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Miss Violet May from the Twelve Thousand Lakes

Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. In addition to Daily SF, her stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first fantasy novel, Ironskin (Tor 2012), was nominated for a Nebula, and the sequel Copperhead is now out from Tor. She narrates for Podcastle and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake, and her website is tinaconnolly.com.

All us fellas loved Miss Violet May, right from the start. She came from the land of Twelve Thousand Lakes, came click-clacking on the train from North to South till she met worthless Sorry Joe Weevily, and he sweet-talked her into getting off and marrying him.
We'd never seen a girl from that far north before. Course, them northern girls ...sometimes you don't see them at all, ain't that what they say? Leastways that's what I always heard. That them Twelve Thousand Lakes was fulla nothing but ghosts, spirits drifting around from one fingerling lake to the next.
But not our Miss Violet May. She was corn-fed and milk-plump and her eyes twinkled like little pats of butter, set just so. She was promised to Sorry Joe, or she wouldn't a gotten off that train. But that didn't stop us fellers from falling over ourselves, handing out sweets like we were made of chocolate, watching those little butter pat eyes smile kindly, seeing those dimpled elbows wave us on with a friendly bent to them.
If I'd known the truth about the girls from the north, I woulda looked long and hard at those dimpled elbows, cause they were the first things to go.
She and Sorry Joe weren't married a fortnight before I saw it. It was the middle a summer when the sun beats something fierce, hotter than anything she'd had up north, and all the women stop caring too much about who sees what and rolls their sleeves above the elbows. She'd been doing that, but of a sudden one day she stopped, and kept her wrists buttoned tighter 'n tight.
I shouldn't a noticed, I know. I couldn't stop looking at Miss Violet May and wishing I'd been the one on that train. It wasn't just that she was pretty--there were pretty girls in the town--it was the way she smiled at you, like you could set down at her knee and cry about your favorite cow that went sick and she wouldn't laugh at you for it. Not that I did that that summer I thought old Bessie weren't gonna make it, but I knew I could, somehow.
A week after that and she was wearing her collar buttoned up real high. Heat wave of hundred and eight and there's that pretty collar buttoned up with white buttons and that butter pat twinkle, well, it ain't exactly there no more.
Two weeks more and she's wearing gloves. Even the ladies noticed that. They thought she was being uppity, some northern fashion they didn't know, but I heard the tremble in her voice.
But the week she started wearing scarves is the week I found her down by Frog Holler. She was pacing round the crick, staring in a way that was worse than crying her eyes out, if you know what I mean. I never reckoned I was all that good at understanding, but I suppose I was better than Sorry Joe, come to that.
She turned when she saw me, and in that heat, all alone, she had her sleeves all undone. That's when I saw it.
Or, rather, didn't see it.
Miss Violet May was missing her left arm from her shoulder to her wrist.
She saw me looking, even though I wrenched my eyes away from that tender bit faster 'n fast. "It's okay, Sam," she said. "You can touch it. It's still there. Just... invisible."
I didn't touch it, not out of disgust but because I knew everything I felt about her would all come out in the way the finger hit the skin and then she'd know, and I had too much respect for her to do that. So I just said, real gentle like I'd say to Bessie, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Her eyes fell like maybe I was disgusted by her, but I didn't know how to correct that, and she quick rolled down her sleeve and dashed it over her eyes and said, "You've probably heard we're all ghosts up north in the land of Twelve Thousand Lakes. It isn't so, Sam. We're as normal as anybody... when we're born." She gently touched her belly as she said, "But every time we're sad, we slip away a bit. Lose a little color. On the day the last bit of color goes, that's the day we vanish for good, and not a minute before nor after." She looked up at me and those eyes that had been like butter pats were melted now. "I guess it happens to everyone, don't it?"
She hurried on home and I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say, which was terrible hard thoughts of anger and sorrow.
Six months later the baby was born. I caught her watching it real close, running fingers over its tender skin. I suppose others thought she was looking for chigger bites but I knew what she was looking for. For one drop of absent, one spot of nothing. I might be a yeller-bellied dog sometimes, but I prayed she wouldn't find it.
We were at a picnic when she saw it. Something didn't suit Sorry Joe--the watermelon was too wet or the whiskey too dry, and I saw him smash a glass, I saw the back of a fist, but mostly what I saw was the terrible pain in Miss Violet May's eyes when she took off one of the baby's socks and found nothing.
She was gone the next morning, and our town was the poorer for it. Miss Violet May and the little one, gone on some milk train, far away from here, back to a land where the lakes spill out across the plains.
Sorry Joe raged, of course, raged and apologized to the sky, but for all his moping around, I saw a twinge of relief in his eyes.
That was a year ago. Old Bessie died over the winter, and there ain't much that keeps me here, out on this hot parched land where the sun beats the color out of everything.
I hear there's water up north. Not many folks go that way. They're scared of the stories they've heard.
But sometimes you gotta do something you're scared of, before you fade away for good.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Author Comments

One of my favorite books as a kid was Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories. I remember reading at the time that he had wanted to create fairy tales for his kids that would have an American feel. I have a small handful of these weird west flash pieces that are inspired by my love for that book--I need to collect them eventually. I recently ran another of them, "Zebedee the Giant Man," on Toasted Cake.

- Tina Connolly
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