EIGHT FOR DYING • by Lily Thomas

“You really don’t believe in any of it?” Michael asked.

“In any of what?”

“In signs. Superstitions.”

Anna thought of the robin that flew through the open window yesterday as they were eating breakfast and the three gulls that flew overhead as they walked the beach that same evening. She threaded her fingers through Michael’s and rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “You fishermen are a superstitious lot. I bet you cross your fingers when you walk under a ladder.”

“You haven’t noticed that I don’t walk under them to begin with?”

She threw her head back and laughed. They continued down the dock, the planks creaking beneath their feet, Michael’s duffel bag swinging casually from his free hand.

There was more activity on the dock than normal, but even so it wasn’t a bustling seaport. There were four weather-battered boats going out, their hulls dulled by sea spray and time. The nets that were laid out on the dock to inspect looked tired, their glossy brown faded to a dull gray.

They came to a stop in front of the largest blue trawler, the Sally May II. He tossed his bag onto the deck of the boat. “I’ll call you when we’re dropping off in Brevent in two weeks.”

“You stay safe. Be careful.”

“I will.” He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear and pulled his face to hers until they were nose to nose. His eyes were the color of kelp, his skin tan and toughened by the sun. She lifted her chin and kissed his chapped lips.

For a moment her world dissolved; Michael the only real thing. His body against hers. The whiskers under her fingers that she knew would be a beard when she saw him next. His lips; his hands.

Catcalls came from the wheelhouse. Anna moved away from Michael, but he caught her arm and pulled her back into the kiss once more before letting her go.

“You stay safe,” he said. When she rolled her eyes, he shook his head. “Look, I always wear my lucky socks the first day, I spit on the bait, and I won’t say ‘pig’ after I get on board. I also happen to believe that a robin in a house and three gulls flying overhead are signs of bad luck. And I worry about you. I can’t help it. If that makes me weird, so be it.”

“It does. You’re goofy.”

“I know.” He kissed her again.

Reluctantly he pulled away and boarded the boat. Anna waved goodbye and walked down the docks to the small beach where the canal opened up into the restless ocean. She sat down in the lee of a dune and waited. She watched the canal.

The boats pulled out, the Sally May II the last to leave. The trawler came down the canal slowly, the men aboard starkly outlined against the setting sun as they worked. Anna picked out Michael’s lean frame. She knew his body, the set of his shoulders, and the tousle of too-long hair.

She heard the flurry of wings before she saw them. From the other side of the canal came several dark birds. They caught up to the boat and settled into a rhythm behind the Sally May II as it pulled into open water.


She counted them, reciting a nursery rhyme her mother had taught her. “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for laughing, six for crying, seven for sickness, eight for dying…”

Her voice trailed off. There were eight.

She watched until the boat and birds were obliterated from her vision, whether by distance or tears, she didn’t know.

Lily Thomas lives in Pennsylvania with her son and two misnamed animals–a spastic dog named Betsy and a sedate cat named Spaz.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Gerard Demayne

    In the UK that poem is for Magpies.

  • rumjhum

    This is a softly beautiful story; loved the way it ended. Keep writing!

    Btw, that “one for sorrow…” rhyme is popular in India too, possibly a hand me down from our past colonizers or perhaps the Irish teachers/nuns & priests; except that here it is for mynahs – small brown birds with vivd yellow beaks and very pesky.

  • Lily

    Thanks for both of your comments (I’m the author). I live in the US, and for us here the poem is for crows… It’s interesting to see how there can be similarities even at such distances, but it’s all tweaked to our respective locations.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, rumjhum.

    Take care!

  • Wow! November starts with a bang. Great story, Lily. I’ve heard the myths of birds being signs or omens of bad luck for years. I think it’s something in their eyes and man’s yearning to fly.

  • Lily

    Thanks, dj. I have to agree with you as to man’s yearning to fly. Maybe the reason we created these myths are due a little in part because of our desire for flight.

    Of course I say this as a mockingbird has been knocking on my window for three days now. I wonder if it means something….

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    A lovely soft lilting story. Sad and leaves you on an edge. Thanks Lily.

    Here in the UK we count Magpies – even going so far as to ward off bad luck if we see a single magpie by saying hello 3 times, and then asking “…and how is Mrs Magpie and all the little magpies?”

    Mad? yep we are!

    • Your only mad if they start talking back to you.

      Great story I really enjoyed it.

  • This is just wonderful, and sooo well written ~ I think it may be my favorite one yet.

  • Lily

    Thanks, Avis, Steven and Theresa. You have no idea how happy I am that you all enjoyed the story.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    I didn’t get round to reading yesterday but I made up for it today. Seafaring superstitions are widespread and there are so many of them. This was very nice, Lily.

    I never speak to magpies just in case they do answer back and aren’t mynahs good mimics? 🙂

    • rumjhum

      These (the ones that inspire the rhyme) are the common mynahs. The hill mynahs which are black, look bad tempered and have bright yellow beaks, are wonderful songsters and good mimics. The Indian Koel (a type of cuckoo? not sure)are great singers and mimics too. 🙂

  • Michael A. Kechula

    Hi. Your writing is clear and artsy. This tale would get A++ in any creative writing class. To me, this is a poetic work of anecdotal fiction. It could be called, The Day Michael Left on a Voyage.

    However, the only thing that happens in this story is that two characters walk to a boat and kiss. Then one departs. The rest is filler. This is the novelist’s approach to writing flash fiction, although flash fiction is an entirely different literary form. I know this, because I conduct classes for novelists to transform them into hard-hitting flash fiction writers.

    When you write flash fiction, consider editing ruthlessly to include only that which is vital to the plot. Not an easy task.

    Keep writing.

    Michael A. Kechula

    • at it again

      I I I I
      Me Me Me

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