This is Unravel

by Niamh MacCabe

2nd Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Short Story 2015

There is a woman in a green dress, kneeling at the sea’s edge. There is howling, calling.

The child wants to move his limbs. A longing to leave this dim place tugs at him, he knows it’s not where he should be.

Why here? 

He tries to pull the bright in. Slowly it comes, edges bleeding, as if this twilight world has forgotten about things, about places, as if all is a blurred nothing where he is lost with everything. Shimmering waves glide through him. He holds the water-swirl left within.

I’m this. 

He sees the ocean. Violet reflections flicker on its silver surface. The crimson hull of a fishing boat rocks in the distance. Its pale blue mast juts skyward swaying, conducting an unruly orchestra of lilac-white seabirds. He knows these colours, these things. He clings to them.

A calling. Something. A name. Close. Somewhere close.

He jolts.

He wants to grasp this name and drag all that’s left of him back along the length of its anchor’s chain, to its source, to where he knows he belongs. Reeling it in like a stretched inward sigh, the name turns to water and eddies around inside him, lost.

On the horizon, where the sky flanks the sea’s indigo edge, he can see a tearing begin, a sad, slow rip.

Unravel. This is Unravel. 

Darkness rises behind the distant thin rend. Glimmering hues of sky and sea blur to grey as the fissure widens and engulfs. The cleft’s maw is coming to him. He feels the wrenching loss of the colours he knew.

No. Oh no no no. 

The name is called again, the passionate fury of the caller like a blow to the chest.

Go back to her. 

There’s a woman kneeling beside a child who is lying half out of the water. The low tide edges around them. She’s pumping the small chest and calling shrilly.

He jolts again.

He sees her shining with brilliant colour, her green dress billowing, the tugging tide deepening the fabric’s hue. The golden sand is glistening wet. Howling, she raises her son’s head and cradles it roughly, rocking on her bare ankles. Laying him back down, she tries to blow life into him. His chest rises up and down in time with her gifted breaths, a mockery of life, sinking deeper back into itself when she stops.

Her feral call pierces through the whirling waters that hold him bound, seeking him. He reaches back towards it, pulling it in, dragging himself down its length.

He’s right in front of her, seeing wet hair hanging like a torn veil over her face, dripping diamonds over her son.

She calls and his heart jolts sharply once more. He wants to touch her but can’t find his hands, wants to answer her but can’t find his voice.

I’m here. 

The words within him swirl hopelessly in the water’s binding embrace. He looks down at the boy lying quiet and white, delicate wet head lolling on his mother’s lap, blue lips parted, puppet limbs splayed. His mother’s voice chokes but still the name rises from her, ferocious.

She kisses his eyelids and wipes away the spittle that has fallen on him. Placing her hands on his chest, she pumps violently again.

He looks at his mother and a yearning to be beneath her strong palms pulls him down to the white child.

He lays between the cold boy and her warm hands. Sinking into the chill, he draws towards his mother, pushing his small lifeless heart into her open palms.

He sees the gold and silver of sand and tide blur, her green dress fade. An immense sadness is descending.

Don’t leave me at this place. I’m not this place. I’m not here. 

Sorrow flows slowly from his silent core, snaking out towards slack limbs, following the course of tiny veins. Despairingly, he pulls towards her, away from the dark emptiness.

He becomes the bright warmth of her hands.

She calls and he leaps into her grip. Her breath reaches him and his heart rouses.

The charged blood follows sorrow’s beaten path down thin limbs. Behind the black of his closed eyelids, he remembers.

He feels the terrifying weight of the water swirl in his lungs as his mother’s warm breath seeks to become him. Pain rips through as life finally sinks anchor within.

He sucks in her breath. Choking, gasping, he spews the seawater out.

Opening his eyes, he can see the dazzling sky framing his mother as she cries out. She holds him to her breast, fiercely, shouting his name.

Each breath a splutter of warm spittled air, he clings to her, feeling her glorious, savage heartbeat.


Niamh MacCabe

This is Unravel won 2nd prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Short Story 2015, as chosen by Paul McVeigh, and appeared in Issue 7 of Bare Fiction Magazine in May 2016.

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