I Had Three Daughters
The first one did not survive the night. I birthed her on the beach below our house, the lighthouse around the bay illuminating our loss in syncopated minutes as it flicked across conjoined flesh, ticking down the breaths and making the blood look brighter than it would in the morning light. We named her Rose. We counted seconds. She lasted one hundred and twenty seven seconds outside my body, outside her home. I waited for a sign to emerge from the tide, a wave on the shore that would wash us both away, that would bring me to an old home below. I waited.
I am still waiting.
The second was taken from me while I slept—an apology for the first. In the morning, my husband and I followed the trail of wet footprints that turned into flipper prints as we drew closer to the water. I could hear deep voices barking in the sea. Her name was Cora and she was only two weeks old. The prints disappeared into the lapping tide, the sand erasing any explanation or trace of what could be. My husband told the village it was another accident, but they never trusted me. I was always from somewhere away—I am always somewhere away. I do not blame them. Like dogs before the storm, they always know what’s coming, even if they can’t name it.
All they can do is piss themselves in anticipation.
The third is thirteen years old today. Her hair is dark like mine, her eyes like the water below our home—green and cold and unperturbed. We named her Aine. I feed her raw fish and tell her stories about her father pulling up lost sea turtles in his nets, pulling up dead porpoises, pulling up me. I stitch her a coat out of the hides her father has collected, I tell her she will never be cold again. She avoids looking me in the eye when she tells me she’s been bleeding and I don’t ask her to show me. I don’t ask to look.
There are men in town who already look at her, who follow too closely, who ask too many questions and linger in the doorway as she tries to leave her school. They click their teeth and pull back their lips and try to smile. They try.
When her father is asleep, we walk down to the water where her sisters went before and when I push her head beneath the tide, when I feel the salt entering the small cuts on my hands, when I hear her lungs swallowing up the sea, I know she is going home, wrapped in her new hide.
Eventually, Aine bucks away from me, her skin now sleek and smooth. Her eyes are black and her mouth filled with sharpened teeth. I had three daughters, I tell her.
I had three daughters, but now you are something new.
Andrew F. Sullivan is from Oshawa, Ontario. He is the author of the novel WASTE (Dzanc, 2016), and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP, 2013). Sullivan now lives in Toronto, where he works for an urban planning and design firm.
Cover Photo by Bonnie Moreland