“Love, Breath, and Salt” by Caroline de Verteuil
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
Love, Breath, and Salt
by Caroline de Verteuil
Trinidad; Mama Dlo
The long wooden pirogue knocked lazily against the concrete pillars of the jetty. The man they called Spider positioned himself at the pirogue’s rudder, his bare toes gripping the wooden planks so that he stood firmly despite the boat’s rocking. His matte charcoal skin blended into the night easily. Only the whiteness of his teeth bared in a smile distinguished him from the surrounding darkness.
The boat made its way across the smooth ridges of the water, the small engine whining querulously as Spider pushed it to its limit. The salty wind hit him directly in the face, but he opened his eyes as wide as he could, feeling them ache against the burning salt. That was how the sea entered him—through the eyes and into the soul.
The boat skimmed over the water, past islets speckled with twinkling weekend homes, but Spider didn’t stop until he got to the Grand Boca, an ill-reputed channel that stretched between Trinidad’s northeastern tip and the blurred mountainous outline of Venezuela.
As Spider slowed the boat down, the brackish air swirled around him. He tasted the salt on his lips and knew that the sea was yearning for him. He dropped his fingertips into the water and felt her swell in response, sucking gently on his fingers.
“I’m here, my dou-dou.”
The sea undulated softly, arching to press her wetness further up his fingers until his entire forearm was submerged in her liquid blackness. He closed his eyes and listened as she lapped against the sides of the boat, tenderly caressing his vessel as only she, the sea, knew how. This was how Spider spent his nights, whispering amorously to his ocean as she heaved herself against him, diving into her depths and sinking deep into her until his lungs burned in his chest.
It had been years since he had become intertwined with the sea, and now he was ready to commit to her, to feel her fill his insides completely, for him to seep out of his own body and into hers, for their union to be complete.
At its shallowest point the Grand Boca was fifty fathoms deep, and Spider knew from his many whisperings with the sea that it was filled with vicious sea creatures—barracudas with teeth sharp as scythes, groupers three times the size of a man, and violet jellyfish with tentacles that burned gangrenous venom into human flesh. Even the half-woman, half-serpent Mama Dlo could be found floating languidly in the Grand Boca, bored of meandering green rivers and eager for the sun’s heat after the perpetual shadows of the rainforest. It was a place feared by even the most intrepid fishermen, and it was here that Spider dropped his anchor with its chain tied snugly around his waist.
The weight of the solid iron anchor yanked him violently downward, taking him off guard so that he spluttered and choked, gulping mouthfuls of salt water.
The anchor pulled him deeper and deeper.
The pressure in his ears sent acute pains searing into either side of his skull, and his eyes burned as the murky moonlight filtered away above him. He saw the shadows of great fish moving in his periphery, and in the distance, the rounded shoulders of a woman swimming ahead of the rippling tail of a basilisk. Yet he felt no fear—only the tender impatience of a groom on his wedding night. Unconsciousness slowly began to lighten his limbs and obscure his vision. He smiled softly.
Then, without warning, a sharp undercurrent took hold of him. It jerked his semiconscious body back and forth like a capricious child shaking a rag doll. The chain around his waist began to loosen. Too weak to fight against the impetuous sea, Spider could do nothing as each chain link slipped out of the knot, one by one, until the anchor fell away from him entirely and his body began its ascent, the ocean propelling him upwards with astonishing force.
His head above water, Spider gasped for air and wept. This was the third time he had tried. The agony of rejection twisted into his sternum like a corkscrew while the sea splashed his cheeks with coquettish indifference. He sighed and lay back onto the water, stroking the ocean with his fingertips.
“Tomorrow, my dou-dou. Tomorrow, you will be ready.”
A fat rocky moon looked down on them, its silver glow gently illuminating a patch of ocean that held the man they called Spider.
CAROLINE DE VERTEUIL is a freelance writer. Her flash fiction has been published in British literary journals Dream Catcher and Interpreter’s House, and her nonfiction writing has appeared in Caribbean magazines MACO Caribbean Living and MACO People. She has attended short creative writing courses at Imperial College London and at Gotham Writers Workshop, New York.
Posted: Nov 6, 2015
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