THERE EXISTS AN ISLAND
My sisters found me adrift in the pull of easeful azure, amid the carcass of a dead ship, skin burned under the watchful eye above. I retained no memory when I woke, no notion of what curse—for what else could it be?—deposited me on a ship, wrecked on spear-like rocks guarding the island. My memories would come back over generations, sand dredged from the bottom and catching on the beach of my mind. But when the memories found me, they were no longer mine, but the stories of a distant relative passed down to me. I remember my father; he taught me to act as a boy. He transformed me as best he could, he transformed my mind. He dressed me, spoke through me, invaded me.
We all belong in a chord, in a scale, in a harmony. Without all pieces, the harmony falls apart.
The first night of summer chills a memory of sweat on my skin through my feather dress, as though winter found some crack and leaked through. My mind swims through the dark sea and my arms cast around for stimulation. I want to be perfect for my sisters, worthy of finding. Goosebumps populate my skin from the excitement or the terror or the wind.
I stand on a green roof surveying the water; the roof floats on the grey cloud of a house fed by the beach. Our nest on the roof holds three eggs and a mountain of skulls. My sisters wait for me below. I lead today for the first time in the millennia since my life began. The tonic. The center. I begin my melody and the wind whips around me, billowing my voice to the waves. Dark clouds swarm and blot out the sun. Lightning touches salt water and tastes freedom. My sisters climb the staircase leading to the roof, reminiscent of a lush and flowering knoll of our island when it was our island. They climb with their voices, in harmony with my tonal center. As my sisters emerge on our grassy knoll, I move the melody and they follow me. We chord—more than the sum of ourselves we create a new being of sound, we name it a song and travel the length and breadth of its shape. Storm and wind and lightning pull song and sand out to sea and rain the melody on some unsuspecting sailor facing only the sting of sand and the hope of survival, to the dismay of his companions turns his wheel into the song and prays in the mournful melody we set for him.
From my father’s roof I could glimpse them, mighty castles pulled by rainless clouds.
My roof accepted me, supported me, cared for me. Clear nights I slept under the stars in the shadows of tall trees and the mountainous coast. Days wasted dreaming of being a princess on one of those castles, listening to the sea’s song, carried to me on the salt wind as I hummed along. My father found music as frivolous as he found women. He lived only for his work while my mother languished at home dreaming of adventures similar to those she read about in her dime-store novels. She joined me on the roof when father wasn’t there and told me of tales she read. When I was ten, she took me to the wharf to take in the ships; y father discovered her encroachment.
The sea corrupts, he said, there’s no laws on the sea, no order. He loved to bring up his idea of order. To him, life required order, hierarchies, laws. He believed family was the smallest unit of order, headed by the man and all laws flowed from his station. His attempts to make me a man meant proving to me his righteousness.
He built houses in this manner. Order meant stability, meant tradition, meant control—no questioning, no creativity, no defiance.
My father could not be everywhere, and my mother hid her mischievous side well. She gave me her books to read and when I began to question, she allowed me to wear her dresses. The dresses from my mother were a second skin when I wore them, taking them off I felt was denying a part of myself. Those were happy years despite the secrecy and the dull ache in my heart telling me it could never last.
My father came home early in my sixteenth year, having injured himself, to observe me lounging in a dress reading a book about pirates and seafaring adventures instead of working on my chores for the day. His rage shook our house. My mother defended me until the storm turned violent; when the storm passed she was a family member and I was not. I left with what I could carry with me and some food my mother made for the road ahead. Most nights I ran from the law for stealing to feed myself or daring to sleep in public and most days I tried to convince any crew I could that my knowledge of sailing meant they should hire me. I took a job as a deckhand and began my life at sea.
Notes flutter through my feathers—the dress is my skin is my nerves is myself—my wings raise the storm; our voices call the sailors to the rocks which they happily impale themselves for our song—survivors jump overboard some on jagged rocks some in the ocean and wash up on the beach—searching—gagging gasping gulping—listening for the melody beating in their hearts pumping in their blood splitting their cells and consuming them from the inside.
Wings rise in the air and swoop down on defenseless sailors snatching in talons and climbing. We move as a chord, four notes bound together by distance, and I am the tonal center, the home from which all other notes fly out. We appreciate the horror on their faces as we drop down in harmony and they realize their bodies have betrayed them, have led them to their deaths.
My sisters and I settle on the roof with our nest, three eggs waiting amid a mountain of skulls. Sailors' faces contort in agony as we feast on their innards. As we feast, an egg cracks; our eating ceases for this event I had never before witnessed.
Jumping from ship to ship, I gained experience as a sailor. The family I gained replaced the family who left me, but I kept my secrets to myself. If they didn’t discover me, they couldn’t reject me. A decade passed in this way.
The melody first came to me in the Mediterranean Sea, passing close to the Sirenum scopuli—three rocky islands near Capri—which many believe to be mythical but which sailors distance themselves from for the rumors they hear. Many ships disappear but only enough to perpetuate the rumor. The song began on the sea breeze as if a whistling in the air. The melody grew louder—or maybe grew louder in my mind—until I could focus only on the notes, the rhythm, the harmony filtering into my blood. The others on the crew could not hear and I became sure I was losing my mind. I made no attempt at the time to follow the source.
Months and months after reaching port I spent obsessing, mapping out exactly where we must have been when I first heard the whistling on the wind, begging vessel captains to take me there to hear the song—I couldn’t sleep unless I hummed the tune. The family I built drifted away as I fell deeper into my obsession. No owed favor or promised riches could secure a spot for me on a ship, and I found myself alone.
A freebooter found me on the docks—unable to procure work, the docks became my home—having crewed with me on another ship. He asked if I needed work and offered good pay for a deckhand. I learned my lesson from my found families who pushed me away and hid my obsession but took the opportunity to work my way into his confidence.
Dangerous work gave me more chances to climb and climb I did, gaining trust and learning the ship. I knew these waters in my heart after years and fell to the position of navigator, a position I exploited. There exist islands, I told the captain, where none will follow us.
Sand pervaded all corners of my mouth. Granules suffused my air-starved skin baking under the white eye watching my feet subsume in the watery tide flowing and ebbing out. Flow and ebb. The sand became everything; I thought I must be a burlap sack filled with sand as I couldn’t remember any time in which the sand hadn’t been a part of me.
My sisters found me here on the beach, life ebbing out to sea. They sang to me and the song was all I knew and I knew it in my blood in my cells in the sand desperately trying to be one with me. The song told me I belonged. They held me aloft, four reek goddesses in feather dresses took me to their nest with a mountain of skulls and one cracked egg where they lay me down and cleaned me. They washed the salt and sand and sun from my skin while they sang. I nestled in a blanket of finest down and woke the next day their sister, a family found.
On the beach, I glimpse her among the drowned sailors washing up to shore, the cracked egg with a mouthful of sand and burning under the white eye. My sisters and I lift her above ourselves in exultation for today marks a death and a birth. She will never be chordless. A new sister has arrived.
Jasmyn Huff (she/her) is the leading proponent of the theory she is a trans woman. She believes punctuation is a tool invented by the straights. Her family likes to come to her with computer issues. She dreams of one day watching waves from her porch and never touching the sand while rain clouds gather on the horizon. At night, she will cast spells and run naked with her demon friends.