Thursday 24 November 2022

Marianne de Nazareth, Short Story 2022 Shortlist

The Cicada's Song

At the edge of the brackish water, where the bulrushes rustle in the breeze, the song of the cicada rises up to fill the somnolent , humid air. Claire’s fine black hair was lifted off the nape of her neck by a playful little breeze which floated down the Paw Dee river Her dark, doe eyes gazed dreamily down the rippling river as she swung her legs from the edge of the pier. In the deep dark depths of the river, she knew there were alligators and snapping turtles and so was careful, watching for any unusual movements in the water below.

She was on holiday with her parents on Pawley Island in North Carolina, for the 4th of July weekend. All the hotels were booked up to full capacity in Charleston , which her parents loved visiting, so the next alternative was George Town and Pawley’s Island.

“ What a weird choice!” growled her Dad to her Mum as they unloaded their stuff from the car boot, into the room.

“ How many stars has this hotel been rated?” asked her sister Olivia grumpily.

“ Three stars!” said her Mum, very matter-of-factly.

“ Three?” squealed her sister. This is an Inn, not a hotel. I hate it.”

“ Stop it Olivia,” said Claire sharply. “ Please stop whining through the trip. We will hardly be in the room all weekend so the room is really quite unimportant.”

“ Rubbish!” said her Dad, taking Olivia’s side, making her mother flair up as always. Her family was never happy anywhere. Fighting and grumbling all the time, exhausting Claire and making her sunny disposition recede into the dark.

Seeing the snowy white sheets in the room and the bouncy mattresses, Claire’s smile returned and the whole family trundled off for lunch. An Inn was not so bad after all she thought, but did Olivia and her Dad think the same way?

“Let’s go to a restaurant with a river view,” said her Mum.

“ Tons of mosquitos and alligators!,” grumbled Olivia and her Dad seconded her grumble. Immediately her Mum began to check her Yelp app to find a place close enough for them to go to. Olivia and her Dad only whined and grumbled, not helping in any way.

“Austin’s Harvest sounds good!” said her mum, “ with 5 star ratings.”

Her Dad hummed along to “ This Girl is on Fire!” being belted out on the car radio by Alicia Keyes. In minutes the whole family was singing on the tops of their voices, as the car smoothly glided down the city main road, with its avenue of ancient old Oak trees festooned gaily with creepy looking Spanish Moss.

The humidity kept the moss growing and spreading across the branches of the trees and it was a great feeling of exhilaration for Claire, driving under the canopies of trees, that had seen generations of visitors pass under their branches over the centuries.

“I can just see a swashbuckling plantation owner riding his horse down this road which probably was just a path a century ago,” said her Mum.

“ Not a very happy idea!,” said Claire who had watched several exceedingly shocking films, about slaves and their miserable lives under nasty and mean plantation bosses in the history of the South.

“ He must have been a nasty man wielding a whip, with a pack of dogs which helped him stop the slaves from escaping,” said Claire.

Entering the crowded restaurant Claire and her family searched for an empty table closer to the view of the river. A haze hung over the water that slapped against the jetty and under the pier.

“ Looks like they have live music at night,” remarked her Dad seeing that a guy was setting up a small stage with musical instruments,

“ We could definitely come back here for dinner.”

“Änd Karaoke!” shouted Olivia excitedly.

“ Yes, let's do that !” said her Mum as they slipped into comfortable chairs while a smiling waitress in the skimpiest of shorts, offered them Menus. Poor Claire hated karaoke as she was tone deaf and could not sing. What was worse, her Dad would force her on stage and then yell at her in front of strangers, if she did not keep the note.

So Claire wandered off to the pier and stayed away while the family fought and bickered over the menu and what to order as always. It was embarrassing and Claire preferred the quiet of the pier and the lapping sounds of the river.

“Ready to order?” asked the waitress while her Mum rattled off “She Crab Soup! Stuffed Mushroom and Grilled Grouper fish fillets for herself and her husband. She ordered regular burgers with french fries for the girls.

“Claire! Your meal has arrived, come in and eat!” called out her mother and Claire who was daydreaming did not hear her. She was sad thinking of how her family could never agree and there was always nastiness swirling around wherever they went. Here they were on vacation and yet! Bicker and fight and never a good word between any of them.

The song of the cicadas rose to a crescendo and Claire loved their churring, rasping song which rose and sank in waves, washing over her senses. A fish plopped back into the black depths of the river and the balmy and tranquil waters seemed to be inviting her to join its depths. It was like a spell had risen out of the peaceful depths of the Paw Dee, entwining and enfolding her in its soothing embrace.

“All the fights and bickering will go away forever !” whispered the lapping waters.

“ You can find joy and contentment in my arms,” promised the gently murmuring waters eddying and rolling against the pier.

“Just gently slip off the pier and join us,” urged the bull-rushes and the birds flitting between them.

“ I am coming, I am coming,” mouthed Claire, staring unblinkingly into the black depths, in a seemingly hypnotic trance.

“ Claire! Where are you?” floated her mother’s voice in the breeze overhead, while Claire just launched herself into the cool swirling waters, which swallowed her into their depths in minutes.

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