Karen A. Wyle
young Vushla questioned what everyone knew about death. What should
they do with the answer?
When the time comes for
Vushla to die, they go into the ocean and are dissolved away. Or so
Terrill has always believed, and still believes after taking part in
his father’s final journey. But when he meets a young Vushlu who
lives by the sea, Terrill must confront information that calls this
fundamental belief into question. Will the two of them discover
the truth? And what should they do with what they find?
Character Interview with Willan, Terrill’s Father Terril is one of the main characters
[NOTE: Terrill’s father Willan, whom Terrill calls Da, is terminally ill and on the way to the ocean. When he reaches it, he will, as dying Vushla do, swim or wade in and let the water dissolve him. Various relatives, including Terrill, and a few friends or neighbors are escorting Willan on this final journey. The interview presumably takes place during a rest stop. Willan’s voice is weak and his speech halting.]
- What can you tell me about your life?
- Where to start . . . . I have a mate, Lilit, and three children. The youngest, Terrill, is over there. The older ones work in cities and couldn’t get home in time. I don’t have much time, I think.
- Is Lilit here?
- No. We said goodbye at home. Most mates do. Dragging things out . . . would have hurt her more. And she’s never been much for traveling.
- What work did you do, before you took ill?
- I did a lot of teaching, teaching children. In our town and nearby. Most ages. I like teaching. And people seem to think I have a gift for it. [a pause] And I make things. Different things. Sandals – lots of sandals. Many people in our town wear my sandals. Boxes, with carved designs. I like carving. [a pause] And I made one hand harp. I’d have made more, I think, if I’d had time.
- If you don’t mind my asking, what are your thoughts about the end of this journey? About swimming out to sea?
- [a quiet sigh] That it’s a little soon. I’ve had a good life. I would have liked it to have lasted a little longer. [a pause] But it’s all right. Good things come to an end. [a small smile] And I like to learn new things. I’ve been to the ocean, and to funerals, but this is the only way I can learn about going into the waves. What it feels like. What the ocean sounds like from the inside. Whether there’ll be anything to see.
I’m not afraid, really. I’ve never heard of anyone struggling or crying out in pain.
I wish my children and Lilit didn’t have to grieve, and to reshape their lives. Terrill – he’s too young for this. . . . He always looked forward to that first trip to the sea, with the friends of his year. He had so many plans for it. I’m sorry he’s had to trade those plans for this.
[Terrill starts heading toward Willan as the other Vushla move back toward their cycles]
We’ll be going on now. And I should save my voice and my strength for talking to my son.
Character Interview with Terrill
[NOTE: Terrill is a Vushlu. He would have become an adult next year by taking a ritual first journey to the ocean with other Vushla his age. Instead, he attained adult status prematurely, accompanying his dying father to the ocean, where his father went into the water to be dissolved.
Interviewing Terrill is a tricky task. As the book begins, he is understandably morose. Later, when he is less so, he has good reasons not to reveal his activities and concerns. I’ve dealt with this dilemma by splitting his interview into two, and working within the limitations Terrill sets.
The first interview takes place at a rest stop during the funeral party’s return trip. Terrill speaks in a quiet monotone most of the time.]
- I’m very sorry about your father.
- Thank you.
- It will take you quite a while to get home. How are you occupying yourself along the way?
- I’m trying to remember as much as I can about Da. [a pause; he clenches and armors his fists] But the things I remember keep reminding me of things I don’t know. Questions I never asked, and never can, now. [long pause]
- Have you found any ways to keep your spirits up?
- There’s a Weesah peddler who’s been traveling alongside us. He likes to tell stories. When I listen to them, it takes my mind off . . . other things. I’ve even laughed a few times. [glances to the side] Not that my uncle approves. Of the listening or the laughing.
[An older Vushlu approaches; the interview concludes]
[The second interview takes place around three months (or the equivalent) later. Terrill is now traveling in the peddler’s wagon, as is Honnu, another Vushlu about his age.]
- Is this where you expected to be, at this time?
- No. Nothing about what I’m doing these days is as I expected. One unpredictable event has led to another.
- What can you tell me about these events?
- [a slight smile – which for Vushla means a rounded mouth] Very little, I’m afraid. Except that one of our funeral party, my aunt, became very ill on the way home. The others returned to the sea with her. I [a short pause] chose not to. That led to my becoming better acquainted with Honnu. And that led to everything else.
- So do you think you’ll become a peddler?
- [another smile] I don’t think so. But for now, I’m a peddler’s assistant and have my duties. I’d better go.
- Perhaps we’ll meet again along the road.
- I . . . don’t think that is very likely. But stranger things have happened. [a quiet chuckle] Indeed they have.
A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in
Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers
herself a Hoosier. Wyle’s childhood ambition was to be the youngest
ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she
was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to
the goal at age 9.
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