Posted on: March 3, 2015
“Thin Man, Thin Man, gonna eat your skin man.”
“Stop it, Fife, or I’ll tell Moma.”
“What’s the matter? Is Thin Man gonna getcha?”
Mira returned her focus to the seeds she was pulling from the pine cones, keeping her back to the skeletal, wooden man that glared at her from the top of the hill. The task was hard with Mira’s damaged fingers, twisted in an accident so long ago that she couldn't remember what she had been like before, when her hands worked, when her ears were still there to tuck her tangled hair behind.
Each nut needed to be pried from its woody husk, to be dried and stored safely away. They would be eaten through the winter, after the summer’s produce was gone. Moma Sups had some canned goods that she hoarded away like treasures, but mostly they ate what they could find in the woods and what they could pull from the sea.
The vagabond collection of kids had found their way to Moma one by one, and she fed them all, earning her the name Moma Sups.
“What’s for sups, Moma?” the little ones always chanted. Like baby birds, their gaping mouths begged for food, even when there was none to be had.
“What’s for sups?” they would sing, and Moma would shout for them to shut their yaps or Thin Man would get ‘em.
They lost three chicks last winter, and this year they had less to go around. Mira wondered which baby birds would be gone come spring.
Mira and her brother Fife were the first of Moma Sups’s kids. Mira didn’t remember, but she knew the story well. She was born in the belly of a beast as it tossed along the ocean waves. They had left the shores of their home; they were fleeing, trying to get somewhere new, somewhere safe, for when the rockets started to fly and the world ended.
The ferocity of the ocean on the night of her arrival matched that of her laboring Mother, and when Mira finally slipped from womb to world, she was wrapped in the intact waters of her birth. They called it a caul birth, a mermaid’s birth. When the bag popped and the waters spilled out across the swaying floor, Mira finally cried, and the ocean, hearing her mewling, quieted itself. The waves turned from jagged mountains to soft hills and rocked the baby mermaid to sleep.
That’s the way Moma tells the story. Fife tells it different. He tells Mira of their mother’s screams and the blood that spilled from her. He tells Mira of the body dropped over the side of the deck, into the waves. He doesn’t tell Mira their mother’s name; maybe he doesn't remember.
Moma had been the midwife, so she took the two little ones back to her berth, and they were hers from then on. When the boat finally came to shore, the world was quieter--broken, but quieter. They set up a shelter on the edge of a forest, and one by one, the others had gone away.
Moma stayed, and the lost chicks found their way to her. Fife brought most of them back. Abandoned, forgotten little souls--they followed him home. That was before, when he could still scavenge. Now Moma wouldn’t hear of him setting foot anywhere near the towns. In the last ten years they had seen smoke from time to time, but they knew the others were there now in greater numbers.
Thin Man had arrived in the night. There were no clues to explain his arrival, but Mira always wondered if he was a gift from the town people. Fife laughed and said he was Moma’s Thin Man, there to scare the kids. When they woke to him up on the ridge, blocking the view to the harbour, Moma had said, “Ya’ll better stay away from that thin man, there’s dark magic round him.”
“Thin Man, Thin Man, gonna eat your skin man,” Fife taunted as he ran down towards the water with his crab traps slung over his shoulder.
The sun slunk across the sky, and Mira’s fingers were dry and sore from her work. She was nearing the end of her pile of pine cones when she heard the voices. At first she thought it was Thin Man come to life. The kids were all in the lodge with Moma, and Fife was at the shore--who else could it be? Then she saw the dancing shadows. They fluttered around the long, still shadow of Thin Man. Mira stayed still and waited, listening to the voices, till their shapes appeared on the hill.
The first thought that came to Mira was how bright they were, so many colours, like bird feathers. The blues so sharp, the yellows so vivid, a crisp white visible under the collar of a deep purple jacket. A girl waved to Mira, and they started down the hill towards her. The easy swing of their arms stiffened as they came close to where she sat.
"Are you alright?" the oldest woman asked.
"Geez, what's wrong with her?" a young girl whispered into her protector’s shoulder. Mira could see the girl’s finger nails had been sculpted into perfect crescent moons, painted white at the tips.
"Do you need our help?" the older woman asked Mira.
"I don't get any cell service out here, should we go back to the truck and call for help? Would they even have a hospital back in that town?"
The tall boy, his hair combed smooth, looked past Mira to the lodge behind her, taking in the racks of drying fish and seal meat, the faded fabric that hung from the tree branches. He didn’t notice Moma taking aim.
"Do you live here?" he asked.
The staccato beats of the gunshots were softened by the dense forest to the West, swallowed by the waves to the East. One by one, the bright birds fell where they stood. Mira stayed seated, covered in the detritus of the pine cones as the singing children came out of the lodge and surrounded her. She watched the strangers, till they were still. She watched the children dance around the clearing. Fife dragged the strangers away, back to the chopping shack. When the last had been hauled from sight and the rhythmic sound of Fife's axe could be heard in the distance, Mira joined the children, raising her voice in song.
"Thin Man, Thin Man, gonna eat your skin man."
Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Chris Boyles
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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