The following is an excerpt from the story Three Cataclysm Babies by Matt Bell, appearing in Annalemma Issue Six. Image by Joseph Wood.
Oneida, Ophelia, Ornella
My siren-daughters, my sweet-singing beauties: Whose songs pierce even the thickest of our soundproofed buildings, even the home that once they lived inside, when they were still part of my fractured family, still children under my care. Who, long before the floods began, once lined up beside their mother upon her piano bench, each daughter differing only in age and size, otherwise blessed with the same white-blonde hair, the same eyes so green they glittered even after the lamp-light was extinguished each night.
While their mother pressed each key in turn, these three daughters of mine hummed along, matching their voices to the piano’s percussion, to the tones that escaped its own upright body. One by one they captured its voice, contained it in their chests, so that soon we heard the piano even when no one was playing, its notes coming from our white-fenced yard, from their playroom, from the tight porcelain confines of their shared bath times.
It wasn’t until after the rains started that the oldest learned to make and mimic her mother’s mouth-noises, and so it was she who first licked her lips at the dinner table and then repeated every sonorous syllable of my wife’s long speech, the description of her day at the dykes, building dams with all the other mothers recently pressed into service, no longer allowed to stay home with their children. Soon the younger two could do as well as the oldest, all of them speaking in the mother’s many voices, matching the correct pitch and timbre that accompanied each shift of mood and mannerism.
How soon after did they learn to throw their own voices, to call out from places they could not possibly be? When did I first hear my wife’s words from every room, calling me to dinner, calling me to work, calling me to bed to make another daughter, so that the song might go on, might grow even fuller?
Click here to pre-order Issue Six, which ships April 12th.
Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, forthcoming from Keyhole Press in October 2010. His fiction appears in literary magazines such as Conjunctions, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Unsaid, and American Short Fiction, and has been selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2010. He is the editor of The Collagist and can be found online at www.mdbell.com.
Joseph Wood has recently graduated from the University of Brighton and is currently practicing in London as freelance illustrator and creative image maker.