When the sailor leaves, the woman in the port does not get back into bed and wait, eyes shut like a doll. No, she is busy, busy, washing sheets, gutting fish, sweeping out her house. She has a thousand things to do. Yet as she scrubs out pots, scrubs her hands, makes the trip to market, she cannot keep the sailor and his ship from her mind’s eye. She is compelled to look out to sea and sigh.
For, even though she is practical, and often fierce, the woman in the port is as much a sucker for romance as the girl in the turret, the princess in the garden, the debutante, the country maid, the fool. She knows the kisses she blows from the harbour wall sink into the waves and never reach his lips, but she blows them anyway. She knows that when the sailor purses his lips on the sea-sprayed deck, it is to whistle, or suck rum, between his tiresome tasks. It is not to blow her kisses that will sink into the waves and never reach her.
The woman in the port is busy, busy. She plants seeds, she mends her summer dresses, she writes letters. Some of these she does not send. These are to the women in the other ports, who may or may not be busy, but who, she knows, are compelled to look out to sea and sigh. Their kisses, also, must fall into the waves unused. She wonders if there are enough, hers and all of theirs, to make drifts of kisses that will float out on the sea like foam, gradually dropping, to hang in the water and be pecked at by dim-witted fish.
The woman in the port is practical, and often fierce. She pounds her wet washing until her hands are raw. She guts fish with tenacity, blunting her knife in an hour. When each night comes she measures out her kisses at the harbour wall and then washes out her mouth with strong liquor. Some of this she swallows.
‘To love,’ she says, raising her empty glass. ‘To all us women in the ports.’