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The Archipelago by Lorette C. Luzajic

The dark pull of the deep, the rhythmic plash of paddle. A choir of widows and daughters around the perimeter blend into the conifers in their kerchiefs and midnight skirts. Soon, it will begin. 

Every December, their dirge, rising over the black waters, the thrumming vibrato drowning the waxwings and the whippoorwills. The vigil for the ones lost at sea. 

You watch now from the shadows. They are waiting for the moon and what it will reveal on the shortest night of the year. They let her pale light choose, the way she chooses for herself the fishermen to drown in her storms. 

You used to row this bay with your father, help him reel in perch and pike. In your prize yellow wader boots, the ones he’d given you to match his own, you roamed the rocky verge, detecting the sand and seaweed for pockets of wartybacks, poking at snuffbox mussels with a stick. He taught you not to fear the gneiss or greenstone that sometimes knocked against your boat. Such an end, if it came, was only nature’s way, the same way these submerged boulders were once volcanos, magma now frozen into scattered islands. 

He told you not to fear the waves. It was the wives, rather, to watch for, their mysterious incantations and dangerous interventions. You are watching now, the way he is watching over you, from the wind and the waves he’d disappeared into, from within and from beyond.

Now, scrying the shimmery surface of the mirror lake, the wives turn toward the one anointed by the moon. Swift and stubborn as a murder of crows, they circle the youngest widow, the oldest muffling her mouth with a balled up hand, the rest of them pushing her down into a dead man’s skiff. 

They blanket her in tangles of fishing nets, a strange cerement. They pull the stoppers from the floorboard holes, and launch her out into the icy void. 

The low growl of their chanting strumming the shore once more, and the candles are lit for the procession back to the village. 

An owl’s screech in the darkness overhead like a woman’s scream.

Hear Lorette C. Luzajic read her piece.

Lorette C. Luzajic reads, writes, publishes, edits, and teaches small fictions and prose poetry. She is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review and The Mackinaw.

Plastic Rivers by Shome Dasgupta | Lottery by Scott Garson | Drones by Ulrica Hume | Mushrooms by Kathryn Kulpa | The Archipelago by Lorette C. Luzajic | Manual for an American Novice in a Small Indian Town by Tara Isabel Zambrano | A Single Ladybug, Lying Dead on the Windowsill by Elena Zhang