WINNER of the prize for SPECULATIVE FICTION (THE WELKIN WRITING PRIZE 2023)
Following the siren song
by Maria Thomas
Shani drowns one golden afternoon as the bees drone in their cups and the blackfly devour the lakeside greenery. Dragonflies skim the water’s surface, their iridescent sheen a glint in Shani’s eyes as she sinks into the reeds, consumed by the lake, transformed.
This is where she belongs. Here beneath the water-boatman’s splayed oars, below the bows of bullrushes. Here the weight of water ballasts the heft of life that weakens her, sap drained until she is nothing but a husk of corn swaying between this command and that request, all the million pinpricks that puncture her skin.
Shani drowns one golden afternoon as the warbler sings his melancholy scales, and the willow weeps and waltzes. Perching on the wooden deck, pink painted toes in the water, testing, testing, does she dare? She could stand, step off, let the cool, green liquid soothe her, eyes open as the sunlight recedes to a pinprick and the lake-floor mud swallows her whole.
This is where she belongs. Here the silt subsumes, cocoons, comforts. Here there are no demands, no requirements, no tick tick tick of the clock clock clock, no rush rush rush,no push push push. Here time is as languid as the katydids in the grass. Here there is nothing to do but dream among the bottle gloom.
Shani drowns one golden afternoon when the suitor her parents approve visits the house wearing the sullied scent of money and control. Shani pictures him seated on the chaise negotiating the purchase with her father, as the ormolu clock ticks on the mantel and the pocket watch tocks at his waist. The suitor offers a premium for the virtues he desires – chastity, innocence, obedience, faithfulness. Shani considers her swelling skin, the unexpected tenderness, the heat of hands and lips and sharp, pleasurable pain between her thighs.
This is where she belongs. Here within the soft embrace, the lover’s kiss, below the reeds and ripples and the brazen, blazing heat. This is where they belong, Shani and the siren son quickening within her.
Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two. She has work in various publications and recently won the Oxford Flash Fiction competition. Maria also won Free Flash Fiction’s Competition 13 and Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition. She was a runner up in the Retreat West AMOK themed quarterly flash comp, a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize (LISP) 2022, and took second place in Propelling Pencil 2022. She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter.
I always look to be transported by a work of fiction, and here I found myself firmly transplanted to that golden afternoon among the bulrushes, hearing the drone of the bees and the warbler's melancholy scales. I was drawn in by the rich layering of sensory details as well as the lyrical nature of the prose - the undulating rhythms, the repeating motifs. Each time I read, I found myself luxuriating in the writing while the story underneath crept up on me, catching me unawares, that wonderful shift from title to final sentence, the siren "song" transformed into the siren "son" quickening within her.