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Marsh Keeper’s Daughter

She is the keeper of the marshes. She lives alone by the edge of the mangroves. Very few go out that way. Seems the sun sets earlier out that way; the moon glows softer. Folks rarely see her in town. She comes in once or twice a month for supplies, occasionally a pair of boots. No one’s quite sure how old she is.

But when anything is hurt they take it to her. At midday, of course. No one likes getting caught in the marshes at night. She doesn’t speak much, but when she does her voice is quiet and sweet.

One night, one crazy night, the sky blew open and ten thousand fires lit up the heavens. Like fireworks on Fourth of July gone crazy. Folks gathered that night, trying to figure out what was going on. For hours they watched, until the mamas took the children home to bed and the men huddled around old barrels drinking beer.

She stood at the edge of the marsh as well, waiting, not moving. Only her chest rising, nostrils flaring.

Come first light, the men stumbled to bed. The morning was quiet but for the lap of the waves. Nothing to be heard but the slow beat of the water against the shore. But she stood watch and waited. Waited until the sun rose in the sky.

Standing frozen, she saw them as they began drifting in with the tide, one, then a second, and then in groups. Necks asunder, bills buried beneath wings, mired in the muck. Few still struggled.

With each lap of the wave, each touch to shore, the darkness floated in. Slowly it slithered in on each roll and push of the tide, casting it deeper and deeper into the marshes. It made its way through beds of cattails and reeds, sedges and grasses.

With one last lunge it kissed her feet. As it receded, it left its dark stain upon her toes. Alone she greeted them, the bodies, the babies. As one, then ten, then hundreds floated in.

In the light of that morning sun you could see rainbows, rainbows on all their bodies.

Flash Fiction by Marianne Simon
Picture: oil slick by Andrew under CC BY 2.0

Published in Spring 2017

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