4 of 5 stars.
Gender-dysphoria is mythologized and personified in this quixotic tale that melds the notion of a gender being trapped in the wrong body with the body-morphic longing rife in sea mythos.
Kit has run away from her home for a sailor’s life at sea, which entails clipping her hair short and posturing as a male to fit in. A shipwreck with a single survivor upends Kit’s life, as the woman brought aboard proves to be a sea-witch that sees through Kit’s disguise. The witch transforms her own gender and offers Kit the same ability to vacillate freely across the genders, but she must pick up the ghostly burden of another each time this happens. For Kit, this means experiencing multiple lives, cyclically and confusingly as he, she, he finds life always leading to the churning, drowning sea.
Once upon a time, Kit was short for Katherine, and she ran away home. The ship she crewed on was caught in a terrible storm; everyone on board drowned. Once upon a time, Kit was the nickname of Jonathan Kitterage, first mate on a crew seeking passage to India. The ship was beset by pirates, and finding it empty of valuables, they scuttled it, sinking it with all hands aboard. Once upon a many times, Kit was only Kit–a child who could breathe underwater, a drowned man risen up from the waves, a woman standing behind lighthouse rails overlooking the sea.
Kit starts to find notes in his room letting her know of these lives. The supernatural starts to set in as one tale is of a mermaid longing for life above the water:
With a final spasm of my entire body, shocking me from the sea, I came, foam-flecked, to lie upon the shore. And there, with my honed shells, I opened myself. Blood ran as I slit myself wide.
Next, she is a selkie that wonders “at a being that could live its whole life inside only one skin” as it transforms from seal to human and back. Finally, he is the goddess, Sedna, that feels one with the sea, but the sea is barren. Sedna must be mutilated by her father and husband for the sea to gain life in the form of fishes, and whales, seals and eels.
The extremes of the dysmorphia depicted is astounding in its breadth. This tale is highly recommended.
This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “Letters to a Body on the Cusp of Drowning” first appeared in Thirteen: Stories of Transformation edited by Mark Teppo (Underland Press, 2015).
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