Fingerbones

Fingerbones

FingerbonesMy novella Fingerbones is now available from Masque Books.

Bones call to bones. Forbidden magic rises. Two women stare death in the eye.
One of the women will perish. The other will discover what it means to be alive.

Colleen Chen over at Tangent Online has this to say about Fingerbones:

This novella is very well done. The characters feel alive, and I was moved by both women’s predicaments without the use of obvious melodrama in the story’s plot points. The writing is even-handed and subtle, with the same sort of inner beauty each of these women exhibited. Fairka is defiant, short-sighted but with strength; and rapidly weakening Nusht has a tenacity to her vision that is fueled by wisdom and compassion. Each woman is hobbled by something they cannot control, and this story shows how they find their peace within a greater matrix of life.

It begins:

Nusht is walking through the graveyard, thinking about ghosts. She stops at her mother’s grave, three round stones in a circle with a fourth on top, each stone as wide as both of her hands put together. This is where her mother’s head reposes, chin tilted back, eyes closed, mouth curved just there, at the corner, where a dimple used to form when she smiled. When the winds come in the late summer season, heralding the onset of endless winter rain, the sands will shift and a foot, or maybe an arm, will be exposed. The limbs will ask questions. How did we get here? Why are we here? Is there no better place for us to rest? The answers, the facts of them, remain buried. Nusht knows only this: her mother is dead, and she is dying. In a month, maybe two, one of these graves will be hers.

Nusht does not want to die. She is not resigned to it. She does not to want to meekly accept her fate, the fate that coalesced yesterday in the shape of her first boil, in the pain of her first headache. One without the other may have spared her. Together they spell the slow decline, the wasting sickness, the sure inevitability of life on Karbesh, which is not a life, but merely a holding pattern, the pattern of waiting and watching and praying to the silent Divines who, it is rumored, sent the women to the island in the first place.

This is Karbesh, the island of ghosts, one of a crescent of islands in the Karbashi archipelago, the farthest island from Karbashi itself and the only one inhabited. One large, parabolic dune borders the sea-facing beach like the half-hump of a sunken camel. Sparse, brown grass spears through its slip-face; between its horns are the graves. Bones wash out to sea and back again. Some never return. This is freedom. This is what the women want. Wash us away, they sing. Wash us clean.

Nusht does not feel dirty. She cannot even say why any one of the women on the island should feel dirty. This, she believes, is the real illness. Even so, Nusht will die. She will lie on her bed in a month or two with seeping sores and dulled eyes, she will cry out in pain sometimes, and other times her lips will swell so badly she’ll be unable to speak. She has seen it happen too many times to shy away from the visions of her own, battered body that keep her awake night after night, when all of the other women and children are sleeping. They do not suffer the same delusion Nusht does, that it doesn’t have to be this way. They sleep soundly, or suffer in their sickness, while Nusht tosses beneath two wool blankets, one hers and one her dead mother’s, sweating as she retraces the pattern of her life, searching for a loophole, for some way out.

It is, perhaps, this delusion that has given Nusht her gift. She discovered it just this morning, on the second day of her plague, when the boil has changed color from red to purple, and the pain in her head has narrowed into one, sharp knifepoint in her left eye. She has, since her mother perished, made this daily pilgrimage to the small pile of stones under which her mother lies. She weaves through the graves, all fifty-four of them, but it is here she stops, beside her mother, gone now these three years, which may as well be an eternity. Nusht misses her mother. She’d been one of the first plague-mothers; she had arrived on Karbesh with the other firsts, and now she is departed with them. Nusht is a second. There are only seconds and thirds on the island now. Nusht will never give birth to a third, she will never give herself to the mute boatmen, not like some of the other women. Why bring a child into this pattern? With the firsts died the knowledge of its origin. Those remaining, like Nusht, only know they were born of ghosts, on the island of ghosts. Perhaps it is not her delusion, after all, that has given her this gift. Perhaps the ghosts themselves are speaking through Nusht, saying, look, we are not yet done with life.


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