photo of pier at Panama City, Florida

Smyrna by JP Reese

I never think about those women anymore, except maybe one young one from time to time. It was funny the way some of the women thought about those babies. You think they would want to be rid of them, having come to them the way they did. You figure after a while there’s no understanding these people.

The screaming at night, even before they all got to the pier, back in the Greek quarter when the Turks came at them, and then months later, the fight to hang onto the products. Any sane woman wouldn’t waste time getting rid of the things, bad memories. You’d just hand over the sack of trouble and move on. Strange to want to hang onto them. It was hard to understand. Different blood in their veins, you’d suppose. Greek.

I do remember that young, pretty one, as far as that word could be used about those we brought on board the ship, what with the flesh tight against bones and the black head covers and such. She hid in the dark like the others. Didn’t make noise. I was busy. I saw her scuttle in. Forgot her.

A few days later she came past me. Hurried past me along the foredeck where I stood. Looked like she was clutching some sort of bundle. She looked up at me for a second. You could say her eyes looked strange, haunted I suppose would be a good way you could put it. But then she went by and you caught the smell! It was something, to catch that smell.

Well, I ordered the midshipman to just get after it and not to wait. I can still hear her screaming. The fellow pulled it away and dumped the thing into the harbor. Just tugged it out of her arms and threw it over the side into the harbor. She must have been crazy–only idea that seems to fit why she jumped in after. You hang onto something like that for days? Lovely. Jump after it into that filthy water?

Broke her neck on some wooden thing when she hit. Snapped her own neck for a bundle of rotted flesh. I was doing her a favor, all right. A kindness. You can be positive of that, but I hardly ever think about it now.

And the harbor? Well, by this point it was so full of floating things you figure one or two more shouldn’t matter. Shouldn’t change anything this way or that. We left her there, bumped up against the side of the pier. All those nice things floating in the water. Her skirts floating around her like black wings drifting on that oily surface, rainbowed with a halo of petrol… but I hardly think about it anymore at all.

Turn up the music a bit, will you? Let’s dance.

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JP Reese is Associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press and a guest Fiction Editor for Scissors & Spackle each summer. Many of her poems have been anthologized, and her flash fiction has won awards. Reese’s second poetry chapbook, Dead Letters, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press.

Lead image“Pier at Panama City, Florida” (via Flickr user Karsun Designs)