Bogs of memory and horror
Posted August 18, 2007on:
The legend goes like this.
A lazy horny fisherman, classy as a goat and smelling as good, finds what he thinks is a seal skin. This fisherman is not very clever — no one on land would ever marry him.
These are the rules.
The selkie sunbathes naked on the rocks; her skin tucked away in what she thinks is a good hiding place. The fisherman hides the seal skin from her, and the selkie is forced to be his wife.
The selkie makes a wistful buy loyal wife and no one in the neighbourhood asks questions. She dutifully suckles her babies, her husband, but her eye is always on the sea, or the lake, or the plastic swimming pool, or the goldfish bowl where Darth Vader, the 75-cent feeder goldfish, blows “I love you” over and over.
Her two-year-old’s fingerprinted glass of lemonade makes her so homesick she wants to puke. All her children and her children’s children have webbed fingers and toes.
But the day comes when the selkie decides to give all the clothes in the attic to the Salvation Army, or sweep up the mouse turds in the basement once and for all, or clean out the ancient dirt in the upstairs closet, and then she finds the trunk, or the canvas sack, or the plastic Safeway bag and inside, where her husband’s hidden it, her selkie’s skin. Suddenly she’s gone out to her yoga lesson and strangely enough forgotten her mat.
The horror is, she never looks back.
Crueler men burn the skins. These wives are doomed. Prozac, scotch on the rocks, varicose vein strippings, house renovations, feigned or real illnesses can’t stop the mourning, the inner burning. These are the kinds of wives who one day set their houses on fire with themselves inside, or in a matter of hours turn into lesbians, or slash themselves with their husband’s razors just so they feel something.
I feel something.
Putting on the skin when it’s not really yours is like putting both arms into a bog and drawing up pieces of a corpse. Ring fingers still wearing rings, arms, palms, and hands (these are harder to identify), legs severed at calf and mid-thigh. I have found no heads yet, not yet felt the horror of hair twine around my fingers, the yawn of a mouth, a thick flapping tongue. Body bits perfectly preserved.
I look in the mirror at the skin around my shoulders, draped over my head. I look like my grandmother.
Matricia said that with the chemical straightener, my hair felt like the strings on the bow of her violin. The afro roots of my hair winding and colliding from my scalp, the straightened ends down my shoulders, dry and crisp as winter twigs. She fingered and stroked my hair, buried her hands in its coils while I kissed her breasts. I tugged at her nipples with my teeth through the layers of her sweater, her blouse, her bra. Her armpits seaweed-fragrant.
Her body smells like perfume and sweat. Matricia is a very black woman, much blacker than me, her hair scraped back from her face and into an elaborate coil, and I picture the excruciating smoothness of her inner thighs. I dragged her up piece by piece from the bogs of memory and horror. The smell of her. The smell of her hair and my skin.
From “Toot Sweet Matricia” by Suzette Mayr, published in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Stores of Science Fiction and Fantasy.