The Salt in Her Kiss’, Malena Salazar Maciá
(translation Toshiya Kamei)

Illustrations © 2020 Jason Baltazar

 [ en grilletes, ©2020 Jason Baltazar ] Her dark eyes gleamed with a magnetic light. Her unruly black hair flickered like a storm on the high seas. Her agile fingers moved like spiders’ legs sliding across silvery webs. Her moon-pale complexion had been kissed by the stars. Ligeia was the very image of strange beauty. She received compliments whenever she came into contact with other human beings.

However, those occasions were few, because ever since her birth, her grandfather had hidden her in a forest as impenetrable as a jungle and so inconsequential that no one had bothered to name it or mark it on maps. So Ligeia never knew what the sea was. She was dying to find out more about the ocean she had heard about. Her grandfather’s responses, however, always failed to extinguish her curiosity. “Just water. That’s all.”

To get away from her persistent pleas, the old man slung his shotgun over his shoulder and left home with the excuse of hunting for food. He also had a fierce urge to scare off the potential suitors who dared come closer to contemplate his granddaughter. The maiden hidden in the forest. Ligeia, with shackles on her ankles, remained among embroideries, furs, bird trills, and pots with dull flowers in the windows. Alone, with her intricate thoughts, fables of a possible sea. The only known source of water was a lake that spread next to her cabin house. She was allowed to go near the water only during her daily cleaning when her grandfather held her chains. The limits of the very poor reservoir, and its sweet liquid, seemed to Ligeia too insubstantial to quench her skin’s thirst.

Her grandfather always smelled funny. He didn’t smell like forest, earth, rain, or wild beasts. Much less, lake water. When he returned from the hunt with strings of meat hanging behind his back and the blood-caked knife, the stench became unbearable. She asked about the smell she failed to identify.

“It’s blood,” her grandfather replied. “Nothing else.”

And he went to the lake to wash the pieces of meat and himself and rub his body with rags until the smell faded into stale old age. While roasting the meat in the fire, he spoke of the dream of a broken cycle, the pain of distance, and perverse temptations. How tired he was of fulfilling his own and others’ wishes.

The day her grandfather fell ill, Ligeia was released from her shackles. She carried a sprig of juniper to his bed. A wreath of wild flowers. A bunch of jonquils. She didn’t run away, nor did she shout for help to the trees. She took the old man’s withered hand and began her vigil. One night, away from the claws of delirium that accompanied his fever, her grandfather grabbed her clothes and brought her close to his lips.

“Beware of those who smell of salt and iodine. Don’t drink from the foam on the shore. Don’t let some rough hand taint your body. Don’t give yourself to a song that devours reason! Break the cycle!”

Frightened, Ligeia held her grandfather’s disease-ravaged face. The saliva in his mouth was black like the depths of a well. It stank. Not the smell of a dying animal, but an unfamiliar stench. The scent dug into Ligeia like an imprint and entranced her into a limbo that rejected the touch of death.

She came to her senses at the moment when the life flickered out of the old man’s eyes.

The girl closed her grandfather’s eyelids. She wept bitter tears until the candle flame died out and the sun sketched through the thicket. She buried him between the lake and the cabin, with wild flowers adorning his head and a juniper pressed into his hand. She sprayed the earth with water, blood, and tears. She erected a dolmen with stones from the path. No longer attached to the land that saw her grow up, as free as she could be at age fifteen, Ligeia made her way through the forest.

Once she arrived in town, she was shocked by the development of the world, which wouldn’t come to a halt for her sake. So different from the simplicity of her cloistered life. She saw people talk through glass devices. In store windows, men and women were trapped in boxes, doomed to entertain the crowds who cheered them with hysteria. Houses offered excess food to satisfy the gluttony of pedestrians more concerned with looking at their shoes than the sky. Colorful metal beasts with human-filled stomachs dashed to reach their destinations on fast-moving circular legs.

Ligeia, deprived of all understanding because of her isolation and lies disguised as gentleness, felt overwhelmed and sought shelter in the shade of a tree, the only object familiar in the middle of a new chaotic world.

Poets would say that the reason for approaching a young maiden was her neck gracefully set in her beautiful shoulders. Troubadours would blame the feeling of seeing an innocent helpless creature under a flowering tree. Writers would point out eyes as dark as beetles that danced in their sockets and held mesmeric attraction.

Ligeia learned the truth, however, some time later when she stepped away from the safety of her tree and onto the yellow gravel for the last time. It was so simple that, if she had known it at that moment, she’d have let out the loudest laugh until she ran out of breath.

The man next to her watched her with the innate curiosity of young children not yet exposed to the cruelty of the universe. Without asking permission, he raised her in his arms, as if raising a holy object, and abducted her in silence, for words weren’t necessary. The sweat soaking his linen shirt was enough to flood Ligeia’s nose and mind. Her grandfather’s sweat. Indecipherable. Brutal reincarnation of smells.

The man took her to a city of crystal where the sky was rendered invisible, blocked by massive chunks of concrete. He told her his name and gifted her with his surname. He married her on an altar of white flowers with the blessing of a monotheistic priest. He swore to love her until her flesh wore out, idolize her dark eyes and stormy hair, drink from the vital fountain hidden inside, and erect a temple to the curves of her body. He promised to make her the happiest woman on Earth.

“What about the sea?” Ligeia asked. “Will it meet my expectations?”

“It’s just water,” her husband answered. “Nothing else.”

And that response was the only thing she received from him. Offerings never came her way. The man touched other bodies and worshiped other eyes, hair, and curves. He kept Ligeia in her original package, a collection piece condemned to be on a sideboard for him and others to admire. Denied any contact beyond a chaste kiss, greetings, and goodbyes. As much as she burned in her womb, pleaded for a caress, to fulfill his perjured duties, he replied, “We must break the cycle.”

Then he abandoned her to spill his seed in distant temples.

Until the day Ligeia escaped.

She fled the city through others’ charitable acts. What guided her was no longer the dream of living together with the man who had severed her from the land that saw her born, but the desire to see the ocean. Because seeing it through digital images seemed as bland as the lake next to her cabin, as neither explanation nor concept satisfied her curiosity.

A kind-hearted couple took Ligeia to a place whose buildings didn’t taint the sky and was more than two kilometers away from the nearest town. The air blew away the penetrating smell of her grandfather and her unfaithful husband. Behind a retaining wall bitten by high tide and storms, spread a reef coast strewn with sandy debris.

Stepping on the yellow gravel injected a new meaning into the known universe.

Walking on remains of shells, dead crabs, and slippery stones revived what was once an empty husk.

Taking a gulp of the water caressing her feet quenched her thirst.

She walked across the reef with uncharacteristic agility. As if instead of growing up chained in a lakeside cabin, she had been brewed in the warmth of the sand to come to the surface, coated with mucus, in a race for life.

 [ en el océano, ©2020 Jason Baltazar ] Ligeia dipped herself in the ocean, as elegant as a sea animal. Her breathing stirred with each step. She was feverish. The sea integrated her. It claimed her as part of its property. The daughter lost in the forest at last returned to her origins. With a thousand transparent hands it gave her matchless caresses. The fire in her lower abdomen was fanned. She kissed the foam. She got drunk. A distant call echoed in her ears, a song that pronounced her name, but she didn’t want to look.

Ligeia opened herself to the sea and was flooded.

She touched her own body as if it were a newly discovered object. Her fingertips, with traces of wrinkles, snaked under her dress and became entangled in her pubic hair. She rubbed her swollen intimacy with rehearsed movements. She delved into her own flesh once, twice, thrice, an infinite number of times. She unclogged herself to salt and iodine. Her heat wasn’t alleviated by the waters that, like fickle lovers, possessed her entire being.

As Ligeia submerged, she opened her mouth and swallowed salt water. She couldn’t breathe.

The oxygen stung her throat.

She thought, at first, that the sea provided its duty to the faithful like her. But the velvety contact, the pressure of a tongue in search of refuge inside her mouth, shattered the image. She opened her eyes.

The mermaid kissed her.

She tasted like salt and iodine.

Her gaze contained the depths of the ocean’s abyss. Her blue-green scaled fishtail swayed in the water’s flow with a hypnotic cadence. The creature with a human torso ripped off Ligeia’s clothes. The mermaid stroked Ligeia’s turgid breasts before biting her nipples, waist, and belly button. She sucked the divine nectar in her pubis. They became entangled in a maelstrom of pleasure, dragged by the current to the sand of the coast.

They lay between the foam. They loved each other under the mute amazement of the moon and its blanket of stars. Ligeia groaned her gratitude for the gift so long denied. First, the mermaid came in the form of a cold dagger, devouring her innards. Then she traveled across the pathway between Ligeia’s thighs more effectively than any eager tongues or rough fingers. Stinging a thousand times, she injected a cluster of fertile beads in Ligeia’s womb.

Ligeia contracted in pain, but later she was relegated to oblivion. She accepted the mermaid’s offering that came and went on her body as the waves caressed the shore. She didn’t know how many times she was possessed by an orgasmic limbo, but when she no longer had the strength to move or feel, the creature kissed her lips and vanished in the tide.

Ligeia woke up at dawn. She wasn’t worried about her own nakedness, nor did her clothes lying torn among the reefs concern her. Upon rising, her legs trembled as if they had resolved to cease to belong to dry land and cry out for the buoyancy of the ocean.

For hours, she sat on the stones with the water hitting her hips. She wished scales would grow on her and gills would be opened in her neck. She wanted to listen to the song that was her name, smell the announcement of salt and iodine, and discern a lush woman’s torso on the surface and the splash of a blue-green fishtail.

Ligeia wanted to make love to the mermaid again on a bed of seaweed.

However, at nightfall, it wasn’t the creature that emerged from the shadows, but a man with a rough gait and a fierce gleam in his eyes. He was followed by a second, then a third, and a fourth. They wheezed. It was easy to see their erect members under their clothes. They smelled like her husband when he would go whoring—just like her grandfather when he came home from hunting. With his knife smeared with blood, he would breathe hard and talk about breaking cycles.

The strangers didn’t introduce themselves. They didn’t explain why they gathered in such a remote place. These men showed no sign of amazement at her nakedness nor did they praise her mesmeric beauty. They emitted primitive guttural grunts. They swirled at the feet of the object of their desire and pounced on each other with the violence of males vying for a female in heat.

Ligeia took refuge in the upper part of the reefs, next to the retaining wall. Blood and mucus trickled between her thighs. From there, she contemplated the macabre dance of the beast men. Their flesh was torn with nails, teeth, bumps, stones, sharp pieces of shells. With unknown strength they broke bones, gnawed necks, threw entrails into the sea to feed the fish.

The last man standing gave a triumphant roar as he raised a severed head from what was once one of his contenders. He placed it at Ligeia’s feet. He crawled on the stones, not caring about the wounds. He kissed the girl’s fingers one by one, sipped the thread of blood to sink his face into the receptacle of life made flesh.

She gave herself to him because the man smelled like a mermaid.

But there was no foreplay. No caresses, no kisses, no mating to the whims of the tides. They copulated like two stray dogs in the shadow of the wall. Only grunts, without elegance, rushed to perpetuate the species. The man whose vigor was no match for the sea creature’s was exhausted as soon as he spilled his seed inside Ligeia.

He abandoned her lying among rocks and seaweed. The stench of salt and iodine was beginning to become unbearable. Ligeia had no strength to ask him to stay. She focused on keeping her legs closed so that nothing else escaped.

Ligeia didn’t leave the lonely coast town. She had no desire to go back to the city of crystal and get back with her husband determined to break a cycle bigger and stronger than all the children of the sea lost on land. Neither cold nor humidity affected her. She drank salt water to keep her from getting dried inside. She fed on crabs, little fish, and torn bits of the men who once courted her.

As the days went by, something inside her grew at a speed that didn’t coincide with the human gestation period. Her own as well as someone else’s. It disgusted her, but she loved it nonetheless. The fruit of her ménage à trois. Her belly swelled, and she pushed out unfertilized eggs in puddles of putrid blood. It devoured the rest of its siblings inside her womb in the same way she fed herself on the remains of her male counterparts.

As the creature grew inside her, Ligeia began to lose herself.

After six days, on a full moon night, Ligeia felt stabs of labor pains. She settled into the stony niche where she used to sleep, next to the wall, with a sandy path to the water. She spread her legs open toward the sea.

She screamed.

She pushed.

Her strength waned in each attempt. The creature inside her fluttered with the vivacity of someone who yearned to devour the world. Ligeia felt her legs were no longer hers. Neither her body nor her mind. It was a small being, the strongest in the nest, in search of an exit from the red liquid where its siblings’ entrails floated. Later she became a mermaids’ lover, who mated with men and gave birth on a lonely coast.

She screamed!

She pushed!

The creature peeked between a pair of fleshy lips surrounded by a tangled bush of hair. It reeked of salt and iodine. It fluttered with more force. The head came out. Then the arms. The blue-green tail. It fell on the yellow gravel, half blind, clumsy. The air slashed the spiracles of its nose. The umbilical cord attached it to the old body. When its vision cleared, it could see useless, agonizing human larva lying on the reefs. It devoured the umbilical cord, and the connection with its former being was broken.

The reborn mermaid Ligeia, coated with a thin layer of mucus, forgot herself as she crawled through the yellow gravel in a race for life.

© 2020 Malena Salazar Maciá; translation © 2020 Toshiya Kamei

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