The waves had declared war on Cyrille’s father. Cyrille was a little girl when she heard them roar at night.
Father’s arms were strong like iron bars and his hands were always stained with paint. He hugged Cyrille often. Each of her dresses had large, coloured handprints from his paints.
Cyrille was frail. The round, horn-rimmed glasses made her resemble a sad-faced owl. Her steps were slow in the sand and quicker on the road.
They lived on an island with only four people: Cyrille, Father, Ms. Tombs, and the mailman. The mailman didn’t even live there all the time; he had a small house that Father called a shack. He usually took his rowboat, to the friendlier beaches on the mainland.
Ms. Tombs had a grand house identical to Father’s. Humidity had made the white paint peel and the shutters warped on both the houses. Ms. Tombs had a fine body to match the grand house. Ms Tombs often went diving in the sea to keep that body in shape.
Father would swagger when he marched into Ms. Tombs’s house, holes in his galoshes and a gap-toothed grin. Years of gifts had passed from his rough hands to the lady’s hands. Cyrille had tried to ignore the heavy footprints connecting the houses.
Each night Father would go out just as the sun kissed the cold ocean waves. The water roared at him, and he roared back and laughed.
Those nights Cyrille would tremble in the large house with the white shutters. She would beg Father to stay, but he wouldn’t listen. He only hugged her harder and ignored her panic.
One night Father didn’t come back. She waited till afternoon the next day. Then she called the mainland police for help.
Mere mornings after Father had drowned in the evening surf, Cyrille knocked on her neighbour’s front door. It was a cloudy morning, the kind that promised to rain on picnic lunches and dangling seaweed. The air stank of salt and dead barnacles.
Her fist made a faint tap against the wooden door. Glass clinked from inside. She chewed her paint-stained fingernails.
Ms. Tombs answered the door holding a wineglass in her hand. Her teeth were stained brown, and she wore a moth-eaten robe.
“Good morning, Ms. Tombs,” Cyrille said. “I hope you are well.”
Ms. Tombs sipped her wine. She pursed her lips.
“A storm is coming, Ms. Tombs. Please do not swim today.”
“A storm? Did they mention a storm on the radio?”
“The waves carry the news,” Cyrille said. “They’re getting louder.”
“Oh right, your father.” Ms. Tombs waved her hand as if swatting a fly. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“The waves weren’t satisfied with him, Ms. Tombs. They’re still hungry. Please stay indoors. You will be safe. Father would have wanted that.”
“Your father was a horrible, selfish man,” said Ms. Tombs. “He never wanted me to be safe.”
“It’s about time something swallowed him up; he deserved it. I could have been Mrs. Lodge, and you would have been nothing, but he wouldn’t have it.”
Cyrille stared in shock. Her large, eyes became teary. She turned and ran. By the time Ms. Tombs could collect herself and found kind words, Cyrille had slammed her front door. Clouds gathered. The sky gave a muffled sob of thunder.
That night black and blue bands streaked the horizon. Waves prowled at one end of the beach. One wave swirled above its brothers at a greater height, separate and majestic.
Cyrille tottered with her wooden case and a flashlight on the beach. She left tiny footprints behind her. The waves roared against her bare feet.
“Please,” she said to them, “leave Ms. Tombs alone.”
She tiptoed around the spot where they had found Father at low tide, his skull cracked. A Fire coral marked the spot – a crowning a victory for the waves.
She sat on a rock and set the wooden easel on the sand. A yellowing canvas was already taped to the wood. Her small fingers grasped a stubby pencil. She sketched light gray lines to define the outline of the foreboding waves.
Minutes passed. Cyrille’s hand relaxed with the charcoal. Her strokes became confident.
The largest wave attacked. It roared and crashed onto the cascade of rocks, filling the air with cacophonous splashing. Cyrille’s canvas and easel went flying. She caught the easel with both hands.
The charcoal pencil dropped in the water. Cyrille’s fingers ripped off the ruined canvas and threw it onto the wet sand. The damp sheet sank under the approaching tide.
The flashlight dimmed as it dripped saltwater. The wave gave a low chuckle as it withdrew.
“You will not have me?” Cyrille said. “Then I must have you, I’m afraid.”
She picked up her easel and moved farther inland. The water could not approach the shallower tide pools. She found another black rock and she hunched forward, sketching the eyeless face of the wave and its approaching maw. It hung back.
Thunder broke across the sky. Cyrille’s fingers smeared paint around her careful pencilling. The flashlight went out. Mist formed around her glasses. She dabbed them with her long sleeves.
The larger wave came with an abrupt splash; her canvas shook against the easel. Cyrille replaced the colour palette in the wooden case. The other waves rose in unison and growled. She backed out of their reach.
Cyrille stuffed the still-wet canvas into a plastic bag with fingers that were smeared in blue and white paint. She tied the top of the plastic bag. The beast thrashed inside it.
“I wouldn’t do this,” she said to the beast, “if Ms. Tomb didn’t insist on swimming.” That’s when then the rain fell in earnest.
Cyrille abandoned her wooden case and dashed for her father’s house carrying the beast inside the plastic bag. The weight of the canvas made her stumble.
Lightning struck the waves. She sprinted and panted. The beast continued to thrash, calling for its murderous brothers.
A single-large wave, which had once been many little waves in wait, converged upon the little strip of beach. It splintered the wooden case and easel she left behind. The pieces drifted like bones from an ancient kill.
She waited-out the storm in her dark bedroom, soaked to the bone, shivering with cold and shaking with fear. The plastic bag writhed in a wet corner, the beast roaring within it. After several minutes of watching the bag struggle, Cyrille went to the washroom. She found the matches and lit a candle. Its faint glow slowed down her shaking.
All through the night the waves crashed against the house. Cyrille winced as the walls and floor rocked. The waves kept coming, battering and crashing. On the bedroom window, she could see the salt droplets splattering the sand. Her heart pounded with the crashing waves.
In time, the thunder stopped. Dawn arrived like a sticky ball of honey, strands of pinkish gold swaying against the broken sky. The rain slowed and then it stopped. The waves retreated to their deep, dark home.
Cyrille uncurled herself from where she had huddled by the window, candle holder clenched in one hand.
The waves hadn’t gotten in. They had cracked the windows downstairs and torn the shutters, but they hadn’t gotten in. Cyrille closed her eyes in relief.
The dawn yielded to cloudy morning; stray chairs and rubbish was strewn along the still beach. The waves had lost their roar, rippling without purpose. Meek water drifted across the wet sand.
Cyrille packed a suitcase with her paints and clothes. She carried the suitcase in one hand and the plastic bag in the other. Her footprints on the sand remained tiny, but no waves washed them away.
The mailman was checking the damage to his rowboat. She put down her suitcase and waved to him. A large boat approached them.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Mainland. There’s a convent there. They like artists.”
“What about the house?”
“I’m selling it. Most of the furniture as well.”
“Big task for a little girl.” He smiled and showed cracked, coffee-stained teeth.
Cyrille did not smile back. The mailman jabbered, joking about how maybe he would buy the house.
The large boat came in tooting a horn. The captain helped her with the suitcase while she clutched the plastic bag.
“Your father was a good man,” he said.
“He was a brave one,” Cyrille said. She turned to the mailman and said, “Sir, will you check on Ms. Tombs for me? I knocked on her door, but there was no answer.”
“I always do.” He smiled.
“Tell her it’s safe to swim now.”
“Maybe I’ll take her swimming.”
Cyrille turned away from his wink. A sailor offered a hand. She climbed the boat holding on the plastic bag.
The boat set off. Its engine puffed and belched smoke against the waves. Cyrille stood on the main deck as men busied around. She watched the waves bump against the boat – their half-hearted efforts in the daylight. Their roars were now mere kitten mews.
So long as she had the lion in the wave trapped on her canvas, she was safe.
Priya Sridhar has been writing since fifth grade, a year after her mother forbade her from watching television all day. Her fantasy and science-fiction stories have placed second in the 2005 and 2006 Miami-Dade County Youth Fair writing competition and won first place in 2007. She invites readers to sample her bakery witch webcomic A La Mode, about an enchanted bakery (http://alamode.smackjeeves.com).