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Magdalene, the sister we could not fathom

Frankie McMillan

1

 

My sister walked down the street carrying a fish so big you’d think she was more fish than girl and that huge fish was out to conquer the world, to bring men to their knees, less fortunate women to reach for their knives and boys to whistle from the shadows. Everyone who saw my sister strolling down the street —  puffing on a smoke, fish over her shoulder, fell silent as she passed. Which is just the way Magdalene liked it.

 

2

 

My sister had a mouth like an overblown rose. Bad things fell from her mouth. But sometimes, hauling up the nets Magdalene would sing, and her voice was so achingly beautiful you’d feel yourself slip, you’d feel the sweet tug of her all over again. Even the ship dog would sometimes stop howling for a few seconds, while her voice rose over the waves.

 

3

 

Ask if my sister cursed the priest, stole other women’s men and I’d have to say it was true, but ask if she could splint an albatross wing and send it back into the sky then that was also true. Do not ask about the missing dog.

 

4

 

No one else on deck could wield a grappling hook like my sister. No one else but my sister could grow silence the way she could.

 

5

 

Time passed. Magdalene began giving up things. She gave up the boats.  She gave up smoking. She gave up the fishermen.  One had fired a shot at her, the bullet had grazed her scalp. When she parted her hair, there was a lumpy ridge we were allowed to touch. It felt like the bony back of a fish.

 

6

 

Magdalene, my sister, last seen swimming. On a wild stretch of the coast. In the sort of sea that spits out gravel. The sort of sea that sings up kelp, the sort of sea that pounds the shore, that roars and howls like a dog.

 

 

Frankie McMillan is a short fiction writer with recent work in Best  Small Fictions, 2021 and Best Microfictions, 2021. Her latest book of fiction, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was published by Canterbury University Press, 2019.