Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | January 9, 2010

The Sea Monster

Bailey Island, ME. June, 2009.

The man was so old, even his teeth were wrinkled. That’s what the big girls said. Evie wrinkled up her own nose as she walked up behind his rocking chair. Maybe he wouldn’t feel so old and lonely when he saw her nose. Maybe he would open his mouth and show her what wrinkled teeth look like.

“And who’s this?” He spoke without moving his eyes from the sea. His eyes were all white and funny-looking, anyway. Evie wondered if he could see.

She forgot about keeping her nose wrinkled and blurted out, “Do your eyes work? Are your teeth wrinkled? Are you really 500 years old?”

The man laughed, a deep sound like the crashing waves. Evie saw inside his mouth–no teeth at all. Only crinkled up pink gums. Eww.

“Who told you to ask me?”

Evie knew the answer to that one. “No one. I decided myself.” It was true. The big girls liked to joke about the old man, but they never went near him. They said he smelled funny from eating too much fish. They said he was too old to take baths. But Evie wasn’t scared off. Ever since she moved to the inn so her mom could work in the kitchen, she’d watched him sitting on the porch day after day, gazing out at the waves.

“I’m 98 years young, my teeth sure are wrinkled ’cause I keep them in a jar ‘cept when it’s time for meals, and my eyes work just fine for the things that matter.”

“What matters?”

“Ha! What a question for a — how old are you, four?”

“Five!”

“What a question for a five-year-old.”

“Will you tell me?”

The old man lifted his wrinkled hands from his lap and set them down on the sides of the chair. Then he began to rock. Slowly, back and forth. Evie found that she was rocking herself from one foot to another along with him.

“Once upon a time, I was five years old.”

“No!” Evie couldn’t believe it. She thought old people had always been old. They’d just been around forever. Like rocks. Or the ocean.

“It’s true. I was five, and my father was a lobsterman, like everyone else ’round here. He fished off this very spot. Put the boat in right over there, hauled in the traps and stacked them by the kitchen.”

“Where my mommy works!”

“Ah, I thought I’d seen you around before. Evie, is it?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Bill, but I used to go by Billy. When I was your age.”

“Billy.” Evie liked how it ended with an “ee” sound, just like her own name.

“So I used to come out on this porch and stand up on the railing, watching my Da head out to sea. One day he told me it was an important job. I had to keep watch for sea monsters.”

“What’s a sea monster look like?”

“Just wait. I’ll tell you. I was proud to have such an important job. I made myself a driftwood sword and I practiced fighting off sea monsters that tried to stop my Da from catching lobster.”

“Did you really fight any?”

“No, but I saw one. I was standing near where I’m sitting now, and I saw a creature out in the waves. It had a large, flat head like an alligator’s, and fins like a sailfish, but it was twice the size of Da’s boat. I saw it follow the lobsterman, and I shouted, and screamed, but no one did anything. They thought I was playing. I wished I had a bow and arrow. Or a cannon.”

Evie chewed on her fingers and stared out at the waves, trying to imagine the creature Billy saw. “Were you scared?”

“Terrified. Especially when Da’s boat didn’t come home that night. Or the next.”

“The sea monster ate him?”

“No. He did come home. Three days later, with no lobster, and the boat looked like it’d been through hell and back!”

Evie wanted to giggle when he said the “h” word, but she managed to keep her face serious. This was a serious story.

“He wouldn’t tell us what happened. In fact, he rarely spoke a word after that day. It was like my father had been replaced by a ghost. And I knew what was responsible.”

“The sea monster?”

“Exactly. So here’s what matters, Evie. One day, that sea monster will come back. And when it does, my blind old eyes will see it.”

“This time will you kill it?”

“No. Twenty years ago I would have. I kept a gun by this chair back then. But over the years my rage has faded. A monster that rare deserves to live. But I want to tell it to go out in the deep ocean, far, far away from us. And never come back.”

“Oh.” Evie nodded.

Two days later, the chair on the porch was empty. Evie ran to the information desk and asked. “Where is Billy?”

“Who?”

“The old man on the porch.”

“Oh. Um. He passed away.”

Evie had to ask her mom what passed away meant, and when she found out, she ran back to the porch brushing salty tears from her eyes. She sat in Billy’s rocking chair and stared out at sea.

Someday, the sea monster would come back, and she would be there to tell it Billy’s story.

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Responses

  1. let the circle be unbroken or something like that

  2. Always a pleasure to look through your eyes, and savor what they see.


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