by Ori Jay
Content Note: This story refers to and describes death by drowning.
She builds monuments to grief along the silent ocean floor.
Each fallen sailor a spire. Each drowned ship a fortress. The dim landscape speckled with towers of slime and soil and stone.
She gathers her masonry from the slick white cliffs, dotted with caverns and caves. From the hollow skeletons of forgotten coral. From the earth, so far below, where the boiling sea meets the mantle of the world.
She plans. She shapes. And she mourns.
Because the bodies, sucked down into the darkness from the churning waters above — well, they simply never stop.
Sometimes, the storms raging on the surface capsize entire crews, and she spends months at a time toiling, constructing cairns in patterns that spiral, rippling outward into the water where their nameless figures fell.
Sometimes, days and weeks will go by without a single soul finding a twisting path down through the endless tides.
And sometimes, when the sea is calm and bursts of light break through, she will find one who has not quite drowned. Limbs pushing, beating, straining against the impossible weight of the water. Mouths open and sucking in the strangling salt of the sea. Gaze locked on hers, begging and pleading for rescue.
If she could save them, she would. And she has tried, oh so many times.
She used to press her lips to theirs and push the breath from her gills into their waterlogged lungs. She used to heave their sodden bodies across her shoulders and swim for the surface, thrashing her tail against the pressure of the icy depths in the hopes that she might breach the surface in time. She used to pray and plead with whatever gods might be lingering in her forgotten realm to spare just a few — hadn’t the hungry sea claimed enough, for now?
But it’s never been any use. By the time they reach her, the waves have simply taken them too far.
Their blood has gone cold. Their pulses slowed. All the air inside of them gulped up by the thirsty depths.
The only spark left is the reflection of the suffocated sun, echoing in their dying eyes.
And so, day and night, the siren sculpts an unending edifice, building monuments to grief along the silent ocean floor.
© Copyright Ori Jay
Ori Jay (he/they) is a nonbinary Latinx writer, artist, and activist from Portland, Oregon. Their visual art has appeared in exhibitions in Chicago, Denver, and Portland. He is currently working on the book The Life and Times of Trans People for Microcosm Publishing. They can be found on social media at @mxorijay.
Read the Rest of the October Issue
- The Ossuary at Ocean’s End by Marisca Pichette
- Elemental by Marlan Quade Cook
- portrait of a girl in water by Ashley Bao
- A Thousand Souls by Marie Brennan
- Seafloor Skull by Inkshark
- The Ghosts of Mermaids & The Answer Atop Mermaid’s Rest by Coral Alejandra Moore and Cathin Yang
- Awoken by Elyse Russell and Miranda Leyson
- The Abyssal Architect by Ori Jay
- One Last Shriek by Umiyuri Katsuyama
- Merfolks as a Passage from My Thoughts and Doings by Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto
- This Is Your Home by Stefan Slater
- Mermaidsong by Csilla Kleinheincz
- Fish Out of Water: How Mermaids Represent Disabled, Queer Folk Like Me by Melanie Jayne Ashford
- “a sea-like condition” by Felicia Martinez
- This Is You by Kathryn Kania
- Before You Go in Search of Spirits & The Truth They Hear in My Heart by Cathin Yang and Coral Alejandra Moore
- Dreams of Another Life by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers
- Charting the Next Adventure by Meg Frank