Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 9
First day at second island
My dearest Theodora,
I scarcely know how to begin writing, what with the month long ‘intermission’ in our correspondence. I could plead the excuse of ship’s duties or my studies or sickness - and there would be a certain veracity to all of these protests; the truth is I have neglected you out of simple homesickness and despair. Though my studies distract and the intricacies of the ship diverts, when I am alone in my berth I find myself doing naught but staring at the ceiling and dreaming of home. I will not bore you with endless lists of the things I miss; suffice to say I miss it all: petty annoyances and grand triumphs included, And do I even need to say that, perched ‘top the pile of absent things, is none but yourself, smiling enigmatically, your hair shining under a sun that I have not seen in far too long? No, I think that you already know this.
I think perhaps my mood has darkened by the experience of wandering ‘bout the island that we have most recently arrived at. It is only the second one we have found, in all our journey, and all were so eager to set foot ‘pon land that the crew directed the ship to the island of their own accord, and there was a great clamor to join in the party that would make landfall. Many were disappointed in their hopes, as this island seems to exert a most powerful magnetic attraction on the detritus that floats all about this sea: the island was ringed with chunks of metal and machines, rusting refuse from lands unknown - in short, the approach to the island was hazardous in the extreme and Glasikis (who seems more and more to be assuming command of this motley group) opted not to risk an overly large group of the crew. The expeditionary team was thus limited to but myself, Glasikis, and the sullen Reinglod brothers. There was no conversation on the journey ashore - the brothers had been set a-rowing, while Glasikis and I sat in relative comfort; Glasikis himself did naught but fix me with that peculiarly penetrating stare that has, of late, been the only expression he seems capable of when I am about. For myself, I kept quiet and thought of home.
And perhaps it was the most jarring contrast between those thoughts and the reality in which I found myself, on island’s beach, that caused my soul to be near overwhelmed by melancholy. Yes, there is a certain beauty to this island (as there was to the first): the shore rust, the wanton piles of junk and broken machinery that comprise the bulk of the islands interior, the strange glow that takes over the sky; yes, all these things have a rare and alien beauty that would, I do not doubt, take your breath away. But for me, so far and so long from home, I see not the beauty but the strangeness - the utterly alien shapes and colors, the world so unlike our own, so unlike the London streets where we fell in love. Standing there, on that rusted beach, I felt myself infinitely far from all that I know and love, and I was seized with a great weariness, a thorough exhaustion. Every fiber of my being cried out for rest, rest, rest in a familiar place; to have been able to lay my body ‘pon a feather bed at that moment would have been heaven.
So it was with a heavy heart and a drowsy step that I made my way to the interior of the island, to see if any new and unusual strains of life were to be found (I do not recall if I told you of this, but the discoveries I made on the first island were unusual in the extreme, possibly revolutionary; would that I could resurrect the fierce joy of discovery that had filled me then). And I cannot say that the surroundings did much to lighten my mood: it was much like walking through a vast and ancient scrapyard. Narrow paths wound between cyclopean piles of broken machinery (had I been more intent on my exploration, I might have thought to wonder ‘bout how these paths had come to be) and came close to blotting out the eerie glow of the sky. In that hushed twilight, I espied things like unto flowers, but quite different from the ‘flowers’ that I had found on the first island. Where the latter crowned huge metalo-vegetal mounds, whose steely roots reached deep into the surface, these were delicate things: a fragile stem growing from slight cogs and gears, topped with a filigree of metallic sheeting and wire. They reminded of me nothing so much of those poppies - ah, I remember poppies that I gifted you with, on the afternoon of our first meeting. Sweet their smell was, and their ambers and violets caught in your eyes as you smile ‘pon my offering.
I cannot bear it. I cannot write more now. Not now. Soon, my love, I will resume but, until then I remain, despairingly,
Francis St. James
P.S. I would be remiss if I did not offer a sincere, if belated, thanks for your parting gift. Though I did not see the purpose of a bird cage at the time, I have had occasion to put it to good use.