Laura Davis + Vanessa Ronan

Tides

 

She was born on this beach. Her mother knelt in the rushing waves, held up by village women as the midwife bent down, sea spray stinging eyes and splashing into open screaming mouths, birthing fluids seeping into the sea to drag back around them on the undercurrent of the waves.  White wave foam pinkened. Blood around her mother’s naked legs. No red on the midwife’s arms. No blood on her when finally she swam from the womb. Lifted from the waves the salt air stung as she gasped her first ragged breath. The midwife said it was an unnaturally easy birth, she said the baby breathed better underwater, and the villagers whispered behind raised hands.
She was a woman of the sea. First wobbly steps gathering sea shells on wet sand as the tide tickled her tiny feet. She found brighter shells than all the other children, blues and emeralds that matched her eyes, and when the village men came home from long weeks on their fishing boat, nets full, the villagers would toss her in the air and call her their Mermaid and say she blessed the voyage. But when the boats came home with empty nets she was a Sea Monster and there were no games or hugs just whispered questions from the hungry village about where she hid the fish.
She first made love cloaked in tall dune grasses. Her body left its imprint in the sand. Walking away hand in hand with her new husband, looking back she could see her shape left like a shadow, arms and torso perfectly imprinted but legs a moving blur. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach comforted her as her husband’s kisses slowly taught her love.
When she had her own daughters, like her mother, she too knelt in the waves. During one labour she felt a tiny crab nibble on her smallest toe and the tickle made her smile. Easy births all three, the villagers crossed themselves and murmured. They distrusted why her husband’s fishing net always came home so full, but he only laughed at their superstitions. His wife’s lips tasted of the sea.
When she grew old, her skin wrinkled like windswept sand, as though memories were etched in grains upon her weathered skin. How many sunrises did she see dissolve above those waves?  Rose petal mornings eased golden, eased blue, till sea and sky melted as one. And yet with time it seemed all that was left was a final approaching sunset, and she was often seen staring through the curtains across the dunes and out to sea.
The villagers say she was a Mermaid after all and swam back home one night in moonlight. The fishermen still blame her for their empty nets. As for her husband… Well, people say they see him dancing on the beach some moonlit nights and even when the tide is out waves rise to fill his footprints

 

Writer: Vanessa Ronan
Illustrator: Laura Davis

 

Book Bearers

 

Mommy said we have to wear all black today, but I don’t have black dresses. I’ve got a black sweatshirt, but it has this tiny picture of a duck sewn up in the corner, and my jeans are blue and my sneakers have pink glitter laces. So I’m wondering if the dead know what you wear to their funeral, and if they mind. It’s a little coffin for a big man; it looks more like I should fit inside. And everybody’s whispering, but nobody’s sad. And the room smells funny.  I want to go and play, but outside is just the graveyard. There must be. One. Thousand. Nails. Holding down that coffin lid. I try to count them, but lose my place and have to start again.
Last night the grownups forgot to whisper. They thought I was sleeping. And they said something about a heartattackoverdose and how Barcus was an alcoholic and they said that the night before Barcus died, his servant Roberto and he were fighting because of changes in his Will whatever all that means and apparently Roberto made Barcus take his medicine with his Brandy whatever that is because Roberto was disinherited which I think means something like “upset,” and Someone even brought up poison. The funeral is today because they don’t embalm bodies here. Daddy and the other men step forward to bear the casket. That’s what they call it when they carry it, they say they bear the casket.
Now we’re walking through the graveyard, and you have to be careful because the graves are uneven and there’s no path. Mommy says this is where Patzcuaro’s poor are buried. A year later each grave is dug up so that someone new can have it. Most of us are Gringos, and only Roberto and his wife weep in Spanish. Someone’s told Someone that they were in Barcus’s house this morning and all his books were gone, and now Everyone’s whispering again and glancing at the coffin. I know it’s not nice, but Barcus was fat. All I could ever stare at were his fat, fat calves, swollen purple like balloons.
The men can barely hold the coffin. “How did they fit him in?” “Do you think there are books inside?” “But then where’s the body?” “Roberto owns a pig farm and his pigs look awfully fat.” And Everybody’s looking at the coffin curious now as Daddy and the others struggle on.
Tom the painter, with the hunch on his back, stumbles on one of the graves. I told you you have to be careful. And when Tom stumbles, the coffin slips. And Everybody. Holds. Their. Breath. As that tiny, tiny coffin slides, lid lifting, nails popping. But the men right it.
Daddy says he almost let the coffin fall. We throw handfuls of dirt on the casket after it’s in the grave, two Purepecha men watching with shovels in their hands. One week later Roberto invites us to his farm.  He feeds us each a fig right off the tree, but I don’t like mine. Inside it smells funny and looks like purple flesh.

 

Writer: Vanessa Ronan
Illustrator: Laura Davis