Living Myth

I can remember the weight of my nieces in my arms, but not their features.

I can remember their ribcages – like bird bones, I’d imagined – and thinking of the magpie that used to live in the cherry tree and how my grandfather would sing boojay, boojay on our porch as the earth became more mild.

I know that they have the dark, curly hair of their mothers, and my brother’s light eyes. I can still feel their small hands in mine. How I’d have to keep my palm loose, how I’d rub my thumb across their unblemished skin.

The eldest is eighteen now, seven years younger than me and gorgeous – this I know thanks to social media. She has a way of looking through her lashes, tilting her chin down. She’ll devour men the same way I do, if she hasn’t already – only her beauty won’t be a surprise to them the way that mine is. Her beauty will have turned their heads on the street – mine is visible only in the light just before dawn, that isn’t really light at all, but is more air, more breath.

We are all of us sirens.

I think of the younger three as a unit.

They share a mother, and a fear of the outdoors – of anything living in the earth or forests or air.

When I am shaken from dreams at night I turn over and over and fear that they think I’ve abandoned them. I fear that their mother is holding the truth from them the same way that mine did from me – with good intention, but consequences.

They perhaps don’t know that their father is in jail again. My reaper brother, with his thin frame, hollow cheeks, and teeth lost to addiction. Trying to love me was just practice for loving them. And he does love them, but that doesn’t stop him from begging money or strangling his girlfriend.

Their mother was never a siren, but has always tethered herself to men. She’s not used to the taste of salt the way we are. Instead she sits in a dark room somewhere, bitter, trying to figure out what happened to her body and her life, what happened to the men that she let possess her.

She loses them by desiring them.

Each generation is stronger than the last.

My mother was made of calcium and so am I; but we each add layers to ourselves, adapt to the life around us. For me it meant turning to the truth, which pulled at me like the tide. I was confused by the grit of my mother’s lies. Your brother went away, she’d said, but that was not it at all. He was just too far gone to hear me calling.

What I lack in beauty the eldest has come into. Her sisters, I’m sure, will be just as heartbreakingly beautiful.

I remember teaching her to speak – making her repeat words over and over, not realizing that I was teaching her to call them. Say “spaghetti” I coaxed, and she echoed back pasquetti, pasquetti.

Come, she will say, and they will.

She won’t remember, but she gets the murmur from me. Hours spent in silence reading books, laying in the grass beneath the cherry tree. We could whisper and still they will come.

When I’m not worrying that I’ve lost them, I dream of teaching the youngest three to fish.

Taking them out to the shore and moving into the water up to our thighs. I dream of freckles getting pulled to the surface of their skin, salt drying white on their waist and wrists.

I would feed them clams, then. Reach into the silt and pull out the ridged bodies. Work against the muscle to expose it to the air, and then show them how to bring the flesh into their mouths, how to hold it there for a moment before swallowing.

I would show them bluefish and flounder and the thick rays that curl in on themselves. Feathered flesh, I’d tell them, and the scales would stick to their throats and the insides of their elbows. Their eyes the same color as the water. They would discover – as I did long ago – that we breathe differently when salt is in the air. Our blood sings and our bodies begin to unfurl. The calcium in us shifts.

I worry that alone, they will fall in love. The three of them like the girls in fairy tales with their mouths perpetually parted, sewing nettles for love, not speaking for years, turning into crows.

The eldest will kill, and enjoy it. Love, she will say, and she’ll imagine her father in a cinderblock room somewhere, tonguing the holes where his teeth used to be.

She’ll drown men.

Someday I will hear them. I’ll be in bed, alone or not alone, stretching and tightening in the spring air. I’ll be walking the streets and searching for the next one. Or I’ll be out at the shore getting ready to board a boat, getting ready to pierce eels with hooks and tying canvas bags around the rail.

I’ll hear them, then. No matter how far away we are from one another. There are more songs than just the ones we use to capture men. One of us will sing out, and the rest will answer. We’ll taste salt on our tongues and we’ll turn our faces to the breeze. Wherever I am I’ll remember then the weight of them, their laughter and their light eyes, their small bodies cradled against mine.