Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The awaited

(A synopsis of a story, perhaps a screenplay)

The setting: Northern Europe; a small island community on the edge of the sea; sometime before 1700.

The two-dozen or so men and older boys of the community have set off in two boats on a fishing or sealing trip expected to last three or four days. They don't return.

Many of the women have never been out of the village; a few are from other islands or the mainland, but have never gone back. There are a few small currachs, but nothing sturdy enough for a sea voyage.

At first the women and young children hope for the return of the men. After a while — later for some than for others — they realize that this will never happen. They do not alter their routines much, but carry on, as they had been accustomed to doing when the men were away, living off stored food and gathered shellfish, plus milk from their livestock. They eat a little less.

After a hard winter that reduces their numbers by two or three the women begin to address the matter of food. They fish a little from the currachs in the surrounding waters, they work in their stony fields as they have always done but a little harder. There is not enough but they survive anyway. Very occasionally, during the good weather, a fishing boat puts into shore for a visit, but the women have little to trade and no one is willing to get on board with the fishermen and leave. Eventually, though, one of the younger wives does go off with a young fisherman. She is never spoken of again.

After a year or two has gone by, and the women have become thin and drawn, one of them refers in passing to a chore she must see to before her husband comes home. There is cold silence. A few weeks later someone else makes a similar remark, and this time heads are nodded. Before long the imminent arrival of the men becomes the sole topic of conversation. Hands are kept busy sweeping out and tidying the dwellings. There are increasing indications of madness.

The story ends with the prow of a boat breaking around the rocks and into view from shore. We don't see who is on board.

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