**selected as Editors' Pick for Issue One - listen to it here, recorded audibly by Liz Zimmerman**
by Cassondra Windwalker
Sea spray left salt deposits on her thick glasses. She shoved them up her nose and squinted at the flash of white against the volcanic sand. Fingers stiffened with cold pulled the artifact free of its tidal bed.
A fan of snowy eagle feathers.
She looked down the beach, but the other remnants of the carcass must have been swept out to sea or carried off. Idly she wondered how many feathers she would have to collect to lift herself above the waves, to ride the air channels as the raptors did. Instead, she sank onto the wet black sand, her eyes traveling with the wings that dipped and soared over the storm surges.
Somehow the cold made the pain so much worse, but the wind snatched away her gasps and sighs. That was okay – she wanted the pain. She wanted to sink into this agony, hold onto it as she couldn’t hold onto the baby. She hadn’t felt the child come: it was too early to do more than pretend that she could sense some tiny life fluttering in her belly. She needed to at least feel her leaving.
It wasn’t the first time or even the second. She’d known as soon as the cramps had woken her this morning what was happening. She’d crawled quietly away from her sleeping husband, determined that this farewell would not happen in a sterile white room with bloodied white sheets and the cool compassion of strangers. The sea understood loss.
She curled up as she felt blood and tissue draining out of her, through the pad and panties and pajama pants, into the coal-stained sand. Around her lay the remains of other lives, whole colonies of seaweed and sponge, beak-scraped mussel shells, air-drowned jellies, battered crabs. Eagles sparred at the water’s edge, and she wondered which of them would see the midnight sunset tonight and which would not.
Sea Star, she decided. Not the sort of name you could give to a little girl who had to endure lunchrooms and recesses, but perfect for a child whose only time on this earth was draining out into sand and sea and salt. The tide would carry her out onto the secret roads of the ocean, and when her mother walked the shoreline, the child would splash her feet, linger close in the droplets that gathered on her cheeks.
She wrote her daughter’s name in the sand with a broken piece of shell.
By the time she gathered herself up, the tide had turned. Each step back to her car took enormous effort. Her blood seemed to have pooled in her feet, and the longing to lie beside Sea Star’s crumbling name until the icy water pulled her to a hidden bed grew and grew. She fixed her eyes on the feathers clutched in her hand and took one more step. One more. And another.
Her husband was gone to work when she made it home, a cheery red-penned heart propped up against the still-warm coffeepot his morning missive. She laid the eagle feathers beside it.
In the shower, hot water revived her chilled body, washed the last remnants of her child into her drain. Later she would clean the car. Tell her husband.
Now she would curl up, naked and wide-eyed beneath the piles of warm blankets in this bed where babies were made and lost, and count the tide tables in her head.
Cassondra Windwalker collects sea debris and story ideas on the Alaskan coast. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have been published in numerous literary journals and art books. Her novel Parable of Pronouns was released in January 2018, and Bury The Lead will be released in September 2018. She enjoys hearing from fellow readers and writers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.