fingers. "You keep coming back here," he said softly, playfully.

She smiled up at him, staying her charcoal-smudged fingers. "I want to see what you see," she told him.


"Everything seems beautiful from where we are now," she said, and gestured to the sea. He nodded and turned back towards it, watching the way he always did.

There was a poet who came to the town, armed with a case of books and papers, his long soft hair pulled back from his face. He didn't lodge at the inn; he walked down the roads to a house that had stood uninhabited for years and resumed a living there as though he had never left. Life was transient; he was not recognized at first. He and the young lady, the young artist, often spoke together.

One late afternoon he walked the path over the hills to the sea and stood for several moments watching the watcher, the pale figure who (as always) overlooked the water with a distant expression.

"Time's hardly touched you at all, has it?" the poet murmured, and the watcher turned to him as though in a dream. For the first time in years, his gaze fixed and held on something other than the water; in slow sleepwalking steps, he left the rail and came to stand before the poet.

He smiled, soft and slow and spreading, the waves even now reflected in his eyes.

"Welcome home," he said—the first one to say as much since the poet had returned.

When the poet's arms folded around him and held their bodies close together, he nuzzled into that warmth, winding windbitten fingers into the coarse fabric of the poet's dark overcoat and closed his eyes, seeming more at peace here against another man's warmth than he ever did staring serenely across the open water.

The poet said nothing. Even with the watcher gathered to his chest, he still felt as though he barely held anything at all.

The poet spent nights in the white open house. Some of the townsfolk murmured with disapproval; others joked that perhaps their cliff-spirit wasn't so incorporeal after all. The watcher went blissfully unaware (or uncaring) of such commentary; the poet did his best to follow his example and ignore it.

Once he woke in the midst of the night to find the other side of the bed empty, to find the soft white gauze pushed aside from the window and the delicate body that had been curled beside his own not long ago seated in the shelf the window formed, legs dangling over the edge.

The poet shed the bedclothes, walked over and slid his arms around the vanishing-thin frame. The watcher didn't turn towards him; those sea-colored eyes stayed fixed on the horizon.

"Come back to bed," the poet murmured.

"I can't sleep," came the murmured reply. The voice wasn't melodic now, no; it was cracked, hoarse, desperate. "I have to go back. What if—what if—"

"Hush," the poet murmured, and pressed a kiss to the disheveled blond hair, the flushed forehead. "I'll help you sleep. You need to sleep. Come back to bed."

When at last the watcher did sleep, that sleep was restless, fitful; he shifted and whimpered for over an hour before he came to a rest. The poet lay awake beside him, running his fingers up and down the silken skin of his bare back, wondering precisely what was to be done.

It was around a month after that when the worst storm season the town had ever seen arrived. The wharves all up and down the coast closed; floodgates were erected; families stayed indoors as long as they could. The weather became worse with every passing day, with biting winds and sheets of icy rain.

The poet, worried for his frail companion's health, brought the watcher back to his home in town early into the storm. He and the young lady tried to keep him distracted, but always the watcher would return restlessly to the windows, straining to see past the rain and the hills to the sea.

Once, when the poet returned home after fording the ankle-deep rivers of the streets to purchase food at market, he was met by a door hung ajar, water trailing onto the floor. He left his purchases on the table, locked up, and ran towards the hills, fighting his way through the rain to the ornamental black railing and the gate.

There he stood, of course; drenched to the bone, he clutched the gate, white-knuckled and gazing steadfastly out into the churning sea, shaking with the cold.

The poet took off his damp coat and placed it around the watcher's shoulders, carefully prying him away from the railing and close to his own body, trying to share what warmth he could. "Come on now," he murmured. "You'll catch your death out here."

The watcher tried feebly to pull away, to return to his post, but the poet held him tightly and after a few tries he surrendered, allowing himself to be tugged back to the town and into the cold house.

By the next day, he was bedridden with a terrible fever. The poet and the lady watched him worriedly; the town doctor was called and treatments were prescribed.

He slept on and off for a fortnight as the heavens rained down; still, night after night found him dazedly making for the door, stumbling into the furniture and clinging to the walls.

Once he got as far as the edge of town before the poet caught him, pulling him back inside. He closed the door and held the watcher as he struggled weakly, straining for the brutally cold and wet outdoors, his face contorted with the kinds of pain that could break a lesser man.

"Enough of this," he cried at last. "You cannot go back there. You mustn't go back—there's nothing there for you, do you understand? He's not coming back. He's not coming back."

But this only caused the watcher's struggles to grow wilder and more desperate; it was hours before he exhausted himself and slumped to the floor, his empty eyes drenched with emotions the poet could never have borne to put in verse.

And things were the same, but they were not the same.

Only the sea could hold his attention now; townspeople would come and speak to him as ever, but those conversations trailed off and died like so many withering leaves. Some said he even slept up at the cliff; the children tried to creep out of bed to see if it was true or if they could catch him early-morning with a cross-print of grass or the inverse of the gate marking his cheek.

The elderly shook their heads and crossed themselves whenever they drew close to those cliffs; there was no romance or mysticism on those cliffs for them, just an obsession that terrified.

He was gathering flowers on the cliff, half-singing to himself, when the poet and the lady ventured there, hand-in-hand.

"'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. That's for thoughts.'" His voice was an airy, absent sing-song; he didn't turn to look at them.

"We have something to tell you," the poet began uncertainly.

"'There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end—'"

"Stop speaking nonsense and Shakespeare to yourself and listen," the poet exclaimed, something between exasperation and terror in his voice. And as soon as the words were out, he straightened up, swung towards them, and held out both hands: they held a tight-plucked bouquet of queen anne's lace and buttercups and wildflowers too numerous to name.

The poet and the lady glanced at each other, and then back at him.

He just held out the flowers patiently, dreamily, staring at them as though not even seeing them. "For your wedding," he said simply and smiled as their eyes went wide.

"How did you know? How could you possibly have—we came to tell you first…"

But he'd already turned away and was turning lazy pirouettes back to the gates. "'For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy—'"

He was there at the ceremony, or at least people agreed that he was there some of the time; sometimes he couldn't be found no matter how hard they looked. The poet and the lady implored their guests not to go looking for him. He was what he was, they pleaded for him; one could no more change his nature or his need to watch across the sea than one could tell the rain not to fall.

Once they'd spoken their vows, he vanished from the reception for good and was discovered later on his knees, clinging to the black gates and sobbing madly, shaking them, the skirts of his sundress torn and stained.

"Give him back to me," he cried over and over again. "Give him back."

He was less there by the day after that; he seemed translucent, transparent, disappearing and blending and blurring into the scenery, just another part of the paintings of the cliffs rather than a person featured in them.

Thin and small and ethereal and eldritch, he grew thinner and more haunted (he'd stopped eating, the townsfolk gossiped; he seemed to be existing on the sea's air itself). He never replied to the townsfolk anymore, never looked at the children; the white house stood almost forgotten. His songs and his Shakespeare poured in stilts from his cracked lips, and then soured and twisted and died; eventually they never graced the air again, and he stood in desperate silence overlooking the unrepentant sea.

It was inevitable.

A tall stone was erected there at the cliffs, memorializing his patience and his fervor; the poet and his lady were the only ones who wept.

Many of the townsfolk, it was said, saw him still—a glimpse here, a flash there; a pale figure gripping the rails, a few haunting notes of song on the air.

The poet and the lady's children always tried to see if the rumors were true; their parents gently stopped them from venturing there.

"The cliffs are a dangerous place, and a very sad one for us," the two of them explained over and over. Their children heard the truth in the words, and reluctantly obeyed.

The years passed.

He didn't know how long he'd been standing there, overlooking the water, losing hope, losing self. His eyelids had been fluttering; sleep hadn't been far. But he opened them wide, then stood up straight, when he saw the faint shape of a small schooner parting the waves towards his beach.

He stood frozen, unable to bear the hope and the terror—then the fierce and bewildering joy. He knew those sails, knew the anchor cast over the side before the boat could run aground in the shallows, and as the beautiful old ship rocked gently, cradled on the blue-green waves, its one-man crew splashed into the water up to his knees and made his way in sloshing steps to the beach itself.

And then he took a few steps back and vaulted the black gate, throwing himself down the sharp steep slope of the hill that was nearly the cliff's side, the skirts of his sundress flying. And the man stopped ankle-deep in the water, tossed back his scarlet hair and opened his sun-brown arms in time for him to vault into them, sobbing hysterically.

"I'm so sorry I took so long," the rough voice he so loved murmured in his ear. "I'm here now. I'm here now, and I swear to God I'll never leave you again."

Still unable to speak, he eased himself back, looking up into a face that was thinner and more ragged than he remembered it—amber eyes that held more love than he ever could have preserved in memories.

Within the circle of their embrace, their lips met as the sunset silhouetted them softly: One touch to express years of misery and years more of love and faith.

The townspeople noted the shape of a schooner vanishing into the same sunset, and neither of them were heard from evermore but in the legends they became.