The Naiad (When the Willow Ceases to Weep)

by Zenya Hendricks

Snaking through the water grass is a maiden. Behind her, sprawled like a collapsed sheep, is her clothing, and just far enough from the water’s edge that the waves cannot lick them, a pair of sandals neatly point towards the centre of the spring. The water is a dark green, as if the pine trees lining the shore all bent over and shook off their mantles, their colour leeching into the water. The maiden pushes through it, and each time her feet touch the pond bottom, silt blossoms up around them like an ant-eaten peony allowed to bloom. She passes the lily pads breathing gently beside the reeds, their silken eyes closed to the dark, and then she stops, and she waits.

Before her, a woman rises out of the moonstruck water, the edges of her nakedness fraying into a shimmering, rippling haze. Her dark seaweed-hair clings to her. She smiles, close-lipped over her fish’s teeth, small and sharp – the maiden only knows they exist because she has felt them with her tongue. The air hangs low over their bodies, heavy with damp heat and the reverent perfume of the pines.

The maiden closes her eyes as the naiad steps towards her, and then she is kissing her throat, and water drips from each spot as she pulls away, trickling down the maiden’s neck like sap from between the ridges of tree-bark. The woman’s fingers are thin, soft, and her touch sends cold gasping into all the fissures of the maiden’s body.

“I’ve been waiting for you, my love,” the naiad says, in a voice made of the hushed swishing of dried reeds and the calls of lingering cranes.

The maiden’s sigh is a grateful breeze.