Agie had been kind enough to give me directions to the river, which I took without haste. The most important thing she said, was to go left when I thought I should go right. She said that all signals would point right, but not to be beguiled. My fear of her did not hinder my acceptance of her insight; I unwaveringly obeyed and soon discovered her meaning. Some time after the point where my feet began to bleed with the walking, I heard the sound of water sloshing over rocks in my right ear. It was so clear and so sure that I began to misunderstand my journey and consider the possibility that I had turned the wrong way on accident, or missed a landmark. For a moment, it knocked me backwards, the thought that I would be lost alone in this horrid place. I sat down to gather myself. I soon rememberd Agie’s warning and turned left, away from the sounds.
I followed the river for less than a day and it turned me out onto the banks of an inlet marsh, where I stood at the gnarled mouth to the sea. The trees had thinned and the world was more expansive. In the distance, I could see a cluster of houses and headed towards them.
It was a fishing village. The closer I got, the more indisputable this knowledge became; fat red fish hanging out to dry from windowsills; a ring of women with rigid faces sewing a net that expanded and contracted like a living organism from their mutual efforts; an assembly of docks constructed like a threadbare quilt one on top of another, swallowing the nearest part of the sea and intruding on marsh grasses that sprouted like crooked hairs from the planks. A salty, rancid smell that no one seemed to notice.
A man approached me and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I told him I had answers for neither of those questions, but that I was a traveler seeking shelter and food. He led me through the town and brought me to the docks, where he stood me before a larege group of other grim-faced, calloused men. They asked me if I could work for my stay. I conceded. We swapped names and I learned that they were called: Vino, Vinus, Vino Ave, Avenius, Vien II, and Vini. Vino was the town’s founder and father of Vinus, who was the father of Vino Ave, who had once caught a fish called Maud that predicted bad weather and was kept in Vini’s house because he was married to Marsie, the town seer. Vien II was Vini’s brother and they were the sons of Vinus’ now deceased uncle, Vienne.
These stories were told to me as ‘the town’s history’ by the women I was sent to work with. The women taught me how to cross the ropes of the nets so they were neither too tight, nor too loose, and educated me about the men whose histories everyone knew. I saw these histories crossing and interesecting through the women’s tales and understood these fishing nets were significant past their functionality. I understood that the stories and the fishing nets were one and the same. It was the story, not the fish, that made the town’s livelihood.
I stayed with Vien and his wife, who spoke only three words: cake, go, and hush. She deployed these words often at random, but she was not dumb. Although they all conceded that this change occurred quite arbitrarily in her late childhood, after she was promised to the man Vien. He took her anyways.
It was while sitting with Vien’s wife one afternoon that I made an essential observation. She was in the kitchen, singing to herself a tune which consisted entirely of the phrase ‘go cakes,’ when her grip slipped on a knife that she was using to cut potatoes for a stew. The knife cut her hand and before long blood was pooling off the counter and on to the floor.
I rushed to her side and grabbed her hand. We found bandages and I cleaned and wrapped her wound, which was deep. It would leave a scar. Vien’s wife didn’t cry. She didn’t scream and she didn’t gasp. When I asked her in hurried breath if she was alright, she threw her eyebrows together and said only ‘hush.’
Later that night, when Vien came home, I told him of his wife’s accident. He looked at me pointedly before continuing to explain to us the contents of the day’s catch.
The next day, I repeated the story to the spinning women, including Vein’s odd reaction. They were unmoved. One of the more brasen women asked me to get to the point of it.
Yesterday I witnessed a boy fall onto a fire. I was netting with the women and he tripped over a stone and landed face down over the still-burning embers. When he picked himself up, burns marbled his face, arms, and chest in tight, angry swells. He examined them as one might a side show exhibition and picked ashes off one by one with his fingers. I tried to go to him and one of the women slapped me.
Why isn’t he crying? I asked them and at first no one answered. At first, it seemed no one had heard me. An older woman touched me on the shoulder and asked me quietly, so no one else could hear--Why would he do that? She kissed my cheek and we all resumed their work.
Later, I saw the boy playing with the others. His burns had aquired a furious sheen.
No one said anything about it.
I write to you now in the dead of the night. Vien and his wife are asleep in the next room. I can hear Maud, the prophetic fish writhing and moaning two houses over. The moon appears violent tonight.
There’s much to see here.
I’ll write more soon.