There is another kind of sleep,
We are talking in it now.
As children we walked in it, a mile to school,
And dreamed we dreamed we dreamed.
—James Galvin, from "Hematite Lake"
Maris Gomes was very young when he went to sea for the first time, and not much older –still much too young– when the boat on which he was working was capsized in a storm and he swallowed seawater and rolled for hours slowly toward the ocean floor.
He remembered next to nothing about the moments and hours after he was thrown into the cold ocean. He wasn’t even sure; he may have jumped; he may have had no choice. His last clear memory of the experience was of watching one of his shipmates, a boy not much older than himself named Scruggs Colvin, clinging to some piece of debris from the wreck and drifting out of view, his shouts quickly swallowed up by the darkness and driving rain.
Maris had been surprised to discover that there were angels in the ocean, living in the ruins of an old shipwreck out of which they had constructed a sort of cathedral of light.
When the angels first came for him –there were five of them, all young and more beautiful than any woman he had ever seen– Maris had assumed they were mermaids. After a moment, though, there was no mistaking what they were: they had wings, and their flowing hair was haloed with pulsing light. They also had bare feet, and when they kicked their feet the bubbles they created were infused with golden light as well.
In the time that followed –and Maris had no idea how long it might have been– he was given to understand that the human soul would perish in salt water; it could not escape a drowned body, and the job of the underwater angels was to ferry these drowned souls to the surface for release.
Among those living in the ruins of the shipwreck there was one very young and inexperienced angel named Doon, and this angel fell immediately in love with Maris, and he with her. This sort of thing was not only discouraged, of course, but was strictly forbidden. Doon was headstrong, however, and in every translucent fiber of her being she was convinced that she and Maris had lived together in a long-ago forest and were fated to spend eternity at the bottom of the sea.
For his part, Maris regarded Doon as the loveliest creature he had ever seen.
Doon implored the other angels to allow Maris to stay with her, yet they remained insistent that she release him and let them take his soul to the surface so it could begin its rightful journey. This Doon stubbornly refused to do –in her brief life on earth she had known no great love– and she somehow managed to spirit away a fully compliant Maris to another shipwreck, where together they hid from the other angels and did nothing but hold each other –their bodies tangled like the braid of a parade horse’s tail– and tell stories.
Doon told Maris she was not so keen on Heaven. "There are no thunderstorms," she said. "No mice. No tears of joy or sorrow. Angels feel only the small, tsk-tsking pity of those who have found safe haven in God’s arms. Heaven sometimes seems smug to me, and I miss being dirty. It is not as beautiful, sad, and various as the world."
The lovers, alas, were soon enough discovered, and for her disobedience Doon was recalled straightaway to Heaven.
And it was only then, as he was wrenched from his beloved, that Maris Gomes finally and truly drowned.
By this point, and much to the satisfaction of the other angels, his soul was deemed beyond retrieval.