A woman, some woman accompanying her lot through the dunes saw the mother and cleaved herself from her kin and slid down the wall of the dune, down to where the mother lay. She murmured and knelt at the mother’s side and rubbed the mother’s forehead before pulling her knee and leaning around to see her progress.
“Where’s the man?” the woman asked. The mother flicked her eyes up toward the top of the dune toward the shore. The woman nodded and slid onto her knees and hooked a hand behind the mother’s neck and with the other hooked under the mother’s knee and pulled. The mother called out at the woman’s force and two gulls lifted away from the top of the dune wall. Her face was lined and tightened and beads of moisture formed along her brow and her cheeks flashed red. She opened her eyes momentarily and saw the grey and black strands of the woman’s hair dangling down before her face and she saw three sharp bones twisted in with the strands. The woman smelled strongly of the marsh and the sap. Above the gulls hung in the air facing out toward the sea, their forms curved black blades balancing on the wind above where the mother lay. She stared up at the birds, and again at the woman whose own eyes traced from between the mother’s legs up her body to her face without looking into her eyes. The grey haired woman with bones of fish stuck through her hair rubbed her hands in the wet sand of the bottom of the dune. The mother lifted her head and saw the hands. They were short like a child’s but withered and stained brown from digging among the roots and black mud of the marshes and under the bark of the trees. The hands scooped a heavy clump of the sand and crumbled it apart before lifting the grainy remains against the mother’s legs and smearing them into the mother’s skin. Where she rubbed, the skin turned red and swelled and the mother called out again but now differently than before, fear quavering in her moans. The woman murmured an unending stream of words but the sound had no meaning to the mother. She squinted at the woman who scooped more sand and rubbed it again moving up the mother’s legs and around the convexity of her aching womb. The woman rubbed both hands around where the child struggled inside the mother. Her eyes fluttered and only red and white shone and her words grew louder.
The walls of the dune began to grow upward around the mother and the grey of the sand walls darkened and the stone colored sky above darkened and the bladed wings of the gulls overhead grew longer and sharper. The woman’s cold hand struck across the mother’s face and the grains of wet sand burned on her cheek and the mother took a deep breath and the dune walls brightened and receded.
“You don’t fight this child,” the woman said and resumed her murmuring. The mother took another deep breath and the gulls above looked small and distant. The woman slid her knees under the mother’s feet lifting her swollen mound and rear from the dune floor. The woman slid her hands forward under the mother’s knees and gripped onto her wrists with violent force and pulled back, lifting the mother’s shoulders from the sand before relenting and letting the mother ease back down but without releasing her fully. She pulled again and her chant surged like a gale pummeling into the trees. The force stirred the mother and a deep echo of the woman’s strength returned from the disturbed child in her womb who pushed downward toward the mother’s mound. The whirling wind chilled her wet opening and the mother shuddered and the woman pulled a third time and again the child responded.
The mother opened her eyes to see the woman but she was not a person to see, but a force, some spirit of the marshes and trees with her grey bone pierced locks hanging down to obscure her face and her senseless murmurs. Beyond the woman atop the dune wall stood a black figure cut out of the slate sky with familiar shoulders and arms and spear. Aside the figure was another, smaller figure.
“Your man?” the woman asked. The mother nodded. The woman turned from the mother’s mound and squinted up at the silhouette. “Water and pelt,” she called. The mother saw her man touch the boy’s shoulder and both turned and descended out of sight. The woman turned back to the mother and leaned over her belly and let her eyes meet the mother’s for a moment before leaning back on her haunches. “You don’t fight this child?”
“No,” the mother whispered. The woman nodded and pulled hard on the mother’s arms and the mother screamed and more birds took to the air around the lip of the dune. The woman’s chants rose and she cast their names skyward. The mother shuddered hard and the woman let her arms drop back down onto the sand. The mother could see no gulls slicing the wind above as she lay and heaved, the wetness pooling around her mound. She lifted her head to see the woman hunched and her grey head near her opening. The mother’s eyes welled and a wash of panic crossed her brows. But the woman rose and pink and still like a scaled fish was the child, streaked as if with blood and flesh. The woman touched her nose to the child’s belly and inhaled deeply and a smile rose and fell in a moment across her face. The woman took both feet of the child in her hands and let it hang before her, twitching in the wind that spun around the dune and with her other hand made light slaps from the child’s back to its bottom. As the child twisted slowly in the woman’s grip the mother saw the small line and blinked and leaned her head closer.
“Girl,” said the woman and at the word and final slap, the child coughed and unsheathed her piercing voice unto the world. Behind her head the mother felt footsteps cascading down the dune wall.
“Water and pelt,” said her man’s voice and she saw his arm extend a bloated skin cinched with twine and a fresh looking pelt. The woman undid the twine with her mouth and doused the child’s head and face, and splashed the trickling water over her shoulders, each dimple no bigger than a new oyster. She wrapped the child tightly and wound her severed cord around her finger and thumb. Once she’d collected the remnants of the cord into a glistening red and pink ring caked with sand she held it up to the other figure stood silently behind the mother.
“Go on, Eret. Eat,” the mother said.
The boy stepped around his mother and reached out toward the woman’s dripping offering. He looked at his mother who held the newborn tight against her breast. She looked up from the child to the boy and smiled and he put the entire ring of cord into his mouth and tasted the blood of his mother and felt the tough flesh tear between his teeth.
“Better than fish?” the mother asked and gave a tired laugh. The boy shook his head and continued to chew the flesh and fought the nausea induced by the taste and smell of his mother’s blood.
“Of course better than fish,” the woman clucked and held up a dark red piece of flesh as big as both her hands. She took a bite and held the flesh up to the man and told him to eat. Without a word, the man took the flesh and bit into it and tore off a mouthful. The woman watched him and smiled and nodded down to the mother. The man held the flesh before the mother’s face and she smelled it before taking two small bites. The woman raised her hands up to the man who returned the bitten flesh to her. She laid it at her feet and from her pelt drew a sharpened bone. She cut the remaining piece of flesh in two and handed one piece back to the man and tucked the other with the sharpened bone inside her pelt against her breast. “She eat first,” she said, nodding toward the mother. The man nodded to the woman who stood and turned from them and crawled up the dune wall and out of sight over the edge in the direction of the sea.
The man knelt down at the mother’s side and placed a hand on her back between her shoulders as the boy sat and stared at the wrapped bundle in his mother’s arms.
“Come, Eret,” the mother said and the boy slid near his mother and gazed down into the bundle at the strained pink face of his sister. The man and the mother and the boy all looked down into her face and above, again the gulls hung like black blades in the wind cut across the endlessly grey sky.