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A short story in small instalments: PART XVI

Olivero Russo knew he could not feel happiness or even contentment—and certainly not freedom—ever again.

*

If his daughters had been giving him strange looks before, it was nothing to the anxious glances they cast now. He heard them whispering together:

“But it’s been so long since Mama died!”

“What could have set him off?”

“We always knew he took it hard, but he seemed so stoic and strong; and now this . . .”

And so on. But they didn’t understand. It wasn’t just Merida—whose loss was as cavernous as ever. It was everything. Everything that had ever caused him pain. How could he have let things get to this, with such endless, dangerous mountains of mourning to traverse? How could he do this terrible journey?

Was this the lot of humankind? To spend one’s life half living it and arrive at old age only to be faced with an impossible penance? For nights, seemingly without end, he didn’t sleep, just tossed and moaned. And in the light of day, every beauteous thing which had brought him gladness now broke him. He could feel himself growing ancient.

He wanted to just not care; but now, he seemed to care about everything, and he didn’t know how to stop. His daughters kept their children away from him. Well, who could blame them? The beasts came and went, and he was terrified.

And yet . . .

One day, the beasts seemed smaller. Could it be? The appalling stick cat seemed to be knitting together, the rods now interweaving and not rattling quite so deafeningly. The abominable bat still roared with hot, hungry fire, but not so thunderously. And the ghastly lizard was slower, though no less hideous. What did it mean? The feeling of optimism had receded beyond memory; but now a little shoot put forth a hint of green. He thought: Perhaps, one day, these fiends will leave me, and he realized he’d had a hopeful thought. How extraordinary.

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