NOTE: The magical voyage of Gray and her friends was originally written up and illustrated with paper in mind; its shaded pencil images are really too detailed for the Web. Color is nice, but I spent a year on those pictures and I want them seen. I'm printing up an edition of FISHERGIRLS--to order, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
But on my last dream-trip, I somehow got myself BORN there.
Oops. More fun to visit. Up close, even Eden has fleas.
I'm not QUITE sure how we looked. Long noses ears legs and tails, gray fur and grace--but were we feline, canine, or more like lemur or aardvark people? My visual memory's even fuzzier than WE were. I think our eyes weren't shape-oriented. Glitter and motion drew me, like a cat. Sound and touch and smell...
I've tried to draw my life honestly, but when it comes to how things LOOKED exactly, my story stew is a little skimpy on memory fish. Mostly just the thin broth of guesswork.
But what we did and said and felt--that's not made up. It happened and I'll never forget.
This tale is true.
So here we are. I'm the one dancing of course. You can call me Gray. I guess you can see why--plain tan-gray and white coat, except a few flank dapples, sigh. Who said beauty is but fur deep? The best volcano goddesses always wear gray and white--fertile ash and precious rainclouds--but tell THAT to your agemates and see how many prawns it gets you.
The others are my two best friends. No, dive all the way down, Gray! My ONLY friends.
That's Leaf up the tree, hiding behind her tail as usual. She's the youngest of us three, small and thin and very shy... but she's also the only person I know who's smarter than me, especially in math. She wants to be a navigator, though even her teacher laughs at her. "Girls aren't spatial thinkers."
Under the tree, playing her ammonite harp (it's made from a big Nautilus shell) is our best friend, Atoll--because her spots are hollow swirls like atoll-maps. She's, I don't know, our big sister I guess. The wise one. Well, the FIRST glyph I was going to paint was "sane." True too. She's not even a total misfit. She gets invited to some parties, even if they just want her there to sing. Of course they don't want HER songs, just traditional dance tunes. They don't know what they're missing! She composes these outrageous new ballads from her dreams. Mystical one verse, absurd the next. She gets lost in composing for days sometimes... like Leaf in her maps and stars.
It's up to me to drag them back into life and adventure. A volcano's job--to spice the soil with ash, spice life with a little chaos sauce.
I don't apologize for how plain we are. We don't wear fine ornaments. No flash and glitter. We're unpopular girls. No one to impress.
You might conclude we're poor.
You might be wrong.
Our village is metal-poor, so things look stone age, but don't be fooled: we're good biologists and ecologists. Other species are lovingly tended (especially if they taste good). Finding a new species wins you a LOT of respect--and we three plan to do it.
For months, Atoll and Leaf and I have been doing crafts and odd jobs, saving up to outfit our own boat, so we can explore the Edge of the World--not a real edge of course, we know the world's a ball (though my grandma tells me the Forest Folk two days inland still have a secret society called the Flat-Earth Cult. No surprise, they're all dumb as frogs in there).
We want to sail unknown tropical seas--and incidentally get away from our relatives.
Coming-of-age quests are nothing unusual, in our town, for boys. If you return, you're a man; if you find a new species or island or fishing bank, you're a hero.
If you don't come back, well, better to lose you now, before you have dimwit cubs. The science elders call it "The survival of the fit test."
But they make fun of us girls for wanting to sail! We're "unfeminine" to work so much and save up our credit--we should spend it on ornaments and dances like normal girls.
One reason we don't go to their parties is that our age-mates snub us--we're below their tideline. But they buy Leaf's featherweaves and my shell jewelry! Even Atoll--when she plays at their dances some people actually tip her a pearl or two like she's not a guest! And she swallows her anger and takes that!
It's for the boat. The boat out.
We finally saved enough to buy this beat-up old fishing boat. The boat-wrights wouldn't give us advice, like they give the boys. "Girls CAN'T sail all the way to the Tropic Edge. You're hard-working cubs; we won't help you die."
So we fix it up ourselves. I don't mind. It's best to know every hair of your own boat.
Some of the boys come out and taunt us. I think they're scared: if we come back with news of a new island or species, it's one less for them to find. We're competitors now--I wouldn't even put it past a few of them to sabotage our boat.
Still... it's pleasant working out here under the sky, away from the old termite mound and all its gossips.
Scraping off limpets I feel like a nursling cub again--tiny on the huge breast of Mother Boat. Shaggy with mussel shells though--scratchier than fur.And not much milk!
Or a lover--boat rolled over purring like a boy who likes you--the keel between my thighs, sun-warmed. Mmm. My own mate! One I can scrape the sharp bits off--the attitudes, the catty remarks... sorry!
The boys here don't want me--at least the way I am.
And I am the way I am.
The popular girls would claw my daydreams to splinters if I were stupid enough to tell them. Boat breasts, lover keels! Silly, useless.
But they're wrong. Dreams keep you working when there's tar on your fur again, and some boy laughing at you up a tree.
Or at least they help me.
We righted the hull, retied the deck, stepped the mast, and the old beast floated, stable and seaworthy. The village gossips just retreated one step. Now it's "Girls are too weak for deepsea sailing, and they can't do the math to navigate on such a long journey."
Right. Leaf's only better than Master Glasseye.
We stock up for the voyage as best we can. nervous, hearing their judgments we're sick, suicidal cubs. Funny how physical things all cooperate, as if Sea Mother welcomes us. The only difficult headwind blows from the mouths of our agemates, and their elders... It's hard to ignore everyone saying you're doomed.
And then, one day, there's no more delaying. Leap in the water, risking death, or live here, safe, in shame.
Then I hear my own Aunt Ragged shout from our stilt house "Come back! You're going to die!"
Thanks for your support, I think. What a relief to leave you all!
Some cubs throw rotten mangos. But... most DON'T. I thought ALL our agemates hissed at what we're doing! Maybe we have silent friends--just with more to lose than we do.
Now we HAVE to come back alive--to find out.
Oh squid guts! It was easier thinking they all hate us!
Hunting new lands is easier than new friends. When you find an island, you KNOW: you can't dance on water! But silent cubs--what are they? Shifting sandbars, soft tidal mud? Or a rich reef, hiding just under those surface girls with all their flash and glitter--a reef of support I never noticed?
Next: Part 2: VOYAGE