I can hear someone weeping. It’s me.
Shut up, says the man below me. I’m standing on his shoulders.
The tears, he says, wobbling. They’re destabilizing you.
I love you, I tell him. His shoulders tense.
I can’t talk about this right now.
His grasp on my ankles tightens.
Ronan? I ask him the next day. I’m on his shoulders again. Nasty habit, we’ve got to break it.
Am I heavy? I dig my toes into his clavicle.
I love you, I say.
The audience boos. We have an audience today, encircling us in the town square. They think we’re performance art, and maybe we are.
Ronan takes in the frowns around him. He likes to be liked and here he is not.
I love you a little, he acquiesces.
You love me a lot. I smile with teeth like my lips are stapled open, like the pageant girls. People clap. They adore me.
I want to stand on your shoulders today, Ronan says.
Impossible, I tell him.
You’ve always been selfish, he says as I climb onto his knees, then shoulders.
The people arrive promptly. There are more of them. I think about stability. I don’t let myself wobble. My body is sharp, Ronan but a boulder beneath me.
You smell like a social climber, Ronan whispers, his voice sliding up my leg.
He’s right. I think about all the people, all over the world, that I can climb. I am boundless. The audience throws flowers. Daisy, daffodils, dandelions. They pile up at Ronan’s feet, the pile growing like a mountain. Soon, Ronan is buried and there is only me.
The brideship pulls away from the port, sad women in white dresses herded on the deck waving goodbye to their mothers. There are too many brides in town, they have to go.
I’m getting off at the first dock, says a tall white dress, I’ve no time to spare.
Patience Prudence, says a smaller, stouter white dress.
I’m nearly three decades old, says Prudence. My face is drooping as we speak.
At dinner, brides pack into a long table, spooning from identical bowls. They wear their dresses. They must be careful.
I don’t think your face is drooping, says the small white dress. If anything, it’s rising.
This isn’t a joking matter, Prudence says, spinning her spoon around the bowl, creating a vortex of tomato.
Of course not.
This is serious.
Very. The small woman takes her bowl in both hands and tilts it into her mouth, collecting the last streams of soup.
Before Prudence can admonish her companion, a scream reverberates around the dining hall. A woman has spilled, spilled soup onto the bodice of her dress. All eyes dart toward the sound, the stain. Red trickles down the woman’s torso. She panics, flitting her arms, rolling her eyes around the table, seeking solace. There isn’t any. The stain gets up from the table, runs from the room.
The unstained women finish supper and retire to their bedchambers.
In the morning, there are less of them. One might not even notice. Prudence doesn’t. Prudence spends her day pressed against the bow of the ship, dreaming of the worldly husband she will take up. Dreaming of the day she can remove her dress, wear a skirt, pants even.
The dresses are donned in their fifteenth year. Prudence has worn hers for fifteen more. She’s desperate to escape it. Her friend, who isn’t so much her friend as a woman she stood beside during boarding, wears a wrinkly old thing. Not stained of course, but frizzled around the ends, tattered in the corners. Not Prudence. Prudence keeps her dress pristine.
There you are, says the small stout dress, wobbling toward her.
Here I am. Prudence does not look at her.
Getting off tonight?
Me as well, the small dress says, with a slight smirk.
Prudence flinches imperceptibly. The capital is a highly cultivated place, she tells the woman. I don’t take it lightly and neither should you.
I wouldn’t dare!
Good, Prudence says, looking the woman up and down. Her face is not polished and neither are her fingernails. I’m going to go tidy up, Prudence says, eyebrows arched. I’ll see you at disembarkment.
The small woman nods and Prudence retreats. Though her eyes aren’t too sharp, she swears the woman blows her a kiss.
Night falls and disembarkment commences. There is much celebration. A group of white dresses, Prudence in its midst, worm their way to the port, joyful shouts bouncing around the ship.
The disembarking women smile like their mouths are glued open, wave like their fingers are fused shut. The hour of dreams has arrived, and the women are packed inside of it.
As Prudence inches her way forward, a splash resounds behind her.
It’s real nice in here, says a voice below. Nice day for a swim!
Prudence––face souring––lets her eyes swim downward. In the water is her friend, the woman who isn’t her friend, dress floating around her like a corpse. Gasps spread across the port, then silence.
Don’t be shy! The water’s wonderful.
The dresses disembark without another word, without another look, brides set to scatter across the city.
The Brideship launches back into motion, leaving the small stout woman swirling, solo, in the sea. She floats atop her dress, drifting with the current.
I knew it was good for something! She shouts at the ship dissolving into the distance.
In This Heat, I’m Not Myself
First, I shrivel like a toe in the bathtub. There is no moisture left in my body. It’s in a puddle at my feet. I’m dizzy without it. A kindly young gentleman helps me cross the road.
On the other side, there are children. Mine. No, my grandchildren. Little girls with braids down to their toes. They surround me, swaddle me. I am dripping with grandchildren. I can’t breathe.
I whistle for the young gentleman.
Get me back to the other side, I beg.
Ma’am, he says, patting my shoulder, sweat droplets falling like rain. This is the side you want to be on.
He’s gone. Little girls accumulate, more and more. They’re all over me. Dangling from my ears, crawling up my nose, frolicking between my toes.
The temperature reaches 100 degrees.
The little girls get thirsty. They drink their grandmother.