We chased the sirens for the seaspray, for the slick tang of salt on our tongues when we stood at the prow of the ship. We each christened her a different name, and the carving on the hull twisted and reshaped depending on who took the helm. Anna for young Rose; Hera when Molly gripped the splintered handles; Fabris’ Revenge under my watch, and no one ever asked me why. The captain commanded us not to look, whenever she marched the decks, her heeled boots soft against the damp wood. But once atop the mast, the whole ship tilted sideways by a crashing wave, I glanced down through my storm-soaked hair and saw Salvation dancing in the oak.
We chased the sirens for the struggle, to prove the fight had not gone out in us. We did not ask each other where we came from or how the captain found us; we older ones cared for the new girls who shivered belowdecks, too frightened to be put to work. We brewed them tea and rubbed their backs and tried to make them laugh. Slowly their fingers uncurled from wary fists; in time they would clench again around rapiers or pistols. Even those who could not face violence outright found their own ways to channel their rage, a knife in the galley or a needle through sailcloth. The captain saved her smiles for them, and we who buckled under her harsh words understood she loved us still.
We chased the sirens for the starlight, for the nights we lay atop the decks and made new constellations between our intertwined arms and fragments of old memory. The north star faded above us, and we kept Altair as our guiding light, the star that drew us towards our goal. The captain hoped it would be home: a place the ship could lay to rest. For us, home lay between the cracks of wood and whispers on warm skin, chapped lips discovering what it meant to be safe. The stars watched on and sent their blessings down atop the changing waves.
They say we chased the sirens for revenge, but they shouted their curses from the docks and never stepped with us to sea. The blood that stained the decks dripped down between our legs from when the moon pulled up the tides. The crew quarters reeked of iron and our skin stuck fast to loose linen shirts. Revenge? I killed the man who drove me from my land, knelt atop his chest and plunged a knife between his ribs. My heart still keened with the rise and fall of waves; my soul still cried and shouted sorrows to the wind. The sirens would not quiet that.
We chased the sirens through the storms that tossed us in the night and drove us up the mast, rope wet and rough against our fingers as we lashed the sails to the yard. The forgotten quiet girls would stand against the rain and make their voices heard above the howling wind. Lightning brought us out of darkness before we plunged below once more, and the sea sang high before its frothing surf fell crashing to the deck. We choked on brine and bruised our hips against the rails, but we staggered to our feet and gasped alive, alive, alive.
We chased the sirens through the silence, through the thick grey fog that sat heavy on our tongues. Our hair fell limp around our shoulders, torn loose by wind and work, and we stood on weary legs to face the pale abyss on the horizon. The captain took the helm at dawn and planted herself starboard; I looked back only once to see her dark eyes glinting fierce, a fire against the shrouded mists. We counted on the sun to burn away uncertainty, but when the ink faded from the maps we lost our faith in the unknown. Our lungs swelled with shallow, trembling breath; each of us knew death but did not think to meet it here. The bow cut through silver glass while we gripped each other’s hands, as if to find some courage in the crushing of our bones.
And when we found the sirens—oh, when we found the sirens, their songs hung sweet around our ears and we flew weightless to the light. Their wings skimmed the water before they delivered our salvation, droplets splattering our awed and tired faces. Coral threaded through their hair and talons scratched the wood soaked through. The tallest faced the captain and ran a hand across her face, thin lines of blood blooming on her weather-beaten cheek. She brought her fingers to her face, held them forth with dripping red, and the sirens tasted remnants of our pain. They could not take it as their own but starlight glinted in their eyes, and we—we the sirens left to live—we saw our dying hopes take shape as songs above the sky.
© 2020 Suzanne Walker