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April Is the Cruellest Month.


Fortnightly Fiction


THIS WAS BLOOMSBURY. Gated gardens, red bricks, blue plaques. Not a whiff of the river. Sybil and Cillian had walked past classic novels in graphic jackets and into the café where they’d looked for a table under the hiss of milk being steamed. They’d each been walking around the wrong section of the bookshop — History, First Floor: she’d been looking for Mythology, he for Physics. She didn’t return his smile until she’d already passed him. On her second orbit, she had turned and trodden on his toes right by World War I. I’m lost, he’d said. Me too, she’d said. They’d decided they ought to look, and then had pretended to look, at the arrangement of levels: Mythology: Floor 5, Physics, 3. It was a long way up, what with the lift being out of order. It’d be wise to have a coffee first, some fuel. They were liable, after all, to become lost again.

Cillian was freckled and had a smile that winked like chipped glass. When he told her that by the time you saw a star it was already dead, she pretended she didn’t already know. She actually didn’t know that when we see the sun, we are seeing its past, its 8-minutes-20-seconds-ago past. Sybil had pretended to be interested in the solar system as Cillian touched the tips of her fingers across the table. It was on the proviso of showing her his intergalactic book collection that he’d taken her back to his flat across the road. There was something familiar about Cillian, like someone Sybil been out with before, as if his white T-shirt and smile embodied the same loss.

‘I used to live on this road,’ Sybil had said as they crossed it. Bicycles flew past and long grass grew in private gardens. Figures outside the pub blew smoke into the sun’s rays.


‘It can’t be this one? I used to live here, this is my old building!’

‘Bejesus,’ Cillian said, or something like that.

He opened her old front door, and then another door, and by the time she told him they were inside her old room he’d already started kissing her neck.

Sybil knew the smell when you went in, of the Bangladeshi cooking upstairs, the bounciness of the carpet, the grease marks on glossy skirting boards left by mice. He opened her old front door, and then another door, and by the time she told him they were inside her old room he’d already started kissing her neck. Sybil looked around at the imposter objects that sat where hers once had. The low sun shone under the curtains and the afternoon felt distant and empty as if it had already passed. Other lovers (ones on the waste pile) had always come around at night. Daylight sex instead was brutally honest. And maybe it was because of that, and because Sybil was now a guest in her old flat, that it was tempting to think that this was the start of something new, that history was rewriting itself instead of repeating, as it usually did. Cillian smelt of something sweet and forgotten. Cherry Cola? Spaghetti Hoops? He kissed her mouth. His tongue was long and eager enough to choke her.

‘HE’S AN EVIRONMENTAL Consultant in Waste Recycling’, she told Marie, the light rain touching the toes they had both hopefully displayed in sandals. ‘And can you believe, he is renting not only in my old flat but my old room.’

Marie looked up from her milky coffee, the same brown as the big bend of river behind them.

‘That is weird’, she said. The steam rose and warmed her face, pink with cold. ‘And when are you seeing him again?’ She took a sip from the paper cup she held with both hands.

‘I don’t know yet; it’s only been a few days.’

‘He’ll be in touch.’

‘He will’, said Sybil, and a seagull chattered and swooped above them.

He wouldn’t be. And if he was, Sybil would ruin it before it had a chance. It was only a matter of time. Having been born under the sign of Mercury, an inferior planet that moved quickly, she had never been allowed to invest in anything or anyone long enough to matter.

‘And, how are you?’ asked Marie, ‘You know, in yourself? Grief is immense’.

The seagulls were fighting now over a piece of fish, and two Japanese tourists ducked and held onto their wintery hats as if they might become the bait, and then laughed as if they hadn’t cares in the world. The words came out of Sybil’s mouth like they didn’t belong to her. They said, ‘I’m okay’. And then, ‘It’s only sometimes I… ’, and then they stopped, and instead, the song came into her head:

You’re a pink toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush
Have we met somewhere before?
You’re a pink toothbrush and I think toothbrush
That we met by the bathroom door.

The chemist must’ve thought Sybil was buying the Punch & Judy toothpaste for her own children. Fat chance. It’d been the photograph that’d reminded her of it, the one that’d appeared along with a carrier bag of others presumed lost: Sybil sitting on the plastic stool she used to stand on to see into the mirror. Her vest was slipping off her shoulder, and she was beaming at the camera with sparkly milk teeth. There’d been the tickling of the soft brush, the strawberry flavour of the toothpaste, the fear of swallowing it because you’d been told not to. Sybil and her mum had had baths together in that bathroom, and Sybil’s mum had had cherry nipples and triangle of hair. They were then each exactly as they should and would always be, Sybil and her mum. One wouldn’t change into the other, and the other wouldn’t die.

The brown river flashed back in front of her. Marie’s downward-looking face was lit up by her phone.

That kind of love would never be possible again.

‘Well’, Marie said, looking up ‘We all have down days sometimes’. There was a finality to the way she said that.

Glad to meet toothbrush, such a sweet toothbrush
How you thrill me through and through
Don’t be hard toothbrush on a soft toothbrush
‘Cause I can’t help loving you

Sybil pulled out her own phone. The email from the London Literary Circle was still open, formally ejecting her for ‘repeatedly submitting chapters of unedited autobiographical prose.’ ‘You need to decide what matters,’ Andy had put, ‘And that’s trash. People just don’t have the time.’

When they parted Sybil went in the direction of Borough Market, where she’d walk around looking at spring vegetables and flowers that would make her feel irreversibly spoiled. The man with the megaphone was waiting on the corner where the wet cobbles tapered into the dank tunnel on Clink Street like a crocodile’s tail. ‘You slut!’ he called after her. ‘That’s right, keep going, ignore me, don’t stop! It’s all dark ahead.’ He dragged a laugh up from the pits of his lungs and spat out the brown sludge that came up with it. ‘All dark ahead!’ Now was the turn of the next passer-by, ‘Why be a sinner, when you can be a winner?’

In the coffee chain that professed Italianness, the only voices were the whooshes and whoops of phones and the psychotic repetitions of words: Flat. White. Lah-tay. Double. Shot. Extra. Hot. Sybil’s cup was marked with the name of her dead mother, a split decision she made out of protest and denial when the barista demanded she give her ‘something to put on the cup’.

THERE WAS NOWHERE to sit so she went out and stood under the ruined church. The lane led back to the river and to the replica of Golden Hinde. How a piece of wood like that could have circumnavigated the globe was beyond Sybil. She pictured it on high seas. All dark ahead. The woman with the Marseille deck had told Sybil to have more faith in the future. She had green eyes and spidery fingers on that danced on velvet. When she’d turned over Death Reversed, she asked if Sybil felt she were stuck in a loop from which she needed release. ‘Do you feel a lack of unity with others? That,’ she said, ‘Is a very modern problem’. The tarot reader had kept stopping to blow her nose. She used one hand to blow it and the sound it made was like a whistle. Sybil went back to Treadwell’s when it felt like things were about to change. This time she’d left Cillian in his kitchen and walked down to Store Street. The evening had been buttery blue. People’d been sitting outside the Life Goddess eating olives and smoking, and a big sandy dog was shitting in an uncomfortable squat by a lamppost. The smell of Treadwell’s had come through its open door. Candles, oils, incense, arcane and secret. It was a familiar smell, from an earlier time, a time when Sybil used to believe in magic.

Sybil turned right out the market and walked down by the river. There was nowhere particular to go but it’d stopped raining and the sun had won its war against the clouds. The sound of a double bass in a tunnel under Blackfriars Bridge drew her under the scaffolding and above the sand along the water, where the white foam washed up beer cans and black algae. At the market she scanned the books. Rushdie. Forster. Marques. Carter. Orwell. Joyce. Maps. Books on History. Books on London. And then, among the other hardbacks… It couldn’t have been the same book, and yet lost things were often found when Mercury was in retrograde. Sybil had left her grandmother’s book in the house for clearance after she died, along with the other unwanted ones, encyclopedias, bibles. The Book of the Thames: From its Rise to its Fall. On the inner cover on a gold page was an engraving of Father Thames with fish in his beard under which is written ‘TAMESIS’. First published 1859. On the next page, a seated nymph, and on the verso page a message to her grandmother: ‘Dear Violet, With Love, Sheila’.

Sybil paid the unshaven man five pounds for the book and flicked through it sitting on a paving slab under Waterloo Bridge. Images of Father Thames, in the Victorian magazine, Punch, showed him wallowing in his filthy underwater world. The author introduced the 1980 edition by explaining how he had followed the journey the original author had made over a hundred years ago. The book had engravings of pike, bream, dragonfly, bridges, crayfish, riverside scenes, churches and Saxon ornaments, castles, swans, monuments and islands, boats and ships, waves and shells, fishermen, palaces, abbeys, houses. It traced all the areas Sybil knew, purified in old etchings. Sometimes the river had been low and vegetation on the bed had shone bright green and there were damsel flies. Other times it’d been high and black and cold and full of currents and they weren’t allowed to go in. Waves made by other boats lapped against the barge at Sunbury, water at eye-level, coots bobbing, swimming away alarmed. Water-boatmen traversed the surface. They’d take deep breaths and go under looking for eels and catfish but only find stones and kelp, and up above they’d fill their lungs and look downstream to the island, its weeping willows and its electric afternoon — the smell of the river would linger on their skin for days. When they were older they’d go to Penton Hook to where it said No Barbecues and make fires and cook sausages and swim at night and sleep in tents with boys whose bodies glowed white in the water. The book flowed from place to place without chapters or breaks without a contents page so that when you read it you moved along with the water like the river itself, long and meandering running page after page. As you read it, you read only the parts that mattered to you, places you attached your own memories to. And as you pieced together your own stories from the book you created waste, discounting unknown towns with their unknown banks and the unknown people whom they did mean something to.

SYBIL WENT VIA Datta’s office on foot to drop off an edited manuscript of a book on London’s lost rivers. She hadn’t known before that you were never far from a buried river in London, Walbrook, Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Effra; that you could follow their paths through the city.

‘When do you think you’ll be back permanently?’ Datta asked. ‘No pressure, it’s just…’

‘I’m hoping this month.’

‘We’ll need a doctor’s note.’ He said it a little loud, so that the intern looked up from his laptop.

‘I’ll put this in your office’, she said. She was grateful to Datta. He had given her her first job, as a part-time editorial assistant and kept her long after she deserved. I’m forgetful, she told him, months into starting, as if it were a permanent reality they both had to come to terms with. Since then she had taken three months off for bereavement and one more for depression.

In the back-office Tristan was sitting at his old desk, as if he’d never left.

‘Hi, Syb,’ he said, as if she were the surprise.

Outside she sat on a bench with a Flat White watching people pass the man handing out the Evening Standard at Millbank without acknowledging his existence. He sung like a bird: STA-ndard, STA-nard! Everyone seemed so fast-moving, so busy, so unable to stop for a moment, it seemed like all of London had been born under the sign of Mercury. She saw the intern pass, for a second familiar, then alien. Was he happy? Yes. He didn’t question happiness. That meant he was good. He would go to an apartment with Pantone colour-coded books, which he’d read under lamplight through tortoiseshell glasses in a room with a city view where everything was safe and whole. She thought then of city apartments on American sitcoms, of Seattle and of Frasier Crane.

A piece of driftwood was knocking against the wharf. On the stones, two black bullmastiffs were chasing a stick in and out of the water. A man was skimming stones into the undulations as if they told him his future. Sybil closed her eyes and Tristan was above her, so close she could barely see him. He was heavy, his eyelashes against her skin; the powdery light in the boathouse made by beams of low sun. The photo of his wife had been a shock, that he had a wife at all. What was also surprising was that she had been blonde, not like Sybil. Sybil had woken up to find him gone, with a note telling her how to lock up. She cried walking to the station, and the cold had hurt her skull. She stopped and stared at the swirling brown river and its barren banks, pitted with the little holes of burrowing Chinese mitten crabs and its buds of crocuses, and she sent him a rambling confession of love. He never replied.

The radio that morning had talked about house prices, Dancing on Ice, and the Syrian refugee woman who’d jumped into the Thames. The week before (or the one before that) it’d been a trafficked girl from Eastern Europe. Volunteer patrol officers now walked up and down the banks, looking for jumpers. The river was brown, impersonal, a commuter’s route with concrete banks. It’d been biologically dead till 2015 and now people claimed there were salmon and belugas swimming in it but no one had ever seen them. On the shingle were plastic bottles, green, clear, red, brown, being washed ashore, a shopping trolley, an upturned bike with one wheel, carrier bags like jellyfish underwater. They looked like treasures from a mythic riverbed running all the way along the path, invading where the seagulls strolled and jabbed their beaks at the ground, where tourists looked out across the water, strewn non-objects, waiting to be cast into something with purpose.

After that Sybil walked aimlessly. She walked down to Embankment, along to Temple, where the gardens bloomed with lilacs and on the brown water rusted containers propped up white cranes and flourescent orange men stood on them. Black opened-mouthed fish were twisted around the bases of the street lamps with big lips all along the wall and sighing strangers flooded towards her in suits and on Bluetooth and none of them smiled as they passed, or saw the man crumpled on the pavement sitting on cardboard holding out a blackened hand. They looked down at their phones, not up. This was everybody and nobody’s home, London. Everybody protected their own little piece: their half hour, their fifty-pence, their smile. What if someone had pulled out a knife then in that street, stabbed them all? Stabbing would be the worst way to suffer. That and acid. Sybil had played out both in her mind, to be prepared. Nobody was going to stab anybody. The psychiatric nurse had told Sybil, ‘Remember, when you feel anxious you’re in no immediate danger: no one is going to attack you, right now’.  But how did she know?  Sybil would hop over the wall, onto the containers, safe floating on the flat, murky waves. It was a good time to remember the mindfulness mantras from the blog. I am fearless. I will be O.K. There was the meditative breathing Alumni Kev had taught her too, to alleviate her heartbreak last spring. Kev lived in a big Victorian house in Stokey where, since he’d become polyamorous, the monks had been giving him all the housework. It’s selfish to love one person, Kev had said. We should love everyone equally. Sybil lay down and Kev taught her how to relax every part of her body. Afterwards he’d said that if ever she needed some love, she knew where to come.

SYBIL WALKED PAST the Mermaid, the Millennium Bridge, the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Two girls on their way to yoga rushed past. They wore luminous Lycra tops and bottoms that matched the yoga mats under their arms. They were stopped short by an old lady. The rest of the pavement was blocked. They jogged close behind her as if to power her on, and then overtook, tutt-ing. On one of their backpacks was printed PEACE. LOVE. YOGA.

This area, come to think of it, had been littered with heartbreaks. There had been Juliet at The Ship, a few streets from here, dark and perfumed as an olive, and she’d replayed it, the fragmented images, how he’d said as he pulled his dick out of his trousers ‘you’re in BIG trouble’, and she had giggled and laid back but had been in trouble, after, like she had with all of them. They had all chipped away at her, starting with D___ in one of those flats up there that overlooked Tower Bridge. She’d only gone to that party because when she’d said she couldn’t ‘do casual’ D___ hadn’t replied. She drank a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to pluck up the courage. He’d been waiting for her in the alley, hands in his pockets. His smile said he knew she’d come. She’d got down on her knees later in that medieval mud that reeked of plagues and pirates and pilgrims, overlooking the twinkling city lights, the endless reds of the tops of cranes.

It was getting dark, and pink shot through the last light of the sky. The river looked like grey saliva on lapping tongues. Or quicksilver. Or silverfish in constant motion. When Sybil had walked as far as the Hung Drawn and Quartered, she saw Luke standing outside. Luke had been a book jacket designer at Datta’s years ago. ‘Mate’, he said, ‘come av a drink!’ At the bar they ordered London Prides, Jägers and ‘wife beaters’ and the boys all stood around the bar, fat and skinny, in illustrated T-shirts laughing dirty laughs. They faded into the background as Luke spoke to Sybil, except when one of them threw an arm or a head into the frame, to take an order for his round. What’d she been up to? How was life? Seeing anyone?

‘Still with my bird,’ Luke said. Luke’d been with his bird that time he got off with Cerise, and then once with Sybil but it had only been a little kiss in the back of the cab. Come upstairs, he’d said, She’s away, but Sybil had said no. They piled up the pieces of Jenga under the red glass lamps. The light bounced off copper kettles and brass jugs that hung low from the ceiling onto the cherry wood. Luke brought a tray of tequilas. While they pulled pieces from the tower and it came crashing down, and they licked lines of salt from their hands, chucked liquid into their faces and bit down on lemons, Luke said, ‘No one ever made me as horny as you.’ The tower fell and he did another shot. His eyes were wide. When he drank there was something grotesque about him. Like his face was a manifestation of sin. Pink and shiny. Dirty as a toilet brush. If you peeled it off like a mask behind it you’d find someone on a register.

‘Do you think you’ll marry your girlfriend?’ Sybil asked.

‘Course I will! I love her’. Then he reached over the table, grabbed her jaw and kissed her with a kiss that tasted stale. Outside one of the lads was pulling out his public hairs and stuffing them down the shirt of the fella with the LEGO head, laughing like a hyena. Somebody called somebody a dolphin cunt. A small lad picked up an entire stack of Evening Standards and threw them at another one who staggered and fell to the floor. Luke jumped down and stuck his tongue in the boy’s mouth. In the cab to Soho, Luke put his hands up Sybil’s skirt whenever Gareth turned to look out of the window. They drove along the river and in the black sky white clouds created the impression of great mountains over the city, turning the Thames into the Yangtze. The sequined drag queen at Molly Mogg’s belted out Shirley Bassey. Luke squeezed Sybil’s arse-cheek in the bar queue and whispered into her ear how he’d like to put a finger in her arse. Oi oi, cheeky! said Gareth because Luke had been too drunk to whisper. When Luke was pissing outside down the alley that went to Greek Street on the way to Jazz After Dark, Sybil sloped off. Luke sent her a photo of his dick. She deleted it.

THE NEXT MORNING appeared without colour behind the curtains in Sybil’s rented flat. The curtains were white and reminded her of hospitals. In her dream she’d found her mother face down, and when she’d turned her over the skin of one of her eyelids had covered over the eye-socket. Smoke came out of her and so did blood. But that was just a dream and the morning was now faintly yellow and Sybil was cocooned within her room with the languid sounds of indistinct traffic, a comforting reminder she was inside and not out. Her phone vibrated. WhatsApp from Cillian. U free later? 😉 She read his name twice to be sure.

At Euston Square, Cillian emerged as if he had just been created in that spot, a second ago. It was impossible to imagine him disappearing later from the scene. No trace of his ever having been. Where would he go? He was a composition of denim, smile, long legs in tight jeans, a baggy 1990s bomber jacket in suede. Cillian must have had a lot of objects Sybil had never and would never see. Maybe not a lot, he was anti-capitalist after all, part of the university-communist-pub-crawl group, but she’d never get to see everything, his depths, just like she’d never see the dark side of the moon. All she had was him, here, now and he was already fading to nothing.

‘How are ya?’ he said, with his familiar sing-song cool-as-a-cucumberness. This was a lull into a false sense of security. Soon he’d be asking philosophical questions. Picking her apart like a poem. He’d be trying to find the core of her, some solid, definite part that told him more about who she was, but Sybil was looking for that herself, and knew already it was intangible. Last time she’d told him she was still enrolled at Oxford. She’d abandoned her MPhil the summer before due, formally, to anxiety, but didn’t mention having stopped to anyone who asked what she did, because without the cushioning of academia, it wasn’t clear who she was. She’d reeled off her thesis topic with false confidence, The Waste of the Past: intertextuality and inevitability of historic destruction in contemporary ecopoetics, and hoped he wouldn’t ask too many questions. It was a worry that she’d have nothing to leave behind to be remembered by, not even a dissertation. Cillian had said earlier: ‘The only value of the everyday man are the objects he leaves behind. And people only want those objects if people give a shit about them now. Or they can be made to place value on them. If they don’t, they’re forgotten, they become waste.’

They walked in the direction of his flat. ‘Listen’, he said, pausing the things he said that mattered because he had said them and not she, ‘d’ya mind if we go back to the café? I thought we could talk.’

BACK IN THE BOOKSHOP they passed by the graphic jacket designs for classic novels and went into the coffee shop and sat at the same table they’d sat at before, tried to talk over the hiss of milk being steamed. Cillian moved the rubbish that’d been left behind onto the one next to them and sat down and held her fists in his hands.

‘Do you know anything about astrology?’ Sybil asked. Cillian shifted and loosened his grip on her hands. There was that feeling again then, the one where you see yourself through someone else’s eyes and imagine clearly all of the things missing or broken that would be present and perfect in someone else.

‘Well, Mercury is in retrograde, and…’


‘Retrograde. Mercury.’ Cillian looked blank. ‘The planet. Well, anyway, you’re supposed to find lost things when Mercury is in that phase.’

‘Is there any sugar?’ Cillian stood up, stretched out his long torso and scanned the room. ‘Does anywhere have sugar anymore?’

Sybil handed him a brown packet, he poured it into his cup, and threw it onto the table, recycling-symbol-up.

‘Will that thing actually be recycled?’ she said.

‘Seventy-eight of paper is recycled in the UK. Takes seven days to turn old newspapers, books, magazines, whatever into new.’

‘And plastic?’

‘Enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the earth four times.’

‘I saw the news about that dead whale the other day. Full of plastic.’

‘What were you telling me about Mercury being in what?’

‘Retrograde. Since I met you I keep coming across lost things.’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Your flat for a start.’ She told him then about the book and the photos. She didn’t tell him about Tristan, or about Luke. She wished she could wash it all off, the past, undo it all, have been better, less afraid. Her grandmother would’ve turned in her grave if she’d known she’d been plotting sex partners along the Thames with the help of the etchings in her book.

‘Listen, Sybil, you do know that I like you?’ Cillian said this with scarcely believable certainty. ‘I wanna know if, if you’d like to spend more time with me, if I could, you know, mean something to you.’ He wrapped her fists in his hands again and looked at her as if she would always be the one to make all of the decisions.

‘Be your… girlfriend?’

‘Why label it?’

‘You barely know me.’ He didn’t. He didn’t know how weak she was, how void of morality, what a disappointment she’d be. When had she’d started to feel this way? Worthless.

‘I’ve got a good feeling.’

‘Me too. It’s just…’


‘What if you change your mind about me?’

‘Well, I might. You might. Don’t think too much. Go with it. All we’ve got is now.’

SOMETHING MADE SYBIL look out the window. A woman, blonde wearing a familiar jacket, her hair Sybil knew in the way that the waves had formed around the face, knew it so well it could’ve been her own hair, knew the shape of the body as if she’d always known it. If only it could be her! The woman was too young to have been Sybil’s mother when she’d died, but there wasn’t time to consider that. How perfect, how impossible. I’ll be back, Sybil said and rushed onto the pavement. The woman crossed the road and came closer, and just as she could smell the perfume, the shampoo in the woman’s hair (they didn’t make that brand anymore), everything familiar about her vanished. The woman looked cruel and cardboard. Sybil stood where she had passed, the rubbish blowing around her feet, crisp packets and bottles mixed with leaves in tempests, rolling, tumbling. The air was viscous with a thunderstorm that would happen later. It was like that night, after the funeral, when you could feel the storm but you only saw the distant lightening, heard nothing and it stayed dry. On the pond there had been water lilies with no perfume. Sybil brushed her hair out of her mouth and thought of the phrases from the mindfulness blog that she knew she had to believe. She said them in her head as she went back inside. I accept myself as I am. I am enough. I let go of the old and make room for the new. Now she would wash it all off, the past. The memories she didn’t want. She’d start again. She’d start again with Cillian. She walked back towards the table. But it hadn’t been the table she’d remembered because that table was empty. And there it was again, that feeling. It was like sinking. You lost your breath. The sounds muffled, the clanking of china and laughter, as if all underwater. There was nothing of Cillian in the crumbs on the table or in the people who remained. There was only an empty packet of sugar. She sat down and put it between her fingers. You deserve it, the voice said. SHUT THE FUCK UP, said Sybil, and wasn’t sure if she’d said it out-loud till a girl in a leather jacket with long, straight chestnut hair turned around to look at her. She later wondered about that girl, what her feet looked like, what her future would be. There was nowhere to go after that, so Sybil walked back into the bookshop. It occurred to Sybil that the bookshop didn’t have the comfort of the library, its promise of infinite return. The library seemed to hold the entire universe, the wanted and unwanted. She wondered about appealing to the kindness of a stranger. Where would she stop? People just don’t have the time, Andy had said. It was dark outside, and the glass trapped passers-by and other buildings inside it. The meaning had drained out of everything. She climbed the stairs to Mythology. It smelt of dust because some of the books were centuries old and cost a small fortune. Maybe she could tell everything to the sales assistant stacking Norse myths whose face she couldn’t see. She took books from the shelves one by one, flicking through the first and last pages until she came to one whose cover was black like water, and she dived into it, and didn’t resurface until the shop closed a few hours later. The book was called Matsyagandha: The Fisher Queen. It was the tale of a river goddess, from whom an entire race was born.

Georgie Carroll is a writer and PhD student from London. Her work has recently appeared in the Kyoto Journal, and Coldnoon, a little magazine from Delhi; her story ‘The Messenger’ (2017), published by Asia Literary Review, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and  Mouse, a full-length book of non-fiction, was published in 2015 as part of Reaktion Books’ Animal series.


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