Updated: Dec 18, 2020
The man had made a small fire in the black stove at the bottom of his boat. The night was cold and he shivered from the sea spray that ran down his neck. Out of his window, he could see the harbour lights blinking. It had taken him a month to get used to the boat. At first, he had always feared a capsize or collision in the night. He was not a brave man. He had known that for a long time, since he was about ten or so. He did not think about it much. It had something to do, he knew, with competence. The man who has competence can have a phlegmatic attitude to life. The man without competence is at life’s mercy. There is something greater than him; the great thing is nature, and nature is a woman. He had seen other men fall down and worship her. They had nothing of their own to give and so they became the prisoner of the female principle. He had felt the temptation as well, but, somehow, he had struggled away from it. He had avoided complete debasement.
A man must be like a rock and a woman must be like water. The man will lose in the end, the water always defeats the rock. This does not matter. The point is to hold firm for years and decades. A man is a bridge that builds itself and then falls down when the next generation has walked across. That is what it means to be a man, so he thought. He would never be a rock, but he could be a pebble. He had become used to his boat and sea and the death that waited out in the blackness. He made many errors and had been lucky to have suffered nothing more than sheered metal and diminished pride.
For years he had sat, bloated on sugary drinks and cinema popcorn, and lived through the eyes of other men. It had taken a decade to escape that life: the chair and the foetid air of comfort. He had lost weight, he had become thin—and then he had built himself up again in a new way. He was heavy with muscle now, and it changed his ways. He spoke less. He was curt and short and men who had not listened to him before listened to him now. And women who had treated him as a sweet little puppy, quite amusing, looked at him with nervous desire. It was just like the law of currency: when a currency is strong it goes further, and has access to more and better goods. So it was with women. When he was debased, women were romantic to him; he thought in emotional terms, thought about how to lure them with tricks and an attentive ear. Now he was sure in his physicality his sentimentality had gone. Women offered themselves to him and it came as no surprise. Where once he had adored them and yearned for them and let them cry on his shoulder, now he was indifferent. The women were like the sea: they were there, they had their attractions, and contained a lethal possibility. He did not need them and he did not need the sea, but he had a measure as to what he could handle from both.
So he came to live on the boat. He would never inhabit the boat with the confidence some men had, the real men of stone. Yet he knew enough to make his way about the islands and enough to sleep in the little bunk of his boat. The wind brushed the sails. He had felt regret over the lost years recently, so much so that he spat out words when he did not mean to. These were little curses or yelps of pain. He was not by nature an alcoholic or drug user, but he understood now why people took to these instruments of ecstatic sleep.