I have tasted death, and it tastes of brine.
The ship bucked and another wave leapt up the side, lapping at the wooden railing. The smell of salt filled the air and sat on my tongue. I wished I had found a way to travel that didn’t taste like blood.
Sabeen appeared beside me, latching onto the rail and hanging her head over the side. Her scarf had blown back, tendrils of her dark hair escaped the knot on her head and waved to the receding shoreline.
“I forgot you grew up on boats,” she said with a faint laugh, still clutching the rail with white knuckled hands.
“One boat,” I corrected. Felicity had been my father’s pride and joy; the merchant vessel on which he had sailed the Mediterranean. Keeping a woman on a ship was considered bad luck, but on Felicity I was a mascot, a token of good fortune. It had been my home and my namesake; its crew my family, until Yusuf had offered my father a small fortune for my hand.
I did not look at Sabeen, but instead kept my eyes on the fading skyline. The reaching spires of the churches and mosques that made up Constantinople, the city of my birth.
A gull wheeled overhead, wings filled with freedom, and for a brief moment it occurred to me that I could join it if I wished. I lowered my eyes quickly to the water. I had no right to think such things.
“Sophie is minding the children below deck. They’re all a little overwhelmed,” Sabeen spoke.
I knew what she was really saying; that Jasim was still crying, as he had cried almost every day since his mother’s death. I knew she wanted me to go to him, to hold his hand and stroke his hair, which was the exact shade of midnight Thalia’s had been. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t touch the pale, pink burn mark on his wrist that was the cause of his mother’s death. I couldn’t look into that little boy’s eyes when it should have been me in her place. I was the one who ruined the meal.
Thalia, my closest sister, my best friend. It wasn’t her fault she had left me alone in the kitchen; her son was hurt, he needed her. Yusuf hadn’t seen it that way.
“Is there anything else we need to do?”
I turned to look at Sabeen for the first time. I realized, with mild surprise, that she was asking my advice. I was the youngest of our sisterhood, and for the past two years in Yusuf’s household, I had looked up to her. She had been the one to pull me to my feet the first time I displeased my new husband — by dropping a jug and spilling wine all over the carpet. Between her and Sophie, they had hidden my blunders and made me their sister. Along with Thalia, we had for a time, thought we were safe.
“No,” I said, realizing she was still waiting for an answer. “We wait until we reach Cyprus, then we find a new home. Sophie knows the island.”
When I didn’t reply she reached a hand towards mine. I pulled back, taking my hands off the rail and tucking them under my arms. I did not want to feel her touch, or hear the hum that was not a sound, course through my body. I did not want to see lights that weren’t there. I did not want to feel the buzzing pressure in my head, like a thousand mind-wasps trailing threads of light, as they wove into the deepening pool in my consciousness. In the pool I saw everything. Everyone I touched left a piece of themselves there, and in that piece was all they were.
Yusuf was there, permanently ingrained, though I wanted nothing more than to scrub him from me with claws and teeth.
“You should check on Sophie,” I suggested. “She may need an extra set of hands.”
I could not go with her. I did not want to see them, Yusuf’s sons and daughters. I did not want to hear them ask about their father. I thought Sabeen guessed as much, but she didn’t leave anyway.
“She’ll manage,” she said, and the ship rose on another swell. Her grip on the rail tightened as she leaned against the bulwark. “Felicity,” she said again, and I lifted my eyes to her. “How did you do it?”
I turned away from her question. When first the headaches and blackouts came I had thought I was dying, and that my mind, as battered as my body, had given up the fight. Then the fever had passed, and I had awoken stronger than ever.
Yusuf liked exotic animals; he kept many of them on the estate. I had walked among the tigers and the leopards, and with every touch I had felt them become part of me. When Yusuf came to find me I let the animals in my mind-pool free. My body melted and reformed. I tasted his blood.
“I don’t know,” I answered, and it was almost true. I could not tell her what had brought about the change, or what it meant.
“Perhaps, when we reach Cyprus, you will have a better idea.”
I gave her a small smile. “Perhaps.”
Sabeen moved closer, timing her steps between swells and eyeing me carefully. “You’re not staying,” she said. It wasn’t a question; she could see the decision on my face.
I tried to answer, to explain, but the words wouldst come. How did I tell her the reasons I couldn’t be her sister anymore? How did I tell her I couldn’t stand before her children, because I was a monster? How did I tell her that it wasn’t an escaped tiger who killed our husband?
“Where will you go?” she asked.
I directed my gaze out across the open seas, and my mind was filled with fish and dolphins and the distant lands which rested beyond the smooth horizon.
I turned to Sabeen, my smile genuine this time.
Continue: Part 2: London