Sunday, 6 July 2014

Short Story: Karma

by Fenella Johnson


The woman was thrown of the ship in the early morning, before the sea clouds had risen, before the birds began their melancholy circling, before the day had started breathing. They had dragged her from the hold, the smooth sand sticking slickly to her skinny feet and dirty freckled legs. She had square chin and a wide mouth and spotty shoulders, red pimple streaked skin. They had tied her legs together with thick rope that chaffed and had shorn of her hair so it lay in crumpled heaps upon her crumpled skirts. The heat beat down on her collarbone and back, brick red.
It was bad luck for a woman to be on board, the common sailors had said, grumbling suspiciously to each other, mumbling and plotting. And it had seemed that they were right: for they had sailed for only 3 days and nights and lost two men already. The woman was made to walk to the right side of the ship so she wouldn’t get caught in the fishing nets when they pushed her overboard. She refused their help and waddling to the side, simply fell in. She made a soft sound as she hit the water, an anti-climax as she disappeared without a trace. The men turned away.
She thrashed and screamed under the water, but it filled up her mouth, and she coughed and it filled up more until surely there was no room left in her lungs, that the pressure would burst her chest, and it wasn’t like she’d thought, there was no peace in drowning. She sank deeper, the water lukewarm to touch instead of the freezing cold it had been and odd. It felt like liquid blue treacle and she could see the surface, but not touch it although she tried desperately, her legs in the hold of the rope floundering. Up above a half-transparent fish swam by. It seemed to almost wave one languid fin at her.
She felt the change before it happened, felt her head start to swim, to view the world as blue, here light grey blue like the painted door at home even in its dullness, here darker like a bluebird’s feather, here blue like the waves were a not quite blue, more dirty green. She saw all the blues and then she breathed, sucking the water in through a mouth that felt like thick metal and exhaling watching the bubbles sprint away greedily.
Then the rope unravelled splitting like thread under a knife, as her legs formed somehow together, flesh becoming oily, feet poking at sharp right angles, legs becoming a tail, that curved and ended at her waist. It wasn’t beautiful but vicious, grey sharp tiny teeth forming armour. Her hair had grown and now coiled behind her like seaweed, glistening and memorising and grasping. The little fish above had scuttled away. She started swimming, if you could call it swimming. The water seemed to part for her unbidden and when she spoke, her voice salty and mouth acidly sweet, it seemed to come from somewhere deeper inside her, somewhere foreign in her chest. The words that came seemed to make no sense and every sense, words that tasted of mud and clinging dirt, flowers, of the earth itself and the sea.
She swam for days, following the path of the ship closer and closer to the rocky shores of the coasts, to where she could drown them. She knew the stories, had heard her mother’s mother whisper of the siren folk and their voices, their luring of men to an untimely end and she knew this was how she got her justice, how she avenged herself and she felt the water fill her with something blood red.

It wasn’t stormy or still, the night she chooses, but the ocean seemed to move to a different rhythm. No longer a peaceful swish, it made the sound your teeth do against your fingers when you tap them, of bone on wood. Up above, the seagulls circled.
When she surfaced, the air was harsh and brittle, and didn’t fit well in her lungs. Her hair dried. Her skin was no longer oily smooth, but marked with Goosebumps and dry patches of flaky flesh. She moved lower into the water instinctively, so only her eyes shone in the dirty water.
She called out, voice catching and twisting, so it seemed to catch the sails, and drag them. The boat swayed. Men ran out on the deck.
She rose so they could see her now, and called again. She didn’t stay to watch them die, to watch the ship toss against the cruel talons of the rocks, but she felt it.As they drowned, their throats stung with the salty water of her last breath. A twisted kind of karma.


1 comment:

  1. what a wonderful story. Beautiful use of imagery and language, and very well structure. Well done.

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