Title: Ovid, Smoked Fish and the Good
Word Count 1334
Ovid, Smoked Fish and the Good Sea
Almost nobody knew. Mama had always
known, of course. That was only right, it had seemed at the time
that she knew everything. His nurse had known too, but she had simply
accepted it as part of Percy, like his skin which burned in the sun,
or his impossible hair.
When he had been very small he had
thought that everyone could see the colors that the sounds made. He
had realized his mistake soon enough. Smiffy (Miss Smith, as she
really was,) was there until he left for school, and she sorted that
out for him. She couldn't. She said most people couldn't, and she
said that was just fine. She said, dragging a comb through his hair,
that Percy was just fine too, but that some things were best kept to
himself. So he put it away, as children do, in the trunk of things
He had thought it strange that Mama's
hair was straight. He had somehow thought that the colors he saw
went with the curls. He had puzzled over that, along with many other
things, alone in his child's bed, in the slow purple evenings of
That was all ten years back. He was 15
now, and he understood more. He supposed the ability came along in
the breeding, as with dogs or horses. The only question was if it was
a trait that one wanted. He thought on balance that he did. Of
course, some sounds had a nasty taste. As he did with nasty foods, he
The evenings were slow and purple
still, this spring, but he saw them out awake. He was back in the
childhood bed, shaken with the cough that would not stop, freezing
and sweating, as he tried to sleep. He was not ill enough to be
confined entirely to bed, he was not well enough to stay at school.
He could not go riding, or walk very far. He got so tired now. He
spent most days on the sofa with a book. Reading made his head ache.
Coughing made his gut hurt. Mama sat with him, she poured his tea,
and gave him a hard pillow to hold against his middle. That helped a
The doctor came several times a week,
and he pronounced Percy to be improving. He gave firm instructions.
Percy was to eat a low diet. There was an emphasis on broth. That was
all right. Percy could not really recall the last time he had been
hungry. It was act of will to swallow clear broth. He did it so that
Mama and the servants would not worry. And the doctor also had an
irritating interest in Percy's bowels. Mama gave way to that
completely. She was willing to go on at length and right out loud
about the proper schedule of excretions. Percy tried not to listen.
So that was bad enough. But the very worst was that the windows had
to be shut. Percy was to stay, reclining, in a room with a fire. All
of London outside his door, London he had not seen in years because
of school. Everyone else was having a good time, and he was not to
have even a sniff of the breeze.
So here he was, with a book by the
fire. He had choked his broth down, and set the bowl aside. He could
feel a sweat coming on. The wetness collected at his hairline, and
the shuddering chills raced down his back. The page swam before him.
He had lost interest ten pages back, at least. He put the book aside.
His hands were slipping on the pages. He shut his eyes.
It seemed very little time at all,
before the sound came. He could always taste her from a distance. He
pulled the pillow over his head. It was a decorative pillow, small
and stuffed hard. It helped not at all.
“How, with your eyes closed, do you
always know it is me, cousin Percy?”
She had asked him that last week,
rising up on her toes, in her girlish slippers. From a distance she
looked like an angel, white dress floating, and a sash tied with a
bow. She was pretty. She was sweet. She was noisy in her laughter.
She had to be reminded not to slam doors. She was only 12.
He could not tell her that her words
tasted of bad smoked fish. Her color was a bright shimmer that hurt
his sore eyes. Mama had known of course. It was Mama who stepped in
when she offered to read to him.
Now, cowering under the pillow, he
could hear her. Artless prattle-- that was how girl speech was always
described. That or silver bells. Nobody said anything anywhere about
“Because I am Mary and you are Anne--
do you see? Do you see?”
The little voice tipped up at the end,
in laughter. Percy felt his nose curl. He was still wet with fever
sweat. He shuddered with disgust. Not her fault. Little girl. And now
Percy remembered that cousin Mary had a little friend over from the
house across the way. That must be the one she was speaking with.
Strangely the other girl made little impression. They wandered off
in the direction of the kitchens. Not his problem. Cook was quite
capable of sending them off if she chose. More likely they would be
given pie-crust to roll, and a glass of milk.
He woke to the sound of the door
slamming. He rolled to face the back of the sofa. He pressed his face
against the cool silk. He had lost the pillow on the floor somewhere.
He braced himself for the fish voice.
It did not come.
“Oh, excuse me. I did not mean to
wake you. I am here to collect my sister Anne.”
This voice was cool blue, soothing as
balm on burned skin. Percy turned. The voice came from a boy his own
age, or perhaps a little younger. He stood in the doorway, looking
uncertain. He was wearing a uniform of blue, blue as that voice.
“No matter. I should be awake
The boy took a few steps into the room.
It was a midshipman's uniform. Percy could see that now. And the
boy's eyes were blue too.
Percy drew himself to a proper sit.
“Please come in and sit down. I can
hear my mother now, searching for the girls.”
The boy sat. He smiled hesitantly,and
it was a good smile. His teeth were small and even. He leaned
forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
“What are you reading?” The boy,
still nameless indicated the fallen book.
“Ovid. I ought to be reading my
school books but--” Percy made a wry face.
The boy reached down and picked the
book up. He ran a hand over it with such gentle respect that Percy
felt his mouth go dry.
“I suppose it is hard to get new
books, at sea,” Percy said.
“Yes.” The voice was soft and slow.
“I mean, we are not properly at sea, not really. But we still must
stay on the ship.”
“What is the name of your ship?”
It was not a ship that Percy had ever
“I am Percy Edrington.” He said,
tardy with it, and surprised he had forgotten.
“Archibald Kennedy.” The blue voice
said. “Well-- Archie, mostly.”
“Would you like to borrow my Ovid?”
“Oh--” Archie said. He seemed sad.
“I would like that very much, but I have to return to my ship the
day after tomorrow.”
“No mattter.” Percy said. “Take
it with you to your Justinian. I am quite done with it.”
“I would like you to.”
The boy smiled. The blue blazed like
the good sea beneath the sun.
And now in the doorway, the two girls.
And Percy saw his mother smile.