At the Water’s Edge


Medusa by SARM

The River, by Cody James

Now, Mylene weren’t no pretty girl by any stretch of the imagination; glasses, crooked teeth and one hell of a big nose. Aside from the parts of her that were ugly, the rest of her was plain. Her mama would sit on the porch, shelling beans and shaking her head.

Mylene, she’d say, who on god’s earth would marry you?

Mylene weren’t sure she wanted one of those things – a husband, that is. Far as she could tell, all they did was eat your food and make a mess. Stupid, most of ‘em were, too. Stupid, messy, fat and bossy. No, Mylene weren’t sure she wanted one of those things at all.

Mylene would leave her mama’s house and walk home by the river at night. Her grammy had warned her about walking by the river after dark.

Mylene, she’d said, don’t go walking by that river after dark. The Mississippi’s got some strange waters. Just cause no man’ll ever marry you, don’t mean you need to be walking by no strange waters at night. Strange things live in strange waters.

Mylene thought this was almost as stupid as having a husband, and so she would walk home by the river every night.  One night, as she stopped to admire the swirling black waters of the Mississippi, she pricked her finger on the thorn of the flower she was holding in her hands. Instead of sucking on the blood that dripped out, she bent down and dipped her finger into the river, holding it there for a while. When it’d stopped its throbbing, she dried it on her apron and set off home.

Mylene’s life was even plainer than she was, and three more days passed by during which, as she walked home from her mama’s house, she contemplated drowning in the strange waters. Three more days passed, slow as a turtle.

Mylene’s mama was complaining about the heat on the third day, and by the time the night came, she’d started in again.

Mylene, she said, who on god’s earth would marry you?

Mylene thought again about stupid, messy, fat, bossy men and she rolled her eyes.

Mylene had to admit, walking home along the river, that the summer heat was stifling that night. She stopped on the river’s edge to fan herself with her hat, and a voice addressed her from her left hand side.

It’s good and hot tonight, ain’t it?

Mylene turned quickly to her left, and saw a beautiful young man leaning against a tree.

Yeah, she answered him, it’s real hot.

I want you to take me into your home, Mylene, he said. Can you do that?

Mylene weren’t surprised that he knew her name. She weren’t afraid or upset or curious or anything, except determined. Determined to take him into her home.

Mylene opened the door and stood aside to let him in. He came in, sat down on the couch, looked at her and said,

It’ll do, I guess. I just need to bring one more thing in here, Mylene. Then I can stay here with you, if you want.

Yes, she replied, yes I want.

Mylene watched as he went outside and returned with a spinning wheel. He walked into the spare room and set it up, then he told her not to come in there at night, when he was spinning. She was never to come in there at night, when he was spinning.

Mylene didn’t think much of it. She didn’t ask him his name, she didn’t need to. All she knew was that he weren’t stupid, fat, messy, bossy or nothing like that. That was more than enough for her.

Mylene didn’t tell anyone about her new friend. She didn’t tell her mama or her grammy, and since nobody else talked to her much unless they really had to, her secret was safe.

Mylene was counting the days, and three weeks after she had bled in the water, he asked her to marry him.

Mylene, he said, I’ll marry you.

My mama, she said, always told me no one on god’s earth would marry me.

Maybe I ain’t from god’s earth, he replied.

Mylene wore her only white dress on the day. He refused to go before the visiting parish priest, so they were married by the judge instead. After that, most nights were the same. He’d make love to her, and when he was done, he’d go into the spare room and start spinning, until long after she’d fallen asleep. When she’d wake up in the morning, he’d be in bed with her, but he’d be feverish and tired, and she’d be unable to wake him until the night.

Mylene noticed something else, too. He always had a prick on the end of his finger. She remembered the night that she’d pricked her finger and bled in the river, and her curiosity got the better of her.  She resolved to spy on him and his spinning that night.

Mylene crept to the door of the spare room that night as quietly as she could. She peered through the keyhole and watched. By the light of the fireplace, he sat down at the spinning wheel. He reached out his finger and pricked it on the wheel as it began to spin, and slowly now, slowly, ever so slowly, his skin began to unravel in one long thin thread. The wheel spun his skin clean off his body and into a pile on the floor. He stood up, blood, muscle, sinew, bone, and went to face the window.

Mylene came bursting into the room, and he turned to look at her angrily.

I asked you never to come in here, he said.

You ain’t got no skin, she replied.

Sure I do, he said, it’s right there on the floor.

But nobody on god’s earth can just take off their skin.

I done told you, I ain’t from god’s earth. And it ain’t my skin, strictly speaking. I acquired it.

Where do you go at night all skinless like that?

I go out and I eat people.

Were you planning on eating me?

Well, of course I was, Mylene, you’re so damn unhappy anyway, wouldn’t you rather live inside me?

Mylene was quiet as she took in the sight of him. Blood, muscle, sinew, bone.

You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I do love you. I’d love to live inside you.

It’s too late, he told her, I’m leaving you.

But, why?

Because you did something that I asked you not to do.

And with that, he was gone, the skin still in a pile on the floor.

Mylene counted the days as they passed, and she’d never felt so empty, so miserable, so devastated in her life. She simply couldn’t stand to be alive without him, and she was pretty sure there was an afterlife, and because of that she couldn’t stand to be dead without him, either. She felt her unhappiness would tear apart the universe itself. Three months, and the universe was ready to tear itself apart.

Mylene put on her only white dress again, and took herself into town. She headed down to Joe’s bar, looking for Joe’s son, Jonny. Jonny was a mighty fine-looking boy and had always treated her kindly, unlike the other boys. She found him out back, smoking a cigarette.

Mylene! What brings you down this way?

Jonny, I was wondering if you’d do me a favor?

Sure thing. Whatcha need?

I was wondering if you’d come by my place later tonight and have a look at my kitchen faucet. It’s doing all kinds of strange things, Jonny, and I just don’t know how to fix it. I know you’re real good with your hands and all.

I’ll come by after I finish up here, he said cheerily.

Mylene went back home and waited. When Jonny arrived, and had his head bent over the faucet, she came up behind him with the big kitchen knife. It took her quite some time, now, but eventually, she managed to skin him from head to toe. She dragged his flayed corpse into the spare room, and sat down at the wheel with his skin in her lap, and she spun the wheel until the skin was one long, shining thread.

Mylene picked a thorny rose from her garden and went down to the river’s edge. She pricked her finger and let it bleed in the water. Then she went home.

Mylene opened the door to the spare room to see him standing there. He looked at her and pointed at the skin on the floor.

What’s this? he asked.

That’s Jonny’s skin. I figured you’d like it, it’s beautiful. I acquired it for you.

And what’s that? he asked, pointing at the corpse.

That’s Jonny. Well, it was Jonny. I figured you might be hungry.

You did this for me?


Was he a mean man?

No, he was real nice to me.

So you did this for me.

Yes. Because he was beautiful. Only the best for you.

I see, he said quietly.

Mylene wiped her hands nervously on her dress, white stained red with bits of Jonny.

So, are you hungry? she asked, motioning to the flayed corpse.

Yeah, honey, but he ain’t what I’m hungry for.

Mylene smiled for the first, and the last, time in her life.

The Mississippi has some strange waters, and strange things live in strange waters. Should a strange girl or boy bleed into those strange waters, well now, they might just get exactly what they want, so long as they’re willing to give a little something back in return.

by Sarah L Spencer

Said the Sea Witch, by Kirsty Logan

then your tail will part and open into what men call pretty legs

the legs must be kept open. the mouth must be kept shut. the tongue is stolen.

but grace is enough. beauty is enough, and legs for dancing. legs for opening. 

but every step you take will be as if you were treading on a sharp knife

as is the breaking and binding of feet into a lotus gait. as is the humbling sway of stilettos.

who even needs feet? trim your toes, your heels.

your man is strong enough to carry you.

you would think that your blood must gush out

but it won’t; not for you the thrust of him, the turn of the moon, the softened heads of babies. no need to tie up your hair or grow your fingernails.

only this knife, and his blood on your feet.

you will have never known such soothing.

from the ship and into the sea

this is your ending.

your prince long gone and your blood curdled and your tongue in a jar

and you think it is worth it.

to be snow-white. to be hood-red.

Hexing the Sexing by Penny Goring

Splish. Splosh. Gush.

But the morning is scalloped and golden-bollocked and her toes are ten polished pebbles succumbing to his warm liquid sands. He can artfully balance a Faberge egg on each tip of his jubilant tentacles, all meant to be fingered and grasped, gifts from his shuddering sea-bed, embroidered with filigree snail-trails, stuck with rusted spikes, tinkling with battered old bells.

She holds his bleached conch to her water-logged ear for the soothing swoosh of his salted sweet everythings. A trove of blushing beach shells, fragile petals worn sharp, laced with sulking and sighs, fall out her twinned empty eyes. He scoops them from her damp dune cheeks to rise on cathedrals of foam. Twirled by ankle thrust through spray churning fountains, she is crushed with delight in his rainbow-swirled shimmying arms. Together devouring the dry, he tosses her into tomorrow.

And here come his dark waves under his bigger sky.

O, he never limps, he sings the whole of the sea.

The sea is his diamond dipped blanket and he rolls her away from the shore – anchor-weighted and plunging, pulled by the blades of her knees to his dead-man’s chest where the stripped bones grin, stacked and flashing. Down here starfish cartwheel in haunted halls echo blue. His pools are flooded and trembling, his curvaceous limbs fairly quicken, his treasures twitch, gleaming and ripe. She is staked on the long prongs of his slime-silvered tridents before his throne of coral and stars. He is most fancy finery and he thunders from the fathoms:

You shall be my fish-wife, a flesh feast for my cold life.

And, hurling his fabulous fury at her feet, he unleashes the storm of lost men who once sailed her seven seas – rotten masturbators, psychedelic fabricators, fruitcakes, geegaws and flunkeys, transient gargoyles all – salvaged from the ship-wreck of her voyage, barnacled with bloated intention, clinging to the debris of desire, summoned to witness his slipperiness plunder her hidden hold.

Her legs radiate shadow-trees in their search-beams, splayed and displayed for her follies, skin wrinkled prunish and peeled back to reveal her sodden pickled oyster – it protects a precious pearl, crouched in the shallows of her hollows.

Stretched on the rack of his spokes, her breasts hung heavy with molluscs, she spies ‘Give Me Head’ tattooed in bright red, across his pale domed forehead. Meeting his glaring stare, she risks a saucy wink.

Henry the Hexapus winks back.

Her blanched pucker lips are perfectly designed to explore his six aching extensions. He wriggles and squidges his bulging lengths right up her several dripping portals, squirming in the deep sediment of his ink-spurting despair. He is her soft bulky raft where she lays herself down, crying out for the moon and drowned wishes, to the beat of his three pounding hearts.

But the morning is scalloped and his golden bollocks stay balanced on the tip of her tongue. Tentacles now colour-wheels, he flips his map of jewels, to chart caravans of spasms against the distance of chasms, from the ocean of unquenchable longings where she is always and ever the sucker.

Splish. Splosh. Gush

by Sarah L Spencer

1 Response to At the Water’s Edge

  1. ‘At the Water’s Edge’ holds a poetically fluid trio. ‘The River’ by Cody James is the dark and gruesome tale of Mylene. The story has some classic elements – Mylene walks in a forbidden place, she pricks her finger, there’s a spinning wheel and a handsome but treacherous young man. The style of the telling is also classic fairytale. But this is Cody James writing. She sheds the skin from off the form, takes in the guts and remakes it. It’s brilliant, layered, original and perfect.

    ‘Said the Sea Witch’ by Kirsty Logan is poetry with incredible imagery. It’s a warning to be careful what you wish for and it’s a dream that turns to a nightmare. There is no happy ending – because beneath the imagery is an all too often nasty truth – the happy ending is often just a false dawn. This piece is short but says so much. Fabulous.

    ‘Hexing the Sexing’ by Penny Goring – the language drips, spurts, gushes and flows – it thrusts and it yields. It’s pure Penny. It’s ENTRANCING and clever and I clapped at the end.

    Sarah Spencer’s pictures in this part of the exhibition require you to stop and stare. They show terribly damaged beauty, and perfection that is horribly flawed. I saw all sorts of human fears represented in these faces just as they are in fairy tales.

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