Title: The Day After
Word Count 837
The Day After
He woke to the clean edged world of the day after. His tongue was sore, but his muscles no longer ached. He stretched slowly. He was deft and strong again, himself. His hands would do as he told them, he could speak, think. The strange clarity would last the day, no more than that. It was the backhanded gift of the condition-- a small caress, after the brass knuckle blow.
As a child he had spent the day after confined to bed. He had been outraged, to miss the sun or the snow outside his window. He had missed the schoolroom on those days too. His mother had watched him attentively for any sign of a follow-on fever. He had had his book of poems, with the ship on the front, to prop against his knees, and the blue blanket for the sea around it.
Now he was a man, and he had a real ship to belong to, and the real blue sea all around. He had Horatio to send him to bed, to watch over him, to join him there. And he need not miss the day after.
To bad really, that he could not capture it in words. He had tried to tell Horatio once, had stopped as Horatio's brow creased. To think Archie different afterward, even for a short while, was worrisome for Horatio. So Archie said no more about it. Didn't mean he could not enjoy it. On the day after it was as if everything inside him and out was new. New as the day after a night of bitter tears. The edges of things were bright, the sounds and smells of the world a little jagged. A painter could capture it maybe, a clever man like Mr Serres. But Archie was not clever that way.
He could feel the deck of the Indy, warm below him, his blanket, a little itchy a little too hot now. Over Archie's head hung the two empty hammocks, podlike, disturbingly scrotal. Horatio's hammock empty . Bells had sounded while Archie slept. He had felt them, in sleep, as he felt the Indy, heeled slightly, moving through the dark water. They sky was paling for dawn, had not quite reached it. The new day would come at noon of course, with due ceremony, and boys to shoot the sun. It would come hard edged and certain, as it never was ashore.
He sat up, pushing the blanket back. There was water enough to wash. He did not need to save any for Horatio today. The water in the jug was cold, salty, sticky, as water ashore never could be. They washed everything in it, clothes, men, the Indy herself. The salt was part of them, They tasted of it. Many times he had tasted the sea on Horatio's skin, on his own. Archie supposed they must all taste of it. Horatio had told him once that all water teemed with tiny beings, you could see them with a strong lens. Horatio had. They must be put out of countenance, Archie thought, to find themselves swabbed under his arms. He felt his mouth curve into a smile at that thought, and the salt of the sore places in his mouth.
He was dressed and mostly shaved when Horatio came in. Archie gave a final scrape or two, and set the silver razor down. He reached out a hand to Horatio's face.
“You look tired Honeybee.”
“Hmm.” Horatio stepped forward to the embrace, muffling a yawn on Archie's shoulder.
“Bracey has sent me to bed." Horatio said. "He said that doing a days work was all very well, but my yawning was making everyone sleepy. I wasn't yawning, much. He said I was to lie down until noon. He said they would do without me.”
“You watched over me, stood my watch as well as your own. Did you sleep at all?”
“Some, I – maybe?”
Maybe, but Archie thought not. There was a limp quality to the thin spine and shoulders, to the sweet curve of Horatio's neck.
“You smell of coffee.”Archie said.
He backed Horatio against the closed door. The taste was strongest in Horatio's mouth, in but there was quite a lot of it on his neck and ears as well. Could it have been carried there by the action of steam? Under his chin tasted faintly of soap.
Horatio made a small noise, not protest, not at all, and Archie rocked against him in response.
“No. There isn't time, is there?”
Archie had a hand down now, no need to ask 'Do you like that?' Horatio's closed eyes fluttered.
He stopped. Tonight would see the salt drawn from them both, and the edges of the world gone soft with oncoming sleep. Tonight. Archie stepped back. He gestured to the blankets.
“Here, Horatio, let me tuck you in.”