Episode #45: "The Pond" by Amy Ogden
Hello! This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you. Today we have another GlitterShip original and a poem. Our poem today is "A Seduction by a Sister of the Oneiroi" by Hester J. Rook, and our original story is "The Pond" by Aimee Ogden.
If you enjoy this story and would like to read ahead in the Summer 2017 issue, you can pick that up at glittership.com/buy for $2.99 and get your very own copies of the winter and spring 2017 issues as well.
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Hester J. Rook is an Australian writer and co-editor of Twisted Moon magazine, a magazine of speculative erotic poetry (twistedmoonmag.com). She has previous prose and poetry publications in Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Liminality Magazine, Strangelet and others. She's on Twitter @kitemonster and you can find her other work on her site http://hesterjrook.wordpress.com/.
A seduction by a sister of the Oneiroi
Hester J. Rook
The night is velvet warm,
There is prosecco through my tongue
and pear juice sticky down my wrists.
Her mouth is sugar rich and cream softened,
velvet dipped in moonlight.
“We are goddesses already,”
she is wine voiced and dusk cloaked,
autumn leaves behind eyes translucent as cathedral glass.
“My heart is wraithlike sour,
bitter as lemon rind
and my realm soft-surreal and afraid.
you taste of marzipan at sunset
earthen-toed and iron scented, like a storm.
A goddess already.”
She ties back her dream-soaked curls and lights up each star,
palm raised high and fingertips aflame.
“Come back with me.”
And, fizzy-tongued and plum sweetened,
Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester. Nowadays, she writes stories about sad astronauts and angry princesses. Her work has also appeared in Apex, Shimmer, and Cast of Wonders. Aimee lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where you can find her at the gym, in the garden, with a faceful of cheese curds at the local farmer's market, or, less messily, just on Twitter: @Aimee_Ogden.
by Aimee Ogden
Laura almost misses the first message.
A screaming match with Sana has driven her out into the frost-rimed evening. The baby’s cries and Sana’s frustrated shushing chase her across the yard; Ifrah is not an easy infant like her brother was. Laura and Sana’s relationship is not an easy one like it was back when Christopher was born, either.
Laura stops to cram her skis onto her feet only once she is far enough away to shut out the sounds from the house. Her only illumination comes from the headlamp clipped to her hat; the moon hides behind thick, dull clouds. It would have been so easy to race past the windswept pond without a second glance. But the headlamp glints on the dull frozen surface, and two stark words etched beneath catch and hold her eye: HELLO MOMMY.
Snow crunches when she hits her knees beside the pond. Her ankles twist under the torque of the skis, but she is paralyzed by the cruelty carved into those two words. Her heart throbs in her chest. Which of the neighbor’s teenage children could have, would have done such a thing?
In spite of herself, she reaches out and puts one hand on top of the words. Through her thin gloves, she can’t feel the ridges that the prankster’s knife should have left in the ice. Impossible. She lays both hands flat over the words, squeezes her eyes shut, as if her hands can erase what has been done.
When she opens her eyes and parts her fingers, the words are gone.
Relief and panic wrestle for control inside Laura’s chest. After this awful year, is she finally losing her mind? Maybe the heat from her hands has melted the ice and erased the words.
As she struggles for a grasp on reason, new lines appear in the spaces between her fingers. Her hands curl into claws around the new letters: ARE YOU MAD AT ME?
And Laura is lying on her side on the ice crooning to a carved question from a dead little boy: “No, baby, no, sweetheart, never. Never. Never.”
When she finally drags herself to her feet, there is a long, shallow indentation in the ice from the warmth of her body, and pink light seeps over the horizon. Her body is stiff and cold, and there have been no more messages but those first two, but there is a smile on her face as she walks back to the house.
Sana emerges from the bedroom with crusty eyes and mussed hair as Laura tiptoes up the stairs. “Were you up all night?” she hisses, and Laura shrugs. “Well, I hope you got your head clear. You can have the bathroom first; I need to go make the baby a bottle.”
“Thanks,” says Laura, and Sana gives her a look that cuts deep, probing for insincerity under that solitary syllable. Whatever she finds, she grunts, and brushes past Laura onto the stairs.
Laura turns the shower on as cool as she can tolerate and stands beneath it as long as she can. The more alive she feels, the more distance stretches between her and Christopher. She wants that space to shrink down again, to a few narrow inches of ice. A distance measured in inches is still too far, but it’s better than the entire universe.
She ignores Sana’s first bangs on the door, but when Sana shouts that she’ll be late for work, she finally kills the flow of water and reaches for a towel. Her fingers, still half numb from her night on the ice, only start to tingle with life when she finally steps out and begins to rub herself dry with a towel.
Her office at the back of the hospital lab is a welcome refuge from home. No noise here, except the distant chatter of the technologists out front and the regular whir of the pneumatic tube. Reports to write and biopsies to result: this one cancerous, this one benign, this one missing margins and in need of re-sectioning. No patients to see today, and Laura has mastered the art of speaking to the techs as little as can be politely managed. Right now she can only deal with small chunks of humanity: a twenty-millimeter cube of breast tissue, a fraction of a gram of liver, a two-minute update on a test result from Dave or Xue.
When she arrives at home, both Sana and the baby are napping: Ifrah in her swing and Sana sprawled along the length of the couch. Dark rings are smeared under her eyes, and a half-eaten bowl of instant soup cools on the floor beside her. Her full, hard breasts stretch the fabric of her stained shirt, either she or Ifrah will wake soon to make sure the baby gets fed. The puckered, soft flesh of her belly peeks out from under the hem of her shirt, too, a sight Laura is both disgusted by and grateful for. Sana has carried both of their children. To Laura, the development of a fetus, pushing and groping for space inside its mother’s viscera, is too much like the growth of a tumor, unseen and unknowable and somehow obscene.
She slips out the back door without a sound.
There are more words etched into the pond today. Laura is almost running by the time she gets close enough to read them: DO YOU MISS ME?
She gets down to her knees more carefully today than yesterday, afraid of breaking the ice under her weight. “I miss you more than anything. You took my heart with you when you left us.” Can he hear her? Laura seizes a stick poking up through the snow, but it’s too soft to scratch the surface. Panic sets her heart thumping wildly in her chest as the question melts back into the ice, but then new shapes form. I MISS YOU TOO, MOMMY.
The words pour out of Laura then, memories of family weekends and long vacations, favorite meals, books shared under the covers on quiet Saturday mornings. And of that fearful diagnosis, the one that Laura understood long before either Sana or Christopher could.
When she finally lapses into silence, the pond is as blank as the cloudless sky. The words skitter out a line at a time, scattershot with hesitation. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
And Laura kisses, just ever so briefly, the frozen surface of the pond, as if she can force her love through the layer of ice with the pressure of her lips.
Sana is on her hands and knees beside the couch, scrubbing spilled soup out of the carpeting. She looks up at the creak of the door as Laura steps inside. “There’s dinner in the fridge,” she says. “I didn’t know when you’d be home. Did you...” The rag twists between her hands. “Did you have a good day at work?”
“It was fine.” Ifrah is on her belly on a blanket on the floor, grunting as she works to lift her head off the floor to watch what Sana is doing. Laura puts a teddy in front of her so the baby has something to look at as she walks past to the kitchen.
She takes a plate of cold morgh polou with her into the office. Out in the living room, Sana is reading to the baby, one of those tiresome books with an ounce of story stretched over a pound of pages. Laura shuts the door and sits down at the computer, where she opens a private browsing session.
There are thousands, millions of hits for people claiming to have been contacted by the dead, but Laura can’t find anything comparable to her experience. Sad, desperate people reading messages from lost loved ones into lost-and-found objects, oddly-timed sounds, piles of soggy tea leaves. She closes tabs one by one until she’s only left with a blinking cursor on an empty search engine field. She types: how to bring back the dead.
Sana is already in bed by the time Laura turns off the computer and trudges upstairs. She unbuttons her pants and slides out of her bra in the hallway before sneaking into the bedroom and slipping beneath the covers. But Sana rolls over anyway, putting her mouth beside Laura’s ear. “I’m worried about you.” Her whisper is too soft to disturb the baby, but blunt enough to batter at Laura’s heart. “I know this time of year is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too.”
“I’m fine.” She could tell Sana about the pond. She could tell Sana what she saw on the Internet. She doesn’t. This secret is all hers, twisting darkly in the corners of her heart. “We’ll all be fine. I promise.”
“Laura, I think you should—”
“You’ll wake the baby.” Laura knots her hand in the blankets and pulls them with her as she turns onto her side. The warmth of Sana’s body lingers behind her, and then she curls away from Laura, turning toward the corner where the bassinet rests.
A pink-fingered dawn is reaching through the blinds when Laura wakes. Her alarm won’t go off for two more hours; she turns it off and crawls out of bed anyway. The blankets are tangled around Sana, who has been up and down feeding the baby during the night. Laura tucks a flap of the comforter over her wife’s bare feet, and pulls jeans and a sweater from the pile of clean laundry on the dresser before slipping out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
A greeting is waiting for her on the surface of the pond. GOOD MORNING MOMMY.
She sits cross-legged in front of it and traces each letter with one gloved fingertip. “Good morning, baby,” she says, and yawns curling steam out into the morning air.
“Yes. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
BECAUSE OF THE BABY?
Laura flinches. Neither of them has made any mention of Ifrah till now, nor Sana either. “No ... no more than usual. I was up late, that’s all. We don’t have to talk about the baby. I have something I want to tell you about.”
But the words on the ice drive all the air out of the lungs, all the air out of the space around her. DID YOU HAVE HER AS A REPLACEMENT FOR ME?
No, thinks Laura, and her mouth silently shapes the word. But her finger traces a different word on the surface on the ice: YES.
There is no answer from the pond. Laura shifts as the cold gnaws at her ankles. “We thought ... we thought we needed someone to take care of. To keep us from falling apart without you. She doesn’t fill the hole that you left.” And Ifrah isn’t enough to keep Laura and Sana from falling apart, either, but Laura can’t make herself say that aloud. “We missed you so much. We were so lonely.”
I’M LONELY TOO.
Tears burn Laura’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m so sorry. But baby, listen, I have an idea, I was doing some research, on how we can be together again.”
YOU’LL COME WITH ME?
“No...” Laura drags the back of her hand across her face, trailing tears and snot. “No, honey, I think it’s possible that I can bring you back here. To live with us. Me and Mama Sana and—and the baby.”
COME WITH ME. The words repeat themselves: COME WITH ME. COME WITH ME. COME WITH ME. The lines crisscross and fold back on themselves until they are unreadable.
“Christopher!” The palm of a tiny hand slams into the ice right beneath Laura’s knees, making her scream. She scrambles backward off the ice, falling elbow deep into the snow just as the ice cracks under the place where she was sitting. “Stop!”
The words vanish, leaving only the white lightning-strike pattern of cracks behind.
Laura stands alone in the yard with her arms wrapped around herself until the sun heaves itself up over the horizon. Then she puts her head down and hurries back to the house.
She spends the day at work responding to Xue and Dave in odd monosyllables. Her queue of specimens grows and grows while she buries herself in a new set of web searches, fruitless ones. When she looks up, the lights are off in the front of the lab and she is alone. There’s no amount of research that can give her the answers she’s asking for, and there’s nothing on the Internet that can make her accept what she already knows in the pits of her heart.
The house is dark when she comes in: no cries from Ifrah, no kitchen clattering or TV noise. She finds Sana in the office, scribbling on a pad of paper. The grocery list, maybe, or a list of chores for her and Laura to ignore. Laura clears her throat. “I’m going out.”
Sana’s head bobs up, and a tremulous smile swims onto her face. “Okay,” she says. “Everything is going to be all right, Laura. You know that, right?”
“Sure.” Laura looks away. “I’ll see you in a little while.”
She makes one stop before going out to the pond. She stands at the water’s edge, and the weight in her hands reassures her that what she is doing is right.
Laura hefts the axe and brings it down into the ice.
The impact judders her arms up to the shoulders. The impact crater left by the axe head is like a broken mirror, reflecting spiderwebs of words: MOMMY NO, MOMMY NO, MOMMY NO. She raises the axe again, brings it back down, chops until she can see gray water between the floating chunks of ice. She is in water up to her knees as she reaches the center of the pond, her feet are numb. Everything is numb. But she keeps working until a scream splits her in half.
It’s not the child’s scream she expected. It’s the scream of a woman grown. She turns to see Sana, clutching a shawl around her shoulders with one hand and holding the baby carrier in the other. She’s staring at the axe in Laura’s hands. “What did you do?”
Laura fumbles her way into a lie about being afraid of the ice growing thin and the neighbor’s kids falling through. But Sana’s eyes are wide and unseeing, and the words die in Laura’s mouth. “What did you do,” Sana repeats. “What did you do?”
She drops the carrier and runs into the pond. But not toward Laura, and Laura’s name is not the one she cries out as icy water splashes up to her knees, to her thighs. Ice floes in miniature batter around her waist, deeper than this little fish pond has any right to be. Laura reaches out for her, but Sana chooses instead the embrace of the water. She disappears beneath the surface.
Laura climbs up onto the bank. The ripples in the water grow still. The broken bits of ice tinkle gently together. In her carrier, Ifrah pumps her little red fists and wails.
But the pond is silent.
“A Seduction by a Sister of the Oneiroi” is copyright Hester J. Rook 2017.
“The Pond” is copyright Aimee Ogden 2017.
Assorted dog noises are copyright Finn, Rey, and Heidi, 2017.
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Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “Nostalgia” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.
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