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Aqua Libera Trilogy by Paulo da Costa



Robalo Silva's Dream

Robalo Silva's imagination was boundless. From the time he was a fingerling and to his teacher's despair, Robalo refused to immerse himself in school matters. In the afternoon heat, during their weekly field trip, and after the first eddy, he escaped the shallow waters, hiding behind a boulder.

Robalo Silva dreamed the impossible. His teacher disapproved, "It's been tried before. It can't be done, it's unnatural for a fish to fly," and with a clap of fins the teacher ended the reverie, nudging Robalo along, "Pay attention to the lesson, instead." The teacher's frown, deeply etched on his forehead, reminded Robalo of the distant v of a bird in flight.

During recess Robalo stared at the faraway sun reflected above the ripples and dreamed of breaking through and flying. He began his practice. Awkward little leaps. His spout barely cleared the surface, yet he gained momentary glimpses into another world. Robalo's world distorted when he sank back into the current. The water, refracted and muddled. The narrow embankments, a confining prison.

In time Robalo departed the placid waters of his childhood and drifted down-river seeking larger streams of consciousness. The years, the distance, the gulf between him and his origins widened. Only the unconscious pull of Robalo's migratory heart lured him back upstream for a yearly visit.

Attending a school reunion on one of his visits, Robalo Silva passionately flapped his fins as he detailed the progress of his dream, "Already half my body flies out of the water." Those who had long surrendered their dreams puffed their gills, "He can't let things be. Must be different, thinks he is so special." But Robalo Silva believed fish would one day fly. He taught his two children, and later his three grandchildren to dream the impossible. Grandiose dreams required perseverance, lifted, push by push, by generations of efforts. Despite the sadness, he was resigned, that he, alone, would never reach a cloud, "My children's children will, their fins are already stronger than mine'," Robalo muttered to himself or to whomever cared to listen. At the end of his life, in a courageous last effort Robalo leaped above water. He died, as he dreamed he would, in the sky.



Eau Claire Fishing

Days dreamed past, sitting by the river. Nights stretched out on the river bed, resting on the pebbles' solid cushion. A stone is not immediately a stone. Pebbles are accommodating, boulders are not. Days, weeks, sitting. I whistled up thrushes. Howled above wolves. Fought for crumbs. Damn magpies. I argued stubborn ducks, until tired of quacking I skipped flat stones on the slippery surface. One day I skimmed a pebble the entire width of the river. Imagine the feeling, imagine the puzzlement on the opposite shore, "Walking across the waters?" Sixteen leaps. The miracle of reaching the other margin. A thing of saints. I danced and a teary sky washed my face, -- who doesn't get teary with miracles? I was clean and they took me in.

"Dancing in the rain isn't a sane thing to do!"

I wanted to tell them I was dancing without stopping, two days and two nights, for that little pebble on the other side, the one that skipped across, that beat the pulling current, the surge of the stream.

"Howling at the moon is a lunatic thing to do!"

Luna mia. I wanted to ask them if they were jealous, if that was why they've always hunted down the lone wolves? But I started wrong, started too loud and they clamped my mouth shut. It was a public park after all and after hours.

They pulled the straps tighter. I failed to co-operate, refusing the help, the generosity, from the concerned neighbourhood behind curtains. The neighbours, like always, lending a watchful eye, while I sat, suspiciously sat by the shore, this time bound, bound somewhere else. They shoved me inside the ambulance.

I cannot see the river through the whitewash of the walls. Diagnosed impaired. Impaired to be solo, unsupervised, outside the institution. I welcome the blue pills, easier to dream of the river then. I'll pretend. I'll smile. Swallow every pill in the TV room. They'll be fooled. Is this what dogs learn in obedience school? Packs of nurses encircle the solitaire wolf. Round you up for life.

I'll buy a fishing rod, sit by the water, weeks at a time, staring, not at something in particular, everything in particular. People will notice the pole, string drifting in the current, their eyes unable to fish out the truth beneath the surface where the hook-less string drifts, the peace of mind that glides downstream like an innocent leaf. I'm not in the business of tempting fish, but they, the people, hooked on the surface, hooked on the belief, hooked on the appearance, will nod, will approve, "Another fisherman," because they want to believe they know, they understand another soul, another river. Every criminal mind needs a motive, an alibi, just to be. To be left alone.



The Effortless Drift

The current lures the trout downstream, the school misbehaves. Young trout flap belly up, in and out of the eddies, enjoying the sudden thrust of moving water. The teacher admonishes transgressors with a nudge on the fins, pushing them to the safety of an eddy. A mixture of fear and excitement rushes through the young gills on this first excursion into the world of rapid waters.

Stories abound.

Older trouters in the class whisper frightening stories of a haunted pool, a quiet stretch further downstream, where many trout mysteriously disappear. Food is plentiful there but after eating, trout spring out of water as if by magic, as if there is no gravity. It is said only the lucky ones are chosen, departing the waters, uplifted to the clouds. Some swear on their parents' scales it is a perfect world up there, heaven. Others swear the opposite, a world stranger and scarier than can possibly be imagined.

When the teacher is occupied, explaining the origins of the moss growing by the shoreline, Red Eye tells of his uncle, a fortunate survivor. Young trouters surround Red Eye, their tails flicking with excitement.

His uncle was relaxing in a quiet pool, watching the evening news reflected on the pool's bottom and absent-mindedly nibbling on food fast drifting by, when he was suddenly hooked and catapulted out of the water. He gasped for breath. Strange creatures, limbs like reeds, attempted to snatch him, but he desperately flopped, and somersaulted back into water. Later, in the pool bottom, still trembling, hiding behind a boulder, Red Eye's uncle espied the strange creatures who stood by the shore casting lines and skipping stones. When the sun floated away, they entered a silvery object and two bright yellow eyes spit light into the distance. The creatures disappeared swiftly, thundering toward the moon.

A splash of incredulity reverberates through the water, bubbles stream out of young trouters' mouths. Everyone laughs, uneasy laughs.

"Abduction should be left for science fiction," interjects the teacher who had quietly joined the group, fins crossed over his chest. "Now Red Eye, let's hear what your uncle would say about the origins of the moss I just finished explaining," the teacher reprimands, tapping his tail on the water.

Then, in a splash, a worm falls from above, hovering in the middle of the class.



paulo da costa was born in Luanda, Angola, and was raised in Portugal. He has resided in Alberta, Canada, since 1989. He is the general editor for Filling Station, a Canadian Literary Magazine. Ekstasis Editions will be publishing (2002) his first book of short stories, The Scent of A Lie, and Black Sun Editores will be publishing (2003), in Portugal, his first collection of poetry. As an English translator he has published work by Portuguese, Mexican, Angolan, and Brazilian poets. His short-story, "Pleasant Troubles," appeared in Issue #2 of The Cafe Irreal.


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