Another week came and went. No ships or boats of any kind came to the rescue or even passed by in the distance. The sea flattened like a fine mirror. The air grew dense and heavy, stuffy like an old, forgotten closet. Encouraged by these unpleasant conditions, a feverish madness broke out aboard the Merry Mariner.
In a large old book in the study, Verona discovered a tribal wind-dance practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Ivory Sea. She painted her face in white and blue and spent her days on the roof above the crow’s nest with a ladle and a gong, chanting and singing to the skies.
“Just a sniff,” she begged. “Just a wisp of fresh air, that’s all I ask!” But no answer ever came. She felt faint and sluggish all day long, like a drooping flower rudely uprooted and left to wilt in the sun.
The rest of the family Wicklow fared no better.
Mamma, concerned that their food stores might run dry, forbid any snacking, and even locked up the pantry to be sure. She refused to bake or grill or roast. She now served only one dish for every meal: a grey gruel of oats, cabbage mash, and sawdust. Suppertime, ordinarily an uproarious occasion around the Wicklow dining table, now became a solemn, wordless ceremony, intended simply to fill their bellies with the necessities to survive another day.
Pappa became uncommonly worried that he would lose his mind, and so pretended that they were sailing and having grand adventures as they always did. He introduced his family to imaginary strangers, sighted make-believe lands on the horizon, and charted their fictional voyage on a map. If anyone tried to talk to him he merely burst into tears, and soon avoided all conversation altogether. Eventually he built himself a fortress out of the books in the study and didn’t come out again.
Fritz and Felix quickly became sworn enemies. They no longer joked or pranked or made merry—rather, they bullied and attacked one another on sight. They refused to sleep in the same room and eventually stopped appearing for meals. They schemed alone long into the nights, plotting their next assault, and attempted to recruit the other family members to their side of the feud. But separately they were weaker than together, and occasionally one or the other would be caught weeping bitterly over their lost twin. Even Waldo found it pitiful.
As for Waldo, he grew more and more suspicious of his own tools and instruments. Eventually he smashed all of his machines into bits and locked the tools away, then left the engine room altogether. He spent his days up in the ship’s greenhouse with Abbot the hermit crab, reading trustworthy technical manuals and schematics. He stopped believing in any utensil of any kind, even spoons and pencils and toothpicks, and refused to use anything but his own bare hands. Late after midnight, he would haunt the lower decks, sighing loudly, with Abbot the hermit crab clicking along behind him.
The family Wicklow was cracking.
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