Excerpt from Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy X
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 272 pages
    Jul 6, 2021, 288 pages


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My hands reach slowly to encircle his armpits. I press off the floor and drag him up to the surface with a mighty gasp. He is moving now, taking a great breath and wading free with me in his arms, like he is the one who has rescued me and not the other way around and how the hell did that happen?

"What are you doing?" he pants.

There are no words for a moment; I'm so cold it hurts. "You were drowning."

"I was just taking a dip to sober up!"

"What? No, you ..." I drag myself farther up onto the bank. Reality sinks in slowly. My teeth are chattering so hard that when I start laughing I must seem like a lunatic. "I thought you needed help."

I can't quite recall the logic that brought me to this moment. How long did I wait before I ran? How long was he under?

"For the second time tonight," he says. Then, "Sorry. You should get yourself warm, love." More people have emerged from the bar to see what the commotion is about. They are crowded on the balcony, looking puzzled. Oh, the humiliation. I laugh again, but it's more of a wheeze.

"You right, boss?" someone shouts in an Australian accent.

"Fine," the man says. "Misunderstanding."

He helps me to my feet. The cold is inside me and—shit, the pain. I have felt this cold before, but not for a long time. How is he standing it so well?

"Where are you staying?"

"You were under so long."

"Good lungs."

I stumble up the bank. "I'll get warm."

"Do you need—"



I pause and glance over my shoulder.

His arms and lips are blue, but he doesn't seem bothered. Our eyes meet.

"Thanks for the rescue."

I salute him. "Anytime."

Even with the shower on as hot as it will go, I'm still cold. My skin is red raw, scalded, but I can't feel it. It's the two toes on my right foot that I can feel tingling as though with the return of heat; strange because they were cut off some years ago. But then I often feel those phantom toes and right now I'm disturbed by something else, by how easily my mind went back to the cell. I'm frightened of how simple it was to dive into the water instead of shouting for help.

My drowning instinct.

When I'm wearing every item of clothing I own, I find my pen and paper, sit down at the crooked table, and write a clumsy letter to my husband.

Well, it's happened. I've embarrassed myself so thoroughly that there's no coming back from it. An entire village of people saw a strange foreign woman fling herself into an icy fjord to inexplicably harass a man who was minding his own business. At least it'll make a good story.
And don't even try to use this as another excuse to tell me to come home.
I tagged my third bird this morning and I've left the nesting grounds. Lost my tent, nearly lost my mind. But the trackers are working, and I've found a man with a vessel big enough to make the journey so I'm staying in Tasiilaq while I convince him to carry me. I'm not sure I'll get another chance and I don't know how to force the world into a shape I can manage.
Nobody ever seems to do what I want them to. This is a place that makes you very aware of your powerlessness. I never had any power over you, I sure as hell don't have any over the birds, and I have even less over my own feet.
I wish you were here. You can convince anyone of anything.

I pause and stare at the scribbled words. They feel silly, sitting there on the page like that. After twelve years I'm somehow worse at expressing how I feel, and it shouldn't be like this—not with the person I love best.

The water was so cold, Niall. I thought it would kill me. For a moment I wanted it to.
How did we get here?
I miss you. That's what I know best. Will write tomorrow.
F x

I put the letter in an envelope and address it, then place it with the others I haven't yet sent. The sensation is coming back into my limbs and there is an erratic pulse in my veins that I recognize as the marriage between excitement and desperation. I wish there were a word for this feeling. I know it so well, perhaps I ought to name it myself.

Excerpted from Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. Copyright © 2020 by Charlotte McConaghy. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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