Say Goodbye to Your Father

by a contributor

Marie-Helene Bertino

I found a starfish on the beach and jogged the half-mile back to the house. I hoped my mother would make a fuss over it and she did. We pretended it was a monacle, using it to block out the sun. We pretended it was a brooch. We lay it on the counter to dry and reported its progress to one another throughout the day. It’s still drying, it’s almost dry.

We had come to the house because my father was one month dead and we hoped the sea would do the thing the sea does when it makes you think only of the sea.

That night my mother and I were roused from our bedrooms by clanging in the kitchen. Beams of light shot out of the starfish and morphed into a glowing woman. I am here to give you every earthly desire, she said. Chests of emeralds. Season tickets. Revenge on people who suck. Riches out the kazoo. What do you want first?

My mother made the sound that meant she was pretending to consider something.

Say goodbye to the starfish, she said the next day before hurling it back to the water. When I was little she used this phrase to teach me manners and temper loss. Say goodbye to the mailman, say goodbye to your Aunt Barbara, say goodbye to the sea.

Riches, she scoffed as we walked back to solid land. Life isn’t hard enough.


photo of Marie-Helene BertinoMarie-Helene Bertino has been a diner waitress, a muralist, and a singer in a band. Her stories have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXIII, North American ReviewMississippi ReviewInkwellThe Indiana ReviewAmerican Short Fiction, and West Branch. She has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize three times, receiving the award in 2007 and a Special Mention in 2011. She hails from Philadelphia and lives in Brooklyn, where for six years she was the Associate Editor of One Story. She has taught for The Gotham Writer’s Workshop and One Story’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop and has received fellowships from Hedgebrook Residency and NYC’s Center for Fiction, where she is a current fellow. Her collection of short stories SAFE AS HOUSES received The 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award, judged by Jim Shepard, and will be published in fall of 2012.

See Marie’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series. Also check out her short story at FiveChapters.