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Grass Girl

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of stories appearing in markets such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Asimov's, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her debut short story collection is coming out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at: carolineyoachim.com.
The other girls are made of driftwood, but I'm made of bamboo that whistles in the wind. My bamboo makes a hollow thud when the other girls kick pebbles at my legs on our way to school.
"Bamboo isn't wood, it's grass," Sylvia says. She isn't kicking pebbles, and I can't tell if her statement is meant to be an insult or an observation.
Sylvia is the most popular and prettiest of all the girls. She's made of smooth driftwood with smoky quartz eyes. The other girls hang on her every word, and after she mentions my bamboo, they mock me.
"Do you fall over when the wind blows, grass girl?"
"Solid beats hollow."
"Hey grass girl, the monkeys look hungry."
I ignore their taunts. The monkeys only eat fresh shoots and leaves, not the thick woody stems of bamboo that I am made of. Sometimes they nibble at my seaweed hair, but that's no big loss since I have to redo it with fresh seaweed every couple days, anyway.
When we get to school, the other girls leave me alone. They don't want to get in trouble. The teachers dismantle girls who misbehave, usually only for a couple hours but one time for an entire week.
I'm supposed to learn the species name for every variety of willow tree, but instead I daydream about replacing my bamboo with driftwood.
At night, I comb the beach. Eventually I find a nice flat piece to replace my left foot, and swap out the old for the new. I hurl my unwanted bamboo foot into the ocean. It makes an eerie whistle as it flies through the air--a wail of loss, as if the small segments of bamboo are sad they're no longer part of me.
It's hard to walk with one foot wood and one bamboo. I practice on the beach until the moon sets, checking my footprints in the sand to see how badly I'm dragging my heavy new foot. When I go to bed, I'm exhausted.
The next morning I catch up with all the other girls on the path that winds through the bamboo grove and up the hill to our school. Despite my practice last night, I'm limping.
"Nice foot, grass girl," Sylvia says. She's looking at my foot with a thoughtful expression on her face, and I think she maybe means it as a compliment. The other girls are not as kind.
"Hey grass girl, your feet don't match."
"One good foot isn't going to make up for the rest."
"Too weak to walk, grass girl?"
The words sting. I'm supposed to go learn about botanical history, but instead I go back to the beach to look for more driftwood. I find a few small pieces that will make good fingers, and a curved piece for my jawbone. I leave my old bamboo body parts in the sand. When the tide comes up, the waves will wash them all away.
I notice a nice piece of seaweed, the shiny dark-green kind that makes the nicest hair. I've always thought my hair was one of my better features, for all that I have to replace it every couple nights. None of the other girls have seaweed hair. They all have shells or bones that don't need to be redone as often.
I pick up the seaweed and bring it home.
"Mom, why didn't you make me more like everyone else?"
"Because you're you," Mom answers. "You're special."
She helps me weave my seaweed into my scalp, and the wind blows across her bamboo fingers in a low whistle. Three of her fingers are split, and she'll need to replace them soon. I suggest that we go out together to look for new fingers, thinking that maybe I can convince her to switch over to driftwood too.
I'm disappointed when she insists on going to the bamboo grove instead of the beach. After she finds her new fingers, she points out some other nice stems, and mentions that lighter feet are easier to walk with. I refuse to take the hint. Solid beats hollow.
When I'm about half wood, the other girls stop calling me grass girl and mostly leave me alone. But the girl whose approval I really want is gone. Sylvia hasn't been coming to school, and nobody knows where she went. Or nobody will tell me, anyway.
I wander through the bamboo grove on my way to the beach, whacking the tall poles of bamboo with my hand and listening to the hollow sound. When I tap my arm, I hear the satisfying clack of wood on wood. I am becoming sturdy and strong. I don't whistle in the wind.
I go farther down the beach than I've ever walked before--all the way to the stony cliffs. I'm determined to find as much wood as possible. When I get to the end of the sand, I find a girl reclined against the cliffs, her body made entirely of stone. The tide is high and warm ocean waves wash up onto her feet, but she doesn't move.
If wood is unchanging, solid and good, stone must be even better. The stone girl is beautiful, gray and still, serene despite the waves that crash over her feet. Indestructible. Her eyes are smoky quartz. "Sylvia?"
She doesn't answer at first. When she eventually speaks, her voice is raspy like crashing waves. "Please help me. I remade myself in stone, but now I'm too tired to move."
I tried to figure out what to do. I don't see any driftwood nearby. Someone must have stolen the pieces of her old body, or maybe the waves have reclaimed it for the ocean.
She's too heavy to lift; I need something to replace the stones. I run to the bamboo grove, and the trip takes longer than it should--my driftwood body is so much heavier than my bamboo was. I gather up an armful of bamboo and run back to the cliffs.
The bamboo in my arms whistles as I run.
I replace Sylvia's stone arms with bamboo and bind her together with seaweed. When only her legs are stone, I'm able to help her to her feet.
We walk slowly up the beach because her stone legs make it hard for her to move. On our way to the bamboo grove, we meet a girl made of the smooth driftwood that had once belonged to Sylvia. They are the same pieces, but somehow this new girl doesn't wear them as well. She lacks Sylvia's grace. The new girl sneers at Sylvia's bamboo, then looks down at her legs.
"Sylvia?" she asks. "I thought you'd gone all the way to stone."
"I did. I changed my mind." She shrugs like it was no big deal, and I marvel at her confidence, to not care that another girl is seeing her while she's half stone and half grass, and honestly looking like a complete mess.
I glance down at my own body, with its patchwork of driftwood pieces, mixed together with my last remaining scraps of bamboo. It's better than the body Sylvia has, but she's proud and I'm ashamed. Why do I want to be all solid and unchanging, anyway? Who says the solid clack of wood is better than the hollow whistle of bamboo?
I sit in the sand by the bamboo grove and rebuild myself as I had been before, a girl of grass, with gorgeous seaweed hair. Sylvia sits with me and replaces the stone in her legs with bamboo so that she can be a grass girl, too. The ocean wind blows through our fingers, and the music it makes is beautiful.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 25th, 2015

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