The first time Ashlynn heard it, ‘lost at sea’ sounded like a fake way to die.
Her mother had sailed across oceans a hundred times, and the water never managed to steal her away. A chest-carving cough had taken her little by little, bloodying her teeth with unseen fists. But the ocean always gave her up with a sigh, as if it missed her when she wasn’t there to make ships dance on the waves.
Ashlynn’s father had only sailed out two or three times. Ashlynn’s memory was too young to give a real count. It seemed absurd that he could get lost so easily.
Heroes in plays were lost at sea. Very old ships in very old poems were lost at sea. A great-grandfather she couldn’t remember the name of was lost at sea.
The Captain that arrived to say her father had been swallowed by a wave was joking.
Ashlynn did not laugh, but then, she didn’t laugh at a lot of jokes the adults told. She glanced to her step-mother, to Laryn with one hand still on the doorknob and the other half-held out to invite the Captain inside, to Noll hovering behind the doorway to the lower stair. None of them were laughing either.
So, it was a poor joke.
The Captain looked down. When he had finished what he came to say – a stuttering explanation that brittled the silence until the walls seemed likely to crack – he shuffled back down the porch stairs, and disappeared.
Ashlynn waited for someone else to arrive at the door with better news for a week. Ashlynn’s step-mother cried at her desk in the parlor. When she finished crying, she went to Ashlynn’s room and started packing a small bag with her clothes.
“What are you doing?” Ashlynn asked.
“You’re leaving,” her step-mother said without looking up. She snapped the bag shut, turned the little latch. “There’s no place for you in this house anymore. Go down to market street. Find a shop that will give you work and don’t you ever come back.” Without ever meeting her eye, her stepmother dropped the bag into her hands.
Ashlynn didn’t catch it. It scraped off her fingers, and her fist closed on air while the bag thunked to the floor.
This was fake as well. And somehow sharp as daylight.