Finding Land

Maya Trest, A Humble Fisherman. Acrylic paint, 2023.

 

By Arami Garcia

        It was hard to imagine the world before it melted.

        Only a few people even remembered their relatives who were alive for that; and those who did had become old, their skin turned to leather by the sun and their hair bleached and pale by age until everyone had their hair made of salt and pepper, gray curls with shocks of white. 

        They were far too old to tell the stories anymore, either. The tales had to be carried on voice by their children, about the time before everything was just water and our boats. I’d heard about the tales, with towns like ours, except stationary, and filled with thousands of people; an impossible number. I struggled to know everyone’s name, and our village was only a few hundred; yet no one dared interrupt when someone was story-telling, or contradict the tale: it was the only thing we had from before.

        I swung my legs, splashing them in the water and watching sediments of forgotten things breaking down swirl around my ankles. We had been floating west for a long time now. We had had to pass through waves ten times taller than our tallest boat and through storms that caused enough damage it took weeks to collect enough supplies to repair what had broken.

        But there was a curiosity that had taken us west— one that led us to navigate out of the sheer sense of adventure. The trip had begun when I was small, only eight or nine, yet I was thirteen by now. It had been four years and we still hadn’t found anything but water.

        I sighed, blowing hair out of my face. I looked up from the ocean as it lapped at the edge of the boat and at my feet, and squinted into the horizon. I had to rub my eyes. There were odd specks in my vision. 

        I turned away and turned back, but the specks didn’t move, and as though everyone else did the same thing at the same time, a murmur seemed to rise in the town. I got out of the water and stood on the pathway, shaking my feet dry.

        A few people came running, leaning over the rope barrier we used to keep kids from falling overboard, pointing excitedly in the horizon. I couldn’t tell what anyone was saying, they spoke with such fervor, raising the excitement in myself as well. Was it a mountain? Was it a fabled tree?

        From the conversation next to me, I picked out the word “New York”, and my heart became elated. New York? It was one of the city names that carried on in our stories– a world where it was always a sunny day. Where you couldn’t see the sky, because you were surrounded by buildings taller than even the tallest waves. Where millions of people lived, without a single idea about anyone else there.

        “We’re going to New York?” I breathed, almost murmuring, as though the specks in the distance would sink into the ocean depths if I spoke too loud. As though, if it heard me, it’d recede and hide, afraid of what had become of those who had inhabited it before.

        “We’re going to New York!” The people around me cheered. People hugged and kids screamed, flipping boats and being scolded by mothers. But no one was really mad– we had found the remnants of a world so old it was new.

 

        We didn’t arrive until nightfall, and we had to slow the boats to avoid crashing into the “building”; there were metal and concrete frames in a grid, still managing to ache over us even though it was already mostly submerged, each frame lined with shimmering shards of something that could have been translucent, if it hadn’t been fogged up by the water’s erosion after years.

        Everyone got out onto their boats and looked around; as I turned the corner I saw a structure crawling up the side of the building, the way seaweed from our submerged fields would curl around the water. As I floated up to it, I touched it softly, brushing my fingers against it– it felt brittle, and came back a brownish red.

        Something possessed me, and slowly, I stood in my boat, and then took a hold of the structure. It stayed firm. Carefully, I swung my leg over the edge of the boat, and when it didn’t collapse, I reached down to get my rope and tie my boat to the structure. It held firm. I swung my other foot to stand on the platform, and then I stood on the platform smaller, yet slightly higher– and then another step, and another, raising me higher and higher until it turned around.

        It kept twisting, back and forth and back and forth, until I reached the top of the building. It was insane, being able to see the full sky above me yet feeling firm and planted– for once in my whole life, I wasn’t rocking and something on me wasn’t damp. The ground looked corroded, yet this was one of the buildings to have survived the lifetimes it took us to find it– it wouldn’t fall so easily. I wandered around, just feeling the sensation of being able to plant my feet without a wobble or the swing of a pathway or a boat, bobbing on the lapping waves. A grin broke out on my face– I was on land.

        I looked up at the sky and grinned. I was on land.