The Strangeness Of Skin – third and final part
October 18, 2013 § 6 Comments
The story ends.
Would be so happy to receive any feedback.
Every day the child crouched high in the eagle’s nest. Her clothes grew ragged and she forgot to pull the tangles from her hair. She prized limpets off the rocks with her teeth, and swallowed whole the tiny fishes trapped in the pools.
The rocks told her she had lived in the bay in another time long ago. She hadn’t burst bloody from a woman’s body – but had hidden, fully formed inside a shark’s egg safe under a rock on the seashore. There was a shock of black hair on her head, and words and songs inside ready to come out. They said she did not need to be taught how to swim, for she had brought the knowing with her for this life. Hepzibah hooted like an owl – she didn’t believe any of it.
The child saw many things after that. One day her mother appeared – she paced the seashore as if she was hunting for something. Soon she came every day, careless of unfinished chores. She would wade to the flat rock partly hidden in the breakers, rounded by the storms, and she would weep. Always her face was turned away from the shore, and as the tide returned she would let the water wet the hem of her dress. She cupped her hands together, caught the tip of a wave, and splashed her face with the cold, salty water.
The child didn’t understand any of this, and Phoebe would not answer her questions when they returned to the cave to sleep.
‘It is not time,’ she said.
After that day Phoebe didn’t go home. She sat on the rock day and night – her dress rotting from the sea salt, her hair hanging long and sticky like the sea kelp.
The nights grew shorter and the sun warmed the sea. The eagles came to watch, circling above her with their young. Hepzibah, tired from the watching, fell asleep among the bones. When she woke, her mother had gone.
‘Tell me where she is,’ she asked the rocks.
‘The wind is angry,’ they replied. ‘It won’t speak of it. The sea does not know what to do – but your mother wants to come home. Ask your people.’
‘What have you done!’ Hepzibah demanded. Everyone was silent but the woman with the herbs and the strong hands.
‘She has gone to her other place.’
‘What other place?’
‘She has gone back to the sea to be with her own.’
‘But we are her people. Why?’
The old woman took her to a hole at the base of the cliff. ‘This is where she hid her clothes. The others made a fire of them so she couldn’t return. She is not one of us.’
‘The rocks say you have upset the wind,’ wailed Hepzibah. ‘You have put us in danger.’ But the woman turned away – she did not want to hear what the wild, angry child had to say.
‘They won’t listen,’ she told the rocks.
‘Go to the hole in the cliff. If the wind won’t forgive your people you will be safe there.’
The night before it happened, Hepzibah dreamed:
Skin and hearts felt the coming of a great storm, and Phoebe’s people fell to their knees and prayed for the wind and water spirits to be calm. But the spirits felt only the sadness of the child and the meanness of her people. They flew into a rage. The sea heaved and rolled itself into their cave like shards of broken glittering glass, and the rain grew wild in sympathy and streamed through the roof. The fishing boats were ground to sharp matchwood, and the cave collapsed and folded itself into rubble. Her people breathed in the sticky, dark water until they could breathe no more.
The night after the dream Hepzibah slept in the hole in the rock. When she woke she saw the cave had been destroyed and her people drowned. She crawled deep inside the darkness of the hole and felt a skin soft as her mother’s, but icy as the wind. Hepzibah slipped inside. She tried to walk, but the skin would not let her. She slithered to the bottom of the cliff and began to cry.
A voice called from the sea. ‘Stop it at once. Hobble child. Your legs are now a tail. A tail for swimming.’
‘I don’t know how to swim,’ wailed Hepzibah.
‘Come. You do – and so do I.’