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"The Giant Seahorse," short story excerpt

Sunday 7/3/22

I have been up since five in the morning yesterday. More than thirty-four hours. In this hell. And I do this as everything is going on with these evil bigots.


***

An old man and a young girl lived in what had once been a fishing shack. They had their own beach which anyone could use but no one did because they lived apart from the rest of the town. The old man preferred to be referred to as an old man rather than elderly. He wanted to live until the girl could take care of herself. She meant everything to him, and he meant everything to her, and that was her reason for wanting him to live the longest of anyone, provided he’d be okay without any help.


In the mornings, she’d bring him a glass of water that she filled too close to the top. It was a habit she had. She did it with coffee, too, which he let her try sometimes when they stood on the deck he had built and stared out over the water as if something might appear there.


“Don’t go spilling that coffee on the floor,” he said. “You fill it too high every time.”


“I’m sorry, dad,” she said, because she called him dad. She intended it in the larger sense. Not that he was her dad. But he took care of her and she wanted to take care of him. The floor was a very old wood that shone a sort of silvery blue. The girl had to make sure to pick up her feet when she walked and not just shuffle them so she wouldn’t get splinters. There wasn’t any carpet that the coffee would ruin, but he still didn’t want her to spill any. The same went with the water.


“Why are you filling this glass like that?” he’d ask, laying eyes on her for the first time in a new day.


“You were coughing,” she might say. “I thought you were extra thirsty. I didn’t spill any.”

She didn’t spill any because she wanted him to have it all, but she also thought the floor was the kind that almost looks like it needs watering.

They’d go down to the beach and see if anything had washed up before she went to school. If it was a Saturday or Sunday, he’d help her with her homework first. He said that you shouldn’t let responsibilities linger. Take care of them early, handle them right. No sense waiting. She wished the homework would last longer, because he knew a lot about a lot. The homework wasn’t a problem on its own, but then she wouldn’t get his stories. They came out naturally when they worked together. He told her about her mother, and how she used to do her homework, and experiences he had had. Once he worked on a crabber. There was a girl he was trying to impress. Her dad owned the boat, but he didn’t fish it. He hired other men to do the fishing.


“We pulled up some things you wouldn’t believe,” he said, forgetting about the homework.

“Like what?” the girl asked.

“Once there was this, I don’t know what you’d call it. Like a mermaid.”


“There wasn’t a mermaid.”


Still, she wasn’t sure.


“What was it really?” she continued.

“I guess you could say it was like a giant seahorse,” he told her.


That sounded believable. She’d like to see a giant seahorse herself, better if she could see it with him and ask if it was the same one. In the mornings when they went down to the beach, there might be a dead shark or a barracuda that had washed up. Once there was a baby whale. It was ripped open on the bottom and there were eels inside its stomach.


“What’s going to happen to them?” she asked the old man. “How are they going to get back into the water?”


“They’re not,” he said. “They’re here to stay.”

She didn’t like the sound of that.


“You mean they’ll die?”

“They’re not going to swim across the beach.” He said it like the eels had made a choice, and they’d live with it, and die with it. “That’s the nature of these things,” he added.


She thought about getting their wheelbarrow, and pulling out the eels with her hands, then taking them down to the water and dumping them back in, throwing them past the surf if she had to. They could swim out to sea having become wiser, maybe meet that seahorse. She figured there was just the one, and the old man had been the perfect person to catch it, if anyone was going to. A lot had changed, but she was certain he could do it again, if the situation presented itself. Maybe it was a mermaid, and he was being modest.