Georgina Anne Taylor
In a tiny fishing village perched on the edge of the grey rolling waves, where the air was heavy with salt, blood and brine, there lived a young woman who could not abide the scent of the sea.
Birthed on a night when the ocean had risen up in wild crested fury, her newborn cries had scarcely been heard above the sound of her mother’s pain and her father’s low curses. The child’s first gasps became the mother’s last, and while the father stood contemplating his loss he found the infant placed in his arms. Hardening his heart to his child’s beauty and the strength of her cries, the fisherman passed her aside and left his house for the solace of the sea.
As a child she had run wild, a brown-eyed and tousled-hair creature, lanky limbs scratched and bruised, among the fishing boats, the shanties and the dunes. A girl at once curious and tempestuous, a girl all too comely, too sharp of wit and her laughter all too loud. When over time, her lean frame began to change, budding into a curvaceous form, her curls having grown into long tresses and her girlish stride into a sultry sway, it was agreed by all that the young woman should marry.
A young man was chosen—a fisherman, with eyes as grey as the waves and his body hardened by the labours of his days. A man bonded with the sea.
They wed upon the shore, where the land met the swell, the incoming tide washing up in foamy excess across the sandy slope. The villagers, kinship in each and every face, gathered around to bind their words.
And afterwards, as the newly-wedded couple lay within his hut, with the scent of the sea so heavy upon his skin and soul, he claimed her with actions so cold, so devoid of desire, that she knew his passion had long since been pledged to another. And as the fisherman slipped into slumber and dreams of the deep grey sea, the young woman lay beside him upon their meagre bed, dissatisfied and unfulfilled by their brief union.
The waves crashed onto the nearby shore and the wind whistled against the door, the low hoot of an owl marked the first night’s zenith. The young woman lay awake, listening to the night, hearing as she did the sounds of a distant piper.
The tune sent strange shivers across her skin. A sense of discontentment with her lot began to grow within her, and although she knew no more of the world than the fishing village in which she had been born, the young woman found herself longing for that which she had never had—the scent of the earth and the forest, the mountains and the streams, far, far away from the salty, salty spray and the endlessly rolling grey waves.
When dawn’s first light stole into their abode the young fisherman awoke from their marriage bed, his eyes lit by a fervour that she could never hope to inspire as he left to cast his nets into the sea.
The young woman tended her husband’s hearth and home. Yet when the fisherman returned that evening with his ample catch and laid the rewards of his strength and skill upon their table, the sight of the glimmeringly-scaled creatures from the depths of the ocean arose no pleasure within her. The scent of their blood and of the sea itself permeated the tiny hut.
On the second night as her husband lay beside her, his skin sticky with salt and his hair stiffened with brine, it seemed to the young woman that the fisherman held no ties with the earth; he was a creature of the ocean, washed ashore and awaiting the return of the morning tide. He did not reach for her. Turning his back so that he faced the sea, it was not long before the sound of the fisherman’s even breath announced his swift slumber.
And once again she was alone as evening filled the hut with soft velvet shadows and the small stove gave off its deep crimson glow. As she lay beside the sleeping fisherman, her displeasure vying with despair, the young woman heard again the sound of the distant pipes.
Within the pulse of her blood came an answering surge of excitement, a strange and sensual urge. Agitated by the heat of her blood she rose and walked to the threshold to cool her flushed and fevered form. As she opened the door a swift wind mounted, sending her cotton nightshift swirling.
A wind that carried no scent of the sea.
The sound of pipes began again. The wind picked up, a teasing flurry that played with the tendrils of her hair and brought colour to her face. And upon that joyful wind there came the smell of fertile earth, of trees; resinous firs and gnarled oaks, and of high, moisture-filled mountains. The woman stood upon the step and breathed in deeply of the strange and wonderful smells, enlivened by the feel of the wind in her hair, her nightdress gusting up around her.
The piper’s tune resonated in her ear and within her mind, excitement surged in her blood, she felt a itch on the soles of her feet and an urge to run dancing through the dunes, singing, crying, screaming, shedding her clothes and her identity, unfettered by expectations and unrestrained by duty.
She glanced back at her husband’s sleeping form, thinking as she did that the piper’s tune must wake him, and yet his sleep remained undisturbed. When her gaze returned to the scene outside, it was to see a dark figure standing amid the dunes. A figure that turned her way.
A shiver of trepidation and the woman stepped backwards and quickly closed the door. Her breath was short, her thoughts spun, her heart beat loudly. The sound of pipes was louder now, so loud that the young woman felt that the player of that tune must be on the very threshold. Her excitement became an ache within her, a desire so great that moisture beaded her temples and lined her palms. A heat within her very soul called her to the dance.
The fisherman rolled over, drawing her gaze back to the bed. The woman shot home the bolt, fearful of her husband’s awakening and beset with an uncommon guilt. Yet as she made to return to the marital bed she heard the rustling of something moving across the threshold stone.
Deep green tendrils of ivy quested through the door seams, reaching upwards, twisting and curling, twinning around her ankles and calves, a soft tickling sensation accompanying the movement. The woman cried out, the ivy retreated, the tendrils retracting then passing back through the door seams and into the night.
The sound of the pipes grew fainter. The fisherman tossed upon the bed. The young woman climbed in beside him, her gaze upon the door as the tune faded into silence. In the stillness of the night her heart resumed its faithful beat. In the stillness of the night sleep claimed her. As she slipped into wild and wicked dreams of the piper’s dance, and of the one who leads them all.
On the morning of the third day as her husband rose and readied to set forth and cast his nets into the depths of the salty brine, he paused upon the threshold. For a moment it seemed as if he had noticed the jade green leaves that lay there still, crushed beneath his footfall. Yet instead he gaze was held by the dawn sky, and the flight of a lone albatross that soared above the sea. His step passed on.
The sun rose and the day drew on but the woman could find no peace. Memory of the piper’s tune resounded in her mind. A feverish intensity seemed to underlay each moment of the day. She gathered the leaves from the threshold and eagerly breathing in their scent, searched outside the hut for sign of the ivy, seeing only the scrubby grasses that crested this side of the dunes.
The young woman did not tend her husband’s hearth and home that day. Instead she threaded the ivy leaves amongst her long brown hair and laid down upon their bed, thinking of the piper, the dark figure upon the dunes and the fertile scent of the earth. And so tangled in sensual thoughts, the stroke of her hand across her flushed skin brought her breath to feverish flight.
As the sun set the fisherman returned from his daily labours. Entering the hut in a loud and baleful mood he tipped a sack of dark black mussels onto the table and ordered that his bounty be added to the broth. His gaze did not linger on her dishevelled form. He did not question that she wore her shift, nor the crushed leaves still threaded amongst her loose tresses.
His thoughts seemed elsewhere as he waited for her to prepare his meal. He ate quickly, piling the empty mussel shells to one side of his bowl. Then the fisherman walked to the bed, collapsing on the bedclothes fully dressed, oilskin boots and all, he spoke in tones of final and bitter lamentation—‘your skin bears no scent of the sea.’
His statement awaited no answer. In truth there was none to give. The tiny hut fell to silence. And so again while the fisherman slept, the woman sat in the red-tinged darkness longing for the piper’s return and the wind that brought with it the scent of the verdant woods, until her skin was beaded with sweat and her nightshift clung to her body and thighs, and her breath was short and shallow.
Then she heard that distant sound.
The wind whistled outside. A tendril of deep green ivy appeared under the door, quickly questing upwards. The ivy twined around the walls of the tiny hut. Soft green shoots burst through the floor’s rough boards, growing swiftly into vines, the new growth heavy with branches of lush purple grapes. Moss crept over the threshold stone.
A seedling sprouted by the side of the door, shooting upwards in prolific life. The newborn tree’s bare branches budded then broke into blossom, the blossoms into dark red apples that gave forth a scent of such sublime delight that the woman’s mouth watered. Plucking a fruit from the miraculous tree, her teeth pierced the skin, the juice flowing down her chin as she devoured it to the core.
The woman refrained from looking back at the sleeping fisherman as she shed the apple core and then her shift, and clothed only by the ivy leaves that graced her hair she walked to the door and flung it wide.
The piper took her hand and whisked her from the threshold.
They ran between the huts and dunes, amid the rapturous revellers, while the wine and ale poured from pitchers, urns and jugs, and potent, sweet smelling smoke wafted through the air. Wagons adorned in twining ivy and vines passed by, the occupants carousing and singing loudly.
The piper’s hand entwined in hers. His smile was wickedness itself. And all the while they travelled away from the sea.
When the long night drew to a close and dawn’s first light infused the sky above the tiny fishing village, perched on the edge of the rolling grey waves, the fisherman awoke to find his pillow draped with tendrils of ivy and grape.
The door swung on twisted hinge, the deep indentation of a cloven hoof marking the moss-covered threshold stone. The woman’s shift lay discarded on the floor, the apple core beside it.