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Broken Water by Ripley Patton

From the day he is born, everything spills. Water gushes from me. It cannot be contained, nor will he. He puddles between my legs, wet and glossy, and every pot in the village cracks. Oil and water soak into the ground. My bleeding stops and my womb shrivels. But I have what I want.

Ursula the Midwife argues with the chief. Instead of being banished, we are put in an old hut outside the village.

The second day, I name him Broken Water. My milk dries up. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t die. I feed him jerky. I let him chew on tubers, and milk-weed husk. And he thrives.

The well caves in and the river turns to dust. There is no rain, or hint of rain, or taste of rain, or whiff of rain.

The villagers decide to stone us.

In the night, Ursula comes and unties me. She hands me my boy. Ursula is old and parched. She has nothing to lose if the world turns to desert, but she doesn’t come with us. She watches us recede into the dark, brittle bush.

They let us stay ten days at the next village before they understand.

And the next village. And the next.

The boy grows up without kin or friend. Without a drop of liquid passing between his lips. I am his cactus mother. His camel. His oasis.

We run out of villages and come to the edge of a great sea. There is a glint in my boy’s eye I do not like. That night, as we sleep on the beach, the earth begins to shake. Rocks fall from the cliffs, and we are rattled from our arid dreams. The ground cracks open between us, and I look down into a pit of liquid fire rising up to eat me.

But the world slurps its fiery tongue back. The gap remains, and the ocean rushes into it. Steam hisses, fire sputters, and the two negate each other.

When the fog clears, I can see my son standing across the chasm looking at me.

I call to him, but he shakes his head and walks away into the empty sea, fish flopping and gasping at his feet.

Three days later, I find a narrow place inland and jump the gap. I follow the crack until I find the beach, his trail, the no-more sea. What else have I to do? He is my life.

On the other side of the sea bed, there is a village. I hide myself and I watch my boy come out of a hut with a girl on his arm. They sit at the fire and she grills him a fish. He asks for something. She lifts a cup to his mouth, and he drinks, and his lips glisten.

He takes the cup from her hands and it breaks apart, water splashing over them, and they laugh.

Only then do I see my mistake.

The vessel always shatters.

But water never breaks.


Ripley Patton is an American happily living on the South Island of New Zealand where she writes short speculative fiction, flash and whatever else strikes her fancy. She is a three-time nominee of the Sir Julius Vogel Award, and her story “Corrigan’s Exchange” won an SJV for Best Short Story 2009. She is also the founder and President of SpecFicNZ, the national writers association for speculative fiction writers in and from New Zealand. Ripley is currently working on her first novel, a YA contemporary fantasy. To read more of her work check out her blog, or her website.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/14/2011 07:28

    This is haunting. Well done.

  2. 08/07/2011 03:11

    Really enjoyed this story, especially the ending:

    “Only then do I see my mistake.

    The vessel always shatters.

    But water never breaks.”


  1. Ripley’s Flash in State of Imagination – Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand

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