It is the second day following Janmashtami. The skies are a restless yellow-white-grey, and the air is warm and still. An eagle shrieks, perched on top of the hairy fig tree growing where the dirt trail from the house to the street bends a corner to the right. There is an occasional chitter of tree lizard tongues. In the shadows beneath the nettle bushes where the millipedes linger in the mush of rain-soaked clay, in the miasma of mosquitoes hovering above the marsh, down the broken asphalt street running through the neighbourhood and at the end of the dirt trail where the youngish figs gather at the feet of the grandmotherly neem and chalta trees, the end-of-August afternoon continues in its slumber. Where the marsh meets a walled compound at the end of the trail, there’s a faint metallic click, like someone toying with a cigarette lighter, repeated several times in distinct beats. It is the sound of Shweta’s silver toe-rings as she taps her feet absently on the red cement floor of her verandah. Those toe-rings used to belong to a woman she only knew for eight days. At the end of those eight days, Shweta made the toe-rings her own.
The child first came to us in the arms of her mother on a day of white-gold sunshine, the sal trees flanking the railway tracks still covered in airy blossoms. The child’s drunken father made displays of courtesy. But not even his habitual ineptitude could ruin the mother’s mood that day. And we waited, under the broad embrace of the cloudless sky; we waited to fold them into ourselves, into our familial air and our buttressed arms. Some days are black storms and rage, some days are hot haze and quiet. But that day had been a momentous one, one that we would remember in the age of trees in the thickets and in the height of the marsh’s damp rising.
August 21, 10:33 AM. A rare morning of blue skies and diamond sunshine of the likes of a day in March. Shweta’s chronic pain had abated a little for the first time in two weeks, and Ratan smiled at her while sweeping the floors. She was in a mood to cook a big lunch complete with tarkari and machher jhal, like her mother used to on the old Sundays when there was money. When she was washing the teacups in the kitchen sink, the front gate latch had banged louder than it had in a year. It was a woman as tall as Ratan, with big sunglasses overshadowing half of her heart-shaped face. Her mouth was large and round, painted brown and pursed broodingly. She wore a white cotton shirt unbuttoned over a black vest, and khaki trousers. She had a large-ish bag slung over her shoulders, and a holster hanging on her left side, somehow embellishing the robust curvature of her hip better than a waist-chain would have. “I’m looking for a place to stay for a week,” she’d said in a clear, authoritative voice. “Do you have a room to rent?”
Her name was Shonali Chakraborty. She said she was a part of some special investigative team working for the police. Shweta had heard and immediately forgotten the name of the investigative team, as if the very memory of it was a terror. But it had compelled her to open the gate and let her in. Shonali had entered, fast and slow at the same time. Fast in the way she’d stepped inside, her boots clattering on the floor, and taken off her sunglasses in one sweep of her hand. Slow in the way she’d taken in her surroundings, paying as much attention to every crack and crevice as if she was a tourist admiring an ancient monument. She thought for a half-minute before taking off her bag and rummaging in it. She took out a darkly gleaming gadget that reminded Shweta partly of the old landline telephone in the bigger sitting room. Shonali had switched it on and touched it to a wall. “Your house is haunted,” she said quietly. “Are you aware of that?”
Shweta had no idea whether the woman was being sincere or not. “Yes,” she said at last.
“You don’t feel uncomfortable living in a house like this?” Shonali asked again, taking back her gadget and looking the wall up and down. “On the edge of a marsh, on the outskirts of a neighbourhood on the other side of the railway station, in a more underdeveloped sector of the town. Do you still get power cuts here?”
“Sometimes,” Shweta had answered. “But this is what my family has left me with. This is all I’ve ever known. I don’t… I’m ill, I don’t have anywhere to go. May I ask, why have you come here? What are you looking for?”
Shonali’s gaze had turned cold for a second before she’d replied, “I’m looking for a man. I have orders to turn him in as soon as I’ve found him. Don’t worry about money. You’ll be paid handsomely for every day of my stay here.”
Shweta hadn’t needed to ask who it was that Shonali was looking for. She knew, and with that knowledge came fear, a live white naked creature struggling in the back of her throat. Her mind went back to the night when Ratan had come to her, and she was filled not with the concern that an imposter had been living with her for a year now, but the dread that he was going to be taken from her.
Ratan had been in the garden when Shonali arrived, but perhaps he’d sensed Shweta’s discomfort with Shonali. Perhaps he shared her fear. In any case, Shweta thought she could see him avoiding their guest. He’d rushed out to the market soon thereafter, and, on his return, spent most of the time pottering about in the garden. Shweta made a fresh kettle of tea while Shonali changed her clothes. In the bigger sitting room, Shonali presided in a wicker chair like a queen while Shweta poured tea out for the three of them. Her fingers trembled a little as she saw, from the corner of her eye, Shonali studying Ratan. Ratan took his cup and went back out to the garden.
“Who is he?” Shonali asked.
Shweta had been expecting the question. “My gardener,” she replied. “Well, he does all sorts of work.”
“How much do you pay him?”
“Thirty rupees a month. I don’t earn a lot, I give him what I can.”
Shonali chuckled. “Finding domestic help at the rate of thirty rupees a month is unthinkable nowadays. How did he agree to that?”
Shweta had taken time to sip her tea and think about her answer. “Well, he’s known me for a fair while. I think he took pity on me. He needed work, I needed someone to clean and run errands.”
“Hmm. How long have you known each other?”
“Since childhood. We used to rent out our ground floor to his family. Then his parents died. The house is a lot for us to manage, so we make do.”
“A haunted house, no less.”
The comment irked Shweta. “How do you know this house is haunted?”
“I have proof,” Shonali replied nonchalantly. “And little haunted corners on the outskirts of neighbourhoods aren’t all that uncommon. Haven’t you felt anything while living here? Some sort of… company?”
“I feel safe enough here.”
“So that’s that.” Shonali paused to take her first sip of tea before asking, “What sort of ill are you? What’s your condition?”
Shweta’s hands had turned cold. Even if she’d been able to explain away Ratan’s presence, nothing she said about her illness would convince anybody. “I don’t know,” she’d said, unable to be anything but honest. “My mother took me to doctors numerous times. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me. I don’t have indigestion or constipation. But I get headaches, body pain. Often it gets so bad that I feel feverish. I can’t move for hours, even days sometimes.”
Shonali had nodded and said nothing. Shweta had wondered if her silence meant she doubted her; but nothing felt negative about her lack of response. Shonali rested her leg upon her other knee. That’s when Shweta saw her foot. A thick-boned, rounded foot with a pronounced arch and nimble toes, the nails and heel painted red with alta. Three silver rings with carved bezels on three of her toes. The most traditional Bengali foot to belong to a woman who looked as modish as her.
On finishing her tea, Shonali had asked Shweta to show her around the house.
The child has a sewing machine in the smaller sitting room where she stitches together blouses and salwar suits. She takes the finished garments to the dressmakers’ under the new apartment on the corner next to the high road. Ten minutes away on a bicycle. She brings home the marked-up pieces of fabric in the afternoon, and spends the rest of the day working on them. But this doesn’t happen with the regularity admired by other, able-bodied people. Oh yes, we can tell from the whispers drifting in the air, the glances thrown in our direction by people walking down the street and peering down the trail. We can tell from the gloom upon the child’s heart. She believes the dressmaker, a bespectacled man in his early fifties who takes a little too long in running the measuring tape around women’s busts, lets her be out of pity instead of berating her for missing work. The whole neighbourhood knows that her mother died before being able to marry her off, leaving her alone with us, ‘in this old crumbling house’. Thankfully, the child never harboured any delusions regarding marriage. After all, what were her options? Marry a man, keep his house, and slave away for the sake of someone else’s family? Much better that she stays here. But she has always been too alone. She can’t take enough care of herself, and there’s only so much we can do for her. We were so pleased the night when the Beast descended on our doorstep.
August 12 the previous year: 8:16 PM. A windless, stifling night. Storm clouds were looming low over the treetops, but apart from the occasional flash of lightning, there was no rain. Shweta had emerged into the entryway to find out who was banging the front gate latch. There was a man there, his shirt hanging limply over his bony frame. He didn’t look very old; but, to Shweta, who had lived for the last six years alone on the edge of a marsh, friendless and penniless, everyone in the world seemed older than her. He’d said his name was Ratan. He wanted to be her gardener. Shweta had neither a garden for him to work in, nor any money to pay him with. But he’d spotted the plot growing wild just behind the house. He’d said, as confident as a farmer, that, if tended well, the land would bear good trees that would yield fruit for a long time. Shweta was confused. She hadn’t asked for a gardener. She hadn’t considered making that bit of land into a garden. She’d suggested that the more respectable houses in the better part of the neighbourhood could hire him. But he said he’d been to them already, and they had no work for him. He didn’t want money. He didn’t even have a mobile phone. He only wanted work, a place to live, and a meal at least once a day.
Shweta had asked to think about it that night. The night passed slowly. She cooked a bigger dinner for herself than she usually did. She wondered if the man would like her cooking. She rarely had the strength to work so much; her usual dinner was rice, boiled potatoes, and a chili. Swallowing the tasteless, sticky morsels was hell on the bad days. But it was better than going hungry and not being able to sleep. Besides, even in her pain, she could tell herself that she’d cooked her own food. But that night, it wasn’t enough. She could barely eat. She decided she would tell the man to go away in the morning and not trouble her. Nonetheless, she noted down the date and time in the last few pages of her mother’s old telephone diary.
In the morning, she opened the windows to find the trees still dry. Brown tones were setting into the vegetation; summer, and the freshness brought by the rains, would be gone soon. She opened her front door only to find Ratan slumped against the gate, snoring softly. His clothes were old and stained. His legs were sprawled over the step under the gate, where Shweta’s grandfather had stumbled and cracked his head open a week before his death, fifteen years ago. Shweta had woken up Ratan as she unlocked the gate, and told him to go wash himself while she prepared his food.
August 12 had been a Friday, so they had the weekend to get acquainted. Saturday morning was spent bringing out old clothes that Ratan could wear, patching them up, and showing him around the house. Neither of them had any energy left in the afternoon: Ratan had slept till 11 PM, and Shweta had watched soap operas in a daze. She’d been half-asleep on the divan when Ratan had woken up and switched off the TV. They had rice and boiled potatoes for dinner. But it was Ratan’s first night at her house; a lingering sense of honour had made Shweta fetch some butter she’d saved in the fridge, and share it with him.
She couldn’t let him sleep in the backyard with the mosquitoes and insects. Some mornings, she could see snakes gliding away over the garden wall. She’d told him to sleep in the bigger sitting room. He didn’t refuse.
Shweta woke up the next day at dawn, startled by the lightning reflected on the glass panes. The thunder pierced her head with pain. Opening the windows like other days was out of the question. On stepping out to go to the bathroom, she found a dark shape on the floor next to the dining table, facing the windows. As still and hard as stone, but the light coloured fabric on it looked familiar.
It was Ratan. He moved his hair aside like a curtain, and looked at her with bright eyes. “The thunder woke me up,” he’d said. “It will rain all day.”
They carried their cups of tea to the verandah overlooking the ‘garden’. Shweta only ever went there to hang the washing on the line to dry. The big glass and iron windows opened with some difficulty and were grievously grimy. Shweta asked Ratan about his family, and he told her that he was from Patuli, on the way to Katwa. His father had died when he was little, and his paternal uncles had thrown him and his mother out of the house. His mother had taken him to her brother, so that had been where he’d grown up. His mother used to transport and sell vegetables in Liluah. He used to go to school with his cousin.
He said he didn’t fully remember why he’d left home. His mother had mortgaged her gold for his education. They were starting to run low on funds during his last year of college, so he’d begun to give tuition classes to school students, coming home later and later every night on the long train-rides.
This struck a chord with Shweta. Her mother used to give after-school tuition lessons, too. Shweta used to stay home in the evenings to study, while her mother went house to house in faraway neighbourhoods. Her mejo pishi, her father’s second sister, had once told her mother that growing girls shouldn’t be left alone for so long. Her mother had just laughed at her. This had made mejo pishi think that her mother wanted Shweta to grow up into the sort of woman that Shweta’s father had run away with when Shweta had been eight years old. Shortly thereafter, she had cut contact with Shweta and her mother. Ratan had laughed and told her that pishis are all like that.
The rain had softened to a drizzle, and it was easier to see the garden. There were three coconut palms covered till their midsections in vines with heart-shaped leaves, and a fig tree overhanging the garden wall. There was a kamini tree that had grown almost seven feet high, purple nayantara, and some other shrubs. Taro grew thickly in the back, thronging around the deep well, while the front had wild grass tall enough to hide snakes.
The marsh was on the other side of the garden wall, surrounded by coconut and areca palms, full of reeds, flowering grass, and taro. There were ashwattha trees here and there. Waterfowl cut through the murky air in loose, quiet arcs. Only drunks, people looking to dispose of items from a funeral ceremony, and the most voracious lovers came anywhere close to this area. A few years ago, Shweta had heard of promoters who had gained access to the land, with plans to build a township there. But that was the only time she’d heard any mention of them. Not even local party workers seemed interested in the area.
In the afternoon, the rain had built up to a storm again. It made Shweta nervous. Ratan had taken to the verandah after locking the gate to the garden and shutting all windows but one, to sit and darn the tattered shirt he’d arrived in. Shweta had cleared the dining table and begun to scrub the old stains with a rag soaked in hot water. She could only flinch as the lightning burned the glass window panes white. Eventually, she’d climbed onto a chair with her feet tucked away from the floor, and Ratan had come inside. They had the bright idea of blowing the conch shell in the prayer room to calm the thunder outside. But Shweta couldn’t blow the conch shell because it hurt her jaw, and Ratan shied away from the very idea because, as he’d said, he hadn’t prayed in months. Shweta had pressed him to go change his clothes and come into the prayer room with her. She hadn’t cleaned the place in a long time. A giant spider had clambered out of the conch shell when Ratan had raised it to his mouth to blow on it. Nevertheless, the conch shell was blown thrice, with Shweta keeping count. They waited for silence to pool with the rainwater. Instead, the next thunderbolt brought a coconut tree branch crashing down upon a cornice.
Shweta and Ratan bickered fiercely for the next five minutes before realising that sometime during the mess, they had switched to using the informal ‘tumi’ to address each other.
The guest was aware of us, and had been since the moment she’d come to us. She’d had that device to prove our existence to her. But she had no idea who we were, and she didn’t care. She had her eyes on the Beast. It was a fun game for us for a day or two, because we knew how the interior of the Beast had been subjected to relentless change since the moment he’d been bitten. He remembers the past couple of years only as a tale he’s clung to over time. He doesn’t have the same face and body that his mother had given him. It was only in a half-forgotten dream of his that we discovered that he was born a woman. We lived with him the memory of his old terror of finding out how he was… becoming. And in his sleep, we cried with him in his newfound happiness, the peace he had found so unexpectedly with us, with the child, with his new self. But the guest didn’t know about that, and she didn’t care. She was a knife, but her sharpness disguised her need. And oh, how we loved to play with her. How we relished her fear of not finding the Beast, her anger at his betrayal, her pain at his abandonment.
On the afternoon of the sixth day of her stay, Ratan had come to the table to gather the dishes after lunch and take them to the sink. Shonali grabbed his hand, sprung from her chair, and pinned him to the wall in one fluid move as violent as a wave, and stabbed into the crook of Ratan’s elbow with something that looked halfway between a pen-knife and a syringe, with a small deep-set screen.
Ratan stared at Shonali, wide-eyed and immobile with shock, while Shonali read the screen on the bladed gadget. Shweta remained in her seat, heart thumping. At last, Shonali said to Ratan, “Would you have told me eventually? Or were you just waiting for me to leave without finding you out?”
“I thought my luck would hold out a little longer,” Ratan murmured, blinking. “I’ve been happy here. I didn’t want to think about giving up this life, in this house, with her.” He caught Shweta’s eye, but then lowered his gaze.
“What’s happening?” Shweta asked carefully.
“Did you think of us even once all the time you’ve been away?” Shonali asked Ratan. “Did you remember me?”
“You mean you and Ratan know each other?” Shweta asked again.
It took Shonali some time to explain, and for Shweta to understand, the full story. Shonali was Ratan’s sister in-law. Or they used to be, when Ratan had been a woman and married to Shonali’s brother. Then he left home one night. Shonali had gathered that it was soon after he was bitten on one of his long journeys home from giving tuition classes. Ratan hadn’t explained to anyone why he was leaving. Ratan’s husband had become depressed about losing his wife. Shonali, who’d been training to become a police officer at the time, had taken a sudden detour to join the little-known and largely mismanaged department that policed paranormal activity, mainly in the suburbs and rural areas. She’d gone to great lengths, sacrificing the career prospects she might’ve had if she’d remained with the regular police, all to find Ratan.
Taking a breath in the middle of her explanation, Shonali showed Ratan her feet. “Remember these toe rings?” she asked him. “Remember how dada had them made for you? You left these at home. I put them on, just so that I could return these to you whenever I found you again. Come home, boudi. Come home, for me.”
“Don’t call me that.” Ratan shook his head. “I’m not your boudi anymore. I’m not who I used to be. I’m not going back.”
“You have no idea what they’ll do to you if they find out,” Shonali snarled at him. “They’ll electrocute you for fun. They’ll kill you and display your pelt on their walls. Don’t make me do something bad. There are some interesting advances being made in our labs. I’ll find you a way to be who you used to be. One hundred percent human.”
“I don’t care! I don’t care about being human. Leave me alone, and don’t come back.”
Shonali looked as if she’d been hit in the face. “You!” she raged, rounding on Shweta. “You knew everything, and you lied to me about it. Do you know what I could do to you if you don’t let go of this person right now?”
Shweta’s mind went back to the night, one year ago, when she’d discovered the truth about Ratan.
It was a moonless night. It is said that chronic pain conditions rise and fall like the tide on nights of full or no moon. Shweta had curled up in her bed, trying to will herself into unconsciousness to ignore the fire burning its way up and down her spine, eating away at her brain. Her innards were tearing themselves to shreds in hunger; she’d had no strength to cook dinner that night. Ratan had disappeared, and she had no idea of what had happened to him or what he’d done. For all she’d known, she was suddenly alone in the old house — again. Alone in her affliction, alone in the world. Her grandfather used to sing to her when she was little. Her mother used to bring her glasses of warm milk stirred with turmeric and hold her in her arms while she sipped slowly. A very long time ago, Shweta’s father had, on a glittering evening, taken her to a fair. Then they’d left her, one by one, until their faces, their voices, jumped out at Shweta at unexpected times of the day, and their memories of laughter stirred in the shadow under the stairs, in the overgrown garden at dusk, in the dust piling thick on the furniture that Shweta no longer had the energy to keep clean. She knew that they were with her, watching her, guiding her thoughts, willing her to think of them because even the worst memory could ease the horror of a void of unreason, of loneliness and pain that cannot be bargained with. But memory alone cannot feed the hungry.
Then the Beast was with her.
The hallway was empty until it wasn’t. Like the weight of the house had coalesced into an entity. It had lumbered in through the door, a scratchy thud of nailed quadruple paws and a hot stench of grease and blood. Shweta had frozen in her bed, her own nails digging into her palms as she considered the alien presence. She could hear the creature breathing, the rumble deep in its throat as it bumped around the cabinet and knocked against the bed’s posters. The room where she’d been unable to switch the lights on at nightfall because she was worn out with pain, was filled with the bulk of a tiger. Yet, when it neared the bed, it had seemed as shy as a civet. She’d forgotten the verses of the Aadya Stotra that she’d been murmuring to protect herself when the dark being laid it’s head next to her on the bed and burrowed in, it’s fur scraping against the cotton bedspread. It’s snout touched her hand, with it’s humid exhalations. But not it’s teeth, nor it’s tongue. The minutes had passed, the hours waned, as the Beast had lain next to Shweta, and neither of them had done anything to each other.
When the adrenaline surge had trickled off in the morning and Shweta opened her eyes again, she’d found Ratan lying on the floor next to the bed, curled into himself much like Shweta had been the previous night, naked and wet all over as if he’d been standing in the rain.
Shweta saw a disconnection in Shonali’s argument. She spoke the most about her brother, how much his household had languished without a woman to take care of it. But Shweta could see how Shonali also wanted Ratan back for herself. She was trying hard to convince Ratan how much she’d personally suffered from his absence. But the worst problem was, she couldn’t believe that Ratan was satisfied with his new self, that he didn’t need her to save him. So Shweta caught Shonali’s burning gaze and said, “Or you could do nothing.”
“You could stay here with us,” Shweta had offered. “You don’t have to give up on Ratan just because he won’t go back. You and I, we can be his new family.”
“And what of my brother?”
“Tell him his husband has found a new life, and he’s happy. Tell him you’ve found someone, too. And you’re happy.”
“That’s your solution? To make me live here with you, in this haunted house next to a marsh?”
Shonali’s contempt in her pronunciation of the words ‘haunted house’ had rattled Shweta, but Shweta would have made any compromise for Ratan’s sake. “Yes.”
But she was wrong. Dead wrong. She realised the futility of her hope as she watched Shonali’s colour subside, her anger slowly turning to cold resolve, her breath steadying. She was once again the commanding state official who had impelled Shweta to let her into her house. “You’re both done for,” she said. “I’ll call the department to take away this… creature.”
Shonali walked calmly over to the kitchen sink to wash her hands. After about an hour of open feud, the sudden silence, save for the drip of water and the soft slap of soap suds, slammed down upon Shweta like a stone.
They did not have a lot of time. The child knew this, and so did the Beast.
Hands still unwashed, Shweta ran to the corner under the staircase that doubled as a storeroom. She knew what she would find there: a length of nylon rope that Ratan had purchased from the nearby grocery store earlier that week, for tying up and supporting large plants in the garden. When Shweta reached the kitchen again, she found Shonali standing near the window with her back to the doorway and her phone in hand, making a frustrated sound because the network was poor and her call wasn’t going through.
Ratan, standing next to Shonali with a vacant expression, saw Shweta in the doorway with the rope in her hands. Shweta knew that Ratan had sniffed her intent, and that he was gauging his options. She knew that they didn’t have many. But Ratan needed time to find his courage. She caught his eye, and his expression shifted ever so slightly.
Shweta walked quietly up to Shonali, and put the rope around her arms.
Shonali was five feet nine inches tall, stronger than Shweta, and trained better in combat. Shweta had had the element of surprise to aid her, and Ratan, who’d swiftly closed the window and, with one hard kick to Shonali’s lower belly, brought her to her knees. Shonali was screaming now, and trying to kick back. Two of those kicks had landed on Shweta’s knees, but Shweta didn’t give up. She’d wound the rope twice and thrice around Shonali’s torso, and a fourth time around her mouth, wrenching her hand away when Shonali had sunk her teeth furiously into her palm. Ratan had snatched the phone from Shonali’s hand, and Shweta had used the last bit of rope to tie up her feet.
“Now we’re done for,” Ratan said sarcastically, looking at Shonali screaming. “What do we do with her? Drag her to the railway tracks and leave the job to a train?”
Shweta had paused to take the silver toe-rings off Shonali’s feet, all six of them, one by one, and shown the small trinkets clustered in her bloody palms. “These are made of good silver, I think,” she said. “It’ll be a waste to throw them away. And they once belonged to you. Would you like me to wear them for you?”
Ratan stared at Shweta, uncomprehending, before breaking into a guffaw that had something of a growl in it. His thick, greasy curls falling into his eyes were unable to shadow the sudden feral brightness in them. “That’s right. I’d forgotten to give you something for our first year together.”
“I’ll imagine you did,” replied Shweta, smiling as she dropped the rings into the sink for washing later. Turning to Shonali, who was now whimpering on the floor, she sighed. “Now, we have a guest. We have to make room for her in the house.”
Ratan stood for a minute, one hand on his hip and the other in his hair, scratching his scalp as he considered. “Did I mention the garden needs more fertiliser?”
Who are we? It’s not a question that we ponder daily, because life makes too many demands upon a single soul and we must stick together and be mindful to withstand the current. But sometimes, the child gets this question in her head, as she had when she participated in the welcome she and the Beast gave their guest. And you know how children get when they have unanswered questions. But this question has no answer, because we did not begin, just as we do not end. We have been here with the child’s grandparents, with her parents, just as we have been at her side for every step of her journey. We are the child’s family, and we are the child herself. We are the quiet in the woods on the two sides of the railway tracks, and we are the incessant call-and-answer of the birds that fly by. We are the termites that bury their heads deep in the mortar like frightened children when the cold north wind strikes our side, and we are the dust that the child and the Beast take pains to clear every day. We are now the Beast as well, and the guest who didn’t want to join us. We are many things, but, most importantly, in the gaps between us and in our varied fantasies, we are one. Under the changeless sky, we are at peace, which is more than the sum of happiness and discontent combined.
And we live on happily.
Tori Das is a queer, nonbinary person of colour based in India. She is new to the publishing industry, and this is her first speculative fiction short story.