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If Wishes Came True

Chapter One

One morning the village men carried my father’s body up from where they had found it, gray and bloated on the sea shore. Last night there had been a storm as sudden and fierce as an aroused lion. Every man had managed to force their small fishing boats back to shore and safety before the winds grew too strong. Every man… but my father.

With my thickest cloak wrapped around me, I had stood on the rocky beach, scanning the horizon as the fog drew closer and my line of sight became a circle that tightened around me. The rising, wild waves and howling gales finally forced me to retreat and stumble my way back to the small cabin I have shared with my father my entire life. I knew then that my father would not be coming back.

When the storm faded the next morning, leaving behind a tired gray sky and an ocean as calm as an innocent face, my things were already packed. I had few clothes, all the colors of the sea and the rock my village stands on, shades of gray and black and dusky blues. All I folded into a satchel, along with my scattered belongings. A necklace made up of a teardrop of green glass hanging on a black cord, a gift from my father on my thirteenth birthday. A small bag, poorly sewn by my friend Tildy when she was little. In it, I placed my comb and other small things.

And lastly my collection of seashells.

I grew up by the ocean my entire life, in the village of Ciago. We were perched on a small bluff above a rocky shore, where the fishermen set out every morning in their small and fragile crafts. They returned in the afternoon with their catch and hauled it to the village, to load into barrels or carts to be wheeled to market. Every single thing in our village smelled of fish. The homes, the streets, our clothes, our hair, our fingertips, our beds and our skin. As a child, I did not notice the smell; it was like a constant companion walking so close to me I could no more detect it than I could see the small of my back. But as I grew older the companion backed away from me – or I backed away from it, I do not know which – and it became like a thorn digging into me, irritating me with every step. I detested the smell and look and taste and feel of fish. I detested the ocean with only a slightly lesser fervency.

The only thing I loved that came from the ocean was seashells. Every day, the waves of the ocean rose like hands carrying gifts, than deposited their presents in the cracks between the rocks. When the fishermen had cast away and disappeared into the flat horizon, I wandered down the shore and found shells. When one catches my eye, I pick it up and run my fingers along its surface, feeling the softness of an object worn by water. If it tells me it wants to be kept, I keep it. If it tells me it wants to stay with the water, I leave it. Some shells decide to be kept for only a while before they ask for the ocean again or complain that my seashell collection is growing too cluttered, so I return them to make room for new ones.

Right now, I have a cupped handful’s worth. They are pearly colors and all different shapes, worn smooth as a child’s skin. They are beautiful and they are the only thing the ocean gives that I love.

The ocean gives me things, and it takes away things, caring not a whit for what I think. When I was born, my mother died from the difficult labor, and was given to the ocean’s cold and eternal embrace. Now my father’s still form will be given to its depths as well.

The morning after the storm, villagers from Ciago went scavenging through the rocks, searching for debris, wood, or rare shells to sell. It was the fisherman Enzo who first found my father – his body battered as though he had been flogged, his limbs limp and in odd positions around him.

More men came and lifted the body, carrying him back to the village for the priest’s blessing and then to take him to sea, wrapped with a chain for weight, to rest forever on the ocean’s floor.

I stood by the edge of the street, watching the fishermen as they carried the last of my family past me. I reached up to touch my cheek and was surprised to find one tear there, sliding down to my chin.

I felt little sadness. My father had been more than half-dead for a long, long time. I could remember a time when I was a little girl that I had been his darling, he my comforting arms and laughter when the village children teased me.  When I was very young, I had not hated the sea so much, and my father had shown me the different kinds of fish he caught, the sea’s rich bounty that Ciago was famous for. He had laughed when I cringed as he gutted them and gave me fish morsels that were piping hot after he cooked them over coals.

We had been father and daughter – we had been friends. But when I was nine years old, everything had changed. My father and his partner had brought in little fish that day, and came back to land early. As they were walking down the street to their homes, a rider had lost control of his antsy horse, and the mount had swung and knocked my father off of his feet. He had fallen in the path of a large wagon carrying a heavy load that had run over his leg and broken the bone in several places. While the limb had healed in time, my father walked with a heavy limp from then on. Angry at everything from the horse and the wagon to the world, but unable to do anything but snarl about it, my father had become a bitter, complaining man.

He had also become a loner, fishing on his own and catching little. Instead of attending the village school, I had to take on odd jobs to buy our food and pay for our housing. I had cleaned, mended, tended children, baked, swept, and slowly earned a few coppers here and there. I had left in the morning after my father went to sea, and came home with school books in my hand as though I had been learning. None of the villagers told – they had known how great my father’s wrath would be.

I pulled my cloak of mourning tight around me and watched the remains of her father disappear into the village chapel. Even these many years later, my father still didn’t know what I had done. He had been oblivious to the few coppers that had appeared in his purse, to the food that I brought back after school. Ofttimes I had wondered if he would have cared had he known. I doubted it.

He had become a walking dead man, many years ago.

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