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Dawn, and the Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth
by Micheal F. Flynn

A native and resident of Easton, Pennsylvania, and the grandfather of “three incredibly cute and talented children,” Michael Flynn makes his living as a management consultant in statistical methods and quality management. He is the author of the Firestar series and, most recently, the critically well-received novel, The Wreck of the River of Stars. His short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, and elsewhere. Mike has been a Hugo nominee four times and won the Sturgeon prize for his Asimov’s story, “House of Dreams” (October/ November 1997). His next novel, Eifelheim, will be released from Tor in October. In his first story for us in nine years, Mike masterfully explores the after effects of a disaster that seems to swallow up the . . .
 

 

At six-thirty of an early fall morning, when the sun was just lighting the evergreens and new snow glistened atop Ranier, Motor Vessel Hyak left Pier 52 in Seattle, bound for Bremerton. A Washington State Ferry of the Super Class, longer than a football field, she grossed 2700 tons dead weight and drew eighteen and a half feet. She cast off with nearly a thousand souls aboard and motored into a fog in the center of Elliott Bay.

None of them were ever seen again.

Chino Mendez

People say at first what business has a poor fisherman to speak of Jesus? I have no education, no clever words. I have nothing but the high school and many years of chasing the tuna. But then I thought: what better thing for a preacher than to start as a fisherman? There is precedent, no?

I will give my witness as I saw it, so you may believe with me.

Understand that I was a sinner before. This is important. I drank and I gambled and I had women. Oh, yes. Perhaps you do not think so to look at me, but women find me attractive. I have cut men in fights. Perhaps I killed a man in Miami, but this I do not know for sure.

I tell you this because you must understand what I was, so that you may understand what I am, and so understand what I say. If one as lost as me can be found, there is hope for all.

I was christened Ipolito, but my friends have always called me Chino, because of my eyes. Oh, yes, there were many Chinese brought to Cooba years ago and their blood runs in me. I have been a fisherman all my life, even before I fled Cooba. I fished the Gulf, and then the Keys, and then I came here to these strange, cold waters. Capitan Norris give me a place on his Esmeralda and he teach me the waters of the Sound and there were many very hard years, but never did I complain. Well, perhaps a little.

That morning we cast off and took our bearing on Duwamish Head. The dawn was behind us and the air shimmer like the rainbow. The horizon glowed red; the sky above me, blue; and all the colors ranged between. Oh, the salt tang of the sea! Oh, the cries of the gulls! They swoop in a great circle around the bay. Around and around. I look back now and I see how clear were all my senses that day.

We hear the horn of the ferry as she left the pier and for a time our paths run side by side, the great ferry and the humble fishing boat, but the capitan saw a fog is risen in the bay, so he turn the wheel a little to avoid it. The ferry, yes, had the radar and the global positioning, and so she sailed into the fog, her horn booming. I hear the churn of her engines as she pass us, and I see the people who lined the railing. Some were reading of the newspapers. Some were watching the scenery. Some were talking to each other. There was one—a young girl near the quarter rail—who saw me watching. She was, I think, twelve. She smile and wave to me and I wave back and the capitan saw, and our boat’s whistle shrieked and the little girl, she clapped in delight.

But the capitan was fight the wheel. There was a strong current where there been no current before. I had the mad fancy that our boat sat . . . somehow . . . on the lip of a waterfall. We struggled like salmon against it as it pull us into the fog, toward the ferry. 

A collision with such a ship would destroy us, so Ngyuen and me—he is the other deckhand—we throw the bumpers over the side and stand by with the fending poles. When I look up again at the deck of the ferry, I see the little girl bathed in a golden-red light, such as one sees at dawn. The light came from out of the fog, you understand, and what sun has ever dawned in the west? It seem like all the ferry was aglow and I hear a great shout from on board. The foghorn was take on a sound like a train racing away. The little girl turn and face into the fog and her mouth drop open. Oh, it was a look of such delight! And she raise her hands to her face, and then the fog shrouded her, too, and everything—boat, foghorn, girl—vanished into silence.

I did not understand then what I had seen, but I have thought over it much since. The strange fog. The strange current. The great light and the shout. Even the birds that wheeled over the spot. How could such a large vessel vanish so completely and so quickly? I found the answer in the smile of a little child.

God had taken them all to Him, as a sign to the rest of us. That is why you will never find them or find the boat. That is why the girl smiled. All I was granted was the rainbow sign, but she had seen the pure light of heaven.

I have heard others say I must be wrong because there was nothing especially holy about the people on that ferry that day. Only a thousand ordinary people.

But don’t you see?

That is the Good News.

 

 

Able Seaman Jimmy Lang

The helicopter is already warming up when Jimmy and the crew scramble out to the pad. He doesn’t know what the alert is all about, only that something happened to the Bremerton ferry. Liz Coburn doesn’t know either. “But it’s not good news,” she says. They check the rescue equipment on board.

It’s hard to talk over the steady whop-whop of the blades, which is just as well, because Jimmy doesn’t have much to say. He can never find the words when he needs them. He’ll rehearse them in his head, and run through them over and over until he is sure they are the right words; but by the time they’re ready to come out, the moment for them has passed.

Three frogs trot across the pad, already in their wet suits but carrying their flippers in their hands. Jimmy and Liz help them into the helicopter and Jimmy gives the high sign to the pilot.

He slides the cabin door shut and the chopper tilts and rises. The frogs are checking the air tanks and Jimmy tells them he already done that, but they just look at him and continue checking. Jimmy turns to the window and watches the water race past below them. A container ship is working its way into the harbor and Jimmy cranes his neck to watch it. What he wants to do is ask Liz if she’d go to a movie with him tonight, but what he says is, “Look how big that thing is.”

“If that ferry’s going down. . . .” Liz tells him. “Oh, God, Hyak can carry two thousand.”

One of the frogs tells them that ATN Puget Sound is putting out with the barge and they’ll try to get people up on that. “That’s a good idea,” Jimmy says, like they asked for his approval.

The chopper cants suddenly and changes direction and everyone in the cargo bay dances to keep their balance. Liz falls against Jimmy and Jimmy puts his arm around her waist to steady her. They are friends, him and Liz. “My good bud,’ ” Liz calls him. He thinks she might mean more than that, but he has never gotten up the nerve to ask.

The morning fog has mostly burned off by now. Only a large puff remains, floating in the waters like an iceberg. It is shot through with reflected colors—green from the waters, blue from the sky, brown from the earth, white from the clouds, tawny red from the dawn. Jimmy thinks the water looks funny, too. The waves are all a-jumble, some lapping toward the fog instead of toward the shore. “Looks purty,” he tells Liz.

But Liz just shakes her head. “Where’s the ferry? Ain’t no sign of ’er.”

Liz is, in Jimmy’s estimation, the most perfect woman on Earth, after his maw. She’s smart, but she doesn’t laugh at him like other women and treats him nice, though not half so nice as he would like her to. He has not yet kissed her, although he imagines what that must be like.

“Can a boat sink that fast?” Jimmy asks; but Liz just shakes her head, and it worries him that a smart gal like her doesn’t know.

The chopper swoops suddenly toward the fog and Jimmy hears the pilot say bad words.

“Wind shear,” the co-pilot calls out, explaining the swerve. The frogs ask if there’s a fix on the ferry, but the co-pilot shakes his head. “Something’s wrong. VTS got three radar fixes, but they’re three different positions, and too far away.” With the wind the way it is, he’ll drop them as close as he can to the last visual position.

Jimmy calls out “Aye” to show that he heard and he and Liz ready the hoist. They clip a sling to the end of the cable to lift people out of the water and onto the ATN’s barge. They pile flotation devices by the sliding door. The frogs pull on their flippers and test their air.

“Ready back here,” the chief tells the pilot.

The chopper hovers and Jimmy heaves the door open. This is the part he likes best: standing in the open doorway above the waves, with the wind buffeting his face, with the tang of salt on his lips. The buzz of the rotors fills the cabin and the spray splashes onto the deck. A brisk breeze streams toward the fog, and Jimmy fancies the fog is somehow sucking air into it.

Liz waves to the frogs and they step forward and drop the few feet into the bay, one-two-three. She looks out the door. “Ain’t nobody in the water,” she says.

“The frogs are there,” Jimmy points out what he thinks an obvious oversight on her part.

“But who they gonna rescue?” Liz is angry, and Jimmy thinks it is at him for correcting her.

The helicopter rises, banks, and, caught in another sudden wind shear, tilts to one side. The pilot cries out. Jimmy can hear the fear even over the noise of the rotors. Liz slips on a puddle and slides down the canted deck and out the open door. Jimmy, who has been holding on to the hoist cable, reaches toward her as she slides past, but their fingers only touch before she is gone, and the last thing Jimmy sees is her scowl of annoyance.

He does not stop to think. “Man overboard!” he cries. The pilot brings the chopper around, and Jimmy readies the sling. Liz is a good swimmer, so he is not worried. He thinks they will laugh about it later, when the rescue is over.

He sees her swimming hard against a strong current. The pilot is fighting the turbulent winds and cannot get close enough for the hoist, so Jimmy unclips the flotation ring and throws it to her so that she does not wear herself out swimming.

He is a good thrower. He always wins when Group Seattle holds its Rescue Olympics. He puts the ring right beside her so that with two good strokes she grabs hold of it. She waves to him and Jimmy grins with pride as he waves back. He already thinks of the kind words she will say to him after she is pulled aboard. Maybe she will kiss him. Maybe . . . He blushes at the anticipation of memories.

Once she has grasped the ring, the strange riptide takes Liz into the rapidly diminishing fog. There is not much left of the mist now: a few corkscrew streamers. Seen through the haze, the water looks different, darker and redder. Jimmy searches for Liz through the mist but does not spot her.

Even when at last the fog is entirely gone, there is no sign of her.

The chopper circles and circles and when finally it must return to base, Jimmy is crying like a baby.

Only one of the frogs comes back with them, and he does not say much of anything.

 

 

Mitch Raftery

So.

If you’re married to a bitch, a dockside bar can be a haven. When you order a bourbon and water, you call it “comfort food,” which earns a short grin from the bartender. He asks no questions. He doesn’t care why you drink.

“Get a job, get a job,” you tell your bourbon. “And what’s it matter if it’s all the way to hell and Bremerton to get it.” This is more than the bartender really wants to know, but he ventures that a good job is a good thing to have.

“Never said it was a ‘good’ job,” you correct him. “Look at me. I got a degree, an MBA. So I should clerk at some two-bit operation?” You don’t tell him about the truly skilled accounting work you’ve done, the kind that got you fired from your last job, or about your ever-loving’s mountain of debt that drove you to it. He’s got no Need To Know.

Better than nothing, the bartender suggests. I’m a BS in chemistry.

You hold up your now-empty glass. “Then how about some ‘better living through chemistry’?”

Now you’re talking his language. So, you drink a while and chat in a desultory manner. The bartender comments on the thick fog that has shrouded the harbor. You don’t think fog at dawn on Elliott Bay is anything remarkable, but you remark anyway. Yes, that is the thickest and most unusual cloud of vapors ever known to mankind—excluding the cloud of vapors you gave your bitch-wife after the boss caught you with your hand in the till, although you don’t share that particular tidbit, either. Sure, the firm didn’t file charges, but only because the partners didn’t want to invite an audit. So who’s the bigger crook? “Everybody does it,” you mutter.

Your wife would never have understood anyway. She would never have accepted the blame. Ask the boss for a raise. Tell the boss you need a raise. As if the boss cared what anyone needed. Was there a credit card anywhere on the face of the planet that was not maxed out? Was there an ATM anywhere in Seattle that did not hemorrhage cash as through a suppurating wound?

“Never marry a rich girl,” you tell the bartender, and he tells you there’s no danger of that, just as if you cared what sow he porked. Don’t marry a pretty one, either, he adds, or other guys will always be sniffing around.

Yeah, and a rich pretty girl is the worst of both worlds. Too used to spendthrift wealth; too used to flattering beaus. What matter if you have to work late because you need the OT because her skinflint parents didn’t approve of Little Precious marrying “down” and won’t shell out dime one to help? No reason why that should hamper the good times or the club-hopping. No reason why she can’t always have the best.

And her old man, he has to blah-blah-blah how he started with nothing, too, and how he envies you the same challenge. And what a sanctimonious, bullshit, self-righteous excuse for selfishness that is. Okay, maybe the old fart really had started poor, but then he hadn’t married the National Debt, either. No, he had to beget that one, spoil it rotten, and pass it on to you.

“I’d’ve paid it back,” you tell the empty glass in front of you. The way the markets were growing, the money should have multiplied like loaves and fishes long before the comptroller noticed the transaction. And it had. So you waited. Just a little bit more, just a little bit more, and the stock value went up and up and up until there was nothing left, and how could that much money evaporate like the morning fog?

Except this morning’s fog is not evaporating. A deep, extended blast pierces the dawn and you start on your barstool because you know it’s the ferry casting loose and you are supposed to be on that ferry heading for a job interview in God-forsake-us Bremerton. Oh, Honey-bun will ream you fair if you screw this one up.

You slap a president down on the bar top without even looking to see who it is and stagger out onto the sidewalk. Alaskan Way is nearly empty, as if everyone has stood aside to make room for your hopeless sprint to the pier.

By the time you reach Pier 52, winded and disheveled, the ferry is gone. You curse and shake a fist. Why is it that you never have any luck?

A score of people mill about dockside now, sharing their mutual ignorance of events. You hear something about the ferry vanishing and you turn and gawp at him. “You mean it sank?” He nods. Hundreds dead for sure; maybe more than a thousand. The crowd is buzzing now, approaching that critical mass where uninformed speculation implodes into a hard knot of impermeable belief. Stunned sorrow clashes with ghoulish wonder. The networks are coming! Oh, the networks are coming!

You shade your eyes against the dazzle of the waves and you see nothing. No boats. No one in the water. A lone frogman being hoisted into the ’copter. Words tumble from the lips around you: Tragedy. Catastrophe. Terrorists. Aliens. Sea Monster. But the one word that occurs to you, you do not voice, and that is Opportunity. And your rage evaporates with the last of the fog.

Poor Mitch Raftery! He has drowned with all the others. Your wife will think so; her parents will; your employers past and prospective will. Why, you have become as one already dead. You can hear the drumming of the dirt on your coffin lid, the lying words of sorrow spoken over you by people who never gave a shit when you were alive. But your death is your salvation, for you can rise again—and not wait any three damn days to do it. You can be born again through the waters of this most peculiar baptism, cleansed of all past sins. You can start fresh, with a new name, a clean slate, hobbled no longer by a spendthrift wife, or skinflint in-laws, or hypocritical bosses. Without those shackles, how high might you soar?

It is a shining vision, and you stand there dockside stunned by the beauty of it. “By God,” you mutter, “I’ll have the life I deserve.”

So.

You slip anonymously from the docks, plans already whirling through your mind. There are ways to acquire driver’s licenses and ID cards. You know a few people. You can make a new start in a new city; you can live a new life.

You can become a new Mitch Raftery.

 

 

Dolly Mannerheim

If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so at times does mere existence. Howard Mannerheim was a man so ordinary that he vanished into the wallpaper of the world long before he vanished from it.

Dolly Mannerheim, his wife, was a tall woman who managed somehow to appear stocky. It was something in her posture. She was embarrassed to be seen in public with her husband, who was shorter by a head, and so in consequence they did not go out much. Howard never noticed, which was part of the problem.

Her parents had named her “Medallion” for no better reason than a couple of tokes from an especially potent stash the night following the delivery. Dolly-the-child had thought her name Seriously Cool, but she was past forty now and it seemed now less cool than affected. “Dolly” was not much better—resonance of child, resonance of plaything—but she did not know what else she might call herself.

She saw Howard off that morning as she usually did. He was a consulting engineer working at a construction site outside Bremerton. Dolly thought it was an office complex or perhaps a dam—something which at any rate required a lot of wire and concrete and steel. It was also, mirabile dictu, a local assignment—which meant that Howard could actually come home each day, a circumstance not without its complications.

It was his habit to catch the six-thirty ferry, so Dolly would get up with sandpaper eyes and ensure a breakfast and a cab to take him down Queen Anne Hill to the ferry dock. “You take such good care of me,” he told her, sitting down to a bowl of soggy flakes drowned in milk. Perhaps he meant it—he was not a demanding man—but he always said the same thing, so perhaps he didn’t mean much. Howard was a creature of habits and she had learned (or had convinced herself) over the years that there was behind that compendium of tics and routines no genuine person. Were it not for clichés, he would sit dumb.

At the door, the cab already waiting, Dolly offered him her cheek and he gave it the usual perfunctory benediction before walking down the steps, where the cabbie, had he been listening, might have heard him mutter something about “dry sticks.”

Afterward, she just had time to shower and don a blouse and a pair of plain brown slacks before Rick scampered across from next door. He always leapt the fence that separated their two back yards. He never came around to the front door. In part, this was respect for the proprieties (which made it a hypocritical act). In the other part, it was a display of prowess. (Which made it a cocksure act. It was a picket fence he vaulted.)

Dolly let him into the kitchen and he followed her to the bedroom, where they had sex. Some days they might have a drink or two first. In the beginning, she had always taken a few drinks, even before the discreet knock at the kitchen door.

When Rick was engrossed in medias res, she whispered urgently, “Howard’s at the door! He must have missed the ferry!” And she laughed when he, for a moment, stiffened in alarm.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” he said (for this was not the first time she had whispered wolf in his ear). But in fact, the possibility that Howard would miss his boat and would walk in upon her was the only excitement left to Dolly in the affair, which had progressed by stages from the unthinkable to the routine. While Howard’s assignments had been out of town, she and Rick had enjoyed intimate clubs and fine meals and nights spent on satin in upscale hotels. There had been an electricity to it then. Confined now to the occasional morning or afternoon liaison, the flames had faded to coals, and coals to ashes.

Rick had no idea of this. He thought he mattered. But it had been the dancing and the dining and the shows, not Rick’s qualities as a lover, that had led Dolly to him. He was no Adonis. As the world measured these things, Howard actually had the edge. Nor was he especially attentive or romantic. What he was, was convenient.

There were days when she wanted to summon Howard on his cell phone and bring him back on some pretext. She wanted something to happen. Anything. Even confrontation. If she could not have the heat of passion, she would have the heat of anger. Lacking either, she had gone cold. And yet, though she thought of it often, she could never quite bring herself to do it.

Later, in the front room, she served coffee, and that peculiar silence descended in which by unspoken consent she and Rick would not talk about what they did. Rick, standing by the front window, pulled the curtain a little to the side and remarked how empty the streets seemed with everyone off to work or school—as if some pestilence had caused humanity to disappear.

Dolly was sitting in her television chair. “I wish Howard would disappear,” she responded with sudden, quiet, and terrible sincerity.

Rick thought she meant so that they could drop the secrecy and be together openly, and he preened just a bit, for he desired above all else to be desired. But Dolly had not been thinking of him. In a way, she hadn’t even been thinking of Howard; but afterward she could never quite convince herself that it was mere coincidence.

Rick started at the door chimes and Dolly, with malice aforethought, strode to the door as if to throw it open with him in plain sight; but she paused with her hand on the knob until she heard the kitchen door click closed. She smiled a little at that, at what it said about Rick, at what it said about her. Then the bell rang again, and this time she did open the door.

It was Lillian Gelberson from down the corner. Lillian was a young woman who wore glasses only for effect and operated a blog out of her home. Dolly (who had no idea what a web log was) had privately named her Miss Perky, by which she did not intend a compliment. Lillian had the irritating habit of beginning conversations in the middle. “Oh, Dolly! I’m so sorry,” she announced in a voice apparently intended to be sympathetic, but which sounded instead only cryptic.

“About what?” Dolly said, wondering if Lillian had seen or heard Rick’s departure. Perhaps the woman was sorry that Dolly needed a lover, or that the lover was Rick, or that she herself had no hope of getting one of her own. Dolly was glad something had come along to shoo Rick away, but she was not especially glad that it had been Lillian.

“About what? Ohmigod! You mean you haven’t heard? Ohmigod! The Hyak! It’s gone! And then I thought, ohmigod, isn’t that the ferry that your husband takes?”

“What do you mean gone?” Dolly asked in irritation. “Of course it’s gone. It leaves at six-thirty.”

“No, no. I mean vanished. Disappeared. Ohmigod, helicopters have been crisscrossing the bay and there’s not a trace.” She knew this because she had been following the breaking news on the web, uploading links to her blog, trading overwrought IMs. (Nothing is quite so invigorating to a certain turn of mind than the safe proximity of disaster.) Her window opened on a view of the bay, but it had not occurred to her to look out of it. The Web was All.

Dolly failed at first to understand. The words came at her too fast and all a-jumble. “Do you mean the ferry sank? How can that happen?” Ferries sank in the Philippines, ferries sank in Bangladesh. They did not sink in Elliott Bay.

“We don’t know yet,” Lillian told her. “The fog was in, and people down the harbor say the Hyak never came out the other side.” Lillian continued to chatter hyperkinetic sympathy, but Dolly stopped listening after that.

“Disappeared. . . .” she whispered. Perhaps Howard would not be coming home, after all. Rick would like that. Or would he?

She was sitting on the sofa with no recollection of having gotten there. Lillian was beside her, holding her hands. Go away, she thought at the woman. Go away. But the words never reached her lips. She didn’t want company. She didn’t want to be alone. “Two thousand, did you say?”

Lillian may have speculated on how full the vessel had been, but all she said to Dolly was, “It’s Howard that matters now,” which was not strictly factual, but which might have been paradoxically true. Howard mattered because he was no longer matter.

“Dolly, is there anything I can do?”

Images of Lillian Gelberson in scuba gear searching amidst the sunken hulk of M.V. Hyak, hoisting wreckage from the water, performing mouth to mouth resuscitation. Do what, Dolly wondered. “Be careful what you wish for,” she murmured, but Lillian did not quite hear.

As the weeks followed and the media ran through their paradigm, her remorse grew ever more intolerable. Each time they showed one of the awkward snapshots on the evening news, she cringed. At meetings of “The Families of the Victims.” (And of course there were such meetings. A regiment of grief counselors flew into Seattle to prolong the agony.) Dolly would avoid the other spouses and families and significant others, would not even meet their eyes. Everyone took this as profound grief. No one recognized it as guilt.

Perhaps a thousand wives had wished their husbands gone that morning. It was not beyond belief. But Dolly did not believe it. As nearly as she could estimate, the Hyak had vanished at the very moment when she had wished Howard gone. But the elves that grant the wishes oft have cruel streaks in them. She had never intended that a thousand others vanish with him. The weight of a thousand was as the weight of a single one. There was something about that in the Bible. Or in the Koran. Or in a fortune cookie she had once read.

The media christened it The Disappearance. They early on capitalized the whole business and assigned the roles that everyone was to play. No one ever found any bodies. No flotsam ever graced the shores of Elliott Bay. Consequently, Dolly and the others like her were presented as grieving-but-ever-hopeful that their loved ones would somehow, someday come back. (Although from where, no one seemed quite sure.) And so, she must play Penelope to Howard’s Odysseus.

For a time, Rick concurred. In the spotlight of publicity, his stealthy visits might seem unseemly; and so he abstained for a time out of respect for the dead and also out of a little self-interest. But he never did understand why, after the commotion had died and the cameras sought elsewhere for sensation, Dolly did not re-open that kitchen door. He’s gone, he told her again and again. He’s never coming back. (Not that it had ever mattered when he had.) Dolly could not explain it either, and, after a time, Rick found another neighbor or a co-worker or maybe even his ex-wife.

Dolly no longer needed a lover. Somehow, by vanishing completely, Howard had become ubiquitous, and occupied her life without the bother of actually being present in it. His absence was consequential in a way that his presence had never been. She was asked about him constantly: by friends and relatives, by interviewers for magazines and television stations. She appeared on Conan with a half dozen other bereaved and was applauded by the audience, as if the loss of her husband had been some sort of accomplishment on her part—as indeed she had convinced herself it had.

 

 

Dinah Comfort

How bright and empty the bay looks from here. Not a cloud in the sky, not a bit of haze over the water. I can almost reach out past the headland and touch Seattle. They call it the Emerald City, but it all looks golden, somehow, in the sunset.

No boats out on the water. The pleasure craft cower in their marinas, for there is no pleasure in this sunset. The tankers and freighters huddle at dock or have scurried here to Bremerton. Even the Coast Guard cutter has put up. Everyone is afraid to venture out onto the Bay. The waters look so lonely.

He was always late, Ken was. That was his problem from the very start. Never home on time. Always working late, “plugging away at the office.” Plugging away, all right. Plugging a secretary, all legs and ass, damn him. Or hoisting a few with “the boys.” Sorry, I lost track of the time. And whatever happened to the man I married? He lost track of him, too, somewhere along the way.

He never went looking for love; it always fell into his lap and he never learned how to say no. He hadn’t even stayed true to his secretary, the little skirt-hiking bitch. (And so she had forwarded all those e-mails. Treat your wife as you will; but never anger your mistress.)

Ken never thinks ahead, seldom behind. A narrow window around the present moment is all the reality he ever knows. He couldn’t even understand why I was still angry with him after he said he was sorry. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? He really was sorry—at that moment, at that time and place—and he really thought a few ritual words wiped away his sins. Inside his head, the whole affair was already Past History and it was somehow my fault that it was still an issue.

It’s done. It’s over. Let’s move on.

No, Ken, it isn’t that easy. I won’t have it be that easy.

But just this once, Ken, could you please be late?

Okay, you had her for the weekend. Our little Cindi, our darling, our treasure. Little Cindi with the sunlight smile. I know you love her, too, in your own lunkheaded, irresponsible way. Dammit, you still love me, in your lunkheaded, irresponsible way. I know you like to see her. You’re still her father, Ken. Oh, tardy, forgetful, flighty Ken. God, you were such fun to be with when responsibility didn’t matter. I can still remember what we once had. I’ll never take you back, but I feel sad that I never will.

Cindi looks forward so to these visits, and it doesn’t make me jealous, not really. You pamper her too much, and I guess I can see why. You don’t have her every day the way I do. You can afford to pamper, but I have to discipline, and that seems a little lopsided, because at twelve Cindi doesn’t understand why I have to be mean when you never are. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask you to discipline her when you can’t even discipline yourself. You’re only supposed to keep her for three days, and I know I’ve been bitchy before when you’ve kept her too long.

I forgot, you said. I lost track of the time.

Just this once, just this once, just this once, I hope you lost track of the time. I hope you overslept. I hope you got tied up in traffic. I hope you forgot my complaints. I hope you missed putting her on the ferry.

Twelve. Almost a woman. Almost a person instead of a child. Just beginning to feel the changes taking place inside her. Just beginning to realize the universe of possibilities lying in wait. But still a child. Still our little girl.

It’s getting cold here. I should have brought a sweater with me, but who knew the wait would be this long? Who knows how long it will be?

The Hyak will reappear someday. That weird fog will roll in again. It will grow thick over the bay and coat everything with chill and damp. And the ferry horn will sound, and the Hyak will sail out of the mist as she sailed into it. Maybe she won’t know why I’m crying, Cindi won’t. Maybe for her only a moment will have passed. That’s the way things happen in Faerie. I’ll grow old, and she’ll stay young forever.

It could be this very night. Or tomorrow. There’s always a fog in the morning. Someone needs to be here when the ferry arrives. Someone needs to be here…

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"Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth" by Michael F. Flynn, copyright © 2006, with permission of the author.

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