When our island became famous, known all over the world for our pots, when critics wrote about us without naming us, when we knew we needed names, nobody would remember my sister. Dealers in gleaming metal cities called us their art market’s best-kept secret, that ceramics adorning the homes of the rising rich came from an island of anonymous creatures. Curators surmised we were women, and anthropologists insisted we were human. Strangers marveled at what we made, how it breathed and pulsated like it came from something alive, but my sister was gone, and I had made her disappear.
I could not say for certain how many storms she and I lived through, how many times the parched wind from the south billowed into wet gusts from the north, nor how many times the mudfish emerged from hibernation to feast on the water. Just that one day the elders pressed their fingers against the swollen glands in our throats. They said I was ready to learn how to make the pots, and my sister almost. I told my sister I would wait for her. She shook her head, narrowed her eyes. She was eager to begin.
As the elders’ apprentices, we absorbed how every material had a purpose, a place it should go and touch. We mixed our saliva with the mud, formed the mud into the pots, and sold the pots to faraway places. The elders told us that, despite the temptations of our age, we must remember to use each grain of sediment and return the rest, because there are lines between us and the mud that we should not cross.
From moisture to minerals, from temperature to time, the possible combinations overwhelmed me. Coiled and packed and spun, the mud could become a universe.
“And loosened?” The elders asked.
“The island again,” we said.
They showed us the pockmarked stones for scrubbing clay from our skin. After each day’s work, we rinsed off in the ocean. I searched for hidden grooves along my sister’s shoulders. Even she, limber as she was, could not reach them.
On our breaks, we talked about the faraway places. We heard there were things like foliage that grew out of the ground, that there existed a color green, and that everything was green and gorgeous. My sister and I, not being able to picture what green looked like, took it to mean young and beautiful and full of life. We wanted to be and breathe and see green above all else. At night we trembled until we could not sleep. Sometimes, my sister’s sighs seeped straight through me. The warm air shook my organs awake like storms tugged the mudfish from their caves.
Like fish shaking off the dry season, oh how hungry my sister and I were. We wanted to sink our teeth into everything around us. I stuck my hand into the earth and brought it to my sister’s lips. Against the elders’ warnings, she drank up the umber sludge and her eyes moistened, burnished like new stars. I could smell it on her breath. The scent coated my throat and lodged there, beckoning all the tastes I knew. Smoke from roasted meat, the bitter air laden with rain, cut through with a familiar acidity I could not identify, like a fruit that had soured from age.
Everyone on our small island seemed to have gone to sleep, but my sister and I stayed up playing games. We imagined ourselves pliable like the mud we held in our hands all day long. We would close our eyes and fold ourselves into each other, only to reach that point where one of us ended and the other began, where our brittle bones would not break. Greasy and warm from our fingerprints, our flesh took on a sheen the more we touched it. We thought to call it green, but how could we be sure? By the pale light of morning, I copied patterns in the sand, trying to capture that murky brightness that swam beneath my sister’s skin, that stared at me in the dark.
The others on the island noticed our beauty, our newfound luminescence. They gossiped, swore something had possessed us. They spat sharp glances our way, at our oily hair, our shining eyes, our gleaming skin. Perhaps they spoke their curses into existence because my sister became sick. She would not eat, despite all the ripe, maroon fruits and golden, dripping meats I tried to feed her. After making pots all day, I snuck home mud and she took small, shaky bites. Her body waned, collapsing into itself. Wounds and sores broke out over her skin. I tried to sew them closed. I snuck home more mud to mend them, but her skin would not stop opening, and how I cried, that my sister was disappearing into the mud I was molding into her.
When my sister was more mud than herself, when I could no longer recognize her, when I could not bear to talk to her because she could not respond, I tried to remember all that my hands had learned. I molded her lashes, nostrils, and cheekbones into the sodden pile where her face once was, I carved her new hips like the ones that had pressed against mine at night, and I brought her to the cave. Even though she would not move again, the heat could make her stop opening, the heat could fire her closed. On the next shipment, I stacked her among the other pots with their viscous glazes. Pressing my chapped lips to her still chest, I said, my sister, I wish you a safe journey. Tracing a pattern on her back, I said, my sister, I hope you finally see green.