Pearl by Candace Hartsuyker

Come December, her ghost whispers his name. He longs to gather her in his arms like water, drink past skin and voice and sin to a place of shape and sound and silence. Her one routine: going out at night, letting the warm rain caress her face. He saw her with another man or thought he did. Gave her no choice but to row alone.

He found her later, mauled by the skeleton teeth of rocks and the gaping mouths of hungry waves. He imagined it: water dragging her down. Her body: a limp flower curling in. He pulled her out. Ice crusting her hair, sloughed skin, a face worn away. Pitted feet, slashed ankles, barnacles embedded, sewn into flesh like sharp bits of glass. How many have been lost? The sea: a mausoleum for the dead. Ghosts all. Everyone. Even him.

He paid a witch to give him an answer. He knew better than to trust a witch, but sunsets ago he thought he heard her voice, tried to convince himself it was wind slicing through rock or the sigh of the sea. Now he scrapes his thumb on a rock, blood welling, grazed skin. Thumb in his mouth, he sucks the hurt away.

A fisherman’s life: follow sea, follow footprints, follow sand. The blood lures her out, like the witch said it would. His wife has changed. Water enclosed her, a womb, but now it sluices off her.  Long legs, damp hair. The moon, swollen, heavy. Fruit about to burst. Her name: a pearl in his pocket. Her hand in his. Wings sprout from her shoulder blades. Scales glitter on his body:  her arms, her legs. They fly high.

She holds death like sunlight on water, skims the surface, watches it spread then fade. If she lets him go, will he take his boat out at night, wait for her to return? A memory: wrapping her legs around his hips. The beat of his pulse at his throat.

She bites her thumb and presses her wound against his. She will never forgive him. She will never forget. But at least now, she can finally be free. She lets go of his hand. He twists. He is flesh pulled taut. Legs fused together, scales on skin.

She kicks to the surface, toes gritty with sand. She will leave this place, make a home for herself elsewhere while the sea claims him. He will drown, be pulled under. He will long for something he cannot have without knowing why. He will forget he was ever human. He will forget he ever had a name.


Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Heavy Feather Review, The Hunger, Maudlin House and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at C_Hartsuyker.

Image via