the woman sat on the jetty and watched the geese.
early evening they arrive here in full throat, one huge, vociferous family of pilgrims from north, south, west calling the songs of their days – good places for bread and butter. snail-filled lakes or a new sandbank for preening. each grey bird shouting above the rest, hearing it all.
the saltmarsh was not one thing or another.
a thousand islets, rough and tufted with sea-spurge and midsummer thrift. brackish canals snaked the sodden land, clear bright channels cut through the mud flats further out.
the only way to walk here was to risk the maze of wooden jetties, broken like teeth or chance the depths in waders.
mona was out there. the woman leaned forward and watched them all hips and elbows, pointed as a crane in the late light, ducking to examine whatever was there.
the sky was pink and the air was soft. it was calm now, here, but they had lost a boat in the storm. one of the old ones and with it, the oldest of the wives. branta was their name. they had not fought. they went as a joyful nun to their genderless god.
the sun sank low behind her and the geese grew still. the woman put her head to her knees and wept.
yaga padded in her footsteps along the wooden walkway, back to the road. they walked til they came to the stuffy church room where the sea-wives had set up their beds in crooked rows. they were back at the harbour wall, a motley chorus of farewell shanties. the woman found a corner away from the draught and lay down her blanket, pushing her face into it’s woodsmoke and wool, the smells of an old friend. she soothed her rough hands and feet with rose oil, and untied her hair. she found a candle stub and lit it. for branta.
yaga curled up against her, prawnlike, breathing softly.
branta came that night. paddled right up beside her in a tree-trunk canoe offering a name.
the woman could not hear it. the sea breeze was light but it pulled away the old one’s words like rope. branta’s shoulders were strong and they worked the small boat like it was part of their body. they shouted louder but still the woman could not hear.
then it came. it was like a stone in her mouth hard and unforgiving then it was rose petals in a hot bath dank cider fizzing hailstones on a tin roof.
it was the storm that took branta. it was the storm that took all the others. the name she heard was not her own it was her mother’s.