On a Thursday

Illustration by Adam Myers
Illustration by Adam Myers

It's not quite a selkie story, but Oakland writer Laur A. Freymiller's "On A Thursday" is a haunting and contemporary spin on a timeless tale of the sea's gifts given and taken away.

She met me on the bank of a river where the earth turns soft, land melding into water, solid and fading. And not far away, the sound of the ocean.

I had been traveling. Far from my father’s funeral, far from myself. I was seeking —something to give me solace or to end my misery.

So the river presented itself. And who knows how long I would have stood at its edge if she hadn’t appeared.

“Why are you crying?” she had asked. Oh, how young she was, and how delicate. Pale, translucent skin shimmering in the light. Her feet caught in the mud, startling and white. Her eyes dark as the sea.

“My father died,” I said, “and there is nothing left for me in this world.”

“That can’t be true,” she said. “Look at the buds on the trees, the birds in the sky, feel the breath in your chest. There is so much left for you to live.”

“I have no home,” I heard myself say, “no land, no family. Everything I had is gone.”

“Then you will start a new life,” she said and extended her hand. It was a moment before I took it, a moment light from the water played upon her hair, the light all around us, and I could see a new and bright future.

I took her hand.

We were married in a church with a pastor. He spoke to us in Latin and I said the words I could remember. I was raised Catholic if nothing else.

The night we were married she told me one thing.

“You cannot ask about me on a Thursday,” she said.

“All right,” I said.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Don’t do it. If you are happy at all, even a little bit. Do not do it.”

“My dearest, love,” I said, “my one and only, my wife, I will not ask about you on a Thursday.”

“Good,” she said and attacked me with kisses.

We built our house from cedar trees and from driftwood brought up by the sea, so that the whole house smelled like a traveling trunk. We paved our floor with river-smoothed stone and our windowsills with pebbles as brilliant as glass. The seagulls sang to us as we built.

She was strong for all that she was delicate and she was smart for all that she was pale. And I was strong and smart though a man. And together we were happy.

We made love on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Fridays.

But never on a Thursday.

We talked about Proust and Gogol and about God and truth.

But never on a Thursday.

We swam in the river and the ocean and the meeting point of the two, with the salt in our mouths and our mouths on each other.

But never on a Thursday.

We cooked pasta in the kitchen and spilled it in the living room. We watched marathons of Audrey Hepburn movies and we danced to the Rolling Stones.

But never never never on a Thursday.

Years passed and I became a fisherman and she became a dancer and an artist and a sculptor. And we had no money and we were happy. And our first child was due to be born in November.

“Will it be a boy?” I asked.

“How should I know,” she said.

“Will it be a girl?” I asked.

“I could care less,” she said.

“Will you love it?” I asked.

“More than anything,” she said.

And so we were still very happy.

The day of the birth approached. And the doctor gave us a date.

“Is that a Thursday?” she asked.

“Why, yes it is,” the doctor said.

“Oh,” she said.

“Is that a problem?” the doctor asked.

“Just a complication,” she said.

I said nothing, for I knew that I must not ask about her on a Thursday.

That Thursday drew near, and as usual, a few minutes before midnight, I moved from the bedroom to the living room and locked the door behind me. All that day I waited. Hoping to hear something, screams, crying, anything, but there was only silence behind the locked door. As there always was. Silence except for the distant roar of the sea and the plaintive calls of the gulls.

That was the longest day of my life. I spent the time knotting, knotting, knotting a new fishing net. But when at last the clock struck midnight once more and the bedroom door unlocked, I rushed in to see her holding a tiny seashell of a child, pale and silent as moonlight …

There were years that passed like rain on the rooftop, waves against the shore, the smell of salt in everything. In my skin and in hers and in our children. They were small, all three of them, but perfect and beautiful and ours. They collected shells and pressed each one to my ear so I could hear the ocean again and again. They wove houses out of seaweed. They swam across and across and across the river.

But never on a Thursday.

Had I hoped that whatever illness, whatever curse had befallen her, had I hoped that it might pass them by? Had I dreamt that my blood, mixed with hers, our DNA woven together, might have made a stronger net, to pull them from whatever depths?

I had.

But it was not to be.

Fourteen years since we met, fourteen years without Thursdays, fourteen years of joy, sorrow, anger, joy.

And it happened on a Wednesday. I was sitting in my boat, casting out my nets, when I caught hold of something heavy. Enormously heavy, unbelievably so. I hauled with all my strength, I wrestled, and I pulled into the boat the largest fish I had ever seen.

It was covered in scales so light and pale, they shone like silver in the high morning sun.

“Please,” the fish said, “please do not kill me. If you return me to the water, I will give you that which you most desire.”

“What could you possibly have to offer,” I laughed, imagining already the gifts I could buy for my children, the necklace I could place around my wife’s neck, the fortune I would gain from this fish’s flesh.

“I know what your wife does on a Thursday,” the fish said. He was gasping for air at this point, his scales already fading. “If you throw me back I will tell you.”

“How could you possibly know?” I asked. “How do I know you’re not lying?”

“Would I lie?” the fish gasped. “Would I lie?” His tail flapped sadly against the planks.

“Tell me!” I yelled. But too late, the fish had expired. So I rowed home, ready to sell it to the fish market for a stack of bills.

By the time I had reached shore the fish had rotted. I dumped its useless carcass back into the sea.

That night it was a Wednesday night and the fish’s words echoed in my ears.

“I know what your wife does on a Thursday,” the fish had said. “I know what your wife does.”

As usual, I got out of bed shortly before midnight, leaving my wife and our three children all nestled in our bed. I left the four of them lying there, abandoning their warmth for the cold comfort of the couch.

Alone, I tossed and I turned, the moonlight dropping through the window, casting lines of shadow and light, shadow and light. Solid and fading.

“Would I lie?” the fish asked. “Would I lie?”

The seagulls cried in the dark.

I stood. My feet hit the floor with a shock that should have awakened me. But it did not. I walked, my heart jittering, my nerves jangling, and I stood before the locked door. Light shone through the keyhole.

And …

I knelt down and pressed my eye to the hole …

I met her where the river meets the land, where the ocean meets the river. I met her where the earth melds with the water.

I lost her on a Thursday. Her and our beautiful children, delicate and pure as shells on the floor of the ocean. I lost them, fourteen years ago, and I will not find them, not ever again.

Laur is a non-binary writer (they/them) originally from rural Indiana. They enjoy writing about feminism, fairy tales, and flightless birds.

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