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A Year and a Day

Sean Robinson is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction. When not writing, he runs a group home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter at @Kesterian.

Robert did not expect the sea-witch to live in a house, not one with a blue door and small hedges that lined the walkway.
He thought that the seagulls overhead probably worked for her, watched for her. He knocked on the door, though the arthritis made his hands hurt every day. Three knocks and the door opened.
"May I help you?" she asked. She was younger than he expected, and more beautiful. If he didn't know better--which he didn't--Robert would have thought her young enough to be his daughter--perhaps even his granddaughter.
"I have an appointment," he said. She wore a light cotton sweater over a pale blue dress. She nodded and turned back into the house.
The sea-witch's house was well kept. There was an old piano in the corner, pictures on the walls--seascapes. There was a kitchen on the other side of the small house, and a stair that lead to the second floor. She sat at the table, looking at him.
Robert did not know what to say.
The sea-witch let the silence grow between them until it was almost crushing.
"I need you to help me," Robert said at last. "I need you to help me get her back."
He noticed her eyes as he said it. He tried to look into them, but it was like looking into the abyss and knowing that the abyss looked back. There was no pity in her eyes and he was almost sorry for that lack. But, he realized, he had been pitied enough. Enough and enough and more than enough. A year and a day he had fed himself pity because his Mary had gone to the water and no remains had been found.
"She isn't there," she said. "They're never there, and will never be there, and nothing we say or do from this moment forward will change that."
"I need to find her."
"She is in your dreams. She is in your secret places. She is where promises go when they have been fulfilled. Until death do us part. That was your promise, it was fulfilled. Be happy that that is how you've lived and how you've loved."
"You can help me."
She went still. The house was quiet. Even the seagulls outside the window had gone silent.
"It will--"she began.
"I don't care about the cost," Robert said.
The sea-witch shook her head from side to side. "You should."
"Take my voice. Take my legs. If I can't say 'I love you' to the woman I married, what use is it? It already feels as though I walk on blades. Why can't you just listen to me? Why can't you just name your price and give her back to me? You can do it. I know you can."
"You don't know anything."
"What is your price?" he said.
The sea-witch was quiet for a moment. Her hands were folded carefully on the table. Robert realized he hadn't sat down, he hadn't pleaded his case, but it all seemed to make no point now. Not when the sea-witch stood and walked into the kitchen.
Robert almost followed her. He needed what she had, what she could give him. She could bring his Mary back and he didn't care what it took.
The sea-witch returned with a bag that Robert knew too well. It was Mary's, the bag she packed and carried all her things around in. She bought it in Mexico because the boy who'd tried to sell it to her had smiled at her so sweetly she couldn't help herself.
"What--how do you have that?" Robert reached forward to touch the bag, to touch anything that had been Mary's, to know that there was something in that moment that looked and felt like hope. But the sea-witch snatched it away before he could.
"Because it was given to me. Because it was traded to me. Because it is the beginning of your bargain if this is what you wish. You may walk out the door the way you came and owe me no debt. You will pine for your lost love as all men are meant to mourn their great loves. Or you may sit and we will haggle as she and I haggled many times. What have you brought in trade, Robert? What will you give me that is as good as what she brought to my house--to my table as the years chased themselves?"
I looked at her and did not know what to say. "I have only my memories."
The sea-witch smiled a smile that had too many teeth.
"That will do."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 21st, 2014
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