Cwen › Extract

Cwen is a thing with a womb and two breasts. A brain and two far-seeing eyes. A clever nose and nimble fingers. The clouds are her children, and the waves, and the shells which the waves spit on to the sand. The islanders opposite, they are her children, too; and the sheep up on her island’s high bank; and her chickens, down by the shore. The birds crouch under her stroking hand; she raised them from chicks. Now, if they have a mother, it is her.

There were people here before her, she knows that, for they left a cairn on the hillside just up from the shore. An ancient mound, grass-covered, it is three paces from her spring, bigger than her hut, and shaped like a breast, or a belly-full-of-child. There is a large stone, blocking the way in. Cwen sits there in the early morning, her back against the stone, her body full of spring water, as she waits for the islanders opposite to arrive in their boats, with their offerings of grain, and slices of dried meat, and their questions, all quite predictable, about their harvests and wombs, their neighbours and the gods. In winter, the stone receives the glare of the rising sun. In summer, when the sunrays touch the top of the mound, Cwen sits up there instead, looking out over the other islands, all twelve of them. In this way, she bathes in gold.

Inside the cairn are the histories that remain to guard this island, her spring, and her. Every morning, every evening, she stands on the cliff and looks down at the tide; how the sea rustles in, and is sucked back out. Twice a month, when Moon is at its thinnest and its fullest, its birth and its death, the bay below her cliff empties completely of water, and on those days she walks right out, in her long dress and leather boots, to ease sea creatures from the sand.

She calls herself Cwen, and Cwen is what the island will be called after she is gone; after her bones and her hair have been dispersed to the sea, and her thoughts to the winds, and the sea creatures whose relatives she ate are eating her. Cwen, call the tides; Cwen, say the bubbles of her spring; Cwen says the Moon, as the sea aligns and realigns her island’s bounds.