The Mudlark

Gabrielle Griffis

Jed sanded the floorboards; the week before, he’d rewired the upstairs bedroom. The house smelled of sulphur and vanilla. Outside, dead dune grass waved in gold tufts.  Jed took off his mask and gloves and walked downstairs. 

          “I don’t know why I was attracted to a house that requires this much work,” he said, scratching behind his cat’s ears. He drank a glass of water and picked up his phone, hovering it over a statue of a mushroom, made by a woman who fled a cult rather than drink poison in a ritual ascent to the afterlife. He placed the item on a table with other curiosities he’d found in the mud. Items that appeared in the sediment changed with the tide.

          Jed put on his boots and coat. In his yard, flower gardens spilled over fences. Mist rolled over the island. Seagulls bobbed and stomped for cockles in the bay. Jed waded into the stream by his house, but slipped on rocks covered in green and brown algae. In the muck next to his hand glinted a silver band.  At first he thought the ring was attached to a crab, until he realized he was holding a human hand. He grasped the hand by the thumb—ragged flesh dripped ocean and sky; beach grass and sea water stretched to the horizon. He felt for his phone in his pocket. He had nothing to mark the spot. He waded around, feeling for body parts, but all he found were bivalves and seaweed.

          At home, Jed examined the hand under a magnifying glass for any unusual markings. The flesh was too bloated and soft to reveal much information, so he bagged the appendage and put it in the freezer.

          Jed searched the news and police reports for accidents involving lost limbs and came across a name he recognized. A few months prior, Jed met a florist at an outdoor market—she was arranging pink boneset, he made a joke. He followed her to work and bought lilies to make conversation. There was something familiar about the shop, the smell of gardenias, patterns carved in the wood. Mullein and dried sage hung from the rafters. They went out. She told him strange stories about premonitory dreams involving buttons, cracked pottery, the bowl of a tobacco pipe. Months had passed since she returned his texts. He was used to being ghosted.

          Jed picked up his phone to let her know he had her hand.

          “Oh you live there,” she replied.

          She arrived at his doorstep two hours later. He offered her tea. She sat at the kitchen table, placed a cooler on the floor.  He apologized and asked what happened. She described losing her hand: a sunny day, choppy waves, a propeller, red water. The kettle sang. Steam billowed as he poured hot water over dried mushrooms.

          Jed asked about the wedding ring.

          The florist sighed, describing estrangement and divorce hearings. She wore the ring to ward off unwanted advances.

          The florist stood up and wandered around the room. Her gaze fell on a table: buttons, cracked pottery, the bowl of a tobacco pipe, and a small mushroom statue. She asked where Jed found the ceramic figurine. He described how the sculptor had lived in the house before him, how she left behind occult books, lush gardens, a pantry full of mugwort and dried herbs. He found remnants of her around the island at yard sales, in the mud. He didn’t tell the florist how sometimes in the living room he smelled gardenias, how the lights turned on, and how sometimes he heard humming. Instead he asked why she was familiar with his address.

          “My grandmother used to live here, she always had a weird way of bringing people together.”

Gabrielle Griffis is a musician, writer, and multimedia artist. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Wigleaf, Split Lip Magazine, Monkeybicycle, XRAY Literary Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Gone Lawn, Matchbook, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at or follow her at @ggriffiss.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021