Shrimp Woman

Shrimp Woman


From the lake’s bed, she watches their legs: pink ribbons of skin and bone. Hunger swells as the birds wade deeper. Release of chemicals, flex of claws: she grabs, she bites. The flock escapes in panicked flight as she drags her prey to the muddy shore.

On land, she rips the bird’s mandibles with her teeth and she devours his tongue, clacking her jaws at the texture, the taste. Her fingers flex and pluck at the bird’s body. Wings tear. Bones crack.

When she has fed, she dips her head in the lake and watches the blood wash away. Her mind is calm, the hunger satisfied. She basks in the sun. Rodents come. Crows. Flies. Picking the bones clean. Days pass before she slips back in the water. Back to her place, down below.

Evening. Sun setting. Thin legs re-appear. One pair. Two pairs. Many pairs. She lies so still at the bottom of the lake and she studies the birds as they feed and wade. Their beautiful shapes. Such elegant curves as they straighten and arc. She admires them, worships them even, as they feed on her half-formed kin. All the while her hunger grows.

At dawn she sinks her teeth. The flock rouses, running on water, a great commotion. The one left behind – her catch – is female. Its glands are full of crop milk, a fatty surprise that coats her tongue. Pure nourishment. Milk for chicks. It floods her body with memories of softness in her body. Remembering the time when she was just like her kind. A cyst. A swelling. A hatchling in brine. Molting for legs, for eyes. Growing and shedding like her sisters and brothers. But in her, the hunger that left the others behind. They did not keep shedding their soft shells as she did. They floated away, towards the light at the surface. They became fodder. She kept growing and shedding again. And the hunger swelled in her. And she fed. And she grew. And her shell hardened, layer on layer, and her nails and teeth grew long.

She stays on the bank with the body for hours, a whole day. A whole night. But when the scavengers come, she does not let them have the bird. It has given her too much. She is beholden.

Days later, when the flock returns, she rears up, urging them away from their dead sister, away from the lake. She cannot imagine hunger’s return. It is pale and far away. A day moon in a blue sky.

Melaina Barnes is a writer from the north of England who has meandered through Cardiff, London and Lisbon. She has just finished writing her first novel. Her short fiction is performed at spoken word nights and her story Mud Man won the British Academy’s Literature Week competition. She seeks out stories that are uncanny, lyrical and that reimagine social relationships.

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