The cold, salty wind whipped at his hair and clothes. Waves crashed below, sending sprays of salty mist over him. He shivered and let them wash away the layers of soot and sweat from his face. A large wave crested and whitened with rage, charging the solid concrete pillars of the rig and exploding against them. The water showered over Todd, dripping from his hair, soaking into his grimy jeans. His hands gripped the icy rail, turning red with the cold, but he barely noticed. He loved ocean storms. It seemed the harder the wind howled and the higher the waves crashed, the calmer his heart felt. The oil rig was solid beneath his feet, and that only seemed to frustrate the stormy seas. The waves were rising higher, with deep troughs in between them.
"Todd, for Christ's sakes, come inside! The wind's a hundred miles per hour!"
The man's yell was faint, competing with the howling wind. Todd turned to see his boss, Jim, dirty blond hair plastered to his head.
"I'll be there in a minute!" He yelled back.
"This is no time for a smoke, son. I won't see my best worker washed off the platform to sleep with the fishes."
Todd smiled despite himself. "If she wants me, she can have me!" He shouted, flinging his arms in invitation to the raging sea. "Is that all you've got?" His loudest yell was whisked away on the gales, muffled in the mist, and buried under the thunderous crash of each approaching wave.
Todd closed his eyes and let it all wash over him. This was why he was here. To escape the hard, dry, shallow life on land. The ocean's power was enough to overwhelm his rage, dissolve his grief, and erode his guilt, leaving him empty and exhausted. It reminded him how small he was, being surrounded by water as far as he could see and as deep as he could imagine. And yet it reminded him of her.
Jim grunted and came to stand beside him, nearly slipping on the wet concrete. "It's magnificent, isn't it?" Though they were side by side, he was still required to shout to be heard above the water. The waves were still far below but the rain and spray came at them from all angles, soaking every inch of them. Water ran from Jim's hair into his eyes and down his red nose. "Hell hath no fury like an ocean storm."
"What do you think made her so angry?" Todd asked, shaking water from his eyes.
"Perhaps her man left her for a younger and calmer sea. Maybe a freshwater lake."
Todd smiled grimly at the jest. Jim watched the younger man, observing his expression with a knowing frown. "It's the girl, isn't it? She still plagues you." Jim spat, careful not to aim against the wind.
"For a rig with a hundred men, we spend a lot of time talking about women."
There was a pause in the force of the storm, the crashing waves subsiding for a brief moment of breathless hesitation.
"You can't escape her, you know. An offshore rig may be the most solitary place on earth, but you could take a spaceship to the moon and her ghost would still follow you there."
Todd didn't respond; Jim grunted and turned to leave. "You better get inside before you give yourself pneumonia."
"It was my fault."
Jim stopped. Todd never offered information about his past. He came back to stand beside him once more. Jim gripped the rail, in his large calloused hands, his wide shoulder came up to Todd's ear. Todd said nothing more, and Jim did nothing to encourage him.
A huge wave swelled up, threatening to rise over their heads. The two of them stood side by side, facing it head on. It broke on the pillar beneath their feet, roaring and foaming angrily.
Todd's eyes burned from the stinging saltwater. The waves calmed for a minute. The water level was sinking lower and lower, but he could feel the current building beneath the deceptively smooth surface. Something caught his attention in the suddenly smooth and quiet water. A flash of silver light in the corner of his eye, but it was gone before he could realize it had happened, and the tide surged up again. As far as he could see the water rolled and churned, as if trying to stir up the annoyingly calm grey sky. Todd closed his eyes and let the wind take him to that horizon where the grey sky met the grey sea. Perhaps somewhere in that swirling colourless world was the peace he sought. Or the punishment he deserved.