MARICI

 

Sasha was a woman who seemed ordinary to everyone, but extraordinary to herself. She performed her job as a teacher without much enthusiasm, but with a modicum of success: she was good at pretending that all was well, and at convincing others that they were more competent than they really were. Her marriage was a sort of mobile desert. Wherever the two of them went, everything seemed dry. Since there was neither sweet nor sour water anywhere, the desert stayed as it was.

Until one day. For some time, Sasha had been experiencing a sort of tingling down both sides, between her arm-pit and her waist. It was as though something was trying to get out, and, nervously, she wondered what it was. There was a pulsating beneath the skin, and in the mirror she could she the little lumps moving, rather in the way a pregnant belly roils and heaves when near term. The lumps were in a row, three on each side, equally spaced. One day she felt a splitting sensation, and with her arms raised, watched aghast in the mirror as three holes opened up down each side. Out of each orifice emerged a tiny hand and arm.

 

They were the size of children’s hands at first. But as Sasha consumed food, all the nutrients seems to be directed to the hands and arms, and they grew apace. After about three months, they were full women’s size. And they were dextrous. She realised very soon that they were like her first hands, in that she could easily direct them. One of them could thread a needle and sew: one of them could dust: one of them could paint.  Initially Sasha found her new body monstrous, and she made clothing- caftans, cloaks - to hide it.  Her nightdresses became ever more voluminous, to conceal her new arms from her husband. But then she realised that they were a great gift, that she could do a lot more things than before, and that she needed to see what others thought of them.

 

So one hot day, she went to the beach. She had wrapped a sarong round her waist, and one of the livelier hands tied a nice bow. She sat cross-legged on a rock and removed her top. At once there was a scream from the crowd on the beach, as they saw all the arms waving like a sea-anemone. They seemed to think she was not a freak of nature, but a message to them from somewhere unearthly. The crowd fetched a chair and carried Sasha to the central square in the little town. 

 

To them, she was a Goddess, a symbol of the many-armed potential of female nature. She didn’t feel like that herself: if she was  a deity, why did she feel so hungry and thirsty? The crowd, calling her “Marici”, brought her piles of delicacies. Sweet drinks, nuts, sandwiches, small tender slivers of meat, nuggets of cheese. Her new  hands reached out and grasped them all, and conveyed them to her mouth - a mouth that was seemingly never satiated. As time went on, Marici (Sasha now began to call herself that) became the focus of an entire cult.  The attention was nice, but now and again she needed to be on her own, and (tiresomely enough) her husband was seeking some status as partner of the Goddess. She let it be known, though, that the single state was a sine qua non for divine personages. Marici did not wish to share her throne with anyone, and so her husband was encouraged to live in a nice house outside of town.

 

So far so good. Increasingly, though, Marici came to feel that she was all take and no give. To the discomfiture of her acolytes, she withdrew from everyone’s eyes for a little while. And then something strange happened again. Sitting quietly in her room, or lying on her damask bed, she began to feel a tickling sensation between her breasts and her waist. This time the transformation was different. Gradually, a row of little breasts budded out beneath her own. Three on each side, and they swelled until they matched her own. She had become Cybele the many-breasted. 

 

When Cybele showed herself to her followers, her new breasts responded to them. They began to ooze milk. Fastidious as ever, she was worried about staining and mess (by this time she was wearing some very expensive clothes) and so she beckoned one of her acolytes to staunch the flow. One on each side nuzzled her teats and drank from her. They seemed to enjoy it, as far as she could tell; certainly they claimed a sort of magical sustenance from her. It seemed she was a fountain that could never run dry.

 

This suckling from the many-armed mother became a huge series of social rituals. Cybele was carried in triumph from town to town, and those deemed to be most in need drank from her. But even Goddesses get bored by adulation. Once she had been upset that she took too much: now she feared that she gave too much. For the second time, she withdrew into her room, to the dismay of her followers. 

 

After a few blessedly quiet days, she began to feel a sharp pain in her shoulder-blades. It was agonisingly acute, and she thought that perhaps even Goddesses might die of change. But the pain was accompanied by a sort of feathering or  rustling. Rising from her couch, she looked over her shoulder at the large mirror, and saw that she had sprouted a pair of wings. 

 

Like the arms and the breasts, they were tiny at first. But they soon grew. And as she kept to her seclusion, they became huge, as big as her whole body. They were the same colour as her own flesh - a sort of pinky-beige - and had a range of feathers. Some were large and strong, some were downy and ticklish. Gradually, secretly, she began to practice flight.

 

After some time, she went on to the balcony to see her people, who were waiting patiently for her. There they stood in the sun, giving little soft moans, as though they knew what was to come. She kissed her hand to them, climbed onto the parapet, flexed her wings and soared away. They cried, of course, since she had left them. But as she flew on, she realised she had never known sweetness like it. The mountains she saw ignored her: the rain that fell  was sublimely unaware of her: the moon shone on her whether she willed it or not. Her time as a Goddess was done.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |