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The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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RAHNE

RAHNE

The island of Manhattan is a blanket Rahne laid over herself before she fell asleep in the water. First the rocks grew over her, then the earth, then the grass. Far later came the men. And then the buildings. With the mess of dirt, concrete and civilization we no longer hear her snoring, no longer feel the rise and fall of her breath. She lays there forgotten, stuck in her seismic sleep for seeming eternity. But recently, there have been stirrings.

One would expect tremors. Earthquakes. Those, in fact, would be preferable, would be forgiving. But when she drifts to the surface of sleep and is on the border of waking, she begins wearing her anger and her betrayal. And the city inherits all of it. The violent crimes, assaults, divorces, turf wars – the city simmers and stews in her fury for weeks. It isn’t until her consciousness retreats far back into the depths of her sleep that it subsides, and the bodies can be counted.

Other times she remembers the good, dreams euphorically. The city flourishes – hearts are light, midtown hums happily, the trees purr. The city seems to enter a golden age. It lasts as long as her dream, and not a moment longer. She recedes, the city regains its balance. The boom and bust seems inexplicable – some seek patterns and grasp at false ones, others surrender to her whims unknowingly.

On a boat before dawn one morning – if you were sailing just a bit south of Manhattan you would have seen it – I watched as a towering figure rose out of the ocean and stared longingly at the island. Her son or lover, he stared ahead, weak-kneed and bashful, his blond hair cut straight across his forehead. After gazing a long time at the island, he began to call for her. It was a low, guttural cry – something that belonged to the ocean. He waited a long time after each cry, his eyes scrunched hopefully, squinting ahead in the gathering morning light.

And then she stirred. First her right hand broke the surface of the water, casually brushing aside a bridge as her arm followed, wide as the Hudson. Then she steadied herself with her left hand, her elbow bellowing out of the river, causing a vortex that swallowed the ships ahead of me. And then slowly, bridges snapping and the entire island groaning above her, she lifted her head above the water and saw the civilization built across her body. Without a moment’s hesitation, she sat up, folding the island in half, countless cars pooling on 59th Street along her waistline. Wearing the city, she stood, taking in the man in front of her.

First he nodded, and then she nodded. Something silent passed between them. They looked westward, and chanted together – his growl with her sibilant moan. A silence descended, and they both gazed at the same spot, far in the distance, expectant. For a long time there was just silence. I climbed to the top mast, curious of her expression.

Then came a deafening rumble as, one by one, other giants propped themselves up on elbows and gathered in their slow stances, each one draped in a city. In the gathering morning light they each looked at one another, passing pregnant glances and knowing nods. Then, after another long silence, every one of them joined in the chant, each of their voices a different pitch – some of them terrible and phantasmagoric, others lusty and voluptuous. The chant carried across the country and far out over the sea, wafting across the known world. They then looked up, every one of them, staring at the same section of sky, again with expectant eyes. Following their gaze, I saw nothing but a wispy cloud.

Their imperceptible answer received, they one-by-one lowered themselves delicately into the earth or sea, and laid back down, gently draping the cities back over their bodies. Except Rahne. Lumbering to the giant in front of her, she offered her hand, which he eagerly took. The two made their way Southward along the coastline for some time, until Rahne stopped suddenly and pointed into a valley close to the water. The boy then squeezed her hand, dug into the ground and lay himself down. She dug a path from the valley to the sea, and watched it fill with water until it completely covered him. She wandered back to her harbor, took a final, sustained stretch, looked up at the sky once more, and lay down. 

Illustration by Daria Gołąb

HER

HER

LARA

LARA