I write in less than ideal circumstances. I’m on the road to the next place. Where that is, I’m not entirely sure yet. A trader from the fishing village is escorting me—but I’ve not been much in the mood for talk. It seems that neither has he, so I think we make good companions in silence. We’ve left the coast and the forest behind—in front of us, the world has opened in an endless expanse of marshland. The freedom is remarkable, as well as the damp that soils our boots daily. While a well-worn path guides our travels, it is easy to see that it has flooded and dried often through the years. Sometimes, we lose it beneath a pool that wades up to our knees. There is nothing to do then but plunge in and come out the other side, where the path begins again, only after having permeated our boots, pants, and socks. By the end of the day, my feet are sore, bloated, shriveled. It is necessary to aerate the shoes and dry the socks daily. Trench foot is a definite threat.
But I’m sure you are asking yourself about now—what about that fishing village? Sorry if I beat about the bush. It is hard to speak about. Perhaps, in the act of writing, some of the points will connect themselves. Perhaps, by relating the conclusion of the story to you, I will finally understand. I only wish we could communicate vis-à-vis—that you had been there with me and we could investigate these matters together.
Not long after the incidents I last recounted, I spoke to the boy whose face was burned on the fire that day. I approached him only a few nights later, as he was playing on the docks. He was standing with a rope which was attached to a slender stick and dangled down into the water. He occasionally pulled the stick forward or back, or picked the rope straight from the water and examined the end, hoping for a catch.
The children of the village were supremely courageous; never once did I see one flee from strangers passing through, in the way children do in many other parts of the world. Not once did I see a child cry for fear of some spectral figure looming in the dark, or call to their mother after a playground mishap. When I approached this child, he greeted me as Vien might, with a steady, stalwart look and an offer to partake in his catch. I noticed then how young he was and that his burns had developed a thick course casing, like an exoskeleton. I told him I had seen his fall a few days before. He replied that he had been very clumsy. “Didn’t it hurt you?” I asked. I took a seat next to him on the dock to display comradery. I hoped he would speak to me honestly.
He didn’t look at me as I asked this question. His gaze was intent on the small bit of rope disappearing into the opaque water. “Yes. It was the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had,” he answered. I asked why he didn’t scream then, or call to anyone. Why had he not cried? The boy continued to look towards the water, and simply replied, “Why would I?”
There was no place for my inquiry to go after that. I left him on the dock to accomplish his man’s mission.
The next day, a terrible storm rolled in and stationed itself as sentry above the town all day and night. I had been out wandering the docks, thinking of Maud the fish, the boy’s stoic look, and the myriad of splinters festering along the docks, waiting for victims, when the storm began signaling.
I tremble to tell you this, dear reader. You must not think unkindly of me, but strange things happen to one’s mind when one has been away from home. Throw a human being into a new place, with new people and new circumstances, and the old ways become so arbitrary. One begins to question not just what is around in the moment, but all that has ever been in that past life at home. So, it is that I found myself plying one large, ragged bit of old wood from the dock and sitting with my legs dangling down into the water. So it is that I found myself digging said ragged bit of wood into the skin on my forearm, until divine slips of blood thickened on the surface of my skin and my teeth clenched on my bottom lip.
Reader, what was I doing, mutilating my body on those lonely docks facing the sea? Indeed—it is a respectable question. I will tell you—I was checking for the pain. And it was still there. I won’t linger on the details of the disgusting mess I made of myself: the splinters wild and sharp sticking from my skin, or the dark patch of blood left on my pants leg that had pooled under my arm. I was reminded of what Vien and the other women had often called his wife---a woman without all the cups in her cupboard. We had this in common, I believe.
I had laid down with my back against the dock, thinking of all I had done, when the rain started. I ought to have noticed the storm brewing. I think I had, but opted to bear it through. It came and did not stop. I waited long enough for the rain to wash the blood away, and then I began the long walk back to Vien’s house.
We had a large dinner that night—3 varieties of shellfish cooked in a stew of cumin, saffron, and boiled white roots. Vien’s wife barked her own encrypted tales and Vien told me about his father’s homeland and the necessity that he leave such a tyrannical place for the good of his family. What made the homeland tyrannical, he declined to say. The rain stopped late that night.
The next day, Vien brought me to Maud. She was kept in the back room of Vini’s house, through a doorway without a door. The room was decorated with wind chimes made of bits of shells, corals, sea glass, and mangled found-objects. Peculiarly, and despite the obvious fact that we were indoors, the wind chimes moved as if there was a slight breeze, giving the room a quaking, divine aura that was all too ominous. Maud was a fish of the red, common variety that the people ate daily. I was made to approach the bowl where she swam in tight circles. I was told not to speak to her until spoken to. Maud did not make a move to recognize my presence.
I began to think she would never notice me—or else that she was just an average fish. I realized that this possibility was quite likely. But after some time, she croaked out that the day would be cloudless and the sky would be clear for seven days. With the gift of the prophecy, I took my leave.
I understood perfectly that this was the village’s way of asking me to go.
I think often of Vien’s wife, the boy, the netting women, and Maud the fish. I had the oddest feeling as I left, that everything was disappearing behind me—that it had all been drowned by the sea: the docks, the nets, Vien and Vini and Avenius, Vino the founder, and all their wives. I had never known any of them. This was irrevocable. I think often of the calm, resolute faces of these men.
What sort of lives did they live? Although I lived as they did, ate as they did, worked as they did, and learned their histories, these people are vague to me. I feel as if I read of them in a novel. The question that haunts me daily is this: do they feel pain as I do?
I will never know if their anguish was as mine is, or was of a different kind.
What is the nature of a pain unheard and unseen?
Will write again,