ALLEN C Jones is an award-winning poet and writer and is associate professor of English Literature and Culture at University of Stavanger, Norway. His novel Her Death Was Also Water tells the story of seven people trying to survive on a small boat in a world completely transformed by an apocalyptic flood. Read on for an extract.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A mixture of apocalypse, high-seas adventure, and otherworldliness, Her Death Was Also Water tells the story of seven people trying to survive on a small boat in a world completely transformed by an apocalyptic flood. Haunted by entwined pasts, the characters must voyage from a small Midwestern town through a world that seems increasingly fantastic. Each will face their past, and some will die, and the boat will even float through the miraculous, but only fifteen-year-old Charlotte will discover that death is not always death. Sometimes, it is also water.
Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness meets Yann Martel’s magical realism as a young woman discovers a sense of adventurous possibility in a world that has taken nearly everything from her.
Something moves behind Charlotte, and she turns around, sure she felt a ghostly hand petting her shoulder. A chill runs across her neck, but there is nothing there.
She turns back to the mirror and sees that water is running from a series of cracks in the wall behind her, as if it’s a dam about to burst. She braces herself, expecting the wall to collapse. Instead, the cracks keep dividing and reconnecting until they form the shape of a girl, who proceeds to step out of the wall, a faceless mass of roiling liquid, dark as oil. Her icy breath gusts over Charlotte’s neck. Charlotte screams.
Julia immediately screams also and flips on the light, laughing hysterically.
‘OMG you scared me,’ she says. ‘We didn’t even get to say Bloody Mary!’
Charlotte’s spine is so cold it feels brittle, like it’s been dipped in dry ice. She has the sense that if she leans just a little bit to one side, she will shatter. Star-shaped shadows flicker across her vision, and she focuses on the edge of the sink, standing perfectly still so she won’t lose her balance.
‘Are you dizzy?’ Julia asks, pulling her into a hug. ‘Did you drink enough water today?’
‘I was just kidding around,’ Charlotte says, unable to keep her voice from quivering.
‘You deserve an Oscar,’ Julia says. ‘I’ve never seen you look so freaked out.’ She giggles a little but stops when Charlotte doesn’t respond.
‘I thought I saw something in the mirror,’ Charlotte says, staring down at Julia’s bare feet, her perfect toes, the nails thick with tangerine polish.
‘There’s nothing there,’ Julia says, gesturing to the mirror.
‘I know,’ Charlotte says, looking up.
The bathroom has disappeared. There are no pink tiles, no mirrors, and no sink. Julia’s house has evaporated completely. Charlotte stands alone on a wide, bare cliff overlooking the sea. A light breeze blows tawny dust, fine as powder, over her shoes. The air is heavy with the scent of brine.
Rose stands three paces in front of Charlotte, facing the sea, her toes nearly touching the cliff’s edge. She is barefoot, fists planted on her hips, her yellow sundress whipping forward in the wind so it outlines her body, like a sail trying to pull her over the edge. Charlotte calls her name, but Rose does not move, standing perfectly still, except for her exceptionally long toes that curl and uncurl in the dust.
Rose was always proud of her dexterous toes, and she used to show off, holding pencils and silverware, claiming that if she lost her arms it wouldn’t matter. At dinner, she would reach under the table and untie Charlotte’s shoes. Charlotte let her do it, loving the way her sister’s toes tickled across her own, loving the secret intimacy of the game, their parents asking what was so funny as the sisters giggled uncontrollably, refusing to tell.
Charlotte stares at her sister, only distantly aware of Julia, who squeezes her hand now and says something Charlotte can’t make out.
‘Didn’t you say you had more ice cream?’ Charlotte whispers, keeping her eyes on her sister.
Rose’s dress is incredibly bright, as if it emits its own yellow light. The breeze is bathwater warm and smells of summer. A hawk shrieks somewhere and a bird-shaped shadow flits over the cliff’s edge. A single vaporous line dives toward the horizon, either a strangely symbolic cloud or a contrail. It looks like a stroke of chalk blown sideways in the wind.
‘I’m going to get you a glass of water,’ Julia says.
Charlotte nods without looking, only vaguely aware of Julia heading off toward the kitchen.
‘I spent weeks putting up fliers,’ she says to Rose. ‘I would have stayed out all night, but Mom and dad wouldn’t let me.’ She pauses, waiting for her sister to turn. Rose doesn’t move. Even her toes grow still.
‘That was your favourite dress,’ Charlotte says. ‘I haven’t forgotten.’
There is no mistaking the vision before her. This is precisely the vista from the top of her dream tower. She takes a step forward, thinking to tell this to Rose. I have dreamt this all before, she will say, except in the dream I was always alone when I stood on top of that tower, and now I have you.
She bumps into something, looks down, and finds a sink. She looks up and Rose is gone. The sea is also gone. Charlotte stands alone in a watermelon pink bathroom, a row of bright track lights revealing a face so pale, she barely recognizes it. The face stares at her, brow furrowed, eyes wide with either hope or fear.