Evan Quinlan

Fishing

In Fiction, Short Stories on August 14, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Poor of constitution as I am, I took my sister, Lydia, with me as a chaperone on my daily walks along the grey Atlantic shore. The ocean air, my doctors said, would help me to breathe easier, and while they were right, my lungs still felt like those ichthyic wretches who gasp for breath at the ends of fishermen’s hooks. At some point during my walk, my breath would abandon me, and at that time I needed Lydia by my side.

Her brown curls flew in the morning’s sharp wind, and her free hand–the other being upon my arm–kept her hat from joining the gulls that rode the gale above our heads. We walked alone on the beach.

“No Mrs. Grotton today,” I said. “I suspect the wind is too much for her.”

“The wind is too much for you,” Lydia retorted, “and yet, here we are.” She turned and smiled at me, the battered brim of her hat plastering itself aside her cheek.

We strode in silence a minute or two more before Lydia let loose a cry of wonder.

“Look, Bert!” She said, squeezing my arm tightly with one hand and pointing with the other, so that her hat at last made its escape and flew behind her.

“Your hat!” I said, turning, but Lydia seemed not to notice it had gone. Instead, she released me and bolted forward, insensitive to the sand she kicked up with her heels. As I turned once more windward to regard her flight, that sand came into my face and eyes, so that squeezing shut my eyelids only worsened the pain.

“Lydia!” I called out. “You’ve blinded me!”

I stumbled, disorientated, sure that my lungs would momentarily mutiny against their stricken captain, but I kept my balance and, producing a handkerchief, dabbed at my eyelashes until I had the courage to try parting them to see what had caused my sister to so callously abandon me.

Through my tears, I saw her kneeling on the sand, her head bowed to look at something on the beach just beside her. I ambled forward, blinking, attempting to focus on whatever it was. Lydia must have heard my approach but barely seemed to notice; rather, she spoke in hushed tones that barely came to me on the breeze.

“Bert,” she said, “It’s beautiful.”

What little I could see confirmed her sentiment, for the object at her knees was golden, shining brighter than the grey sky should allow. Though metallic, veins of some mineral similar to quartz crystal permeated its bizarre form, all twists and curves and strange angles that seemed at once to reject cohesion but still orchestrate a meaningful whole. One two feet long, the object seemed to imply a vaguely humanoid figure, though aberrant in its dimensions, twisted into a pose that conveyed power and majesty but bursting with the potential for violence like a coiled snake.

“What is it?” I asked, my voice tremulous and insubstantial against the wind.

“It’s mine,” said Lydia. “You got the house and the estate and the firm–this is mine.”

I thought this a strange and disturbing non sequitur. Lydia knew I would freely give to her whatever she required from my inherited estate. Having discussed the subject at length, I’d considered her, in fact, more than satisfied at our arrangements. Then, I thought, this is just a product of the girlish excitement that’s come from finding some treasure in the sand; Lydia was caught up in her own adventure story, and, despite being the sickly bore I was, I would not hamper her well-deserved moment of fantasy.

“Of course!” I shouted, trying for all the world to sound the amicable companion to the intrepid explorer. “Why, this discovery will bring you fame and fortune, my dear!”

I saw her reach down and gingerly lift the thing in her arms. As she did so, I noticed what I had not, in my sand-blinded state, seen before: a gold chain, its links twisted and gleaming. It lifted lightly from the sand as my sister stood with her prize, which struck me oddly since my sister, though healthy, had never demonstrated much strength, yet the myriad links of metal, which stretched into the invisible depths beyond the shore, seemed to ignore completely the powerful gusts that tore at my jacket and trousers.

“How mysterious!” I shouted, still attempting to play my part, though at this point some unspoken warning had begun to climb my spine toward a place where it might be recognized and heeded. “What do you think it’s attached to?” I asked, pointing with my cane toward the shallows into which the chain disappeared.

It was then that Lydia turned to face me and I saw, in her face, that which I had not expected to see: resignation; dread; sadness, as though the wisdom of a millennium had suddenly heaved itself upon her shoulders and whispered debilitating truths into her naive and unsuspecting ear.

“I can never let it go,” she said. Her stare bore into me, her brown eyes seeming to plead for forgiveness.

And I glanced at the thing in her arms, the impossible thing, and I admit shamefully that for a moment my heart desired it, and I forgot my sister and the gulls and the shore and knew only that to possess this object would be tantamount to enlightenment, that it was a key to unlock the true world and it was within my reach.

“I… I…” was all I could murmur before I saw the chain grow taut and jerk Lydia a little off balance. She took one feeble step, her foot sinking into the soft, wet sand at the surf’s edge.

“I love you, Bert,” she said, and then she was running, stumbling through the shallow water, trying to keep pace with the chain that now quickly and relentlessly receded beneath the substantial waves. I knew now intuitively that the other end was not in the shallows but beyond, somewhere deeper, hidden from the world of ships and fishermen’s nets and divers, the kind of place seen by the lifeless eyes of sailors who had drowned over the deep sea. The kind of place from which nothing can return.

“Lydia!” I shouted, the trinket’s spell upon me at last broken. “Lydia, let go!” I pursued her and quickly lost my cane in the soft earth, but I kept after her, splashing, kicking, and wheezing, until my lungs at last gave in and I fell, face first into the waves.

My last memory of Lydia is the sight of her brown curls splayed momentarily upon the frothy surface, letting the heavens once more admire their innocent beauty, before being pulled beneath the water, never again to be seen by any man, woman, child, or–I suspect–anything good or native to God’s natural order upon the Earth.

As I walk along the grey Atlantic shore, which I still do daily, I watch always for the glint of metal amid the seashells and water-worn stones. And I wonder, when I see it, will I look away…?

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