One: Cordelia’s Blaze by Louise Worthington


Summer Water Challenge Honorable Mention


Part I

‘Your eye is forever on the horizon, Cordelia. There will never be a baby, a marriage. Look at yourself. I cannot love you as you are.

Wax, wane. The sun, the moon, you drink all the same. A tide that never goes out.

I am not your anchor, your port, your ship, but that face of yours is a weather-beaten figurehead. Please, look the other way, will you? I see the ship-wreck, the fatal sea, the unchained buoy, the absent pilot. It will never be you and me, Steer to the north, follow the star for all I care. Like the ocean, you have worn the coastline of me, of us, away. There is nothing left to cling to.’

The clouds rolled in solemn formation as he crushed her like flowers under his shoe.

As though there was a crow’s nest in their garden, Thornton stood and watched while she could not fathom his cruelness. Her arms had been wide open with love. Did he see pinkish lengths of human femur and tissue, a rib here, a rib there? This is what it is like to fillet a fish, for cartilage to be moved from the bone. To be a carcass.

He had recently shaved; his skin smooth and fragrant. He looked at her like he wanted to be photographed, for one of those staged awkward shots of momentous occasions to be made immortal. Earlier, when Thornton said he wanted to talk to her, she had applied lipstick and braided her hair, thinking the long-awaited proposal of marriage was finally here. She had long imagined three children, their garden alive with toys and play. She gazed sadly at the back of the house, at the curtain in the living room which had billowed out of the open windows, casting shadows on the patio while the sharp, afternoon light waited for her to cry.

Her eyes lingered over that mouth of his like a fishhook. The veins at the side of her heart began to hurt with toxic pulsing. The lilies in the border blurred. Something collapsed inside her. All her hopes hardened into metal, welded into a blade, held to her throat.

‘I will drown before I cry,’ she said, as she pulled herself from the garden like a stubborn root.

She walked to the coast, skewered with a blunt blade through her crimson heart. A cormorant hovered on the lip of the shore giving her the eye as the waves puckered and fisted at the shingles, crawling its long, white fingers through the stones as if looking for a pearl. Glass bottles and tin cans floating near the surface caught the light and winked.

The sea rummaged through her long hair, landed on her tongue. She tasted and chewed the sea and spread it around her gums with a tongue. The pebbles clacking against each other, she collected enough to fill her pockets.

How similar Thornton and the sea are, she mused, as the sea cartwheeled towards her, and a shredded rope and a rusty tin were spewed out by her bare feet. A gull’s cry and the foaming indigo-blue summoned her to push into the watery womb. Air hatched from her, busted right out of her gaping mouth, catching against her inside cheek. The air felt ice blue. A stark baptism, she was swallowed whole, pulled down towards the sea mountains, to barnacles rising like spires, to the jagged coral spreading hard and wide for miles of pain. It cut her open again.

And again.


Part II

Cordelia lives in a kingdom of coral where the sea otters sleep in forests of seaweed, wearing oyster and mollusk shells, draped in discarded sea nets encrusted with barnacles. Running the length of her back like a second spine, her red hair rivals the bright fin of an oarfish. She dines on laminaria, sea lettuce and carrageenan by the light from a firefly squid.

A seaweed bandage covers the widest tear in her chest. Still, her blood moves like ribbons in the air. Clown fish circle her head to offer their sympathy and welcome her to the Red Sea, and all its sunsets of the past.

In the dead oval of her eyes, fish see the relics of a life on the land, a garden, a Bluebeard pirate. To the mercurial sea, to the terrors of the calm, Cordelia sings her augury for hours on end, accompanied by a chorus of the lost and drowned. The festering anger at Thornton had grown skin and muscle which hummed. Layers of it. Fury as hot as the sun and nuclear-toxic.

Below the waves, her dynamite fury triggered a volcano; it travelled to the surface as though seeking an aureole. Waves exploded from a cauldron. The seamount threw hot, sticky lava, a tsunami of turquoise water and microplastic. The air glowed, popped and Thornton was scorched and dressed in bottle tops that clung to his blisters like sea anemones.

For hours, long into the day, the night, he was sizzling under the stars.


Part III

 When the morning comes, the wind jinks. Petals flap open and glisten beaded with dew. Thonton lies amongst bruised flowers, still as a spade on buried bones. A felled tree, a pillow for his head, cradled gently by daisies and dandelions. The leaves on a sycamore tree, tremble at the unstitched corpse stabbed by blades of grass. A cherub looks on unflinching, having seen it all before.

Undressed by insects and lava and scorching spots of fire, shreds of his clothes discolour the immaculate lawn. Smoking under the sun, the sun grows around Thornton’s face like a fire cloud. Cordelia’s sermon is written all over his skin and tissue.

Wedded to the earth and its worms, the aroma of death competes with the trumpets of white lilies planted in the garden by Cordelia. A blackbird tunes up its death-chime as the conquerors of earth march up his scorched corpse, grow fatter on putrescent goo. Monocled by a slug, he looks up at the ceiling of the sky. A raven carries an eyeball away like a prayer into the spirit of the air. His blood spreads sweetly along the garden path: a delicious litany luring spiders and woodlice to feed in the fountain of puss.

Bees charge into the trumpet of his ear, into the shabby recess of his mind. A welcome chorus as a crow performs circumcision with alarming precision.

Much later, his skin begins to cool beside the watering can.

A fault line.

From the broken rope-ladder of his ribs, the bottom rib – the one Cordelia liked to stroke – protrudes like a flag of surrender. The curve of one eyebrow is all that remains of his face. His watch, a fine timepiece gifted by his father, ticks on in robotic irony sitting loosely on a snapped wrist bone.


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Published 8/12/21






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