If only she had the guts to actually do it, to just leap among the cold waves and sink in death among the fish. She breathed in the smell and taste of saltwater, and water sprays hit her face, neck, and chest. She shivered slightly in the breeze from the waves, but she wasn’t really bothered by the chill. What weighed on her mind was something much deeper than the weather.
A pang of apprehension penetrated her heart as she envisioned her body being plunged into the water and weighted down by the strong waves. She thought about what it would be like to gulp in mouthful after mouthful of water, choking and never feeling any relief, but she didn’t think the pain could be any worse than what she was already dealing with.
“Aimée!” The young woman moved her arms in circular motions as she tried to keep her balance. Her mother’s call startled her, and for a brief moment she thought God might be granting her wish. Aimée turned and carefully walked across the slippery rocks in the bay until she reached solid land. Her shoes and stockings were completely soaked, as well as the bottom of her dress.
Gathering up her skirt, she trudged to her mother. “Yes Máma?” Aimée stood in silence, ringing out the bottom of her skirt; she knew what was coming next.
Her mother furrowed her eyebrows, squinting her eyes in a mixture of irritation and concern. “I understand you are upset right now. What you feel is understandable and normal, but you worry me sick! Your Auntie and I had no idea where you were, and if you continue to come out on these rocks you are going to fall in and drown one of these days. Now please, Aimée, come inside and put some clean clothes on. Your Auntie is still here and it would be impolite to not visit with her.” Aimée walked as fast as she could in her heavy wetness, her mother hustling her along quickly.
Aimée went into the kitchen where her mother and aunt were visiting once she was dried off and dressed in warm clothing. “Aimée, dear.” Her aunt stood and hugged her tightly, but Aimée’s arms hung limply at her sides. “How are you managing? Your mother tells me you are not doing well.”
Aimée sat down by her aunt. “I’m doing as well as one could expect. Each day gets a little better,” she lied. There is no way she was going to reveal her thoughts of taking her own life. They would never understand, which was sad, because Aimée’s father had died himself when she was just nine years old. If anyone understood, she would have thought it would be her mother. But she was wrong; her mother was obviously a stronger person.
The young woman’s aunt smiled slightly, “Well I do hope things continue to get better. And I’m sure they will; the pain can’t last for forever. Your mother knows all too well about that.” Aimée’s mom nodded in agreement.
Yes, it can last forever, and it probably will. Aimée thought. She chatted for a few minutes and then excused herself from the room. She went to her room and sat down on her bed. Stifling some tears, she thought about what her life had been like just three weeks ago. Aimée pulled a wooden box out from underneath her bed. She traced her fingers along the carved edges, staring at the design even though she could see every bit of detail by memory with her eyes closed. Henri had given it to her right before his last voyage; he had hand carved every inch of it himself. She opened it up and fingered the stack of letters that would forever go unread. Beneath them was a small clump of shells that she and Henri had gathered the last time they walked along the waterfront. No longer able to hold everything in, tears escaped her eyes one by one, and they didn’t stop until she fell asleep from exhaustion.
The next morning Aimée woke up and didn’t feel rested; she felt as if she’d only slept for an hour or so, although she knew it had been much longer than that. Aimée dressed herself and went into the kitchen to get some breakfast. “Aimée, finally you’re up. I’ve been up for hours already.” Aimée’s mother handed her a slice of warm buttered bread. “I made this while you were sleeping,” she said, one eyebrow slanted. “I need you to go into town and do the shopping for me. I’ve made you a list so you can go as soon as you’re done eating. Aimée stifled a sigh and nodded in acknowledgement of her mother’s words.
An hour and a half later Aimée was making her way through the market, checking off her mother’s list, when a boy darted past her out of nowhere. She barely had a chance to see him as he darted from behind a big apple cart, racing by with lightning speed. He knocked Aimée off balance and she tumbled to the ground, spilling her purchases out from her arms.
“Hey! Get back here you little scoundrel!” a fat man yelled after the boy. He stopped beside Aimée, face bright read and out of breath. “Nothing but street trash” he mumbled, stooping to help the girl. “Sorry miss; that boy stole my fruit again. I can’t seem to keep rifraf like him out of the market these days.” After helping Aimée off the cold ground, the man waddled off, probably back to his fruit stand.
Aimée sighed and resisted the urge to rub her sore rear-end in public. She quickly gathered the rest of her mother’s items and turned to leave when she thought she saw that boy again out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head for a second glance, and there he was, crouched behind another cart of goods. The boy looked like he couldn’t be older than nine. Aimée watched as he slowly raised his arm to the cart, preparing to snatch a piece of food and run.
Aimée looked over and saw the cart keeper just as he noticed the boy’s hand rummaging through his produce. She rushed beside the boy and grabbed him by the ear, jerking him away. “Brother, how many times have I told you not to run off while we’re shopping at the market? Máma would be furious if I told her that you left my side again today!” She quickly drug the boy away and down the street, leaving the scowling merchant behind.
Once Aimée was far enough away from the main crowd of market shoppers, she let go of the boy, who by now was rubbing his ear and mumbling something that sounded like “Ow.” Aimée grabbed a block of cheese out of her shopping bag and gave a chunk to the boy. “What were you thinking? Don’t you know you could get in big trouble if you’re caught stealing?”
The boy shrugged at her and wiped his runny nose on his dirty shirt sleeve that was about two inches too short on his arms. “Can’t get in trouble if I don’t get caught.” He quickly bit into the cheese that Aimée gave him.
Aimée sighed, “What’s your name? And where do you live? I suppose I should get you home now before you get into any trouble and before your mother starts worrying.”
“I’m Victor. And you don’t got to take me anywhere; no one will be looking for me.” The boy just stared at Aimée, and his large brown eyes seemed almost sad to her.
“Well why not?” she probed. It was starting to get dark even though it was only mid-afternoon. A storm must be coming, she thought, knowing all too well how nasty storms coming in from the ocean could be. She hated to just leave the boy there by himself.
“My Pa didn’t ever come back after his last trip to sea. My mother went to look for him and she never came back either.” Victor just looked down at the ground, and Aimée felt sort of awkward that she had asked.
“Well,” she said matter of factly, “I can’t just leave you here. So I guess you’re coming with me. We’d better hurry, because it’s going to storm pretty bad I think, and we have a bit of a walk.” Victor followed in silence without argument.
Aimée wondered what her mother was going to think, bringing home a stray boy. I can’t very much just leave him if he has nobody. Besides, the boy had unknowingly struck a soft chord in her heart when he said his father never came back from sea. Aimée knew all too well what that was like. “So your Pa was a sailor?” she asked.
The boy nodded, “Yeah, on a big fishing ship. After he didn’t come home, my mother went to find him. I guess he probably died at sea or maybe got kidnapped by pirates.” The boy said this with little emotion, and Aimée thought the boy must have had such a sad life to be so callous about it.
“My fiancé was a sailor too. He died at sea,” she confessed. “I bet you miss your Pa a lot. I know I miss my Henri.” Victor didn’t respond to Aimée, and the two continued the rest of their trip in silence.
They got home just as it began to pour. The rain came down hard and sounded like oat pellets as it hit against the roof and sides of the house. “Máma!” Aimée wanted to let her mother know she was home and introduce their guest herself, so as not to shock her mother too bad. “Máma, we’re home!”
Aimée’s mother came into the kitchen where she and Victor were unpacking the groceries. “Who is this?” Aimée’s mother stood in shock, for it was not typical of Aimée to do things like that.
“This is Victor. Victor, this is my mother.” Aimée gestured between the boy and her mother. “He has nowhere else to go, and I couldn’t leave him in the market.” The girl and her mother locked stares for a moment, and Aimée was relieved to see some understanding in her mother’s face. “Victor, go wash up in that little room back there. Your hands are filthy.” Aimée pointed towards a door and Victor went back in obedience.
“Aimée, you cannot just bring a child back here. Where are his parents?” Aimée’s mother whispered in the kitchen.
“His father died at sea, and his mother abandoned him some time back. I caught him stealing food in the market and brought him home before anyone could arrest him. You know how orphans get treated in the streets. I couldn’t just leave him there, especially with this bad storm coming in.” The rain was still pounding, and thunder rumbled as if it came straight from the mouths of the gods.
Aimée's mother sighed, unsure of her daughter's actions. “Alright, well, you did what you thought was best. Just be careful and keep a close eye on him; if he was stealing in the market then he could steal from us. Get him food and a bath, and we'll talk about what we should do with him in the morning.” Aimée's mother leaned in and kissed her daughter on the forehead. “I know you've been going through so much lately, with Henri's passing and all. But I really am proud of you. You're handling things well at least on the outside, and what you did for that little boy is noble. Henri would have done the same thing.” It wasn't like Aimée's mother to open up and say such things from the heart; she left Aimée standing in the kitchen speechless.
That evening, after he'd been bathed and fed, Victor looked like a totally different boy. With the dirt cleaned off of his face, clusters of freckles were now visible on his rosy cheeks. Aimée took him upstairs and tucked him into the bed in their guestroom. She pulled the covers around his small body and tucked him in tightly. “Sleep well, Victor.” She smiled softly at him and couldn't help but think of how cute he looked snuggled under the feather quilt.
“ Aimée?” Victor whispered as she was about to leave the room. Aimée turned around. “Sometimes I really miss my Pa. I see other boys with their Pas in town, and I wish that I had a Pa and a Ma too.” Aimée felt sadness as she thought about Victor losing both of his parents at such a young age.
Aimée sat down on the bed beside Victor. “I know it's sad, Victor. I cry a lot when I think of Henri. But you know what? Your Pa would want you to be happy, just like I know my Henri would want me to be happy. So you remind yourself of all the fun times you had with your Pa and Ma, and that will help you to not be sad.” Victor didn't reply, but managed a slight smile. “Get some sleep and we can talk more tomorrow. Then I will show you my favorite view of the ocean. It reminds me of Henri and how much he loved the water. Maybe it will help you think happy thoughts about your Pa.” Aimée leaned over and kissed the little boy on his forehead, and quietly left the room.
Aimée sat on her own bed, reflecting over her day. Just that morning she had forced herself out of bed and to the market, with desires of death on her mind. How is it that a little boy could turn her whole day around, as Victor had done? She thought about what she had told Victor when she tucked him in. She only said those things to make Victor go to sleep, but deep down she knew she had spoken truth. Henri would want her to be happy.
Nestling herself beneath her own covers, Aimée smiled to herself. Maybe she was still alive for a reason, and maybe that reason was Victor. For once since Henri's death, Aimée felt that maybe she had another purpose in life right now. Yawning as she drifted off to sleep, the young woman felt happy. She wasn't sure if the boy was mere coincidence or perhaps had crossed her path for a reason, but she did know that Victor needed someone like her right now. She wasn't completely sure, but maybe (just maybe) she needed Victor too.