What the Sea Brings by Michael C Keith

Developmentally challenged 16-year-old Caitlin is fascinated by a dead soldier that washes up on the shore near her home; by Michael C Keith

It is in fantasy that the real live.
- Anonymous

Merchant ships transporting cargo and personnel across the Atlantic to U.S. allies during World War Two were all too often torpedoed off the East Coast. This was the fate of the Chatham carrying ensign Wayne Harley. His body washed ashore in a remote rocky cove on the northern Maine coast. There it remained unseen for days until sixteen-year old Caitlin Bosworth found it.

It was the happiest day of her life.

Caitlin had suffered from oxygen deprivation during birth and consequently had the mental acumen of someone half her age. She had a sweet temperament and derived great pleasure playing along the shoreline that her house faced. Her parents adored their only child and did everything to make her life cheerful and as intellectually stimulating as possible. It was their greatest hope that Caitlin would one day reach a level of proficiency that would allow her to live independent of their constant oversight.

However, Caitlin's doctor was not optimistic about her chances of living on her own. He had told the Bosworths that their daughter's mind would likely remain at the level of a ten-year old through her adulthood. In other words, they would have to care for her the balance of their lives or institutionalize her, which was something they would never consider. The joy they got from her existence more than balanced the burden involved in raising a developmentally challenged daughter. She was the delight of their lives and the prospect of having a child who would remain a child forever was far from unpleasant.

One of the things Caitlin loved most was hearing the romantic fairy tales her parents read to her. Beyond that, she also loved listening to the radio. Among a host of programs, she got the most pleasure from the dramatic stories on Lux Radio Theater. One about a prince who falls in love with a peasant girl particularly captured her fancy.

"I will marry a prince. A handsome prince," she declared after the program.

In the coming days it was all Caitlin thought about, and her mother and father happily played along with her.

"You are our beautiful princess," they said as she swirled around in her favorite frock.

Caitlin continued her ecstatic dance out of the house to play in the bright early autumn sun.

"Come back soon for lunch, honey!" shouted her mother.

A report on the radio caught Lyle Bosworth's attention. "Krauts sunk another ship not far away. Around a hundred sailors on her," he reported to his wife.

"The poor parents of those boys," said Sarah Bosworth, staring out the window at her daughter. "To lose a child is the worst thing I can imagine. We're so lucky to have our little girl."

Caitlin soon reached the spot where she spent so many happy hours lost in her imaginary world. It was there that Wayne Harley washed up. When Caitlin saw the young man's body she was instantly enthralled.

"My prince. You've come for me, haven't you?"

"Yes, my princess. I have come for you," she heard him answer.

Caitlin ran to where his body sat.

"I knew you would come. Do you want some tea? You look so cold."

She remained with the drowned seaman until her mother's distant voice caught her attention.

"It's time for lunch. Please don't leave. I'll come back soon and bring you some food."

As soon as Caitlin returned home, she reported her encounter to her parents. They had heard many fantastical accounts from her before and always listened to them with great affection and interest.

"He is very handsome, but he is tired after his long journey from his castle. May I bring him a sandwich? He is very hungry."

Of course you may, darling. Maybe he would like a piece of cake, too."

"Yes, mommy. He likes sweets."

Caitlin ran quickly to her waiting prince and then placed as much food into his open mouth as would fit.

"You're so hungry! Mommy said you would like her cake."

"It is the most delicious cake I have ever eaten," replied Caitlin's prince.

"Where is your castle?"

"Across the sea."

"Will we live there?"

"Yes, forever."

"Is there a beautiful garden?"

"There is none better in any kingdom."

"My favorite flower is the red rose."

"It is the flower of my realm. You will always have them for your hair."

The entranced couple conversed until the sun neared the horizon.

"I must go home or my parents will worry. I'll come back in the morning with mommy's biscuits. You will love them as much as her cake."

Over the next several days, Caitlin spent long rapturous hours in conversation with the dead seaman. They spoke of many extraordinary things, all based on their future life together.

Caitlin had had many imaginary friends before, but her parents could not recall any that so absorbed her.

"Do you think she's okay? Every waking moment she talks about this prince. It is all so real to her."

"I wouldn't worry, honey," Lyle replied to his wife. "She has a vivid imagination. You know that. Doctor Fairfield said that special children like her sometimes do. It's kind of a gift, really."

"I guess you're right."

"As long as she's happy. That's the main thing."

Exhilarated by her new experience Caitlin rose before sunrise and eagerly waited in the kitchen for her mother to appear.

"Good morning, sweetheart. What would you like for breakfast this morning?"

"He loves your biscuits, mommy. Make biscuits."

"It's raining out, so you better wait until it stops before you go to your friend."

"My prince, you mean, mommy."

"Yes, of course, your prince."

"But he will be terribly hungry. Please, I can wear my pretty raincoat. See, mommy, it's not raining very hard," observed Caitlin, looking out of the kitchen window.

Mrs. Bosworth reluctantly gave in to her daughter's plea in return making her promise to come back quickly.

When Caitlin reached the cove she found her beloved lying on his side as waves washed over his legs.

"Wake up, my dear prince. I have your biscuits."

When he did not move, she exerted all her strength to raise his body, leaning it against the rock upon which it had rested.

"There, now. Here, eat your breakfast," she said, placing pieces of biscuits into his frozen maw. "I must go home until the rain stops. I promised mommy, but I'll come back later."

"Please stay with me," she heard her prince say.

"But mommy will be worried."

"You are my princess now. Your mother will understand. We will soon go to my castle."

"Yes... yes, I am your princess, so I will stay with you," said Caitlin, placing a soft kiss on the corpse's cold cheek.

As time passed, Sarah Bosworth grew concerned, especially since it was raining harder and the wind had picked up. She decided she had to find her daughter.

"I'm coming with you," said her husband.

As they left the house they were surprised and disheartened by how ferocious the weather had become.

"Let's go to the cove first," suggested Sarah, knowing it was her daughter's favorite place to play.

When they reached the tiny inlet, the sky had cleared.

"That is so odd," remarked Lyle. "I have never seen a storm pass so quickly."

"Look, it's her raincoat!" exclaimed Sarah, dashing to where it floated in the nearby surf.

"Caitlin! Where are you?" they called frantically, their voices echoing in the deserted cove.

1 comment:

  1. I think the strongest aspect of this story is its attention to characterization; the young girl is very well-realized, and the "prince" "corpse" is subtly mysterious and creepy. The ending is also open-ended, and that's where I think the sadness is, because either she left her parents behind or died, it's hard to tell in the story but that's what makes it interesting.