My lover withdrew the sword from my bowels, kissed me on the lips, and lay me down into the ocean. (Even then, with poison-tinged bile upon my lips and my life seeping into salt water, it seemed excessive.)
He hacked away handfuls of my hair, which he stuffed into the pouch on his belt. Head bare and body shuddering, I watched him take my horse by the bridle before my head sunk below the waves.
I awoke as a harp, numb and warm. My spine curved into the instrument’s neck, my ribs made a cage for the absent strings, my arms and legs strong for the sounding board.
A woman pulled me against her shoulder. “He’s taken your hair,” she said, running her fingers down my bare spine. “You can’t sing without them. And I cannot find him without your song.”
I tried to play, to hum against her, but I couldn’t. I wondered why she wanted him, the man who had sent me to the ocean. But since my head sat on a nearby workbench, eyes blank and blood crusted in a delicate collar around my neck, I couldn’t speak.
“We’ll find a way,” she said. She gave me a pat as if I was a familiar dog. “Maybe the strings don’t have to be hair. Something else is bound to work.”
The woman tried everything to coax song from me. She pulled silk from corn, but the strands were too thin and broke beneath the gentlest touch. She plucked reeds from the marsh, but they were too stiff, clattering instead of humming. She cut strips of the silk, but they disintegrated into thread as I sang my first hesitant notes.
The woman set me aside then, and ran her fingers down other girls’ spines. But when the storms kicked at the window panes she’d hold me against her shoulder, letting the thunder shake us both.
Finally, in a storm where I thought the pounding ocean would pour through all the cracks of the stone-set cottage, a fit of desperation seized her. She took her own hair, yanked in patches so the blood stippled her scalp, and strung me.
“Tell me his name,” she whispered, vengeance in her throat.
“His name is nothing to me,” I sung. “Tell me, what is yours?”
Renée K. Reeves
Renée K. Reeves (she/they) is a tall ship sailor and science educator who enjoys folk music and morbid history, ideally combined. Renée’s work has appeared in Friday Flash Fiction, Scribendi, 101 Words, and elsewhere.
Artwork: Raphael Kirchner, Art Nouveau Girl Playing the Harp, 1900