I see myself as a woman with long hair that falls down my back and a dress, blue, that reaches to my ankles. The world sparkles with sunlight. I am aboard an old style sailing ship, wooden, with a raised foredeck and several masts. A low rail runs around the deck. Suddenly something compels me to leave, some threat – unnamed, unseen. I am nervous and frightened, yet certain as I slip over the rail. The fall is not at all like a dream-fall; it is not endless, it is not weightless.
I plunge suddenly into the sea and the water that closes over my head is neither cold nor dark – there is sunlight even here. Immediately my hair and dress weigh me down as I struggle to reach the surface. Once my head is above water, I catch a breath – the sun is brighter than ever, seeming to strangle me with its light as the water tugs at me, pulls irresistibly. I try to swim away from the boat and find that I am holding something in my left arm – I must do the side stroke, awkwardly, my right arm reaching above my head, my legs scissoring within my sodden gown.
It is apparent that my left arm is cradling three things: my youth, my soul, and my old age. A few more strokes make it clear that I will not be able to swim much farther. With each extension of my right arm, my head dips below the surface. I can feel the salt water entering my nose, and the exertion it takes to raise my head up to breathe is unbearable. I must let something go, release it to the sea; I cannot carry it all. My youth is light, weighs nothing – it is translucent like a jellyfish – if I dropped it my burden would hardly be eased. And my soul: How could I part with that? But my old age is weighty and cumbersome, a shapeless bag of dirt that drags on my arm and makes my shoulder ache. I drop it. Yet it does not sink. As I release it, my old age floats up, grows feathers, breaks the surface as a bird, a hawk, which flaps over me as I swim on.
The sun, which glints off the water, burns me; its refracting rays blind my eyes. My old age flies above, cackling and taunting me: How did I ever think I would be rid of it? It mocks my folly at releasing it, for choosing to hold my youth close. "Careless, stupid," my old age cackles and caws at me. My soul is clutched to my chest, dragging against the water. It is like a cheap toupee – hairy and bedraggled; it has lost all its shape in the seawater. Pressed to the fabric of my dress it seems ugly and spoiled.
The sea is calm, the boat is distant, scarcely to be seen, as I finally feel my hand grate against the sandy bottom. I crawl onto the beach. The timeless sun beats down on me. My old age flaps above, still croaking and cawing at me. I lay my soul out to dry, stretch its hairs across the sand, as I lie with my youth held to my heart, gown soaked and streaming, creating rivulets in the beach.
Someone was supposed to be here, some prince or person. Like the threat that drove me from the ship, this person's presence is palpable even in his absence. There was a reason I swam to this beach; it was not a blind escape; I was meant to arrive here. Old age's wings flap ceaselessly; I can hear them as I cannot hear the lapping of the sea on the sand, but they cast no shadow over me. I am content, filled only with desire for the promised person to come as I still believe he will. In the dazzling sunlight, the salt of the sea dries on my face.