River Girl: A Short Story By Majic

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posted on Sep, 16 2005 @ 03:01 AM
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The girl sat quietly on the rail of the boat, holding the fishing pole perfectly still, staring at the ripples which rolled softly away from the thin line piercing the surface of the murky green water.

Her thoughts wandered far and wide, seeking refuge from the crushing boredom that seemed to smother her like a blanket. Another day, more chores, and finally another chance to fish -- itself a chore, but one she relished.

She knew her father wouldn't send her to bed without supper if she didn't catch anything, but the menace of his daily threat added a small thrill to break up the monotony.

A thump belowdecks brought the girl's dark eyes into focus. No doubt it was her aunt, rearranging the sparse furniture for the millionth time, never satisfied that the space in the cramped quarters was being used efficiently enough.

The girl surveyed the world around her. Hundreds of large wooden boats like her father's were tied together, forming a makeshift city along the banks of the wide, slow-moving river, a community of people who weren't tied to the land, but whom, despite their potential freedom, seemed content to remain tied together forever.

Movement caught her attention, and the girl watched enviously as a boat like hers moved slowly downstream, passing majestically as the family onboard scurried to and fro, attending to the endless tasks which come with shipboard life.

The wake of the passing vessel sloshed against the side of the girl's boat, rocking it gently, but each tiny wave felt like a slap to her face, and her jealousy grew at the idea of leaving this place.

Could they be going to the sea? The girl sighed.

The sea!

It was ever in her dreams, the thought of being far from land, far from the cramped, smelly warrens where her family always seemed to tie up.

Freedom!

A gull called loudly as it soared far overhead, mocking the girl and her dreams. She gazed skyward with a longing that was almost physically painful. If only I had wings, so I could fly away from here...

She swallowed and tried to loosen her throat, almost in tears at the thought. If only...

The girl drew a deep breath, taking in the thick aroma of the river.

There was something about that smell. She both loved it and hated it. There was a living quality to it, a scent of life and renewal. But it was also the same river where everyone dumped their garbage and sewage. And the same river she and her family drank from, after settling the water in a tank and adding bleach to disinfect it.

The fishing line stirred slightly, sending stronger ripples across the water's shimmering surface. A nibble? The girl sat patiently, poised to set the hook if she got a bite, but the line remained slack.

A raucous caw spun the girl's head. A crow sat perched on the railing near the stern of the boat, eyeing the girl curiously.

A crow!

She hated crows passionately. They were noisy and dirty and were always getting into the trash. And stealing fish.

The girl scowled at the dark intruder, tempted to set down the pole and chase it off, but the bird cocked its head and cawed with irritation before flying away in a flurry of flapping black wings. It had apparently run afoul of her before.

She glared at the retreating bird, then turned back to gaze at the water as her shoulders slumped. It was already late afternoon, and a bad time for fishing anyway, but she hadn't caught anything that morning, so she had to keep trying. She smiled inwardly, secretly glad that she had an excuse to fish instead of having to help her uncle clean the bilge again.

Uncle.

Her uncle wasn't a bad man, but was always drunk or seemed that way, and was careless with tools. The girl's leg shifted involuntarily at the memory of the scar left by the gaff he had accidentally hooked her with the year before. He wasn't mean, but he still made her nervous. And he never seemed to bathe.

The girl bowed her head, suddenly reminded of her mother. She had always been so particular about having clean, hot water for the bath every day. Mother was like that, so fussy about everything. It always had to be just so, or there would be hell to pay.

Mother.

The girl's fists clenched the fishing pole until they were white. That was last year, too. The girl frowned darkly as she fought back tears again. I'm not going to cry.

It wasn't fair. Her mother was the nicest person in the whole world. There was no reason for her to die. It was stupid. There was nothing wrong with her. She wasn't sick.

She just died.

That was when the girl had realized that life wasn't fair. A world that was fair wouldn't have taken her mother away like that. And it wouldn't have let her father take away the small shrine the girl had made with the only picture of her mother she had.

Father.

He only cried once, when it happened, when her mother just fell over onto the deck one day and they carried her off to the hospital. That was the last the girl ever saw of her mother. They didn't even have a funeral. They just took her mother away and said almost nothing.

Except her father, who got drunk for a week afterwards, and sat around belowdecks complaining night and day about how she had never given him a son to take his place.

The girl bowed her head as tears rolled down her cheeks. That was when grandmother, her mother's mother, left to stay with other relatives.

Grandmother.

She was so like mother, fussy and demanding, but loving and kind. She knew it wasn't the girl's fault that she wasn't a boy. She taught her granddaughter all kinds of things about being a girl, even while her father tirelessly tried to make her into a son.

The girl sniffed and wiped her cheeks. It's not my fault.

It was a bitter thing, to be an only child, and a girl no one wanted. No matter how hard she tried, her father was never happy. She was never strong enough, or smart enough, or hard-working enough.

Because I'm a girl.

She loved helping her father fix things, especially the engines. The boat was old, and the engines were ancient, but they were religiously maintained, clean enough to eat off of, but never used. Why don't we ever leave this place?

The girl knew why. Her father had a job onshore. That's why they couldn't leave. It didn't pay much, but it paid enough to buy food and clothes and keep the boat afloat.

The girl wished he would go back to fishing again, like when they lived near the coast. But after the accident, he swore he would never go back, and they sailed upstream and left the sea forever.

There was a soft tug on the line, and the girl instinctively pulled hard to set the hook, but the unseen nibbler escaped. The girl pulled up the line to check the bait, then lowered it back into the water.

It was like a game. As the afternoon wore on, the shadow of the boat grew longer on the water, and the girl could see small schools of fish meandering casually past her bait, feigning indifference to the tasty morsel she had carefully set upon the hook.

The girl scowled at the fishing line. It was too thick for this kind of fishing, and the pole was a deep-sea pole, not a river pole. But father refused to buy a new pole or new line. He had many things he had saved from his time at sea, and insisted on keeping them, though he swore he'd never go back.

She sighed. She loved her father, but he was so distant. He would smile once in a while, especially when she did something to make him proud, like the time she fixed the generator all by herself. But he never hugged her or kissed her goodnight.

He treated her like a son, and was always telling her to be strong, to be tough, to never cry. And to never be a girl.

The girl frowned, resolved not to let the tears escape from her eyes again.

Suddenly she froze, staring intently into the water. The smaller fish darted away as a huge shadow moved slowly toward the bait. A grouper!

It was a giant, and seemed almost as big as the girl. It moved past the bait nonchalantly as the girl held her breath. A fish that large would feed the family for days. She held her breath, praying that she wouldn't scare it away. Groupers were notoriously tricky, and a fish that big had probably escaped being caught many, many times.

The grouper turned slowly and passed the bait again just as a loud crash rang out from a neighboring boat. The girl hissed softly, afraid that the huge fish would be scared off, but it didn't react, and turned once more, seemingly ready to ignore the bait again.

But instead it turned its head and snatched the bait almost as an afterthought. The girl lifted the pole with a firm tug, and her eyes widened with excitement as she felt the hook set.

The grouper didn't react at first, and moved slowly away from the boat as if nothing had happened. But as the line tightened, it began wriggling away with dazzling speed.

The girl braced herself for a titanic struggle, but her foot slipped, and the fury of the giant fish's dash to escape pulled her into the murky water with a splash.

Shocked and angry, the girl held her grip on the pole, refusing to be defeated so easily. It was her father's best pole, and it had taken months to talk him into letting her use it. There was no way she was going to give it up.

The grouper pulled her effortlessly through the water, deeper into the darkness of the river. It maneuvered through the frame of an old discarded bicycle wedged into some debris on the bottom, and the girl bumped against it as she struggled to keep her grip on the pole.

The huge fish circled back, passing scant feet from the girl as she desperately tried to maintain the tension of the line. The grouper circled again, and the girl scowled at it with unrestrained hatred. Stupid fish!

Though it had been mere seconds since she plunged into the river, the girl realized with sudden alarm that she hadn't even had time to draw a breath before being pulled under, and she could feel the crushing weight of the water on her chest as it began to ache. I need air!

Her heart pounded louder and louder as she reluctantly let go of the pole and paddled furiously toward the shimmering surface far above.

But she stopped after only a few feet, and was horrified to feel the fishing line tighten around her legs. She had become tangled, and the thick deep-sea fishing line could not be broken.

The girl worked frantically to free herself from the snare, but stopped struggling as her vision began to darken. I'm not going to make it.

She looked up as her will gave out, as she gave away her last breath and swallowed water into her lungs.

Time slowed to a crawl, and she realized that she would not survive, that this would be her death, that she had been outsmarted by a clever old fish.

The girl had tensed as the water entered her lungs, coughing spasmodically, but then she relaxed, amazed that she was still conscious. The water tasted surprisingly clean. Perhaps it was the depth, the cool, deep current which flowed far beneath the oil and trash which floated on the surface.

Far above, near the shimmering light which filtered down from the world, a small school of fish swam lazily by, oblivious to the plight of the girl below.

The girl smiled ironically, mildly amused at how calm she was, at how absurd and foolish her own death had turned out to be.

Though she had always felt out of place and alone, she now felt that she was where she truly belonged, at one with the river upon which she had lived her life.

There was a faint sound, a chorus which grew louder in her mind as her heartbeat faded. Her vision closed around the placid school of fish above as a single thought filled her consciousness.

I'm just like a fish...









Author's Note: This was written as a backstory for a character named Kana (short for Kawa Sakana, meaning "River Fish") who appears in the anime series Haibane Renmei (my hands-down favorite visual art production of all time). It is derived from the character profile I created for her appearance as a main character in my novel based on that series. The rather morbid nature of the story is based on the fact that all the main characters in Haibane Renmei enter the world in which the story is set by dying.






 
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