the story of the sea
long long ago, before continents and countries, before cars and apartment-houses and ham sandwiches, there was just one big ocean stretching across the whole world. everybody lived in the underwater kingdom ruled by the kind and fair-minded king of the ocean. he lived with his wife the queen of the ocean and their four children in a large reef not far from what is now the western coast of this country.
with patience and deliberation the king and his family saw to the building of shoals and caves, the planting of the great seaweed forests, and the distribution of the ocean’s many fishes. they monitored the levels of salt in the water, and arbitrated the force and direction of waves. to accomplish all this they employed those who were of the right age and temperament to work, while the rest grew up or grew old in ease and comfort. truly, the time of the great ocean was a happy one on this earth.
but the reign of kings cannot last forever, and so it happened that the people of the ocean became dissatisfied with the way their kingdom ran. no one should have such power over the entire earth, they reasoned. this king is thoughtful and good, but what if the next is not? the people planted these seeds of doubt and distrust into the rich silt of the ocean bed, under the shoals and amongst the undulating strands of the kelp forests—and before long these seeds began to grow into land.
in the lush soils of the ocean floor the land grew quickly. by the time the people realized that the land they had sewn was spreading over the entire earth, it was already too late to stop it. so the people climbed aboard the land wherever they could, some ending in africa, some in asia, some in europe, and some in the americas. a few very unlucky souls landed in antarctica and were so cold that over the years they grew short and stooped, and their teeth grew into beaks from chattering. their arms grew into flippers from rubbing against their bodies, and from shuffling back and forth their feet grew into flippers. all the citizens of the great ocean escaped onto the masses of new land somehow, except the very old who do not like to change, and they became the mer-people.
but the king and his family could not simply move onto the land, because their very blood was water and their bodies spanned the length of the great ocean from end to end. as the ground grew the royal family realized that if they did not find a way to encircle the new masses of land, they would soon be torn apart. and so they were forced to escape not onto the land, but around it.
the king escaped first, and he became the pacific ocean. next came his eldest son, the prince who would have one day become king—instead he became the atlantic ocean. then the eldest daughter of the king and queen of the ocean escaped, followed by her sister, and they became the indian and the arctic oceans. at last the youngest child, still a boy-prince, just barely managed to escape the great growing masses of land in time. because he was so young, his father and elder brother placed him at their feet, and he became the southern ocean.
but the queen of the ocean, who had stayed behind to ensure her family’s safety, did not manage to escape in time and was torn to pieces by the shifting continents. the king, looking to his side in the pacific where he had expected to find her, was deeply grieved when he realized what had happened. he bellowed in a voice so loud it rumbled beneath the new formed continents, splitting and spreading them even further. he declared that forever thereafter although there would be many oceans, they would all be known by his beloved wife’s name, which had been Sea.
and that is also why when you dip your fingers into me at night, although i am rent to pieces by the discontent and despair of the world, i still have the power to soothe you.
E.C. Messer lives at the edge of the continent, where she encourages innocent pilgrims to dip their fingers into the sea when they can’t sleep. As president of the experimental travel society known as the Citizens for the Promotion of Running Away from Home, she gives sailboat tours and workshops in sandwich-making. Her stories have previously appeared inscribed on the backs of migrating gulls. She would like very much to know you.