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Namesake - Adrienne Young

There was no forgiveness in Saint’s heart for treachery like that. I couldn’t find any in mine, either. I had never felt so much of my father inside of me as in that moment, and instead of scaring me, it flooded me with a sense of steadying power. The tide-pull of strength anchored my feet as I remembered.

I wasn’t just some Jevali dredger or a pawn in Zola’s feud with West. I was Saint’s daughter. And before I left the Luna, every bastard on this crew was going to know it.

He picked up the knife next, turning it over in his hand before he held it out. “I’ve seen that blade before.”

Because it was West’s knife. He’d given it to me before we got off the Marigold in Dern to trade the haul from the Lark. I took it from Zola, the pain in my throat expanding as I rubbed my thumb down the worn handle. The feel of him appeared like a wind blowing over the decks: there one second and gone the next as it slipped over the railing and ran out to sea.

That first day on the Marigold came rushing back to me, standing in the passageway with my hand pressed to the crest on the door. I had been a stranger in that place, but I’d come to belong there. And now everything within me ached for it. A flash of heat lit beneath my skin, the sting of tears gathering in my eyes. Because I’d been a fool. I’d let myself believe, even if it was just for a moment, that I was safe. That I’d found a home and a family. And in the time it took to draw a single breath, it was all torn away.

I slipped my fingers into the neck of my shirt, pulling West’s ring from inside the collar. It sat in the center of my palm, glinting in the sunlight. We were well out of the Narrows, and I could feel the distance like a taut string between me and the Marigold.

I pushed the air from my chest, the amber light of West’s quarters illuminating in the back of my mind. He tasted like rye and sea wind, and the sound that woke in his chest when my fingertips dragged over his ribs made that night come back to life inside of me.

My breath hitched as I pulled it in and I tipped my head back, taking a last sip of air. And before the thought of him could curl like a fist in my chest, I dove.

Whether I liked it or not, there were pieces of me that had been carved by those years on Jeval. It had changed me. In a way, it had made me.

I couldn’t help but wonder at what my father and Zola had said. That there was a darkness to West that went deeper than I’d known. A part of me didn’t want to know. To believe that it didn’t matter. Anyone who’d survived the Narrows had that same darkness. It was the only way to stay alive.

But that night in Dern, when we said we wouldn’t lie to each other, he hadn’t told me the whole truth. And I was afraid of what I might find if he did. That when I saw him again, he would look different to me. That he would look like Saint.

I don’t know what I had expected him to say or what explanations he would have for the past. But West had none.

More than that, he didn’t even have regrets.

I don’t know what that makes me.

His words whispered back to life in my mind as I touched his face and his arms tightened around me. But I didn’t feel afraid of him the way I thought I would. I felt safe. I didn’t know if I could love someone like my father, but I did. With a love that was deep and pleading. With a love that was terrifying.

And I didn’t know what that made me.

Clove leaned back, looking at me.
“What?”
He shrugged, a wry smile playing at his lips. “Just thinkin’.”
I cocked my head to the side, glaring. “Thinking what?”
“That you’re just like him,” he said, taking another sip of tea.
I didn’t have to ask who he meant. He was talking about Saint.

“I don’t even know why I’m doing this,” I whispered, watching the water flash silver in the rising sunlight. “Saint would never do it for me.”

Clove turned slowly, looking down at me. “You can’t really believe that.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

He snorted, shaking his head. “That man would sink his fleet for you, Fable. He’d walk away from everything.”

A lump curled painfully in my throat. “No, he wouldn’t.”

Clove pulled the cap back on his head, casting his face in shadow. “Isolde isn’t the only name we aren’t allowed to say.”

I watched him go, breathing through the sting smarting behind my eyes. The words he’d said about my father were dangerous things. They held the power to crush me. Because the most fragile hope I’d ever held was that somewhere in the flesh and bone of him, Saint had loved me.

There was a part of me that was terrified to find out if it was true. And an even bigger part that knew it would destroy me.

I looked down as the tide carried me over the coral, watching the reef run past me until another gemstone song caught my ear. Then another. And another. And when I looked back to the end of the reef where Koy and West had been, it vanished in the murky blue. It was the color of a sleeping sea, my mother would say, because the water only ever looked like that before dawn.

The labyrinth of reefs held everything from black diamonds to the rarest of sapphires, and most of the stories my mother had told me about dredging in the Unnamed Sea were born in these waters.

This place had known my mother.

The thought made a sinking feeling drop between my ribs as I tied another strip of silk and kicked off, letting the current take me again. She’d never told a soul where she’d found the midnight. What other secrets had she left here?

She was here, somehow. My mother’s ghost was bled into these waters. But even in Tempest Snare, where she’d found her end, I hadn’t felt this.

There was nothing here but an echo of some part of Isolde that I hadn’t known and never would. I stared into the black water, feeling so alone that it seemed as if that darkness might pull me into it. As if maybe my mother was waiting there for me.

“But what if—”

“Fable.” He closed the space between us, and his hands lifted to my face, his fingertips sliding into my hair. The sensation woke the heat on my skin, and I sniffed, so happy that he’d finally touched me. His mouth hovered an inch above mine. “The answer to that question is always going to be the same. It doesn’t matter what happens.” His hands tightened on me. “You and me.”

The words sounded like vows. But there was a grief that bloomed in my chest as he spoke them, like an incantation that gave flesh to bones.

My voice deepened, waiting for his mouth to touch mine. “How long can you live like that?”

His lips parted and the kiss was deep, drawing the air from the room, and the word was broken in his throat. “Forever.”

I sucked in a breath through the pain in my throat, not able to keep the tears from falling. They slid down my cheeks silently as I stared at him. And the look in his eye sparked like the strike of flint. Strong and steady and proud.

He was handing over the sharpest blade to whoever might use it against him. But more than that, he was claiming me.

“Granted.” The voice shook me from the trance, bringing me back to the room. Where every eye looked between us.

Helmsman. Dredger. Trader. Orphan. Father.

Daughter.

She was there one moment, and then…” He breathed. “A squall came over the ship and Isolde was just gone.”
I didn’t miss that he said her name. I didn’t miss the way it sounded on his voice. Like prayer. It threaded through my heart, the stitches pulling tight.

“I didn’t leave you on Jeval because I don’t love you.”

“Saint.” I tried to stop him.

But he ignored me. “I left you there because—”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does.” He looked up then, the blue in his eyes rimmed in red. “I left you there because I have never loved anything in my life like I love you. Not Isolde. Not the trade. Nothing.”

The words seared, filling the tavern and wrapping around me so tight I couldn’t draw breath. They crushed me until I was taking some strange unrecognizable shape.

“I didn’t plan to be a father. I didn’t want to be one. But the first time I held you in my hands, you were so small. I had never been so terrified of anything in my life. I feel like I’ve barely slept since the night you were born.”

She was still glamourous. Beautiful. Even if she’d lost her ring and her license, she still had her coin. She’d never want for anything, and something told me she’d find a way to get back her own bit of power in Bastian. Either way, she’d never have a stake in the Narrows.

She was as still as stone, unblinking, before she stepped inside.

When she looked over her shoulder, disappearing into the shop, I could have sworn I saw her smile.

When I turned to look at West, that same starlight glinted in his eyes. I found his hand and held it to my cheek, remembering the first time I’d seen him on the docks. The first time I’d seen him smile. The first time I’d seen his darkness and every time he’d seen mine.

We were salt and sand and sea and storm.

We were made in the Narrows.

Normal People - Sally Rooney

When he talks to Marianne he has a sense of total privacy between them. He could tell her anything about himself, even weird things, and she would never repeat them, he knows that. Being alone with her is like opening a door away from normal life and then closing it behind him. He’s not frightened of her, actually she’s a pretty relaxed person, but he fears being around her, because of the confusing way he finds himself behaving, the things he says that he would never ordinarily say.

Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it. She had that feeling in school often, but it wasn’t accompanied by any specific images of what the real life might look or feel like. All she knew was that when it started, she wouldn’t need to imagine it anymore.

He often makes blithe remarks about things he ‘wishes’. I wish you didn’t have to go, he says when she’s leaving, or: I wish you could stay the night. If he really wished for any of those things, Marianne knows, then they would happen. Connell always gets what he wants, and then feels sorry for himself when what he wants doesn’t make him happy.

You make me really happy, he says. His hand moves over her hair and he adds: I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do. Her eyes fill up with tears again and she closes them. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

Denise decided a long time ago that it is acceptable for men to use aggression towards Marianne as a way of expressing themselves. As a child Marianne resisted, but now she simply detaches, as if it isn’t of any interest to her, which in a way it isn’t. Denise considers this a symptom of her daughter’s frigid and unlovable personality. She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth’, by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.

Back home, Connell’s shyness never seemed like much of an obstacle to his social life, because everyone knew who he was already, and there was never any need to introduce himself or create impressions about his personality. If anything, his personality seemed like something external to himself, managed by the opinions of others, rather than anything he individually did or produced. Now he has a sense of invisibility, nothingness, with no reputation to recommend him to anyone.

After these months away from home, life seems much larger, and his personal dramas less significant. He’s not the same anxious, repressed person he was in school, when his attraction to her felt terrifying, like an oncoming train, and he threw her under it. He knows she’s acting funny and coy because she wants to show him that she’s not bitter.

She and Jamie have been together for a few weeks now. He has certain proclivities. They have certain shared proclivities. Sometimes in the middle of the day she remembers something Jamie has said or done to her, and all her energy leaves her completely, so her body feels like a carcass, something immensely heavy and awful that she has to carry around.

She looked like a piece of religious art. It was so much more painful to look at her than anyone had warned him it would be, and he wanted to do something terrible, like set himself on fire or drive his car into a tree. He always reflexively imagined ways to cause himself extreme injury when he was distressed. It seemed to soothe him briefly, the act of imagining a much worse and more totalising pain than the one he really felt, maybe just the cognitive energy it required, the momentary break in his train of thought, but afterwards he would only feel worse.

Everything is possible now because of the scholarship. His rent is paid, his tuition is covered, he has a free meal every day in college. This is why he’s been able to spend half the summer travelling around Europe, disseminating currency with the carefree attitude of a rich person. He’s explained it, or tried to explain it, in his emails to Marianne. For her the scholarship was a self-esteem boost, a happy confirmation of what she has always believed about herself anyway: that she’s special. Connell has never really known whether to believe that about himself, and he still doesn’t know. For him the scholarship is a gigantic material fact, like a vast cruise ship that has sailed into view out of nowhere, and suddenly he can do a postgraduate programme for free if he wants to, and live in Dublin for free, and never think about rent again until he finishes college. Suddenly he can spend an afternoon in Vienna looking at Vermeer’s The Art of Painting, and it’s hot outside, and if he wants he can buy himself a cheap cold glass of beer afterwards. It’s like something he assumed was just a painted backdrop all his life has revealed itself to be real: foreign cities are real, and famous artworks, and underground railway systems, and remnants of the Berlin Wall. That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.

In a series of emails they exchanged recently about their own friendship, Marianne expressed her feelings about Connell mainly in terms of her sustained interest in his opinions and beliefs, the curiosity she feels about his life, and her instinct to survey his thoughts whenever she feels conflicted about anything. He expressed himself more in terms of identification, his sense of rooting for her and suffering with her when she suffers, his ability to perceive and sympathise with her motivations. Marianne thought this had something to do with gender roles. I think I just like you a lot as a person, he replied defensively. That’s actually very sweet, she wrote back.

There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love. In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality. It depressed her to think people were so predictable. Whether she was respected or despised, it didn’t make much difference in the end. Would every stage of her life continue to reveal itself as the same thing, again and again, the same remorseless contest for dominance?

It was true, Peggy and Jamie were not very good people; bad people even, who took joy in putting others down. Marianne feels aggrieved that she fell for it, aggrieved that she thought she had anything in common with them, that she’d participated in the commodity market they passed off as friendship. In school she had believed herself to be above such frank exchanges of social capital, but her college life indicated that if anyone in school had actually been willing to speak to her, she would have behaved just as badly as anyone else. There is nothing superior about her at all.

Could he really do the gruesome things he does to her and believe at the same time that he’s acting out of love? Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?

Nothing had meant more to Rob than the approval of others; to be thought well of, to be a person of status. He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance. Connell couldn’t judge him for that. He’d been the same way himself, or worse. He had just wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing. It was Marianne who had shown him other things were possible. Life was different after that; maybe he had never understood how different it was.

Connell’s initial assessment of the reading was not disproven. It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about. Even if the writer himself was a good person, and even if his book really was insightful, all books were ultimately marketed as status symbols, and all writers participated to some degree in this marketing. Presumably this was how the industry made money. Literature, in the way it appeared at these public readings, had no potential as a form of resistance to anything.

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

She hates the person she has become, without feeling any power to change anything about herself. She is someone even Connell finds disgusting, she has gone past what he can tolerate. In school they were both in the same place, both confused and somehow suffering, and ever since then she has believed that if they could return to that place together it would be the same. Now she knows that in the intervening years Connell has been growing slowly more adjusted to the world, a process of adjustment that has been steady if sometimes painful, while she herself has been degenerating, moving further and further from wholesomeness, becoming something unrecognisably debased, and they have nothing left in common at all.

From a young age her life has been abnormal, she knows that. But so much is covered over in time now, the way leaves fall and cover a piece of earth, and eventually mingle with the soil. Things that happened to her then are buried in the earth of her body. She tries to be a good person. But deep down she knows she is a bad person, corrupted, wrong, and all her efforts to be right, to have the right opinions, to say the right things, these efforts only disguise what is buried inside her, the evil part of herself.

Whatever there is between him and Marianne, nothing good has ever come of it. It has only ever caused confusion and misery for everyone. He can’t help Marianne, no matter what he does. There’s something frightening about her, some huge emptiness in the pit of her being. It’s like waiting for a lift to arrive and when the doors open nothing is there, just the terrible dark emptiness of the elevator shaft, on and on forever. She’s missing some primal instinct, self-defence or self-preservation, which makes other human beings comprehensible. You lean in expecting resistance, and everything just falls away in front of you. Still, he would lie down and die for her at any minute, which is the only thing he knows about himself that makes him feel like a worthwhile person.

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