Bashful as a lamb, she walked in after her father, hiding behind the politeness of a well-trained smile. He gestured with his large calloused hand to the center of the large crowded room. But before guiding her there with a gentle press against the small of her back with the same large calloused hand, he must have said:
“There is no need to worry or to act any which way, my dear. This is all very normal.”
“But I don’t want to be here, Papa.”
“I know, my dear, I know. Just do as your Papa asks you to do, and will be fine and well for us both.”
“You trust your Papa, don’t you?”
“Yes, Papa, I do.”
She was nothing like her father, but he was everything to her, and she was all he ever really had…I would later learn.
I was from their country but not their island, only a passerby spending the long summer collecting moments and memories for a novel I would never write. The inhabitants of this barren island titled me ‘the Writer’ (preferring it to my name because it more clearly indicated my role in their closed ecosystem, an ecosystem that had only one of everyone, avoiding any possible confusion), and showed me a fair blend of kindness and reservation. Honored I had chosen their island to call home for three months, they invited me to all their gatherings and celebrations, and made sure their warm, watchful stares always kept me company. I respected this arrangement by never turning down an invitation to a wedding, baptism or funeral and by keeping mostly to myself — especially my opinions.
I had seen her only once before that night, which surprised me seeing that you could walk from one side of the island to the other in a little over an hour – a trek I often made, some lonely days more than once. She was with her father then, as well. She didn’t leave much of an impression on me the first time. Her father did, however. It was the contradiction between his giant size and his gentle eyes. I remember thinking: This man can break anything, anyone — but something, someone has broken him.
After being greeted by most of the evening’s attendants, the two made their way to an empty table near the one-person band. The accordion bellowed upbeat songs most of the night, mirroring the jovial mood in the large room, but at that moment he must have sensed something ominous in the air and decided to thicken the night’s tempo as only an accordion can.
The first thing I noticed about her was that certain sounds in that large room (children occasionally shrieking, the entry door slamming shut when the last of the attendants entered, her father’s roaring cough) startled her, provoking a full-bodied flinch, a short nervous laugh and then wide-eyed silence. A gentle stroke with the back of her father’s hand against her cheek eased her excited state in seconds.
The second thing I noticed was Agnes herself. She was long and slender. Her sinewy limbs were stretched from beginning to end, taut and tense, with life and fear; her lips were full and plump and always on the verge of a question or a quiver; her hair the color of a starry midnight and big-curled at the ends that fell along and around her exposed shoulders; more than being soft and tender, her skin was evenly tanned, as if she had been placed on a spit and slow-roasted over hot coals on the beach all summer long. I would have noticed more, but I saw her hulking father looking in my direction. I was only one table away, so my gaze quickly dropped to the floor and played dead.
The Mayor approached their table with an incredulous smile and a nearly empty bottle of wine dangling in one hand and a wine glass in the other splashing wine violently, white wine luckily for the Mayor.
“She has grown into a beautiful young woman just like her mother was,” said the Mayor with a slur.
“Thank you, Nicholas,” replied the father without looking at the Mayor.
“It’s good that you have started bringing her out more. Hiding her behind the counter of your store does no one any good. She should be out mingling and meeting her future.”
“No one is hiding her. Your son should be able to confirm that… after all, he’s in the store almost every day, and something tells me it’s not my lamb shank that has him hovering like a fly.”
“All I’m saying is that men prefer the tender taste of a spring lamb over an old goat. As the Butcher, you should know that.”
Her father stood up from his seat slowly until he towered over the Mayor whose head now reached no higher than the Butcher’s paunch. And like the volcano that created their island, he erupted: “And you should know words are all a politician has. And the wrong ones may cost him an election.” He stood over the little man long enough for his lava-like temper to cool and his words to harden into stone before walking away and leaving the Mayor stuck under the weight of his words. The Butcher took his daughter and left the room, which now seemed even larger without him in it. The entry door slammed behind them.
I would see Agnes three more times before leaving their island in early October. Each of the three times she was without her father. The last time, she was with the mayor’s son.
– Christopher Troy