A Memory in the Storm
fiction by Shail Bhath
When the storm begins—the worst one the island has seen in all my years—I am looking for my cat, Persephone. She is a fat orange tabby with three uneven stripes on her back, and she is going blind.
“Persephone!” I call out, from behind the porch’s screen door. My wicker chair is knocked over. The toolshed’s door is busted, flapping rhythmically to a harsh beat. I open the porch door and grapple against the wind in a slow dance. My boots sink onto the muddy path, thick like sludge, and stone droplets of rain crack against my wool jacket.
It’s a sluggish walk. I follow a short trail that begins at my home and ends at the harbor, where I come often for brined fish and vegetables, with Persephone tucked in my arms.
The market is abandoned, yet through the symphony of salt winds I hear screams for help. I run against the wind to the pier, following the breadcrumb path laid out by their voice.
“Hello?” I shout towards the ocean. Boats are docked with rope and iron yet they sway wildly against the storm. The skies above are grey, suffocating, and the tides are black with bubbling foam.
I see him, curled against the leg of the pier as the waves rise and smash into him. He is like fine china in the distance, glossed with a spiderweb network of veins underneath his eyes.
His arms scrape the barnacled wood tighter as he is assaulted, again. The water pushes and pulls, and when the waves clap together he is only a fly.
I drop to my knees, almost slipping on the strips of seaweed pressed onto the planks, as the wind begs for another dance. It is restless in encircling my body.
“I’m going to help you,” I yell. My red nails dig into the wood. What can I do but unify our screams? My knees are marble.
I attempt a smile, crawling towards the edge of the pier. With my belly pressed flat against the wood I lean over and extend my hand. The tips of my fingers can just touch his pale cheek.
“I can’t let go!” He screams as another wave comes. His eyes are closed and he clutches harder.
I can feel the perspiration warming underneath my arms. “You have to take my hand.”
The wind rises, not to be outdone by the water. It threatens to push me off. The ocean is a fist and the boy starts to break away. His hand rushes to grab mine, pulling me down.
I want to save him.
The wind and the boy both have me. I see a vision of myself drowning, him taking me to be split apart by the waves, until our bones and souls are entombed for the sea.
I let him go.
The image is branded into my memory: his small mouth opening and the water flooding in. White foam spray elevates and he is gone.
I lunge backward with the wind, my knees hard against the pier as it guides me home.
I have made it across the porch when I stop. In the window of my toolshed I see an outline of Persephone. She’s on a shelf that bends under her weight.
I pick up the wicker chair and sit.
It’s funny, how cats get nine lives.