Call me when you get there.
(Salvo and Theresa)
The room in which the man lays is musky and Salvo and Theresa stifle their urge to voice their repulsion. They are focused, their mission driving them to composure as they sneak through the open shuttered window of the school. He lies dormant, this sea-carried figure, the waxy quality of his skin echoing the salty bream of a churning tide.
Theresa, emboldened, is the first to approach. She has always been a strider, this inability to hold back, to consider first and then act, not simply an adolescent flaw she must out-grow. It is in her, a burning recklessness. She wields the confidence of one too hard-headed and fool-hardy, and this she may come to one day resent. She is captured on the ebbing waves of her own whims, and thus has gained the skilful assurance of a cat, the magnanimity of her boldness capturing in turn those to seek to follow her. Theresa, an adventurous spirit, is unlike Salvo in his desire to be freed from childhood. She clings to this blissful world of play, she cares not for grown ups and the strains of the adult world. This will be their first major parting, though not their last.
Not possessing enough self-awareness, Theresa does not comprehend the growing unease of the villagers, the way they raise their eyebrows at her boisterous antics, the further her age creeps and the closer to womanhood she rises. Salvo is not the only one with love-struck eyes, and they whisper about her slender form, the growing poise of her bare shoulders, the loss of childish innocence in her feline features. And Salvo, her greatest admirer, her dearest friend, he follows without hesitation. He would follower her anywhere. Perhaps he, too, will learn to regret this blind devotion.
But in the here and now, the two children venture towards the man. A makeshift bed, the hasty shoving together of hard-backed school desks, prompts their brashness and they move like a pair of intrepid explorers towards the man.
“Don’t,” Salvo warns, unconsciously echoing the words of his father as Theresa stops mid movement, hand outstretched lily-pad pink. She looks at him playfully, his heightened stance that of a child mimicking adult authority. She ignores his attempts at the rope-worn sway.
“Come on, Salvo. I just want to see him,” her cobalt eyes narrow, “Or, are you scared?”
“Of course I’m not,” Salvo responds hastily, willing his feet to shuffle him forward to prove his point.
He inspects the man close up and is shocked by the sight. The ghastly visage from the morning has shifted, deepened and bloomed into something resembling human. His salt matted hair is long, his ocean crusted clothes surprising thin and frail. This was not a man accustomed to the tempers of the sea. Even his shoes, slick black leather, told of clean, wide city streets. Salvo pondered the bizarre attire, thinking of his father in his tough knotted boots and gnarled maroon sea-wear. This was a man clearly unused to the perils of the island.
“He looks like a business man,” Salvo noted, “Why would he wash up here? He obviously hasn’t been sailing, look at him.”
“‘Call me when you get there.’”
Salvo looked up to Theresa, who had moved around the sedentary body, Salvo’s outward musings lost to her as she stood by the feet and stared intently at something.
“Someone has written something on the soles of his shoes, come, look for yourself.”
Salvo came to stand by her and saw what she had been reading. Indeed, he could make it out, something had been scratched, carved messily like the poems of lovers in tree bark, on the bottoms of the man’s pristine shoes. Call me when you get there.
Before Salvo could open his mouth to speak, to posture the question of the meaning that stood before them, a distant creaking intruded upon the scene and all at once the door to the room crashed open and the man, as though pulled by some invisible string, bolted upright and began to scream.
The sound was one of horror and the chaos that ensued coiled around the room and refused to let go long enough for Salvo to ponder the ghostly whites of the man’s vacant eyes.
“The Eddy! The Eddy!” the man yelled, the gargling husk of a voice bracingly powerful. The throaty hue reeked of ancient sea water and Salvo blanched, backed away in fear.
The grownups who had entered, somehow sensing the awakening, anticipating the presence of these too curious children, now stormed the space. Salvo’s father was among them and his expression flashed darkly as he caught the sight of his son, crimson-faced and open-mouthed. Salvo gulped, the trouble he was bound to be in now making him sheepish, the leathery shouts of the man, now thrashing violently as the men leaped to restrain him, filling Salvo’s galloping fear.
Towering and furious, Salvo’s father opened his mouth and advanced towards his son, who shrunk back instinctively. However, a beat of something unknown halted his father for a split second, his enormous stature freezing in place. Unusual, this shell-bound hesitation, for Salvo’s father was a man of action. When words escaped his unlearnt grasp, and they often made themselves elusive to him, he found comfort in the steadfast nature of action. And so this feebleness, a barred entry to impulsion and the jolting shock of uncertainty caught him suddenly. Then, quick as a whip, this falter resided beneath his authority and he rushed, not to his son, but to the girl.
Salvo, who took a beat to recognise the target of his approach, could only watch helplessly. Theresa, now lay splayed out on the floor, limbs emanating from her unconscious body. He blinked incredulously, catching only the frantic movements of his father, the stillness of Theresa, before sturdy bodies blocked his view and gentle hands pried him from the room.
The next days felt like they were being reeled back, the film playing backwards so that Salvo could not distinguish the words or places of anything he tried to clasp ahold of in his nimble fingers. His mother was unable to placate him, and he was cold in his response, fighting her sincerity with silence and willing everyone to stop treating him like a child. As though he were a delicate treasure, something that could break without warning. He longed to see Theresa, who had taken ill and had not been allowed from her bed since the incident. Her mother, distraught and increasingly susceptive to paranoia, had attempted to unite the village in a witch hunt. She had demanded the expulsion of the washed up man, whom everyone had now taken to referring to as The Eddy, seeing as any attempts at interrogation had been met with blank regard and the repetition of this odd name.
Salvo’s own father had been the one to squish the attempted coo, settled the matter simply by stating that it would be an unchristian act to abandon the man who had washed up on their very own shores. Whilst skeptical of superstition and the hysteria that had now settled like a sharp layer of dust over the entire village, Salvo’s father believed the folklore of the retributive sea, and thus came to see the incident as a signal of the sea’s mystic will. The fishermen, those ancient creatures, so stoic and wordless, had agreed with him, and so that was that, and the village accustomed itself with this new reality.
Cooped up inside, Salvo felt the stirring of desire for mischief once more. Unable to pace listlessly around the small circle of his bedroom for one second longer, he had ignored the orders of his parents and now found himself carefully picking his way across the wind swept cliff edge to the outskirts of the village. The sky was a furious blue, and the grey hued clouds buffeted above in the torrid wind. Salvo held his jacket tight and fought his way across the spotted gorse, trampling the weary sea lavender under foot, the last reminders of summer.
Salvo was mulling over the infuriating nature of his current existence, his rampant thoughts once more returning to Theresa. The latent image of her outstretched hand, fingers curled unnaturally in budding quotation marks.
Strange things, marred by the invention of coincidence, often occur by the sea, and so it is that Salvo’s thoughts, straying as they did, appeared to conjure up the very real figure in the distance, her long hair swinging wildly against the blustery weather.
His heart seized, joy trampling all previous sentiments of greyness in wonderful tones of emerald sea glass. Mind racing with all the things he had been longing to voice to her, he moved to a graceless run. But then, the figure broke, split, multiplied into unfamiliarity and Salvo stopped in his tracks. For it was Theresa, of that he was sure, the long pull of her legs, the glowing gold of her curls recognisable to him from any such distance. But there were others. They swarmed one another, laughing, joking, the secrets of girls bandying between them with such ease and Salvo felt something dark bloom in the pit of his stomach. All in billowing fabrics, the girls carved a striking collection, the blood red vibrancy of their dresses, dancing through the wind and recalling the squawking of birds. A terrifying flock christened in rouge, they seemed to dance before Salvo’s straining eyes. Torn, he stood, the budding anger of the sight filling his vision, the proof of Theresa here, healthy and throwing back her head to let out shrieks of glee mimed back to her by the other girls. He clenched his fist at the lie, the apparent joke held at his expense. They all laughed at him, pitied him. Poor Salvo, the boy who wanted to become a man. Maybe everyone knew, Theresa, his parents, the whole village, even the sea mocked him with its swirling secrets.