by Tari Gwaemir
Ginko and Tanyuu.
Once he brought back a gift for her: a cowrie shell, its surface smooth and glossy to the touch. Within it slept a rare mushi, its tentacles floating through the narrow teeth of the cowrie mouth, like hair against a comb. In seawater, he told her, the mushi awoke and attached to the gills of passing fish. Occasionally they drifted into a swimmer's mouth and caught themselves in the lungs; many pearl divers had surfaced from a long dive to find themselves unable to speak because of the mushi that was muffling their voice.
She held the cowrie gently in both hands and brought it up to her face to observe the tiny fronds hanging from the shell. "Where did you find it?"
"From a fisherman who lost his voice. I drew it out with some salt and trapped it in the shell. It goes to sleep when it's out of water."
She smiled and passed a finger delicately through the waving tentacles, which rippled under her touch. Her foot jerked suddenly, and her hand tightened on the shell. Alarmed, he took it away from her, despite her protests.
"It's fine," she insisted and tried to take the shell back.
"How stupid of me," he said with a rueful smile. "The mushi in your foot are reacting to its presence."
"It happens occasionally." Her voice was calm. She turned her face away and reached for her crutch. He caught her hand, touched her shoulder, but she shrugged him off gently.
She shook her head, a slow, patient gesture. "Tell me another story, Ginko. I don't need a better gift than that."