—Captain, the pump seems to be adjusting its rhythm, it’s doing it to…..well to, don’t take me for a fool, to play music. Captain, do you hear me?
—I don’t take you for a fool.
—A regular rhythm, changing with the weather. What’s unbelievable is that it doesn’t always slow down. If there was a failure, it would slow down. But here, no, sometimes it speeds up too.
This book, my third read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2022, has a mystical theme, a cargo ship with a disreet female captain and a skeleton crew is crossing the Atlantic Ocean. In this ultra connected world where cargo ships and their proress are tracked by satelite, the captain takes the unheard of decision to stop the ship and to let all of the crew except herself, lowered in boats, go for a swim. No other ship comes near them in this time and the captain intends to make up for lost time before arriving at their destination. All takes place as imagined but there seems to be some doubt about the number of crew members, weren’t there only 20 who went swimming?
But all of they are thinking of the number, 21, at the strangeness of the sound of this number. It should be said that there are a lot of new, very young, ones this time, you can mix them up, they look the same these young muscular boys who thought they were going to discover America or conquer the world.****
Slowly the story takes on it’s mysterious form, firstly with the mysterious 21st passenger and then in the weather with the sensitive captain accepting the strangeness as first in this tropical area a mist descends upon them:
As if she had to feel it, feel it through her skin to understand what is happening to her, she pulls the metal door towards herself and exits. She wants to feel the consistency of the mist, to know it’s temperature. There, that’ll be her swim.****
And then, as illustrated in the opening quote, the ship itself seems to take on the mystical shape of the story, could it be the 22nd crew member?
A short poetical story, advancing at the slow but unstoppable speed of the ship itself into the unreal.
First Published in french as “Ultramarins” in 2021, by Quidam
*** my translation
The quotes as read in French before translation
Comme s’il fallait en passer, toujours en passer par la peau pour comprendre ce qui lui arrive, elle tire vers elle la porte métallique et sort. Elle veut sentir la consistance de cette brume, et connaitre la température. voilà, ce sera sa baignade à elle.
Mais tous ils pensent à ce nombre, 21, à l’étrangeté du son de ce nombre. Il faut dire qu’il y a beaucoup de nouveaux cette fois, de très jeunes, on s’y perd, ils se resemblent, ces petits gars musclés qui croyaient qu’ils allaient découvrir l’Amérique ou conquérir le monde.
—Commandante, on dirait que la pompe ajuste son tempo, qu’elle en joue, pour faire…… pour faire, ne me prends pas pour un fou, pour faire de la musique. Commandante, vous me recevez?
—Je ne vous prends pas pour un fou.
—Un rythme régulier, qui varie avec le temps. Ce qui est incroyable, c’est que ça ne ralentit pas toujours. Si c’était une panne, ça devrait ralentir. Mais là, non, parfois ça accélère aussi.