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Faithful Sister

There! Is that a ship? Faithful sister, you've been staring at the horizon for all these long years, standing to your shoulders in the restless sea. And seen what? Waves. Glitter and shadow. Mirages that flicker and twist into nothing. But this speck persists on that distant, dreamy verge where the metal-bright sky kisses the stone-dark sea. It bobs on the waves and--yes!--it grows. You feel your blood stir. How long has hope seeped through your veins, sluggish as the tide, while your fear drips, drips, drips into despair? You were told to watch and wait for the ships to come. Oh, how you've waited! Is this the moment at last?
A school of herring roils the water around your knees. The fish know that something is different, that everything is about to change. They dart through the weeds that cling to your belly and thighs and shins, the sea's algae greenery covering your nakedness. You wiggle your toes in the cold mud of the sea floor, four fathoms deep. A reef has grown around your feet. Move to sound the alarm and you will shatter it, break the elkhorn and brain and star corals. But is it an alarm you are to give? Or a benediction?
It was forever ago that you chose to become a holy giant and stand guard with your sisters. You were virgins all; how could it be otherwise? Your father had beamed with pride and your mother had wept the day the sisters were to take their places. And what did you feel? Your face was hot as you disrobed. The priest blessed each of you and charged you never, ever, to look away from the sea until they came. When he bowed before you, he mispronounced your name. His mouth twitched when you corrected him. It was the season after your first bleeding; you had no breasts but the hair had come between your mighty thighs. You were but a girl then, even though you overtopped the sacred obelisk, tallest structure in your village. The entire village gathered on the docks to cheer you and the other sisters as you waded into the deep. Then they went home and had their lives. Did your mother ever return to the dock to watch you watching like she said she would? Did your little friends ever speak your name? Did the priest pray for you? Yes, you've been tempted to turn toward home. Steal just a glimpse and know for sure that your people still honor your sacrifice. But that would have betrayed their trust. Innocent sister, you've been content to take their love on faith.
Not just one ship now, but many. Distant horns announce the new day. Our fleet bears down on you, deck upon deck above gleaming silver hulls. Flags and banners flutter from lookouts. We are coming, we are coming!
Surely the others must realize that it's time to sound the alert. You try to look left to your closest sister but the muscles of your neck crackle and snap from disuse. You gasp, first with pain.
Then with horror.
Your sister is gone. In her place stands a great boulder, upright and lichen covered. Turn right and know that the sisters watch no longer. In their place, forlorn pillars and leaning columns.
When at last you look homeward, your heart too turns to stone. Ruins stare back at you. Blackened foundations and empty squares. The obelisk is a broken tooth.
Oh foolish sister! You were true, but the world is not.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 17th, 2020
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