Friday, July 6, 2012
I first saw him when I was nine years old, a skinny boy curled up in a ball, naked and shivering on the frozen lake. It was out by the edge of town at a large fissure in the ice, as if the water had coughed him out. Lines of blood dripped down the soles of his feet, and when I examined them, he cringed in pain.
I draped my cloak over him and bandaged his wounds. He never spoke, but when he touched his finger to my cheek, I saw his every thought.
For years, he'd watched my village from his watery world, enchanted by the people, their simple lives, and above all by the little girl with the long black braid. She stood out in such brilliant contrast that the village seemed blurry by comparison. I saw myself through his eyes, and even though I shouldn't have, I blushed.
Since I was very little, Muta had warned me, “Poseidon's children are full of curses and betrayals. Do not get involved with them.” But I couldn't help but love a boy who held such passion in his soul.
At sunset, the boy returned to his home, and I never told Muta of our meeting.
The lake gave him to me the next year, and the year after that, always for just one day and always on the first day of spring when the ice became thin enough to break through. We filled the time with childhood games, then in later years, with silent moments and shy stares. We rarely walked because of his feet. No matter how I wrapped them or what ointments I chose, they wouldn't stop bleeding. I saw in his thoughts that they were his punishment for coming to my world.
In the long days between his visits, Muta talked to me about growing older. Her favorite speech began: “Fisherman's sons make good husbands.” But just because Muta had married a fisherman, it didn't mean I wanted one. I was too far drawn into the arms of my silent boy.
In my seventeenth year, under a sliver of a moon, we stood on the ice facing each other. The next time we met, I would be of marrying age. He knew it as well as I.
He brought my hands to his lips and pressed gentle kisses across my knuckles. It was a promise that he would be back. But even more than that, it was a question. Was I his?
Breathless, I nodded my reply.
He smiled, and when the lake stretched out its tentacles and dragged him back to his home, my heart broke and soared at the same time. Once I agreed to his hand, he'd shown me his deal with Poseidon. If he could win my love, he would be allowed to remain at my side forever. But how could I survive the next year when all I had were his bloody footprints on the ice?
Those 364 days passed slowly, interrupted only by Muta's odd stares and her whispered conversations with Vati. I had no interest in them. I only wanted to see my boy again. I longed for the day when we would make our silent vow.
On the first spring day of my eighteenth year, I dressed in the early morning darkness, excitement tripping across my skin. I crept through the house in the predawn hours, but just as I reached the front door, a rustle in the corner startled me.
“Where are you off to?” Muta called from her chair.
“There's a fishing expedition leaving this morning. I volunteered to help load the ship.”
Muta stood and approached me. The lines in her face were hard, an expression I rarely saw. “There is no ship, Biala. Why do you lie?”
I took a step backward. “I...I don't lie. I just wanted to walk and I thought you –”
“Enough.” She gripped my shoulders and looked down at me, disappointment in her eyes. “Did you think I would not notice? I've warned you, and you do not listen. I have no other choice.” She looped her arm through mine and dragged me back to my bedroom, locking me inside.
“No!” I pounded on my door. At the very same moment, the sun's first rays appeared. And when I wasn't there to greet my boy, the storm began.
Thunder crashed, rattling every wall of the house and threatening to shake it to the ground. I ran to the window. The sky swirled with black clouds. Lightning spread across the lake, originating from a single spot on the ice at the edge of town, bringing to life the betrayal my boy must have felt.
The water roiled. Fishing ships, still anchored to the docks, flew and shattered against each other. Men dove from the decks, taking their chances with Poseidon, rather than stay on board and be crushed to death. Shingles flew from roofs. Families ran from collapsing homes. My village was in turmoil, and all I could do was watch. My window was too small to climb through. I could only reach my arms out and cry to my boy. I wanted to come.
Hail pelted through the window, raising welts on my arms. Yet still I called for him.
My door swung open. Muta stood in the frame with tears streaking down her face. And then I remembered. Vati was on one of the boats!
We tore from the house, Muta screaming at me through the storm. “What have you done?”
“I've only made a promise. You're the one who broke it.”
As we neared the docks, Muta took off toward Vati's ship, but I veered to the right, heading for the edge of town, and my boy.
Even though the rain pounded down, washing everything else away, a pool of blood remained on the ice. I ran to the spot and fell to my knees, my fingers catching the edges of ice where it broke off into the frigid water.
Just below the churning waves, I saw his face, pale and beautiful. He reached up to me, his fingertips breaking through the surface. I threaded my fingers through his, and in the instant that we connected, he sent me his message. He was responsible for this, but only I stop it.
I took one look toward the docks, a vague blur in the storm. I blinked away tears and rain and salt. And I jumped.
I lost my breath for only a moment, long enough to feel like my chest was caving in on itself. But then, the sensation was gone, replaced with the pleasure of being able to breathe freely and the warmth of my boy's arms around me.
I looked up through the water and saw the sky was blue once more, the sun shining brightly over the lake. The surface of the water was smooth as glass. Muta stood at the edge of the ice, sinking down to her knees.
I reached up to her, but my fingers could not break the surface. I tapped against it. It was solid as a wooden wall.
I looked to my boy. He shook his head, then glanced down into the lake, the deepest, coldest lake in the world. I looked once more to Muta, who watched me with tears pooled in the corners of her eyes.
Then, I took my boy's hand, and we sank down to my new home.
Picture by: Octagon