by Livia Llewellyn
In the tiny hotel by the ocean shore, in the run-down town by the iron waves, mother catches my freckled brown hand, says come on, girl, let’s leave the boys, let’s see the shipwreck out on the sands; and the old familiar cold black oil seeps through my bones, gets me slack-jawed rubber-limbed sloe-night-eyed because I know what’s coming, know as she guides me through the door across the quiet parking lot, down grass paths to the flat grey point, to the rusting remains of the stranded queen, the S.S. Catala,
across wide dunes past driftwood skeletons dead brown grass and all the detritus of the western world, wind roaring wet through our hair and clothes, and she waits for us silent in the foaming surf, smokestacks pointing to a sunless sky, engines earthbound-cold as death; and we scramble up Catala’s slanting sides, white paint flaking to the waters below, onto foredecks slick with saltwatered rain, spin in a circle chanting “beautiful beautiful”, and mother runs in drunken steps from the land-locked bow to the wide wet smile of the stern, where her eyes go storm-dun dull as she motions: come here, girl…
and underwater slow I move, drifting to her side where she takes my hand, unbends stiff fingers and forces them down and gently, she says, gently and soft like we did before and far below the rush hiss boom of the animal tide trapped in the bowels of the Catala and mother looks up and moans with the wind and I am below in the dark in the waves and my hand my fingers are not my own are lost are beached in her sea-soft flesh with my shipwrecked soul and darkness erupts from the bowl of the sky riding on cries of the plummeting gulls, and I clench my hand hard and she gasps:
in this frozen moment we stare, and I see the ghost of the woman I loved, and as it sinks beneath her skin I raise my sticky-fingered hand and push–
and mother slides:
and I stand at the edge of the empty ship, listening to the rush hiss boom of the animal tide as it fills me up, as it floods the gutted Catala, and I make my way in drunken steps past the silent hole in the rotted deck past the gentle curve of the beach-bound bow, and afternoon hours slide into the night, but still I sit shivering on cold long sands, until waves ship stars are all one: and the rock I hold in my clean right hand comes down like a wave, against the left, again, again, till the bones and the flesh and the pain are one like the ocean and the wind and the rain, until every last scent of my mother is drowned, and I cry for the broken Catala, alone on the beach in the flat wet sands, trapped at the edge of the western world, forgotten, forsaken. Free.
Livia Llewellyn is the author of the short story collection Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors (Lethe Press). Her fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Subterranean, Sybil’s Garage, and Postscripts. You can find her online at http://liviallewellyn.com.