What’s this? Another new Jennifer Hudock novella? Check out the excerpt, and go buy that motherfucker!
Sure, I had memories, golden days in the park when he couldn’t push me high enough on the swings, summer afternoons wading through the creek catching crayfish, and how his knowledge of the stars could easily turn a sleepless night into adventure. He sang me ancient lullabies in a language I never learned, and his bedtime stories came from the heart, not the pages of a book. I knew that I got my green eyes from him, the red sheen of my hair from his mother’s grandmother, and the freckles from his brother, Owen, whom I had never met. Yes, I had more than enough memories to carry me through, but it was his paintings that lingered on after he was gone.
Despite living in the middle of farm country Pennsylvania, all of my father’s paintings were of the sea in its many guises. Each painting was a tiny piece of him that he’d left behind, the only goodbye note before he mysteriously disappeared that afternoon while I was at school. Every night after he left I sneaked into his studio, stood in the half-dark of the setting sun and tried to decipher the messages he’d left me. Orange slices of sunset slanted through the blinds behind me as I watched the raging sea roil inside the canvas. Alive and overwhelmingly real, in the silence I could hear the distant call of gulls as the waves smashed like fists upon the shore.
Eventually my mother put a lock on the door and gave me a stern lecture about putting the past behind us. She did it just to punish me. She was jealous that the paintings spoke to me, but more afraid that I might discover some hint about where he’d gone. Maybe she worried that I would follow and forget her just like he did. She hid the key so well that entry was impossible. I didn’t cry, or fight her though I needed to. I wanted to scream and tear the smug look from her face, but instead I acted like I didn’t care. She took away from me the last physical connection I had to my father, and for that I could never forgive her.
It wasn’t long after she locked the door that I began to dream myself inside the paintings. Drifting from wave to wave, surrounded by a host of sleek, grey seals, whose joyful song soared high above the waves. Around and around the seals swam in an ancient spiral dance, and then my father appeared from the edge of the circle, young again, younger than I’d ever seen him even in photographs, but his eyes always gave him away. He smiled, and it was a real smile.
“It’s time to come home,” he said.
He held out his hand, and I grasped his fingers, but as he disappeared beneath the water, the waves pushed me upward every time I tried to follow. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t follow where he went, as though the sea itself kept spitting me out. One by one the seals all disappeared and darkness drew the sun away. Alone, buoyant, wave over wave of salt musk and hundreds of miles between me and dry land, I laid back and floated beneath the endless stars while moonlight rippled silver sheets over my ocean bed.