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  • Paul Rondema

The Sea Star War

The Sea Star War

By Paul Rondema

Anton removed his hat, smoothed his collar and remembered many years ago, when he was small enough to burrow under Grandfather’s beard and breathe the scent of brine and wood and fires on a frozen beach, hear the call of an angry gull and feel the lashing of a violent sea.

As a child, Anton drank in the stories Grandfather told. He swore he would remember. But not all swearing is for the good. Some lessons are best forgotten.

“Grandfather,” Anton said, “before I go, tell me again about the stars.”

Grandfather cleared his throat, narrowed his eyes and shifted in his seat:

“There was a time when I, father and my grandfather before him lived by the ocean’s grace, harvesting clams and oysters, enough for our families and a few to sell. Never enough to grow rich.

But as I came of age I realized my ancestor’s folly. “The sea stars,” I told my father, “are the enemy. They take what is rightfully ours. We must rid the ocean of the scum. Build a wall or kill them all, something must be done.” But my father shook his head. “Do not be greedy,” he said. But what does he know, the foolish man? I turned my back and shook my fist and rallied confederates to my cause.

On the beach and in the church and whispered in the lanes were words of anger and of war. I showed the men of my generation how to pry a star from the rocks, cut it in half and throw it back. We held our bellies as we laughed. “The end of our enemy,” we roared.

Your grandmother closed her eyes and in the quiet times asked me to reconsider. But she was a weak-willed woman. She knew nothing of enemies and war.

One year then another passed, but our bellowing had no effect. The sea stars refused to die.

“It’s not enough,” I told my friends. “We must do more than cut in half.” So we cut in thirds and cut in fourths and threw the pieces back.

But the stars only increased.

“Do not give up,” I told my allies. “Rid the ocean of the beasts.” So we cut them further piece by piece, a slice for each arm.

But all we did bore little fruit. The oysters and the clams grew sparse until they became less my quest than the killing of the stars.

My friends from childhood cursed the sea, and some behind my back, cursed me. They rearranged their traitorous minds and renounced the war. So I cursed them back, and I laughed when they grew weary and they grew poor. One after another moved away.

But the stars remained. I kept my war on their souls, cursed them with every breath. “My enemies,” I roared. “will not stop until every one of you is dead.”

The village slowly passed away until only Grandmother and I remained.

But every year the stars increased. Every year Grandmother released more of her joy.

Before your birth, Grandmother passed. She never saw your face, never touched your skin. She never smelled your newborn scent or kissed your cheeks or lips or chin.”

Grandfather paused. He bowed his head. “I will see the end of the stars before I lay my head to rest.”

Anton squeezed his hat and stared at his lap. “But Papa says that will not work. He says you are a crazy man.”

“Crazy, yes,” Grandfather said. “He should be too. What kind of son turns his back as his village fades, watches his father waste away? What kind of son studies books while his mother dies?”

“But Papa says every arm becomes a star.”

Grandfather shifted in his seat.

“Papa says you’re the reason the stars increased. You’re the one who killed the village. You made Grandmother die.”

“Fool,” Grandfather roared. “Spout your lies some other place. Leave at once, you wretched boy. I’ll see your face no more.”

The sun set as Anton climbed the hill. He waited, waited through the night until the eastern sky began to glow, until the sun began to rise.

In the hoary dawn he watched Grandfather stumble to the sand, muttered curses on his lips, a jagged knife in his hand. But Grandfather never turned around. Anton never said goodbye.

He crested the hill. He cried. He shook his head and he swore he would not make Grandfather’s mistake.

I’m not like him, Anton thought. I know my enemies. He closed his eyes, pulled tight his coat and shivered deep within his core. He cleared his mind and touched his gun and set off to join the war. !


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