Friday, September 9, 2022

Overheard at Booth 1: The Chest

The Chest

I was only about eight or nine years old when my mother disappeared.  I remember the day was full of rain, but the sea was strangely calm, as though somehow, finally, satisfied.

My mother, my father, and I lived in a small house atop a high cliff wall, in the front of which was a small clearing leading to deep woods through which my father would leave each day to go down to the village to work as a fisherman.  Each day he would arrive home and my mother and I would greet him at the door.

On this day, only I was there to greet him at the door.  I remember he said nothing to me, merely pushed past and went immediately into their bedroom.  When he emerged a moment later, he left through the back of the house and spent the rest of the evening on the cliff, staring at the sea.

I had already seen what he had found.  The chest had been opened.  The chest, a large, heavy wooden chest, so thick that several men would be needed to lift it, had always been stationed at the foot of my parents' bed, like an altar.  That chest, until this day, had always been closed, locked with a heavy iron lock.

Today, the lock was on the floor, the lid of the chest was flung open, and the inside was empty, except for a faint, lingering smell of the sea.

I don't know if my father had known that, for as long as I could remember, my mother had been trying to open that chest.  Many was the day when I would return home from school, or come in from playing in the clearing or the woods, to find her kneeling before that chest, attempting to open the iron lock with a hair pin, or her own fingernails.

At times she would look at me with an impish smile, a smile that made the golden flecks of her green eyes sparkle slightly in the dim light of the afternoon.   Often, though, she would merely wear a face of sad resignation.  Occasionally, when the sea seemed particularly wild on a given day, she would herself seem angry, almost to the point of fury.

On such days, I would go back out to the woods to play.

Usually though, she would make us some mulberry tea, which she would sweeten with honey.  I do not recall if she ever said it in words, but somehow I knew that the honey in the mulberry tea was a secret just for the two of us, just like my seeing her trying the lock was a secret that remained between my mother and myself.

On this particular day, long before my father had come home, I had come in from the woods to find the faint impression of odd shaped footprints upon the floor, from my parents' room to the back of the house.  When I peered into the room, that was when I had seen the lid open, and strange hairs scattered in odd places along the floor.  

I had followed the footprints to the back of the house, where, at the edge of the cliff, I had seen a creature, a creature that looked so very much like a seal, standing and gazing down at the sea.

The creature had sensed my approach, and I remember the head slowly turning, and looking at me with large green eyes.  Eyes that sparkled with flecks of gold.

Then, it dove from the cliff and by the time I got to the edge, I looked down but could not find any trace of the creature in the sea far below.

Neither could my father, who stood on that spot, in the rain, until the night grew dark and cold, until finally, he returned to the house.

And even though it was near midnight, he began to make some mulberry tea, for both himself and me.

He even mixed some honey into the tea, but I knew before taking the first sip, that it would never again taste as sweet as hers.


[NOTE: this story is based on the Irish legend of the Silkie, a seal-like creature who turns into a beautiful woman when on land.  Legend has it that men who take Silkies for wives often hide and lock away their seal skins, preventing them from returning to the sea.

[I have always wondered what it would be like for such a creature to have children, human children, and what would it be like for a creature to want to return to its natural existence.  How powerful is the call of our original natures, anyway?  Is it stronger than the call of motherhood?]

No comments:

Post a Comment