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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Prodigal

Michael Hurley
Ragbagger Press


Ere long, these children were far from their pursuer. Together yet alone, they were locked firmly in that embrace of fear and hope known only to very young and foolish hearts.

He meant to take her to the ship, this boy, and by means of wind and water secure their final escape. Like the girl, the ship was a sacred vessel—a thing imbued with an unquenchable, indomitable spirit. The boy was only one of the crew, but his shipmates remained in the Gypsy camp, still engaged in the fight that had erupted when the elders found him with her. It was then that he and the girl had fled along a secret path through the orchard to the sea, where she guided him.

O, how hot the elders' anger burned! How red the blood of men they spilled! She was their innocent one. She was their lamb, a gift from God, unlike the other daughters. But that night, that unblemished gift was given freely to this boy.

They were in love—impossibly, hopelessly in love— and filled with a passion fanned in the flames of a hundred campfires before which she had danced, untouched until that night by any man. That night she had danced for her beloved and for him alone. To the darkness of her tent they had stolen, unseen by the others. There, freely and of her own will, she committed the sin that her father had forbidden.

She felt safe with the boy, although she scarcely knew him. In fact, she knew him not at all, according to the laws that prevailed among her people. And yet she trusted him instinctively and completely with her life and with her soul. If it may rightly be said that trust is the leaven of true love, their love was already a feast. In the moment of her decision to stay or go, he had sworn to protect her forever, and she had believed him. She would always believe him.


The grass of the hillside smelled of jasmine and roses. It was a beautiful place—a place no child would choose to leave except to flee an unspeakable guilt. In the hours that followed the lovers' racing footsteps, the verdant perfume of moist leaves and wildflowers gave way to a salted, burning aroma rising from the Mediterranean Sea.

When they arrived in the empty seaside village, crouching unseen beneath the eaves, all was dark and quiet. The boy took the girl by the hand and led her aboard the vessel. He bade her to sit at the bow while he made haste to sail. It was a large ship—too large for most men to handle by themselves—but this boy was a child of the deep and one of the sea's very own. His footsteps were swift and sure along the decks, and his hands were steady upon the helm.

Thieves they were, to take a vessel that did not belong to them and run to sea, yet as if in common purpose with their crime, the ship ran like a thief beneath them. All its sails strained mightily in grave terror of the wind that drove them from the harbor. Thieves they were, yes, and thieves they would remain—through all eternity if it came to that. This was their pact. This was their promise to each other.

Before them loomed the wine-dark sea of Homer's imagination, serene yet fearsome in all its foreboding reality. Beyond and coming steadily closer with each plunge of the ship's stalwart keel lay the Strait of Gibraltar, and there a passage to the waiting world.....