on windy days the sea-wives would be busy with the boats, endlessly working ropes and sails. they sang as they moved their ships in sync, keeping a rhythm together above the roaring and flapping and chaos of the wind. the womanlearned to be useful.
on the calmer days they would rest. they would drop anchor, tie planks across their boats and laze on their decks in sunhats. they fried fat chunks of octopus or shark, told stories, passed smokes. from time to time someone would leap into the water, shrieking and bellowing. others slipped down quietly for a moment’s solitude in the calm water.
spring gave way to summer like this. it was a gentle season with little wind, and they drifted southward slowly, without hurry.
does she have a name? asked one of them
pointing at the dog.
the woman replied, yaga.
but you, the other went on. no name.
the woman shook her head.
my name is mona.
they were broad-shouldered and long-limbed, in a worn leather waistcoat. i had another name, before. i’m not sure what it was. this lot named me.
they gestured towards the sleeping bodies strewn across the boats.
perhaps i do have a name, the woman wondered, but i have forgotten it.
mona said well, it might be helpful to know if we are looking for a new name, or an old one.
the woman looked at her hands. she saw the old scars from the loom, rough patches from scouring fleece, lifetimes ago. were these really her hands? and she saw the fresh burn of a ship’s thick ropes, bright red streaks from just yesterday.
yes, these are my hands.
mona looked at her.
the two of them stripped and lowered themselves from the back of the boat. below the sun-warmed surface the water was cold. they floated as lightly as they could, and drifted a little way from the boats.
their two bodies were very close. treading water in slow motion, eyes locked, breath as loud as the rippling sea. mona began to circle the woman. their toes would often catch, or their elbows, or a finger. once, their thighs tangled, just for a second. all the time, they held each others’ gaze. the woman remembered felt dreamed of hands slipping around her waist, the wool, the water, the kneading, pounding hands.
mona dipped beneath the water and between the woman’s legs, coming up behind her, pulling her into her lap and spreading her thighs. the woman reached behind her to hold mona’s curl-covered head. mona’s hands grappled her breasts and hips. she felt mona inside her and she opened, like a starfish, flinging her arms and legs wide, slipping below and pulling mona with her. they writhed like eels in the deafening, light-filled water, stroking, rubbing, licking, seeking, surfacing for gulps of air and salty, slimy lips and tongues. their bodies rolled and twisted, jellyfish clouded their hair and shoals of herring slipped through limbs slick and ticklish. violent lightening jolted through them, over and over the woman’s body crashed into mona’s like rusted steel against an iceberg, bursting open, sinking in. the water lit up.
seconds later, the sky cracked open.
they swam back to the boats and hauled themselves on board. the sea-wives were hurriedly throwing pots and pans into wooden crates, untying the planks, powering ropes through pulleys to heave up huge sails. yaga was below deck on the third boat, howling. everything was noise, the cracking of sailcloth, the yawning creak of wood, the rolling, terrifying thunder and the fat, hard rain crashing down around them.
with a roar they heaved up the anchors, and caught the storm.