Sep 17, 2013

Runner-up: Seahorse by Jonathan Garner

The sea, if Jim had to guess, was salty only because the world held so much sadness. Millions of tears fell, running in rivers of sorrow, until all the oceans in the world were salty instead of sweet.

Many of the tears were his.

His daughter had stopped smiling this morning. The doctor said Miri wouldn’t last the day. It was time to say goodbye, but he couldn’t do it yet. He needed to compose himself, and to do that, he had to get away from her and the many seahorse decorations that filled her room.

So he left the cottage and went down to the sea, where his little angel couldn’t see his tears. His wife had long since cried herself dry, but his tears came slower, and he still had a few left.

When the tears were gone, he remained sitting in the sand, staring at the waves crashing onto the beach, thinking. Everything he tried, from dancing about to saying her favorite jokes, had failed to bring a smile to his daughter.

When Miri talked of heaven, the pain left her face, but still no smile came. He wanted to give her one last smile before she left him and went to play on heaven’s beaches, but had no idea how to bring a final ray of joy to her face.

Jim stared into the water, his burning eyes seeing nothing but a blur of green. Then a brown blur got his attention, and he focused on it. A little seahorse swam in a salty wave.

It reminded him of Miri’s room, and that thought caused him to leap to his feet. Miri loved seahorses, and had always dreamed of seeing a real one, but had never got a chance to. She thought she never would.

Praying that he could change that, he ran up the sandy hill to the cottage and grabbed a jar off a windowsill. When he returned to the water, he expected the seahorse to be gone, but it was swimming through a new wave.

He splashed into the water, not caring that his clothes got wet. Dipping the jar into the sea, he pressed it downward until it was filled with water, then moved the mouth towards the seahorse. The little creature avoided his jar during several swipes, but he persisted until it was sucked in and caught.

With a violent splash, he lifted the jar out of the water, holding it up and watching it sparkle in the sun. The seahorse swam around peacefully in the jar, as if content to be in such a tiny sea.

He proceeded carefully out of the water and across the beach, not wanting to accidentally drop the jar and ruin everything. When he reached the cottage, he entered it with his treasure.

As Jim came into his daughter’s room, he saw that her eyes were closed, but her chest was rising and falling. His wife gave him a blank stare that turned quizzical as she saw the jar and his wet clothes.

When the realization of what was in the jar sunk in, a bit of life rushed into her eyes. She gently shook the little angel next to her awake.

Jim knelt next to Miri’s bed, watching the little girl’s eyes slowly come to rest upon the jar.

“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered. “A seahorse.” For one very brief moment, she smiled, and he smiled back.

Hours passed as he held the jar there for her to watch, knowing that his wish would not be granted a second time. Her breathing grew shallower, and her eyes closed, never to open again.

The doctor came and went, confirming what the young couple already knew. When they could no longer look at their daughter, they stared at the jar with the seahorse.

Somehow, even in a salty sea, beautiful things lived. As he and his wife found new tears, he hoped that good would come of these tears as well.

They left the cottage and went down to the edge of the sea. He poured the jar into an incoming wave, watching the little creature swim out into the ocean.

“Farewell,” he whispered.

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My thoughts:

Overall: 3.5 stars
In hindsight, I'm not sure why this story grabbed me so much. Perhaps it was my mood. Perhaps because I'm discovering how much bittersweet stories please me. Whatever it was, this story has a little something extra, despite its plain exterior. It seemed a shame not to include it, at least in the runners-up. Congrats to the author for creating something I just couldn't let go of.

Concept: 3.5 stars
Kudos, as well, for not cluttering up the story with a lot of other plot points. It's simple, clean, easy to follow. The "sea of sorrow" theme ties in well at the beginning and the end. Again, there are only two names. Jim and Mari. The doctor is not named, neither is the mother. This helps put the focus where it belongs - on a little girl's dying wish.
Plot: 3.5 stars
The arc is one of the most beautiful things about this story. It proceeds exactly as you expect it to. No miracles, no magic, no sudden bursts of inspiration. Yet by the end you're left with a gently unexpected feeling, like the first touch of waves on your toes.

Characters: 2.5 stars
This is one reason this piece didn't place in the top three. The characters needed more filling out, more outward and inward description. Unlike the third-place story, you're not drawn in to Jim's head. He seems merely a vessel from which to observe the events. I realize it's meant to be short, but details as to their personalities, hopes and dreams, biggest fears, could have made it even more potent. Since they're characters in a short story, you can afford to include improbable things (for instance, if Jim was afraid of water, if his daughter hoped to sail a sailboat someday, if his wife had stopped canning when their daughter got sick and he had to scramble to find a jar, et cetera), whereas in real life or in a novel, the characters' personalities and such tend to be more widely spread.

Execution: 3 stars
For the most part, though, I can class this with Grace Pennington's All My Tomorrows and say that the writing doesn't get in the way but lets the story flow naturally. The opening is another of my favorite things about this story. It's personal. It grabs you, but not too hard. It fits the tone and sets the stage very nicely.

Technical: 3.5 stars
Technically, this story is very clean, with well-crafted sentence that vary in length and structure. It didn't require any editing and I commend the author for taking time to make sure it was polished before submitting. This is another story that could have benefited from stronger writing, though. Replacing the weak verbs with stronger ones or using more inventive language would have beefed it up a bit, maybe placed it higher.


Sandra said...

Wow! Nice job Jonathan!
By the way, E, I'm really enjoying the bittersweet stories too. ^_^

Jonathan Garner said...

Thank you, Sandra!

I enjoyed the contest, Elizabeth. Thank you for the critique!