One Hundred by Tara Lindis

Tara Lindis is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight Magazine’s 2018 Flash Fiction Contest.

Many lifejackets together on side of building
Soleil Levant – Ai Weiwei’s powerful artwork on migration by Teameister. CC license.

The children do not have life jackets. We give them ours. Their slender arms slide through the adult sized holes, we tighten the black webbed straps as far as they can go, and click the plastic buckles. The orange vests rise to their ears; black eyes and tufts of black hair stick out like baby chicks. In the dark early morning, we smell the rain coming, and we know it’s the last crossing before the onset of winter storms. Prayers now. Prayers to Mary, the Mother of God, the Almighty, the weather, even the smuggler we had paid our fortunes. We bind our babies to our backs with long shrouds of cotton. We bend forward to adjust their weight against our hipbones and tie the knots. Tight.

The lighthouse on the hill blinks its light across the water. With each flash, we glimpse the Lesbos shore, and the 8 kilometres of watery strait. The first drops of rain dampen our faces, shining the cheeks of our children. Four rafts sit on the beach, wide inflated berths to usher us to safety. Black lettering in English says: Maximum Capacity — 50 persons.

The smugglers hold the handles of the raft and pull it out into the water. We wade to the raft, the sweat and smells of all of our bodies mix with the sea and the salt. The men shout at us to move faster. Our babies make us slow. We are no longer the agile athletes of youth, or the pretty girls who could fly up the steep sides of mountains. We are mothers. We are tired. We are scared. The rubber dimples with our weight. The motor kicks on, and we launch into the dirty sea.

The smugglers had promised us it was safe. But we knew the odds; we knew humanity, what it disintegrates into during war. We had lost our jobs, our homes, our husbands, our fathers, our easy conversations, our nights of dreamless sleep.

The rain pelts harder, and the children cry. We look back at the teeming rafts behind us; one more into the incoming storm, then two, and then three. Each raft more crowded than the last. We turn away from them. We keep our gaze on Lesbos.

Our bodies press together, easily a hundred mothers and children. The waves crash over our heads, and we bounce up, they crash again, and throw us under. The sea is grey, then darker and vicious and the boat surrenders. Crashing cold fills our skin. We push our bodies off, and we breaststroke. Our bones dissolve into saltwater. Our skin is shriveled, but by now we are wizened mythical creatures, and our children have webbed feet and arms that have become strong fins. The sea cradles us in her cupped palm, and then she spits us all forward.

Lighthouse above waves
057/365 – Stormy Evening, cropped, by Take a Squiz Photography. CC license.

Tara Lindis
Tara Lindis is from Portland, Oregon and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family. She has a MA in Literature from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has attended the One Story Writers Workshop, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Book Project. She can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.

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