by Larissa Banitt
When I was little, my dad told me he used to be a sailor. I had run into his study where he was sitting in a leather chair, he had scooped me up into his lap. He’d pointed toward his dark brown wood bookshelf that lined the side of his wall and I had seen the miniature ship that somehow had fit into a narrow-necked bottle, as if by magic.
“See that ship, Jordan?” he asked me. “Her name is Delilah and I used to be her captain. I had a crew of sea sprites and we sailed the seven seas fighting leviathan, the wily children of the Midgard serpent. Remember that python you met at the zoo?”
“Now imagine something that looked like that, but was a thousand times as long and as fierce. We fought them all over the world for hundreds of years, because as long as you are on the Delilah you don’t age and you heal from all illness and injury. As I recall, they were always especially bad in the Bermuda triangle around Baltain for some reason...”
“What made you stop?” I asked.
He told me that once he had stopped on shore near San Diego for a weekend, had met my mother, and they had fallen in love on the spot. She’d convinced him to give up his life of seafaring and monster-fighting and instead become a copyright lawyer in the Bay Area. That was the biggest testament of his love to her of all, he’d told me, to leave behind excitement and embrace tedium and pencil pushing in the name of financial security. He’d laughed then, and shaken his head as he took a sip from a glass of whiskey that often sat on his desk. He continued recounting how he had disbanded his crew, but had not been able to bear parting with Delilah, so he’d hired a powerful witch to fit it in a bottle with a spell. A spell that could only be broken by smashing the bottle.
As a six-year-old, I couldn’t imagine why someone would give all that up to “embrace tedium and pencil pushing” and even though I wasn’t sure what that meant, I thought it might have something to do with sitting at a desk all day and reading pages with a lot of small words on them since that was what my father tended to do with his time. Even if they did get to marry my mom. Nor did I particularly want to think about what type of consequence I would get for trying to break Delilah’s bottle, as curious as I was to try.
After he’d finished talking he’d winked at me and told me to wash up for dinner. I’d scurried off, but turned as I reached the doorway. My father had his glass in his hand and was looking off into the space in the middle of the room with his eyebrows furrowed and his eyes a bit glassy. I looked away quickly, as though I’d seen something I wasn’t meant to and went to wash my hands. He never mentioned leviathans or Delilah again after that.
Thirty years later, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from my mother saying dad, who had been receiving hospice care at their home for the past six months, had finally succumbed to the cancer and that I needed to meet her at the pier where we used to fish when I was a kid. When I asked her why and where dad’s body was she said, “just do it sweetheart,” her voice cracking. When I tried to object she hung up, leaving me to stare at my phone’s glowing screen. I dressed hurriedly in the dark, not wanting to waste time fumbling with the light switch in my rush. All I could think of was my mother, her bird-light bones folding in on themselves and wispy white hair hanging limp around her distraught face, alone in the night.
What on earth would my mom be doing at a pier half an hour away from the city at this time of night when her husband had just died? While I drove out to her on the still-sleeping streets, part of me worried what she would do before I got there.
When I parked and got out of the car I saw the slender silhouette of my mother, in one of her nice blouses and pencil skirts, outlined against the moonlight glinting off the water. As I approached her I saw her hands were bloody and she was crying.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t wait,” she whispered. “The tide was going out.”
I looked down at her in confusion when a glint against the wood of the pier caught my eyes. By her feet lay the shards of a glass bottle. We stood together in silence for a while, watching the horizon as I nudged the pieces of glass into the sea.
EDITED BY: Sydney Campbell