(from The Missouri Review, Fall 2007)
It was my father who was the oarsman, and the last there ever was.
We believed no one could die on our island; the gods forbade it, and disaster would follow. And so when the sickness came upon one of us, the oarsman would row away with the dying islander over the horizon: my father the oarsman and his father before and his father and on and on. No one knew where he went, and no one knew what became of the bodies, but the bark was always empty when my father rowed it back to shore. Some said he floated somewhere over the horizon waiting for the dying to die and then heaved the body into the sea. But most imagined there was a place, a watery grave, a shining coral garden among the darker waters, where the bodies could be released and remain. Some said the released didn’t die at all but lived in peace on the Island of the Blessed, and we would meet them in the end. As for my father, he laughed at such stories and would wink at me and tell the villagers of something called the East Stream, which carried the bodies away. “Ah!” someone would say. “The East Stream!” And while the villagers would laugh, knowing that Father was a sly one, I tried not to speculate. The mind can imagine anything, but that doesn’t make it so.
Ever since I read “Conceived” last year, I’ve tried to keep my eye out for more stuff by David Lawrence Morse. That story, about a village on the back of a whale, was a world unto itself. “Released” looks to reside in a place more like our own, but had no less of an impact on me. Another captivating and fantastic place to take a stroll through. I’m tempted to go into what Morse was getting at morally, or socio-consciously but I don’t feel like making a fool of myself today. Come back tomorrow. Also, read the story and tell me what you think. It’s not online but you should be able to pick up The Missouri Review at Barnes & Noble and such.