O. J. Cade is a rarity in this day and age: a writer without much of an internet presence. Still, given recent events in getting to know people online, sometimes it’s refreshing to just sit back and enjoy someone’s fiction.
One summer, the two older sisters began to share their nights with more than the eels, and came back with flushed faces and their slippers danced through. “The eels called for you,” said the youngest sister. “They were hungry, and they called.”
“We are all hungry sometimes,” said the oldest sister.
(Her slippers were the colour of mother-of-pearl and oyster; tiny sea shells appliquéd in swirls along the edge of the vamp. When she slid them off they left ridged impressions like scales in her skin.)
“You can feed them too if you like,” said the middle sister.
(Long embroidered ribbons shot through with gold wrapped around her slippers as if she were a ballet dancer; bound her ankles until they were swollen and pink beneath the silk.)
“But I am the youngest, and it’s my job to be different,” said the youngest sister, trying to make a joke of it.
(Her feet were flat and torn with salt from the smoking shed, and slippers rubbed the raw flesh to bleeding. She stayed home, shoes kicked under the bed, and bathed her sore feet in milk and peppermint.)
“It’s your job to be difficult,” said her sisters, and went to cool their feet in the eel pond.
The next night, the youngest sister woke to her name—a breathy, splashy call from the eel pond. (Sophie.) She was again alone in the house, and the singing would not stop. (Sophie, Sophie…) When her sisters came home, their slippers once more danced through, they found the youngest in her bed, but though her head was hidden under the pillow as usual, her hair was wet and there were bites on her thighs and a new eel for smoking.
Tenderly, the oldest sister cleaned the bites with cotton wool and antiseptic, bandaged them up with soft rags and let her sister lean against her as she fed her brandy and willow bark. “I remember the first time I went eeling,” she said. “It was a shock for me too.”
(She remembered how her heart had pounded at the sight of the gleaming bodies, the fascination she had felt at the writhing, sinuous eels thick as her own calves—so different from the segmented insects and the fragile moth wings of her childhood.)
Carefully, so not to tug at the tangles, the middle sister combed out the wet hair, squeezed it with fluffy towels until it was dry, braided it gently with her own red ribbons. “I remember the first time I went eeling,” she said. “It will be better next time.”
(She remembered how her legs had trembled at the first brush of the wet skin against her flesh, how she had sunk to her knees in the dark water and rubbed her face against the warm flanks of the eels, her hair floating on the surface and covering their faces as well as her own.)
“I don’t remember anything,” said Sophie.