This village hovers on the precipice. It stands at a crossroads, somewhere middling, straddling the meeting points of the sea and the mountains. It is here that the world was envisioned, but in time, it has been forgotten. Cities erupted and claimed all of it’s kin, the lure of those sky scrapping forces as tempting as ever. However changed by time and seasons of life, the village still stands. It’s inhabitants, lost to the old ways, busy themselves with forgetting. A kind of collective amnesia has settled like dust.
The sea, she is a forgotten heroine. Her name has long been lost, left out to dry on limp tongues, as faded as cured meat. Now she is viewed through new biopic eyes; as a fisherman’s blushing bride, coy, to be coaxed into agreement; or else as a scorned lover, the blood red fizzing of the tempest, the villain, a malice. Whilst the history of men has been spun into gold, their fingers reaching as far as the eye can see, from land, to sky, to sea - she has retreated into hazy mis-remembering.
Men are beloved for their creation. They hold court over every living thing, and relish in their own cycle of destruction. However, men have forgotten that they have only inherited the land on which they stand. The backbone, the very particles of that which they have rebuilt, denies the chestnut centre of all that does not belong to them. They have built on lies and false fantasies of ownership. The flesh in which they have furnished the world is corrupted, greying, but they cannot see this decaying flesh, beneath the shine of wealth.
As they rear their own, they warn against wandering aimlessly into the world of the imagined. Valuing assets and knowledge above all, they have forgotten to dream. There are some, of course, the children, whose minds wander unbidden into the lands of make believe. In the village they play endlessly. Whittling cavalry and brave soldiers from the sand, painting dreams in the stone steps and singing of maidens drowning at sea. They play at lost lovers calling from the sea’s edge whilst under the surface, they elate in the newness of fins and gills. But, like most things, the children cannot remain static forever. Once grown, they shed these fantasies and come to loose their sense of adventure within a greying world.
But for now, the adults anxiously curb the children and their fitful discoveries. They are warned once more by the stern-faced preacher: “Keep your wits about you, be cunning and see the world through skeptical eyes.” The dock-workers and hard-booted mercenaries catch the children by the scruff, yellowing teeth and leathery skin flashing as they hiss to the backs of their necks: “Don’t be too quick to believe the things spun out by reckless village girls or half-worthy boys playing at being men.” Mothers seek out their children’s precious ears, cultivating pearls as they caution against fantastical wonderings: “Remember, stray too long in foreign lands and you will loose all sense of yourself. The beasts inside these pretend worlds, they do not see the same colours as you or I.”
But in the sea there brews a change. It canters across the waters’ edge and splits itself in shards of vermillion, amber, persimmon, all manors of red, tumbling to slash the sky. The rising of the sun streaks the harbour, the beach, and all is quiet in the harkening of this strange red morning. A closing of day break envelops the fishermen, who consolidate the slimness of light with their waiting. It encase them, a visceral wound, glowing with the welcoming of it’s children. The fishermen stoop like herons across the horizon, illuminated in the early morning stillness, and the boy, a mere slip of a thing, watches them from the shore.
Now comes the waiting. The squirm and wail and grumbling beast that rocks the harbour free of dew, until all is awakening and tempering sunlight. The boy, Salvo, feels the beast and welcomes the crush of time in his hands, feels the coming to life of his home.
He cuts a lone figure in the dawning light. Standing a ways away, cutting the gorge of the shore with a stick he has found, the beach on which he stands a desolate plain. Salvo is alone on the beach, a small figure calling to the sky’s edge. The village sleeps behind his back. They know the boy as the son of his father, his namesake- a great man, a heralded man. And since this is a village in many ways alike to other such villages, everything is known by everyone: there goes no one undetected. As a fisherman, Salvo’s father has become one with a long line of temperate men. Enduring men- men who live by the seasons and take only that which has been afforded to them by the sea, their beloved mistress. Salvo’s father is not a man of beauty. He measures the world in it’s weight, solidifies himself with fact and the simple currencies of his daily ritual. His is a contented life, though the one worry that plagues his wind-battered exterior, is his son. For unlike his father, Salvo looks not down to the ground, the solid earth where mottled morning rain carving spirals in the sand, but instead he looks upwards, to the sky. And unlike his father, and his father before him, and his father long before him, his is not a rough beauty. The village holds this peculiar difference like a precious stone. The other village boys, merciless, taunting, hold Salvo’s rarity as a sign of something unreachable, and thus it is something to be used against him. Salvo seems to seek out the sounds and sways of the sea, the sky; he is remarkable in the crooked kilns of his knees and the inky blackness of his hair. For his is a startling beauty, as natural as washed up amethyst. More than that, is his strangeness, the ethereal likeness that raps itself around him and warns at keeping distance from all who encounter him. That is what troubles his father over all else. It is this unreachable quality his son possesses. The vagueness in his dark gaze and the illegible thread of his most inner thoughts.
Salvo listlessly traces the sand as he observes the carved focus of the men, seeking out the weather-worn form of his father. Salvatore Messina stands, motionless, a concrete cut-out of a man seeming to be rooted in the very depths of the sea itself. There is no vacillation, no hardened free line which defines this fisherman. Head swings down into darkened body, which lengthens into solid mass of wood and nails, and then endlessly it sprawls into the deepening summoning of the water. Salvo sees this image of his father, carved in his strength, his unwavering gaze. Waiting. He kicks the dampened sand and unwinds the desire to be unconfined by the shallows of the shore. He longs to join the men. He pines for the sway of the current, the secret of adulthood too far out of his reach. The boats gleam themselves against his senseless wanderings, caring not for the hopes of this young boy who watches and dreams of standing side by side with the unreachable silence of his father. They do not look up to see the silhouette of the boy, their gaze is fixed out to the stillness, beguiled by the simmering water which crawls to meet the sand where Salvo waits.
He laments the unfairness of the world, the wretchedness of his meager age and the teasing slowness of growing up. Careening forward, he dispels the aching by cutting a winding path through the air with his arm. He unleashes himself, running along, making a game of narrowly avoiding the creeping insistence of the water’s edge. The waves begin to marry with the sound of Salvo’s playful dance, and even the birds, the creatures, all the willows, come to attention. They watch the boy with a sense of the shifting, a slight sourness in the early morning air signalling the metamorphosis.
Salvo halts in his whirling, hears a wizened sound out from sea. The pause hangs, trembling, terrible. A hare’s breathe of anticipation as he lavishes in the thrill of being found out.
Salvo looks down and sees the inky mass before him, blackening the opaque sand. Salvo continues forward towards the thing, his heart racing. He crouches down, crane like against the murky sight and prods the hunkering blackness with his stick. An animal, he thinks, a washed up sea creature summoned from the deep by a mysterious otherworldly force. A mermaid.
Unsurprisingly, there is no give when he taps the thing, gently at first, and then more enthusiastically when it shows no signs of life.
His father’s voice. He comes running, bandied limbs stretching across the sand, the full power of his height mirrored in the gruff harkening of his shout. He reaches Salvo, weather-worn face stormy and scowling. Quick as a whip, he pulls the stick clean from Salvo’s hand, poised mid movement above his head, getting ready to strike the thing with all the force he can muster.
“I thought I told you to stay put,” his father growls, cutting his gaze away from his son, who trembles in his shadow.
“But- I think it’s a mermaid,” Salvo splutters, grinning impishly as he tries to reach down and touch the thing.
“Don’t be a child,” his father bats his hand away and motions to the other fishermen, who now approach with interest, regarding the scene before them with the wariness of men so used to the to-and-fro of the sea. The unmoored boats float like unrooted trees behind.
“But-“ Salvo is cut off by the movements of the men. So well versed are they in the language of the sea, they grunt to one another and Salvo tries to catch the hymns of the words as they all look to the thing, that lies lurid in the half formed circle of men. Like one they move, heaving with groans as they turn the thing over and peer down to see.
Salvo lunges, trying to push his way through to see beyond the backs of the men. They concede to let the boy squeeze past and Salvo looks down to see the blueish leathery face of a man.
“Come on, now,” Salvo’s father catches the collar of his jacket and begins to tear him away from the circle, now a buzz with discussion and a flurry of gestures.
“But, I want to see-“ Salvo complains, struggling uselessly against the pull of his father.
“No. Ain’t a thing to be seen by a child. We’re going home, that’s the end of it. Come on. Salvo, move it, lad.”
“I thought you said I shouldn’t act like a child. And now I’m not allowed to stay because I’m a child. How can I possibly be both?” Salvo points out grumpily, but to no avail. His father was already striding forward, his limping gait providing no obstacle to his determined stride. An answer, an order. Move it.
Salvo sulked the entire way back up the beach, trailing his feet and craning his neck to catch another glimpse as the scene slowly weened from his view. They trailed the stones of the town, his father keeping a brisk pace ahead as his son held back in defiance. With each maddening step, his legs too short to keep up with his father, Salvo vows to end childhood on this very day. Gone will be the Salvo of the past, for he is just a boy. That scant, inadequate thing too small to push his way into the realms of men, too weak to withstand the battering of the sea and the labour of knowledge. He wills himself from this day forward into manhood, and his pace quickens with the thrill of the promise.
They reached the last house on the row, the cobbled down stone and lemon yellow window frames signalling home. Salvo ran the last of the steep incline as his father disappeared into the house, slamming the door with wide-palmed hands.
Inside, sounds of awakening rustle with familiarity and Salvo kicks his shoes by the bottom of the stairs and runs into the kitchen. His mother stands, a sunlit portrait framed by the window, drawing all sense of colour into the small room. His father looks up as he enters, and Salvo halts, sensing he has just barely missed the tail end of something important. His mother turns, shoulders loosening and she smiles with some effort. Salvo feels the unfamiliar urge to reach out and grab his mother’s hand, to feel the comfort of her cool fingers, her soft, lean palm and squeeze. Just as a reminder. But he was thirteen years old now, done belonging to the world of childish things, and so he ducks under her touch, moving past his father quickly and heading without so much as a word down the hall and to the privacy of his own room.
The revelry of his own company was shattered abruptly when he entered to see the dangling form of Theresa, folded like a jellyfish and grinning widely. Salvo felt his heart quicken, the traitor heat in his cheeks, mirroring the blood-flushed scarlet of Theresa’s bobbing head. Her teeth shone brightly, dominating her face. From the way that she was hanging, upside down from the bed, hair swinging in curtains, she looked to be suspended in a state of manic frowning. The gravity of the act dragging her wide mouth down in a perfect melon rind arch. Salvo swallowed hastily, willing the pounding of his heart to release, praying that she would finally notice the burgeoning new man behind his moon eyed smile.
“Salvo! Did you hear? About the man that washed up this morning? Everyone is talking about it-”
“I know.” Salvo interrupted giddily, though he swiftly checks his eagerness, adopting a lazy ambivalence intended to convey the maturity of someone with something important to say. He moves over to his window and leans against it, ignoring Theresa’s probing glare and staring out, as though he were observing something of mild amusement.
“What? How?” Theresa demanded, righting herself. Salvo glanced to make sure she was watching and then preceded to sigh a great, world-weary sigh. Folding his hands into the baggy pockets of his shorts, he took his time like an actor, soaking up the rapt attention of his adoring audience, hanging off of his every word.
“I was there,” he relented eventually, watching the surprise bloom on her feline features and eager to make her continue taking notice, he added, “Actually, I was the one who found him. I rescued him from the reeds and brought him ashore. I saved his life.”
Theresa frowned, taking in her friend, the skinny limbs and boyish bravado. He stuck out his chest as though to prove the strength that lay within, beyond the boy that met the eye and shrank to a coltish imitation.
“Well, I happen to know where he is,” she said triumphantly, “and I plan on going to find out what happened to him. What do you think? Shall we go and investigate?”
Salvo grins, wicked; the yes on the tip of his tongue until-
Pride wins out, he stifles his childish desire for adventure, for remember Salvo has vowed to become a man and put away all childish things, and so tells Theresa to go to seek the man out alone.
Now we must leave Salvo to his own devices. We will follow the path of another.
END OF PART II
Life is stranger than fiction? Clearly you haven't listened to these strange tales… STRANGER THAN FICTION is a series brought to you by some seriously freaky writers, storytellers who weave tales of foreign lands on far-away shores… or perhaps, they are even closer than you think…