Winner of the winter 2016 Flash Fiction Competition
I watch the red river flow down my arm and look for boats. Lips tight, chest stilled–I wait for miniature clipper ships to unfurl their sails.
How many winter nights did we sit side-by-side, a length of cord each? A sailing knot book from the library propped on our kitchen table, we worked the patterns, near enough to touch, but we never did. My tiny fingers often swifter, defter than your monster-sized hands. Overhand, sailor, lark’s head, stevedore, cat’s paw. The hitches: timber, blackwall, ossel, clove. We made the double carrick bend together, joining our pieces of rope into a single clutch.
You mounted your great-grandfather’s carpentry tools in a shadow box and fed me tales of his life on the sea. The albatross that lead them out of the icebergs to safety, the other sailor that shot it with a crossbow. At school I learned that ancient mariner belonged to Coleridge, not our family legacy. With teenage spite I showed you the rime, watched your eyes shift to another time and place.
A summer of doldrums passed between us. I found an aged envelope taped to your bedroom drawer’s underside. I plundered the bounty, swallowed questions and adopted the silence you’d kept for more than a decade. Through our mute nights you knotted alone, while I filled in my lifeline gaps. A family home near a forest. Newsprint about the missing child. The tiny bracelet, its heart charm engraved with a distant name. One dawn I placed them beside your coffee mug—a treasure trail leading me away from you.
The fisherman found you swaying in a boathouse by the docks. A thick, black rope. Six loops to make a collar knot that cinched tight when you stepped off the stool. A technique you didn’t share with me.
DNA delivered my new history—a family full of cuddles and kisses that I can’t return. Trees cluster around their house, branches rasp against windows. No seagull chorus or salt-air tang. No With a steak knife in the locked bathroom, I cry at the first slice, wait for the gush, and hope somehow it will loop me to you, sending us both upstream.
Marie Gethins’ work has featured in Litro, Firewords Quarterly, 2014 and 2015 NFFD Anthologies, Flash, NANO, The Lonely Crowd, Firewords Quarterly and others. She won or placed in TSS, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Dromineer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, and 99fiction.net. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions Nominee. She lives in Cork, Ireland, working on her MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.
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