Fiction from Suzanne Samples

Photo by Stefano Zocca

Water Signs

No one ever talks about him, you say. When the pastor listed him at Dad’s funeral, I couldn’t figure out who he was.

At least ten years younger than the rest of us, you do not remember.

You do not remember the shoebox casket, the shivering January shoulders, the crunch of frozen mud. You do not remember how we waited anxiously two days for him to die, how your mother rocked Bibles instead of babies after he passed, how my mother instructed all of us to never ask questions or speak his name at family gatherings.

You were the red sky at night, the living albatross, the final hope.

The rest of us remember.

The rest of us remember how your mother sat on Saturday nights with a dying baby in her whale belly, your mother choosing the name Jonah James because she knew God had a plan and this baby had a servant’s message of healing to bring to the sinners, the doubters, the unbelievers. We remember your mother cradling the phone with one hand and with the other, too much fluid, malformations, and lost dreams of two girls and two boys, an even set. The rest of us remember how every church within the state prayed for him, begged for miracles, anointed your mother’s womb with the holiest waters anyone in West Virginia could find.

Of course you do not remember.

We stopped talking about him when you made your debut on the ultrasound, your cheeks already contoured like a Kardashian and your wit as sharp as the scalpel that tried to relieve the pressure, the fluid, the flood on his brain.

We stopped talking about him when we discovered you were a Pisces, an early-spring baby, a wish blown on a dandelion that no one expected to come true.

You do not remember the rest of us being afraid to tell our parents, our family, that we didn’t read the Bible or believe in angels, but astrology and alcohol and poetry and tattoos were all pretty cool. You do not remember how the rest of us pretended to pray, hid our cigarettes in carved-out teen devotionals, made paper boats with the unread pages and watched them float down the foaming, hungry rapids in our grandmother’s backyard.

We stopped talking about him when you sang the alphabet backward to the wrong tune, when you insisted on being the first girl in your class to wear fake eyelashes and use self-tanning lotion, when you quit college to sit with your dad as cancer molded his lungs and made his breath rattle rattle rattle anemically like a tired baby’s toy.

You do not remember if your dad saw him in those final moments on land before he drifted off to the dead sea, the black waters, the bottomless void.

You were the red sky at night, the living albatross, the final hope.

Of course you do not remember.

The most beautiful mermaids never do.


Suzanne Samples lives in Boone, North Carolina, where she teaches English at Appalachian State University. She received a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature from Auburn University. In her spare time, Suzanne plays roller derby as 9lb Hammer for the Appalachian Rollergirls. She has been published in Firewords, Cardinal Sins, Fiction Weekly, The Alarmist, Jersey Devil Press, and Dime Show Review.

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