Into the Fishing Vortex
After finishing an early breakfast with the family, Uncle Edwin pulled a strand of thread back through a metal loop at his desk under a cheap table lamp. He was working on another fishing lure for a trip to the Maraquan Ruins. He had been fishing in those ruins all year and staring deeply into the vortex as if it stirred something precious within him. Pritha watched her uncle expertly create knots in the thread and saw what she believed was a faint magic filter from his paws onto the lure. Uncle Edwin said he had dreams at night about catching a Titanic Giant Squid. "I think this is the year," Uncle Edwin said, hovering over his lure. "The fishing is, somehow, always better in winter time."
While watching him work, Pritha listened to the argument unfolding between her sister and mother nearby.
"He can't stay here," her mother said sipping her herbal coffee.
"I know, but I want to help him," said her sister.
"How? By adopting him?" Her mother, Clarissa, was beginning to show the signs of an Elderly Yurble. She moved more slowly than before, and her hair was turning gray. Clarissa was significantly older than her brother, Edwin, and it showed in the way they spoke to each other. "We can't keep gathering up petpets around here. The petpets have to be right for their owner. They can't just wander in like that."
"Can't they?" her sister argued. "Isn't that the point?"
"If you're going with your uncle on this fishing trip, you can't be taking a Harris with you," said Clarissa. She put the ceramic coffee cup back down on the table, and her paws trembled with the effort. "Harris belong in trees. Not in Maraqua."
Pritha's mother would never admit how sad she was that Uncle Edwin was leaving again on one of his trips. With each fishing excursion, he stayed away longer than before in hopes of catching a Titanic Giant Squid. On many occasions and in her more cynical moments, Clarissa guessed that the squid didn't even exist. She said that it was all a myth made up by the Maraquans to keep people like her brother, Edwin, coming back to the vortex to find nothing more than stagnant puddles of water and old shoes. "If I have to take one more pair of nasty boots to the rubbish pile," said Clarissa once, "I am going to lose my mind."
Pritha cleared the table of the breakfast plates. She was jealous that her older sister was getting to go with Uncle Edwin on his adventure, but Pritha knew that someone had to stay at home to care for their mother. She didn't mind being a caregiver. In fact, it made Pritha feel uneasy to leave their home. She poured her mother another cup of herbal coffee and placed two mint leaves on top. Clarissa loved the whole mint leaves. She said it made her breathe easier.
"Do I really have to take this Harris back?" asked her sister from the kitchen table.
"You do. I can talk to the neighbors about watching him," said Clarissa. "That Harris will be just fine, don't you worry."
"I can watch him," said Pritha. She sat the herbal coffee in front of Clarissa and picked up the near-empty mug from the table. Her sister looked hurt, like she would rather the young Harris go live with strangers permanently instead of giving Pritha the privilege to spend time with the Harris herself. Pritha sat down at the table with her sister and mother after putting the extra mug on the counter. She could smell the mint leaves hot in the brewed coffee giving off a familiar and comforting aroma. "As long as he gets along with my Eizzil, it shouldn't be a problem."
"Done!" exclaimed Uncle Edwin. He stood back from the desk and clasped his paws together looking down at his creation in the lamp light. His blue fishing hat was crooked on his head, and Uncle Edwin's ears poked out awkwardly from beneath its brim. The lure was an average jig, larger than normal, created from the scales of a Madfish and infused with a magic that Uncle Edwin said he procured at a great cost from the Tiki Man on Mystery Island. "Of all the lures," said Uncle Edwin, "I think this one is it."
The next morning, after Uncle Edwin and her sister had left their home, Pritha sat outside the house on the front porch between her Eizzil and their newly adopted Harris. Even if Clarissa didn't want the Harris, she would never throw a petpet out of her house. For such a hard-faced Yurble, Clarissa was soft and gentle. Pritha was waiting on the muffins inside to finish baking for her Eizzil. She thought she would take the petpets out for a walk to pick blueberries later that evening for tomorrow's batch of muffins. Her Eizzil, to be such a docile creature, was incredibly high maintenance and required regular muffin feeding times in order to remain cheerful. The Harris didn't seem to mind the muffins either. He mostly just slept anyway.
"Hey!" called a neighbor, and Pritha jumped, startled by the neighbor's friendliness. The neighbor was a Starry Shoyru who worked for the newspaper. She had on bright yellow, glittering eye shadow and black mittens. The neighbor walked with a peculiar jump in her stride, almost if she was skipping, but not quite. "I don't remember you wearing glasses."
"I've had them for six months," said Pritha.
"Did your eyes go bad all of a sudden?" asked the Shoyru.
"I've been farsighted for ages," Pritha said. Her Eizzil hopped over to the Shoyru and playfully jumped around her feet. "Nobody figured it out until Uncle Edwin tried to get me to help him with his fishing lures."
"How did he know?"
"I kept messing up the lure," said Pritha. She handed over her glasses and let the neighbor try them on. People were always asking her if they could try on her glasses, and now, Pritha offered more out of habit than anything else. Pritha told the Shoyru about how her sister and Uncle Edwin had left earlier that morning on another adventure to the fishing vortex in Maraqua. She left out the part about how she felt jealous that her sister was going instead of her. Sometimes, Pritha didn't want to talk about her sister. She closed the book she had been reading and watched the morning sun hide behind a winter cloud.
"Trash patrol," said the Shoyru.
"What's trash patrol?"
"That's what I have heard about the fishing vortex my whole life," she said. "The fishing hole is a way to keep the Maraquan Ruins clean. It's one clever idea."
"You think so?"
"Of course," said the Shoyru. She sat down on the porch steps for a moment and scratched the Eizzil between its flopping ears. The Harris was sleeping, snoring only slightly, something like a monotonous purr more than snore really. "It's not hurting anybody."
"How do you know?" asked Pritha. She pulled the shawl more closely to her shoulders trying to keep the warmth inside her fur.
"I can't imagine what those waters would be like without the fishermen," said the Shoyru. "Some of the reporters from the newspaper go there curious about story leads and what not, and they always talk about the fishermen craze when they get back."
"Do you think the Titanic Giant Squid is real?" asked Pritha. She could smell the muffins inside the house baking and looked down at her wristwatch, but she couldn't tell the time. The Shoyru smiled embarrassed and handed Pritha back her glasses, so she could see again.
"I don't know," said the neighbor. The Shoyru shrugged her shoulders, and the sun reappeared from behind the cold, circulating clouds. "We have a photo in the newspaper's office, so I think it's real. Yeah." For a short while, Pritha and the Shoyru didn't talk. Pritha looked at the Shoyru's stars and thought it would be nice to be a Starry Neopet. At the same time, she thought the Shoyru looked rather silly sitting out in the daytime with stars all over her body. Then, she changed her mind as she was apt to do. Pritha thought that stars in the sunlight was a marvelous idea and smiled. Anything was better than being a yellow Yurble, Pritha thought. Yellow was boring. She blended in everywhere she went. "Trash patrol is important is what I think," said the Shoyru finally. "I wish Neopia would come up with an idea like the Maraquans. We could certainly use it."
"Yeah," said Pritha, unsure of what else to say.
"Well, I am off to work now," said the Shoyru. She stood up and wiped off her knees. The Eizzil hopped back up onto the porch and into Pritha's lap. Raising her wings, the Shoyru looked up at the sun and flapped hard twice before lifting off the ground. She turned to Pritha and waved: "Take care!"
Pritha put down two blue plates for dinner. Asparagus and leek sandwiches on wheat bread filled one platter next to a bowl of steaming carnapepper soup. Pritha arranged another plate of cherries and a small dish of funnydew melon. A near perfect dinner for her mother. She put ice in two glasses while Clarissa slowly made her way to the kitchen table. The Harris was clinging onto Clarissa's arm for a ride into the dining room. Pritha poured some lemon iced tea and then turned on the ceiling fan. The paper napkins fluttered as she sat down across from her mother and surveyed the table for anything missing.
Over the course of the dinner, Clarissa didn't say much. The Harris snoozed in her lap while Pritha's Eizzil hopped through the house. The ceiling fan's drone and the tapping feet of the small, excitable Eizzil were the only sounds to be heard over their chewing. Clarissa lifted her tea, and the ice played notes against the glass. As they were finishing dinner, Pritha asked, "Can I tell you what the neighbor said to me today?"
"You may," said Clarissa. She ate another spoonful of the carnapepper soup, forever a fan of spicy foods.
Pritha recounted her conversation with the Shoyru about "trash patrol" carefully, not wanting to offend her mother, even though Pritha knew that Clarissa had similar views on the fishing vortex and its potential for fallacies and myth amongst Neopians. Still, while Pritha recalled the conversation, she couldn't help but romanticize and defend the fishing hole. She wanted so deeply to experience its wonder and feel the community that the fishermen provided there. Something about that vortex had enthralled her Uncle Edwin, Pritha knew, and sent him on a journey to find magic. Pritha wanted, more than anything, to do something exciting and to feel called for a purpose.
"When was this?" Clarissa asked.
"Earlier today," said Pritha. She looked down at her plate of crumbs from her sandwich and felt embarrassed for becoming so easily excited over her story. "The neighbor stopped by while I was sitting outside."
"And what do you think?" Clarissa asked. "About the Shoyru's story?"
"I hope it isn't true," said Pritha.
"Yes," Clarissa hummed and picked up her iced tea. "But what do you think?"
"I think...." Pritha stopped. The Eizzil thudded through the home into another room somewhere unseen. "I think, she is wrong."
"You think your uncle has a purpose then?" asked Clarissa.
Pritha nodded her head and looked down at her paws in her lap. She could hear the distaste in her mother's question when it came to Uncle Edwin's adventures and their purpose. For a moment, Pritha wondered if her mother was similar to herself, wanting something to feel passionate about. She had never known her mother to be passionate about anything before. Pritha simply could not believe that her uncle would spend all his time at the vortex if there wasn't some music or presence there calling him to do so. She could not stand to think that he was simply leaving them and wishing to get away from the family. Her Uncle Edwin was too good for that.
Three days after Uncle Edwin had gone away with Pritha's sister to Maraqua, Pritha was starting to get tired of the quiet inside the house. She missed her sister's argumentative nature and Uncle Edwin's sudden outbursts. Pritha read books and listened to her radio player as loudly as possible. She picked up her favorite copy of Yurble Adventures for its seventh or eighth read, but Pritha couldn't read more than half of the book without feeling an intense sadness in her stomach. Her ears drooped. She baked more muffins for the Eizzil and put out advertisements in town for anyone willing to adopt a rather sleepy Harris. "Must have soft pillows," Pritha wrote on the advertisement.
"I am going out to play cards," announced Clarissa.
Pritha looked up from her book. "What are you going to play?"
"Destruct-O-Match, more than likely," said Clarissa. "It's all Skipper ever wants to play, because it's the only thing he can beat me at." She rose her shaking fist in mock rivalry, and Pritha laughed for the first time that day.
"Have fun," Pritha said.
"Skipper is going down this time," Clarissa said as she walked out the front door with her cane.
With her mother gone out to visit her neofriends, Pritha wondered if there was anything she could do in Neopia that day by herself. It was always fun to sit outside of the Rainbow Pool and see how pets changed from the time that they entered until they left. Pritha considered the book shop and then taking her Eizzil to the bakery to visit the Breadmaster and see if he had any muffins on sale.
Pritha spent a lot time after her mother left getting ready for a trip to Neopia Central. She put on a simple blue, warm shawl that didn't make her yellow fur contrast too badly. She cleaned her glasses and wristwatch thoroughly. But when the time came to leave the house and walk into Neopia Central, Pritha felt tired, like her energy was leaving her. She went into the kitchen, made some of her mother's herbal coffee to fight the winter cold, and instead sunk down into the pillowing folds of an armchair. Maybe her mother's elderly qualities and the fatigue of the Harris were rubbing off on her.
Another week of the quiet passed, and Pritha felt restlessness creeping into her bones, like the winter chill. She couldn't sleep at night, so she took a blanket from the couch and went outside to lie under the stars. Pritha built a small fire out of some sticks and brush collected around the house. A steady breeze blew in from the town, bringing with it all the smells of the marketplace, bending the grass around her, and music from her radio player on the front porch drifted over to where Pritha lay with her Eizzil and Harris companions. She lay back under the stars, thinking about the kind of music that her Uncle Edwin listed to. In her mind, she was already skipping forward to when he would be back home again.
"Oh, Pritha! How delightful is this night," Clarissa said from the porch. Startled, Pritha sat up and looked over at her mother. Her mother wore a large winter coat and mittens. "Look!" Clarissa cried. "A falling star."
Pritha looked out to the sky and wanted to make a wish that her Uncle Edwin would come home soon, but she missed the falling star. Or meteorite, whatever it was that she had learned in her books about Kreludor and space. Pritha gazed out at the cloudy trail of stars across the Neopian sky. Where was Uncle Edwin on his long trip to Maraqua? Was her older sister having a good time on their adventure? Could they see falling stars from Maraqua too?
"I have always been able to read the sky," Clarissa said. She shuffled through the grass with her cane over to the edge of Pritha's blanket and lowered herself steadily to the ground. She looked awkward in her fluffy winter jacket and held her paws out to the small fire. "Ever since I was your age, Pritha."
Pritha, sometimes, loved the sound of her mother's voice. She listened to Clarissa hum with the music from the radio player and felt her mother move back and forth with the music as if sitting in a rocking chair. Pritha imagined herself in a small boat at the fishing hole feeling the familiar waves cradle her and experiencing the intense silence of her Uncle Edwin's concentration.
Pritha woke the next morning earlier than usual. She started baking chokato muffins for her Eizzil and filled the house with a smell that was somehow faintly blue in its essence. She loved that smell. Anything was better than yellow. The Eizzil hopped wildly around the home enlivened by the fresh blue aroma, and the Harris dozed in the bread basket on the kitchen counter. When Clarissa entered the dining room where Pritha sat waiting on the muffins, she had her hair pinned up and wore a lavender hair bow. Rhinestone jewelry twinkled in her ears. "You look nice," said Pritha quietly.
"Thank you," said Clarissa. She hobbled over to her dining room chair and asked for a cup of coffee that Pritha readily fetched for her, even though they were out of mint leaves. "Today is a special day."
From outside, Pritha could hear what sounded like a parade. There were cheers and the subtle roar of people clapping and whooping in general discord.
"What's happening?" Pritha asked. She poured a cup of coffee for her mother and refilled her own mug with the dark, hot liquid. The winter cold was particularly vicious that morning, and she wished she had a second shawl to put over her blue knitted one. Clarissa smiled, took the coffee cup in her shaking hands, and nodded to her cane by the door.
Pritha went over to the window gathering her shawl around her shoulders. At first, she saw nothing. Then, slowly, the noise grew louder, and down the street, Pritha watched a great parade of neopets and petpets approaching their home. She could make out, even in the distance, an enormous red, oddly-shaped mound larger than all the Neopets surrounding it. She watched for a time longer unsure if her eyes were deceiving her or not. Cameras with their flashes beamed against the red. She saw the Starry Shoyru neighbor circling above the parade with a reporter's notebook taking down memos and thoughts from the occasion.
In a gradual fashion, Pritha realized that her Uncle Edwin had succeeded in Maraqua. Clarissa placed her wrinkled paw on her daughter's shoulder smelling faintly of coffee without the mint leaves. She leaned over and embraced her daughter. The brass buttons of her clothes were cold against Pritha's yellow fur, and Pritha could hear her mother's faint rasp as she breathed the winter air. Their faces almost touched while Clarissa held Pritha close albeit only briefly. "Go," Clarissa said squeezing her daughter's shoulder through the warm shawl. "My brother has caught his dream."