What the Seagull Saw at Night
Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Winner for Fiction
Choate Rosemary Hall
When a seagull ponders, it’s because something great has happened. When a seagull talks, it’s because she desperately wants to be heard.
In this little fishing harbor that spreads across two sides of a mountain in Ap Lei Chau, a peculiar seagull once pondered out loud. She screamed and whispered to the Essence of the World in an unplanned soliloquy. She interrogated it with a feverish passion. For that seagull, these were moments of deep thought, and I recorded three on papyrus as I sat in my canopied boat, listening to this troubled soul.
Were you the little fishing flame quivering on an ink flushed ocean? Did you shatter the hush of the atmosphere? When all the other boats fell asleep, you alone declined sleep’s charm. Your light kept the fish down below from slumber and lit up your patch of silence. You consoled a little girl, unable to fall asleep, peering down from the thirty-first floor. She looked up and saw stretches of silver and pyrite littered across the short mountains and streets. They were a thousand times brighter than your fire’s glow, but none of those tungsten bulbs could ever warm the air around them, or light up a little patch of the sea, or comfort a little girl. Somewhere tucked in layers of seaweed, one fish nibbled on gently cast starlight — the broken mirror pieces on a swaying sea. It sliced its lip on a silver edge, its life rolling like golden pearls into the deep. These golden pearls shimmered as they found the sandy ocean floor like sea turtles claiming beaches, before rising back up to the sky. They would become starlight again, these shards that tasted sweet but cut the fish. Upon the shoreline, another moth pounced into the flame but knocked off the glass dizzy and confused. It couldn’t understand why this light didn’t offer eternal solace and warmth like the others, so it tried again, and again, and again until the last of its strength waned. Did you also see the moth’s body? It was quiet and cold on the ground. If you would only open your eyes, you might see all the injustices in this floating world. I am but a seagull; my hands are bound up by feather and my body too small to be noticed.
You also saw the fisherman tucked behind a city of cargo boxes, right? Tell me that you too, felt his prying gaze on your back as he scanned the seashore. He was the one who plunged into an ink flushed ocean and pulled threads of sunken dreams from an entangled seaweed forest. He who carefully spread the pristine threads out to dry on the banyan and wove them into an ephemeral fabric. He then grasped the white sheet, already crisp with sea salt, and cracked it into flakes. He ground the flakes into a powder, and blew at it, spreading it to the world. Sleeping people inhaled it and breathed out meandering smoke like threads of silk that snaked up into the thin night air. The birds lunged at this curious type of worm and tossed them into the ocean when novelty faded. The fish in the sea hid the threads into the deep seaweed forests, letting them ferment into dreams. Such was the peace before it shattered. See how the fisherman hurriedly plunged? He was racing against cloaked enemies who ravaged the delicate forests and stole the dreams for the land of artificial light. Tears rolled down his cheeks, staining the fabric with a different shade of white, one that was lighter than crystallized salt. He was left to mend the broken peace they destroyed.
Did you see the figure perched on silent haunches? Were those her sweat, tears, or blood glistening under the distant starlight? See how she maneuvered between the poles and racks of the floating restaurant? See her deftness and agility? She was something that haunted the city at night, something that kept the fish below from slumber. She tried to reach down and scoop some dreams from the ocean, but the fisherman lunged at her with the last of his withering strength. She fell gently as rain falls, some grey hair slipping through the hood masking her face. She just wanted something beautiful, something nice and sweet for the dark world and her little grandson. Somewhere tucked in the cargo boxes and fishing boats, a child’s cries lit up the night. But then dawn came—quenching the fishing flame, starlight, and streetlights with its pale tears, erasing the boy’s wails and the night’s miseries with its white shine.
I had just finished jotting down the seagull’s heartaches when dawn broke. The harbor filled with the chatter of sparrows. I could no longer hear her pathos and the trembling of her heart. Her voice faded into one of a thousand and the colors of her perspective dimmed, much like how dawn had dimmed the nocturnal miseries she had observed. She was but a powerless seagull, yet her regret seeped through her voice. Now, that passion was gone and I was left feeling empty as the sun burned bright above my canopied boat.
Since then, I’ve always searched the sky for a melancholic voice and a trembling heart pondering out loud, confiding in the Essence of the World. I never saw or heard the seagull again, but I’ve always dwelled on these three thoughts. I wanted to ask the seagull why she troubled herself with another's miseries and why she never returned. Most of all, I wanted to know: Did the Essence of the World answer?
It’s not often that you get to experience the perspective of a seagull, and this piece transforms readers into that world in the most beautiful way. The complexity and layers are complemented by captivating diction and vivid imagery. “What the Seagull Saw at Night” is one of those pieces that I could read over and over tirelessly.
EDITORIAL PRAISE FROM MICHAEL ZAPATA, FICTION JUDGE
"What the Seagull Saw at Night" navigates between sentience and worlds, its language deeply lyrical, elegiac, even ancestral. It offers us a rare and beautiful glimpse into those forgotten spaces between dusk and dawn, injustices and pain, humankind and ecology. "The Memory of Fire Trilogy" by Eduardo Galeano easily came to mind as I read. I’m honored to have selected "What the Seagull Saw at Night" as the winner of the Polyphony Lit's Claudia Ann Seaman Awards for Young Writers.
Abby Lu is a junior (Class of 2022) at Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, Connecticut. She likes movies by Wong Kar Wai and paintings by Guan Zilan. She hopes to show the wonders of East Asian art to the world, and connect humanity through literature and art.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR