Notes On The Upper Bunk

February 27, 2020

Amelia Austin, Smith College

The author, Amelia, at the wheel about 100 nm off the North Cape of New Zealand AND The on-watch observed several full rainbows off the bow

The author, Amelia, at the wheel about 100 nm off the North Cape of New Zealand AND The on-watch observed several full rainbows off the bow

Amelia, who you can just see, with the red hat looking forward.

Amelia, who you can just see, with the red hat looking forward.

In between steep ocean swells, I grip the ladder rails for stability and lower myself below deck. My weight shifts side to side, and I stumble. The light remains dim but it must have looked as if I was walking in complete darkness with my hands out in front of me, making my way to my bunk. The port holes usually offer decent lighting below. Today, the transparent disks - no more than a foot in diameter - bring us close to the ocean surface and drown our view in blue, a glimpse into a washing machine tide. Just for a second, we find ourselves under the waves, watching air bubbles hurry their way upwards, looking like the jelly fish tank I saw at the aquarium last year. On this particular afternoon, my neighbors have their port holes latched and covered. I finally reach the ledge of the upper bunk, still swaying in the dim light, and find a step that will assist my climb.

A set of white curtains hides my only personal space on this journey. I've tried multiple strategies to maneuver my way into this crib gracefully, but what ever I do feels like an interpretive dance, trying to lift my arms and legs and rolling torso. I hoist myself rear-end first, followed by chest and arms, followed by legs and toes. I land in a sitting position, and my stomach churns. The yellow lamp above my pink pillowcase fills this personal cabin with light, so I draw my curtains closed and begin to shuffle around my things. Everything is within arm's reach, organized in no particular order, in this flower-box-like shelf. But instead of flowers, it holds my toiletries, harness, water bottle, and hiking boots. I lay down. At full length, I push my backpack against the wall with my feet and glance at the blue paper butterfly on the wall that my mom gave me for some personal flair.

The waves still churn outside the hull, and I am buoyant in my bed. Time works a little differently around the ship. I will be up at dawn and asleep at noon, on deck watching the swells twinkle in both sunlight and starlight. For now my knees rock back and forth in bed. I hear the bow slap against the tide and the soft drum of our generator from even further below deck. The hum of the hallway fan cuts through the peaks of white caps. Dishes clink in the galley and blissful chatter fill the main salon. Behind the port hole, rainbows dip under clouds and wishful sailors dream of whale spouts in the distance. With the lights now out, I am swarmed with darkness, ready for my afternoon nap.

- Amelia Austin, Smith College

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