Despite the chill we’ve all assembled at the shore, sniffing the breeze for hints of spring, looking out toward the sea and waiting for our next statue to arrive.
We can never be certain which day it will come, but after all these years, we’ve come to expect it in the first week of May, and befitting the season, it is a generally happy time, even if the message we receive some years is less than pleasant.
There have been years when we’ve waited, naked and shivering, hoping this year’s statue would be clothed. There are years when we all cheer upon sighting the marble likeness of a well-dressed, prosperous merchant, or the silver statue of a queen, auguring good fortune for the entire town. And indeed, those years have been bountiful for everyone, sheep’s wool growing thick and soft, chickens sitting high on stacks of eggs, cows producing more and sweeter milk than ever before.
Likewise, we wail on the years when a statue of a penniless urchin or a haggard old crone hobbles on undulating waves toward our shore.
Our auguries arrive on rafts barely large enough to hold them, plying in from the sea on the power of sails scarcely bigger than bedsheets. The wood is like nothing that grows around here, slim trunks lashed together with rough, dark coir. We’ve learned to let the rafts complete their journeys until they’re beached, because the year we tried to assist the splintered oak Madonna to shore, we almost lost her to the waves. Many wish we had, for our year of hairshirts and piety was a long one.
Still, no one questions our seers’ interpretations, no matter how onerous the burden, because the statues bring good fortune to our shores more often than not. Many years we are blessed with likenesses of Poseidon, with his extraordinary bounty. We are all happy to participate in the mending of nets and the salting and drying of fish.
This year as always, we kept our ears pricked for the call, for our watchers at the shore to sound the alarm when they spotted this year’s statue. It was a bright windy day when we heard the call, and we all raced to the sea, shielding our eyes from the glare with our hands. We began guessing as waves tossed the raft ever closer to land.
It’s some sort of beast.
Is it a bear?
We could barely look at it for the gleam of sun on its burnished metal surface, reflecting an odd pinkish hue.
The object bore no resemblance to anything we’d ever seen before: some sort of animal fitted together from bulbous, elongated sections of metal, polished to a high, shining pink. Its ears and tail stood erect, almost as long as its four legs. Its nose poked forward, ending in a simple knot.
That day, when the tiny raft sluffed onto sand, no one rushed to retrieve the statue. The chief seer approached it, under weight of duty, her reluctance to touch it evident. But finally she ran a palm along its side, pronouncing it warm, smooth, shining, bulging, though—she knocked—empty. Hollowed out, but still standing, still proud and erect, like our nation.
Had we not cheered so lustily at that point, things might have ended differently.
Pink, not a full-blooded red, she then added.
We murmured, a few residual giggles floating over the crowd.
Not red, she said. Not full of blood.
We cheered again, our thoughts on spring flowers and pink youthful blushes and warm sun, the absence of blood presaging peace and life.
The chief seer raised her hand to quiet us. We will be proud and stand tall like this beast. We will shine like this beast. We will empty ourselves of blood like this beast.
She no longer needed a hand to quiet us. Seer, countered an elder, surely a statue this beautiful could not augur death.
Of course not, she replied. As you see, the beast still stands. It has been purified.
The bloodlettings began the following day. The spring drained away into a hot, languorous summer. Farmers had only enough strength to tend half their crops. Overfull cows bellowed in the fields when their milkmaids fainted away. Fishermen only dared to use their smallest nets, lest the weight be too much to haul back to shore.
The seers maintain that this is all necessary, to cleanse our bodies and spirits. We have been fortunate for too many years; this is required to maintain balance. The seers take part too, even the chief seer, with the exception of three who retain enough strength to manage the process properly. These three have tasked themselves with ensuring that our treasures remain safe, that our jewels are polished, our silver still shining, our finest garments still soft, our food still rich and flavorful, all of it befitting the celebration we will enjoy when the year of bleeding is over.
Month after month, we returned to sit by the waves for our bleedings, watching the chief seer, waiting for her to tell us when it would be enough. At some point, she closed her eyes. They remain closed.
Now we all lie on the sand, heads turned toward the sea, praying, yearning for the next statue to arrive.
TARA CAMPBELL — Tara is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and CRAFT Literary. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her at www.taracampbell.com or on Twitter @TaraCampbellCom.
Art by LILY JONES — Lily works in the environmental sector in Pittsburgh. She lives with her gecko and snake, and runs long distances in her free time. Flash Frog is her first online art publication.