Deadlands Noir Extinct in the Big Easy

The Dream Log of Sven Jansen entry 6

27

We are on our way to a new life, my Pearl and I. It has been hard in Jianxi for a fourth son and a fifth daughter, with our fathers both gone and our Eldest Brothers with their own families to support. But Pearl’s Third Brother has written that he has risen to a position of importance in the houshold of the Dutch land owner who employs him, and says he can find us paying work and lodgings if we can make it as far as Batavia.

It took longer than we expected to gather the money for passage, and in our excitement we may have been less careful than we should; by the time we boarded ship, Pearl’s pregnancy was well along and now, a month at sea, she is huge, and our jokes about what to name our child should she give birth on board—True Star is a fine name for a ship and a boy, but perhaps not so much for a girl?—and whether they will charge us for a third passenger no longer seem like jokes.

The ship would be full with either its cargo or its passengers; with both, we are like eels in a barrel at the market. Rumors are flying through our packed ranks like flocks of swallows: The voyage is taking longer than it should. There are more passengers than they were prepared for. The food and water will run out. The crew laughs when asked about the rumors, saying the supplies are fine, and even so we are never more than a few days from some island in these waters and if they did run out we could simply go ashore and restock. But I have noticed Captain Io looking at us with a crease between his brows. The rumors persist, and I suspect what has him nervous is an uprising of panicky passengers, not a shortage of anything.

We are below decks, my cheek and hand pressed to Pearl’s belly to feel our child move, when the ship shudders and begins leaning to one side, water suddenly rising at our feet. We struggle toward the ladder to the deck and it is clear we will not make it when the ship cracks like an egg and we are swept out through the tear into the open ocean.

Despite the time of year the water is, while not exactly warm, not quite cold, either, and calm. I tie us together, Pearl and myself, under the arms—you would not believe how much rope is floating around after a junk sinks—afraid but not terrified. It seems nearly all of the passengers and crew have survived, and the word spreads: a wangkang had been sailing with us. They had taken aboard as many as they could hold and were sailing for help. If we could manage not to drown for a few days, rescue was all but certain. With all the wreckage floating around to cling to, it seems a reasonable hope.

The contractions come in the night. Between the pain, the fear, and the exhaustion, my Pearl is dead by morning, and with her our child and my heart. I stop struggling then, but the water is calm, and not quite cold, and I float. I am floating when morning comes, and the shouts go up that a British ship has come and is pulling people out of the water. I am floating when the shouts turn panicky; the ship has taken all it can and it, too, is sailing away for help. At neither set of shouts do I even turn my head to look. I am still floating when the weather turns, the waves mount, and a driving rain turns the water around us to liquid ice.

I am certain I am not the last to die in the storm; I actually hear a man weeping in fear, the barrel to which he has lashed himself passing close enough I could reach out and touch it as the water closes over my head and all goes dark.

I am not the first, either.

Except for my heart.

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