ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

The Little Stone Fish

Author | Autor: Socorro Acioli

Translated by Silvia Düssel Schiros

Anna Victoria dreamed of the ocean every day.

In her dreams, she would dip her feet in the foam, feel the taste of the salty water,
and let the sun tan her skin while she swam among the waves, listening to the sound
of the wind. She would fill her hands with shells, adorn her hair with algae, look at the
horizon, and playfully imagine the worlds that exist on the other side of the ocean.

Sebastian, Anna Victoria’s grandfather, also dreamed of the ocean every
day. In his dreams, he had a boat to conquer the waves, and would boldly depart
towards the high seas, taking four leather trunks with him. He would go on and
on, until he could no longer see the sand. And when the sun set, he could feel
the Earth turning softly, until the night came to welcome the moon. Sometimes,
grandfather and granddaughter would meet in their dreams and walk together
along the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Eyes wide open, Sebastian and Anna Victoria were far away from the ocean.
They lived in a mud house, without electricity or piped water, in the Cariri region,
in the south of Ceará.
Every night, Sebastian played his old guitar under the starlight, and enjoyed
the company of Wanda, his daughter, and Anna Victoria, his granddaughter. He
would tell them, in cordel1 verses, the northeastern tales that said that the sertão
had once been an ocean–which dried up because of a spell; according to these
tales, one day it will turn back into an ocean.
Her grandfather’s words echoed in Anna Victoria’s mind. In the first lights of

dawn, while she walked for over an hour to go to school, she thought about the subject,

trying to understand. Any time she saw an elderly person go by, she intrepidly asked:

“Sir, did you see the Cariri sea when you were little?”

They would laugh and tell her that when the sertão was a sea, there were no

people in the Cariri. Back then, everything was covered with water; that was a long

time ago, and there’s no one alive to tell that story.

“But how did this sea dry up? Where did the water go?”

She’d ask her friends, relatives, but no one knew the answer. And went on

trying to understand.

Sebastian had experienced this mystery since he was a little boy. He started

working at the age of six, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., helping his father extract rocks

from the Cariri mountain ranges. The rocks were delivered to the boss, who sold

them to contractors from the big city. The boy had little time to play and didn’t

go to school; he lived his childhood among pickaxes and levers, to supplement his

father’s income and support the family.

When he grew a little older and was able to handle by himself the heavy tools,

Sebastian found something different among the rocks. It was a whole fish, from head

to tail, stuck inside the rock as if it were part of it. It was proof that the verses that

had been passed on from one generation to the next in his family told the story of

his homeland. The dry ground on which he stood had once been the ocean bottom.

This was the first of many stone fishes that Sebastian and his work mates saw

emerge from between the rocks. During lunch break, the men would sit together

under a tent, open the lunchboxes prepared by their wives, wrapped in embroidered

cloths, and talk about the fishes, insects and plants they had found in the rocks.

Sebastian listened to everything in silence. He was afraid to tell that he kept

at home, inside a leather trunk, under his bed, all the stone fishes he had found in

his life. As time went by, the trunk became too small for so many fishes, and he

ordered a new one. When he realized it, he already had four trunks under his bed.

He talked to the fishes and promised that, when he got a chance, he would buy a

boat and take them to the salty water.

Once Sebastian realized that he and his granddaughter had the same dream

every night, and were equally awed by the mysteries of the ocean and the sertão,

he decided to tell her the secret he had kept for so many years, and called her to

talk. She deserved to know. Anna Victoria loved secrets, as all kids do, and watched

her grandpa with curiosity. Sebastian pulled one of the trunks from under the bed,

placed it next to his granddaughter, and asked her to open it.

When she lifted the cover of the leather trunk, Anna Victoria saw the objects

rolled in pieces of cloth, one by one, and almost couldn’t believe her eyes.

Sebastian took one of the rocks as if he was picking up a baby, and handed it

to his granddaughter.

“This is the first fish I ever found, when I was about your age. One day, I will

take it back to the sea.”

The little girl was delighted: it was a fish that had lived in the sea of the sertão.

No man or woman could tell what the Cariri looked like back then, when it was

filled with water, but that fish was there, in her hands, telling that story.

On the next day, Anna Victoria’s teacher, Ms. Samara, taught them about

fossils, and explained that the police was looking for people who sell and hide the

stone animals and plants, because that’s a crime.

When class finished, Anna Victoria waited until everyone had left, and asked

Ms. Samara why keeping the fossils at home was forbidden:

“Because they belong in the Museum, in Santana do Cariri. At the museum,

the scientists will be able to study each one of them, and understand the history

of the sertão. These rocks need to be in the hands of researchers, Anna Victoria.

Selling, keeping, and hiding them are very serious crimes.”

The girl was scared, and talked to her grandfather. He understood, trusted his

granddaughter, and agreed to take the fishes to the Museum. At least they would be safe.

Santana do Cariri was not far away, so they found a ride for the next day.

Sebastian and Anna Victoria took the trunks to the Museum, and delivered them

directly to professor Placido. They talked until the night came, and Anna Victoria was

able to better understand how the fishes had been preserved in the soil. Sebastian

remained quiet, and left the Museum hiding the tears that rolled down his cheeks.

“I promised they would return to the sea, now I can no longer keep my promise.”

Anna Victoria was touched, and she felt that the only thing that might cheer

Sebastian up would be making his dream of seeing the ocean come true, even

without the stone fishes.

The girl talked to her mother, and asked if it would be possible to go to Fortaleza

for just one day, so that they could see the ocean. Wanda took the savings she kept

under her mattress. She did the math and found that it was enough to spend one

day in Fortaleza. Those were her life savings, but her father’s and her daughter’s

dream was worth it.

Two days later, Anna Victoria, Sebastian and Wanda were in the bus, on the

way to Fortaleza.

Before going out on the trip, Anna Victoria thought it would be fun to come

up with an ABC of stuff that can be found at the beach. A as in alga, B as in boat,

C as in clam, until she got to the V, as in Victoria, as in victory. The victory of having

a dream come true.

At the beginning of the trip, she said she’d like to make a deal with Sebastian:

until they arrived in Fortaleza, she would teach her grandpa the ABCs, since he

didn’t know how to read.

“This way you’ll learn the letters and the names of the things we’ll see once

we arrive in Fortaleza.”

And she went on playing: D as in dunes, E as in elephant seal,

F as in foam, G as in ghost shrimp… Every once in a while, Sebastian asked a

funny question.

“A ghost shrimp that actually haunts the ocean?”

Anna Victoria would laugh, and go on with her ABCs.

H as in hippocampus, which she had to explain was a seahorse.

And when Anna Victoria said that male seahorses carried the babies, the

grandfather crossed himself. And they went on with the seashore alphabet. I as in

island, J as in jellyfish, L as in lobster, M as in mollusk, N as in nudibranch (a type

of marine snail, as she had learned in school,) O as in octopus, P as in pier, Q as in

queen crab, R as in reef, S as in salt, T as in tide, U as in unicorn shell, and V as in

vanilla ice-cream. V as in Victoria. As in victory.

The bus stopped at the Fortaleza terminal early in the morning of a sunny

Thursday. Anna Victoria, Sebastian and Wanda de-boarded and called a cab. The

driver asked where they wanted to go to, and Wanda said:

“We’d like to go to the beach. How much would that cost?”

Wanda did the math, found that it was OK, and the driver took the family to

a beach called Beira Mar.

As soon as the cab went down the hill of Avenida Barão de Studart, the three

of them, squeezed on the back seat of the cab, saw the ocean for the first time. It

was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.

They were so happy when they arrived at the beach that everyone around

looked. They left their belongings on the sand and wet their feet in the sea. Anna

Victoria caught the foam with her hands and remembered her dreams. Wanda

was afraid to touch the water. Her daughter had to hold her hand, and she went in

making the sign of the cross.

Sebastian cried like a little boy, and put his hand over his eyes, on the forehead,

trying to see the boat in which he sailed in his dreams.

Wanda set out to buy coconut water because they were thirsty; Anna Victoria

kept jumping the foam fringes formed by the waves, and Sebastian, with his feet in

the water, watched his granddaughter’s joy. Suddenly he felt something moving in

the right pocket of his pants. When he tried to grab it, the object fell through the

hole in the pocket, and slipped along his leg into the water. It was a stone fish, the

first one found by Sebastian as a boy.

Sebastian held the fish in the water, and could never explain how everything

happened. Out of the spine of the fish, which had been dead for millions of years,

the silver scales of a live fish started to grow, and the fish gradually set itself free

from the stone to go back to life.

Anna Victoria walked up to her grandpa, and saw the head, the big, shiny eyes,

the swift fins, the restless tail appear. The fish jumped off the hands of Sebastian

and turned into a beautiful silver fish, alive and happy, swimming freely into the

deep green ocean, exactly as it used to more than one hundred and ten million

years ago, in the Cariri waters.

When Wanda returned, bringing coconuts with straws to her father and

daughter, she realized that they were both pale:

“What happened, sweetie?”

“A miracle,” Anna Victoria said, without taking her eyes off the water…

... while the silver fish, which had once been a stone fish…

... swam into the deep sea.

1. The cordel (string, in Portuguese) culture is made up of folk novels, poems and songs that are produced

and sold by artists in the northeast of Brazil.

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