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Previously Published


In April, the Dead

By Natalia Theodoridou | | Natalia Theodoridou
Edited by Zhui Ning Chang || Narrated by Tricia Nguyen || Produced by Lian Xia Rose
Death, grieving
1000 words

It’s April and the sea gives up her dead again. We gather on the beach every afternoon, when the waters recede the furthest away. Mum stays behind, shooting at the stars with her bow and arrows, pretending not to care. “The sky caught your dad,” she says, “not the sea.” 

Dad took to the sky when I was small and never came back. I remember little of him—his large hands cupping my face, his skin hard like a dry starfish’s. Mum says he’s still out there in some other place, living a life we know nothing about, with another wife, perhaps, another daughter like me. But I think, What if Dad dies in that other place? Doesn’t dying work the same everywhere? Maybe he’ll come back on a shooting star one April and walk out of the sea, like the others. Mum gets angry whenever I say this, and so I don’t say it anymore. Still, every April, I spend my days on the shore. 

The beach glistens white under the fading afternoon light, and here they come, the people whose bodies we gave to the sea. They don’t arrive all at once, so you have to stand every day on the beach for the whole month if you don’t want to miss them. They come when they will, stay only for a day, and some years they don’t come at all. People say sometimes the dead ones forget, or they have their minds on other things, sea things, tidal things, that we, the living, wouldn’t understand.

This time, my friend Luigi’s father is the first to come out. We watch him walk on the wet sand, his steps heavy and slow, as if he’s still wading through water. Luigi and his mother sit on the dry kelp, waiting for him to get to them, and when he arrives he sits on the kelp too, and the rest of us stare at them. It’s okay to stare, it makes the ones still waiting feel better, and everybody understands that’s how it is. So I stare at Luigi’s father, too. 

I notice Luigi looks more like his father than he does his mother—the curve of the forehead, the shade of the eyes—and somehow that makes me think I know my friend better than I did before. His father’s mouth is filled with sea salt and he can’t speak, but he’s brought with him a hugful of sea urchins, pitch-black and spiny. He sits with his son and his wife all afternoon, and with a knife he opens up each of the creatures, scoops out the orange flesh, and feeds them to his family one after the other. Luigi opens his mouth and eats the fleshy bits right off the knife’s blade, the clear juice running down his chin. I imagine it tastes like the sea.

Others come out after Luigi’s father, carrying with them their favourite things, clothed in the strange fashions of the ocean: garlands of oysters and anemone hats. Some of them drag whole tapestries of seaweed ashore. 

An afternoon goes by quickly in April. 

I run back home at dusk, my legs rubbery, and I gush to Mum about the orange flesh of the sea urchins; I just can’t take my mind off them. I tell her how everyone who came out of the sea had someone waiting for them on the shore, and does this mean the dead ones know when there’s no one waiting for them anymore, because wouldn’t that be the saddest thing in the world, if they came out and there was no one there to greet them? Mum shrugs and I wonder at how different we are, even though our noses look just the same. She keeps her eyes on her work—tonight it’s a wild goose that needs to be plucked; she shot it herself while I was away—and she has that hard look on her face that makes me feel like I’m underwater and trying to speak, but the words drown before they leave my mouth. So I go to bed early and watch the enormous April moon swim across the sky. 

For the rest of the month, the afternoons come and go like the tide, and I watch the dead ones arrive, and sit, and go again, leaving behind all their peculiar possessions: a suitcase full of sand; a fish that is impossibly light and floats in the air tethered to a silver thread, like a balloon; an umbrella so large it can be used as a boat. I sit on the sand and wonder what Dad will bring with him when he comes back hitched on a star and falls into the sea. I wonder how like him I might be. 

As the end of April nears, only a handful of people are left waiting on the beach with me, all of us abandoned in the same way. We exchange glances and nods, as if saying, “Maybe not this year, then,” or, “They haven’t forgotten us, I’m sure, I’m sure they have other things on their minds, sea things, dead things, things we wouldn’t understand.” And then we sit or stand there, staring at the empty sea. 

Before I head to the shore for the last time this year, I look for my mother in the backyard, to see if she still won’t come with me. She’s making arrows, she says. But it’s such a clear afternoon, the stars are out prowling already, and wouldn’t she prefer a walk on the beach? 

A star streaks across the sky right then, too fast for her to shoot. I point at it with my finger and the words spill out of my mouth before I can catch them that maybe today, maybe today is the day he comes, with his starfish-spangled hair and his mind on things we don’t understand. 

My mother shrugs and nocks an arrow to her bowstring. She points her bow at the vast, amphibious sky, and she doesn’t say a thing.

Natalia Theodoridou has published over a hundred short stories, most of them dark and queer, in magazines such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nightmare, and F&SF, among others. He won the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the Nebula Award for Game Writing with his first Choice of Games project, Rent-a-Vice. Natalia holds a PhD in Media from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and is a Clarion West graduate. He was born in Greece, with roots in Russia, Georgia, and Turkey. Find out more at
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