Off the Coast of Ceylon by Vincent Barry

Off the Coast of Ceylon
Off the Coast of Ceylon

Off the Coast of Ceylon

“Somehow I never could care for other women after that, and I ain't never married for that reason.”

I guess that’s how I feel, looking back—like the mate, I mean, with the patriarchal beard in some story or other, who, as a twenty-year-old deep sea diver, went down to bring up the body of a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl who had been aboard a mail packet that had gone down with all on board in a squall off Trincomalee. Though a mere lad, he could take the pressure of seventy pounds, could the mate— no mean feat, mind you,— and the boy found the girl, floating toward him in a little state-room, smiling with wide flashing eyes and holding out her arms, as if for a hug or abetment. Imagine something like that! And beyond, in the still green water he left her,— imagine!— so she’d always remain, he said, young and fresh and pretty, and nineteen. I guess that’s how I feel, looking back.

Will, we need to talk more. “Why? Talking is overrated.” You would say that.

“Would I? Why?”

Because you have a ghostly, peremptory heart. “Me?”

I know, I should talk.

“You should talk—that’s funny.” Ironic, you mean.

“So—what? I’m a bossy ironic ghost?” Conversing with the ghost of an old passion. I protest. “Not old, never—!”

Then, feeling with the mind a gentle, ghostly caress, we make, for the first time ever really, tender-hearted love.

Afterward, You’re right. “About?”


“What about it?” It is overrated.

“’S why,” I get out stiffly, “we can do it now—tenderly.” Precisely what our times need.

“You mean,” I go, “other than a well-directed lightning bolt on a green at Mar-a-Lago?” Tenderness, with just a hint of a stiff unused smile, tenderness towards the body. “Towards sex,” I say, knowingly, sadly, lamentably.

Now you got it. Then, sipping through a crooked smile and slanting tongue a straw of turmeric ginger tea with honey dusted purplish white, He was right.

D.H. Lawrence, I know she means, and I flash on Blix.“Norris, too,” I say.

Then, with a queer tremor in her murmurous voice, Aren’t you forgetting someone else? which unlocks, it does, a cageful of feelings that, well, they part my lips is what they do, in a frozen gasp, because, y’know, I know she means Humphry.

“Bogart?” I go, naturally trying to make light, before quivering off into hot tears. Derek, Silly-Willy.

What is it they call her “shipwreck”?—a “cryptogenic stroke”? Orgasm-triggered. Rare, mind you, in young women,—but so, too, shipwrecks off the coast of Ceylon that leave young divers to heed what old divers say about drowned people staying alive just so long as they stay below, and themselves to become old mates, with a vision "Fine, fine; oh, fine as gold!”


©2019 Vincent Barry


After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Saint Ann’s Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, he Broken City, Abstract:Contemporary Expressions, Kairos, Caveat Lector,Terror House, and The Fem. Barry lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara, California.

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