This story is by Samsa Eunoia and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
As Andrea woke up to an ideal morning for fishing, her father sat next to her working on the nets and said,
“Go back to sleep. We’re not fishing today. I’ve got somethings to do in town. Stay here. I’ll see you later in the afternoon.”
Lately her father was serious and distant. It made Andrea alarmed. But now as he left before she could ask, she was infuriated. So Andrea got on the boat and fished, not to sell on the market, but just to defy him after being rudely disregarded.
Her father, Casey, wasn’t surprised when he came back later that afternoon. Yet instead of just heading inside, like Andrea thought he would, or act upon his fatherly nature and scold her, he swam up to the boat and got on board.
“How it’d go?” She asked, hoping he’d at least say something.
“I need to talk to you about something important.”
Her gut swelled with fear, but she listened.
“I joined a crew that’ll be gone for two years.” He father said and let out a reluctant breath.
Andrea stiffened, stopped, and took two steps back. “Without me?”
She watched her father turn his head away from the setting sun. “I’m afraid this isn’t a boat that allows women—”
“Since when did that matter to you?”
“That has nothing to do with me. That’s just how the world is,” he huffed. “You’ve done me proud as a daughter, as a fisherman. I don’t deny that. But those days are over Andrea. We’ve done everything we’ve can together—”
“We? You signed up on a ship without me. You never told me that you weren’t happy, that you weren’t okay,” she started to shout.
“It’s none of yer business to worry about these things. That’s my job. And I’ll admit I didn’t do you justice, letting you fish all these years. I should’ve done more. But now this is what I’m going to do for you.”
Andrea crossed her arms and shook her head. “No, you can’t just leave me here.”
“I’m not going to leave you alone.”
“You are! You are leaving me alone. Even if it’s with anyone of our friends, you’re still leaving me, just like you left Mother.”
“I know that! But will you please listen to me?”
When she heard the desperation in his voice, she listened.
“Mr. Jacobs and his wife offered to take care of you while I’m gone. I’ll have to pay ‘em what we have left, but it’ll put my mind at ease that you’ll have a bed to sleep in and something to eat.”
Andrea nodded, but her head was turned and her lips twisted into a grimace.
“You be a good lass, now,” Casey said, in a dispirited breath. “Don’t give them any trouble, eh? Before you know it, I’ll be back—”
“Why are you doing this?” she said, though the caring in her voice was dead.
Her father looked down at her and put his hand on her head. “It’s what I must do for us.”
Andrea couldn’t believe how sincere those words were. “Then go.” She gave up. “Do what you must.” That was the end of an ideal fishing day. Of all their fishing days.
Casey brought her to Mr. Jacob’s door that early misty dawn and embraced his daughter for what seemed the last. In her hands, he left her a smooth shell on a string that had been carried by her mother. Andrea looked down at it as her father disappeared into the foggy street, and hid it away.
Mr. Jacobs took her in and gave her a tour of his three-story house. It boarded the outskirts of Perch’s slums, that messy rim between the rich and the poor, where few could be one or the other. As they walked he reassured her, “You’ll be in better care than you ever were before.” Andrea wondered what Mr. Jacobs implied by ‘better care.’ She didn’t let them try to make things better, but Mrs. Jacobs was equally determined to brush her unruly hair, and scrub her skin raw till the smell of fish went away.
“You’ll be no lady smelling of dead tuna,” she said.
“I don’t want to be a lady.”
“Hah. That’s what dumb girls say, and I’m telling ya, you’re going to be one whether you like it or not. If yer mother were here, she’d tell ya the same.” The thick woman drowned Andrea with another bucketful of water. “But I won’t have to convince ya; you’re already growing into it,” she said smacking Andrea’s behind. “Now get dressed. You’ve got work to do.”
Mrs. Jacobs had Andrea clean the house top to bottom. Each morning was sweep, scrub, and scrape until the old hag was content. When Andrea started getting ahead of schedule, Mrs. Jacobs made her do laundry before going to bed. By the end of the night, Andrea was too exhausted to care as she was shoved inside the storage closet and locked in. She lied there in the dark, hard, empty space where some old toys and knick knacks were abandoned. Only now and then there was a distant, haphazard rapping that made Andrea think it was someone at the door. But in this void, it could have been a dream. No one knew she existed, no one but Mrs. Jacob when she’d pulled her out to work again in the morning.
After cleaning, in the afternoons, Mrs. Jacobs would dress Andrea up and have her serve Mr. Jacob’s associates as they came into the study. The men handed her their coats and Andrea served them their drinks and food until Mr. Jacobs sent her away. By now Andrea felt too lost to even argue or fight to put on a dress. She stopped, to save her energy so she wouldn’t drop the heavy tray of whiskey in her hands.
One day, while Andrea locked in after serving the guests, she leaned on the door, listening to the drunken ramble. One the associates, the snake-eyed Mr. Faraday said, “Speaking of wasted expenses, how’d you come by such a lovely maid?” He asked.
“Oh, the girl.” Mrs. Jacobs interrupted her husband. “We took her in because she was the daughter of an old friend of his; even gave us all he had to take care of her.”
“I see. So her father went to look for work?”
“He’s on a voyage. Told her he’d come back, but he might as well be dead. Ya know? I know he won’t, because what’s the point? She’ll be a woman when he returns. Of course, my husband didn’t think this through, but here I am, trying to see what I can do for her.”
“That’s rather kind of you, Mrs. Jacobs.”
“Yeah, kind, this is where kindness gets me. Barely anything.”
“Well, don’t say that just yet.”
“What are you offering?”
“Let me take her off your hands. Name your price and you won’t have to deal with her anymore.”
Andrea felt her heart choke as it leapt in anxiety.
“Just for my conscious, what are you going to do with her?”
“It’s not every day that one gets to have what they want to themselves.”
Whether Mrs. Jacobs agreed to it or not, Andrea couldn’t hear. After a long silence footsteps thundered their way upstairs towards the storage closet. Andrea’s hand reached to find her pack and tied it tightly around her. She waited by the locked door with a hand over her mouth. So this was it—to be given away to yet another person, who would scrub, bruise, and dress her like a doll. Andrea didn’t want to be a doll. She didn’t liked to be played with. So when Mrs. Jacobs opened the door and pulled her out she remained still and let them carry her outside.
The moment her wrists were free Andrea’s body sprung into action. She pulled her arms in and her feet sprung into a mad dash. She could hear Mr. Faraday mount the horse he had outside. She didn’t look back to confirm. She just ran into the maze of streets and did what she had to do to get away.
In an empty square, where she knew she’d lost her pursuer, Andrea took this crucial moment to take some clothes from the drying wire and changed out of her dress. With the knife in her pack she cut her long hair, to further disguise herself. Then she headed to the docks.
It was full of arrivals and departing passengers. Crews were loading the last of their cargo onto the decks and sails were whipping in the breeze. From the corners of her eyes she saw the dock guards with Mr. Faraday.
Andrea slipped into the stream of people and told herself, ‘The first ship I see, I’m getting on it.’
As she pushed desperately through the crowd, unable to know where her pursuer was, she didn’t notice the man coming down from his ship.
“Oi! Watch where yer goin lad.”
“Sorry!” Andrea squeaked. She put a hand over her mouth realizing she needed to fix her voice a bit.
The weathered man looked down at her and rubbed his fuzzy bronze beard. “Where ya headin off to?” The man asked.
“A ship! I’m going to be late.” Andrea said in a lower voice.
“A ship. What ship?” He asked in gruffly.
Andrea looked down at her hands, touched her pockets to look for a piece of paper. “Oh where is it?” In a spur of the moment, she knit her thick brows together in despair and asked, “By chance you wouldn’t happen to need a cabin boy? Or someone in the crow’s nest? I know my way round a ship sir as much as I know how to read the stars-”
“Whoa whoa, hol’ yer horses there, lad. What makes you think yer worth yer salt to be on a ship?”
“I’m a fisherman, like my father,” Andrea said boldly and crossed her arms.
“We’re all fisherman” The mariner scoffed and mimicked Andrea’s stance.
“Look do you want a cabin boy or not?”
“Have you ever been on a real ship before?”
“No I haven’t—”
“This ain’t no wee fishin boat, no short fishin trip. Ye’ll be part of a crew of rowdy men on rough seas. We may never reach land for weeks—”
“Well every sailor has a first voyage. I’m sure you remember yours.”
The old mariner pulled out his pipe and studied Andrea from head to toe. He squinted at the odd figure the boy had, but he was tall and healthy looking.
“Just know that if ye can’t keep up, we’ll throw ye overboard— or eat you if it comes to it.” the mariner said with a sadistic chuckle before motioning for Andrea to follow him.
“You got a name, Cabin Boy?”
“Well Andre, I’m Captain Barty of Ursa’s Bane,” he said.
Andrea had her head turned to the docks, checking to make sure no one was going to come on the ship.
“What are you looking around for cabin boy? Go release those sails before I changed my mind.”
“Y-yes sir!” Andrea said and walked up into the ship. The moment she stepped onto the deck she couldn’t believe it. She could hear the sea again. She could feel the wind whip her face. She didn’t know how she made it here, She doubted for a moment that she could find her father before he’d return, if he’d return. The uncertainty of those odds made her put her defiant foot down onto the ship and face the black horizon. One way or another she’d find him— so she could give him a piece of her mind. Then perhaps they’d fish together again on some other ideal morning.