Nessa jerked her elbow out of Adam’s grasp and closed the fridge door. She took a deep breath and turned around. Heather gasped behind his shoulder, taking in Nessa’s state—her dripping hair and kelp-covered clothes, the fish tucked under her arm, and the saw she held in her sand-caked hands.
“Swimming,” Nessa retorted. “What are you doing up? Keeping watch? Hoping I drown?”
Adam blocked her path. “Well, this really is the last straw!”
She had no time for them. “The last straw?” she sneered, desperation sending all her patience out the window. “Who are you to say what the last straw is? IN MY HOUSE!”
Heather squeaked and jumped away from Adam’s shoulder, distancing herself from them. “She’s truly nuts,” she whispered.
“Lower your voice,” Adam warned. “My mother has suffered enough because of you today—the brochure and now this—”
“Again,” Nessa cut him off, though she whispered now, “this is still my house, and you have no right to order me. In fact, get out. I want you gone by noon.”
“You need help,” Heather spat.
“Not your kind of help,” Nessa growled back. “Now get out of my way.”
“She means you need to be locked up somewhere,” Adam hissed. “I’ll see to it. Mark my words.”
“Oh, how helpful of you! Just try it,” Nessa goaded, “but until then, start packing your things.” She pointed the saw at him. “Pack your things, not mine and not what’s left of my husband’s. Those you will leave here.”
She glared at Heather. “You can take the baby things. I’m not spiteful. Now step aside,” she ordered her brother-in-law.
Adam did not budge.
“I said step aside,” she warned, waving the small-toothed saw menacingly while her fists sprinkled sand on the floor.
Heather glanced at her brother. “Adam, let her go.”
His thin lips pinched. “The devil take you then.” He stepped back. “No one else has a use for you.”
“Go to Hell,” Nessa muttered as she marched toward the sea.
When she reached the rock, she carefully set to freeing the mermaid mother. It took the remainder of the night to cut away the branches and gently unwind the tangled golden tresses from the thorny bush. As the hair slowly fell away from its trap, Nessa brushed the curly tendrils gently with her fingers. The snarls came undone, and the golden hair began to glimmer with the dawn.
The mermaid mother was too weak to sit on her own, and Nessa gently lifted her up against the bare bark of the sheared shrub. She reached for the fish, unwrapped it and offered it to the mermaid.
“I’m sorry, it’s cooked,” Nessa told her.
The mermaid sniffed it tentatively, her nose wrinkling a bit. She pulled back the burnt skin and tasted it. A soft gasp of surprise came from her, and after a smile of thanks to Nessa, she devoured half the fish, bones and all. She licked her fingers and gave the remainder to her daughter. When they were done, the mermaid smiled sweetly to Nessa.
“Friend,” she breathed.
Nessa nodded. “Yes… friend.” She looked out at the cyan horizon, her eyes distant, deep in thought for many moments.
In the stillness, the mermaid observed her. She tilted her head as her golden hair fell across her chest. “Sad,” she stated as fact.
Again, Nessa nodded. “Yes. I am. Very sad.”
“No sad,” the mermaid said. “Saved me. Saved daughter. Gift. What gift for you?”
Nessa bit her lip. Gift? Give me my love. Give me laughter in my house. Give me Angie back, not the imposter. Give me the laughter of my child…
Nessa’s gaze locked with the mermaid’s silvery eyes. The mother’s eyes widened with sudden realization.
Give me yours—
Nessa swallowed hard. The mermaid mirrored her expression, her brow furrowed with worry.
But Nessa shook her head. “No, I need nothing.”
The mermaid leaned forward, her chin jutting out and her nose nearly touching Nessa’s. She lifted a hand, cool as the sea, and touched Nessa’s cheek. She breathed in deeply and looked into Nessa’s eyes. Then she turned toward her daughter.
“Four,” she said.
The daughter quickly jumped backward into the water with a laugh and a splash. She returned, holding a rustic looking bag woven with a fisherman’s netting, patched with sea kelp, and ornamented with colorful seashells.
“Four!” the mermaid child cried with delight. Her laughter sounded like reeds, musical upon the wind.
Nessa took the bag and looked at it. Inside were several golf balls. She began to laugh and then to weep. The mermaid let her cry as the sun broke free from the horizon. When her tears subsided, Nessa thanked the mermaid.
The sea mother looked with fondness at her and touched Nessa’s forehead. “Enough for now. Tired. Dream.”
With that, she and her child left Nessa. Their fins splashed as a now-weary Nessa watched them head toward the horizon.
Indeed, she was tired, too tired to return for the moment. She fell asleep upon the rocks beside the broken bush. The hard stone suddenly felt soft, and she rested her cheek against it, and she did dream. She dreamt even as the sun rose. She dreamt of Tisander and their baby. She dreamt about teaching him how to boat and to swim, kicking waves, and skipping stones out toward the horizon. It was a pleasant dream. A wonderful dream.
Morning had turned to midday by the time Nessa returned to her home. She wasn’t surprised that her husband’s family was still there, but she was relieved that they had at least packed their luggage and were loading it into their rented SUV.
Adam cursed as he slammed the truck door. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he came around the car to stand between his sister and mother who were looking at Nessa warily. His lips twisted into a sneer.
“Expect a call from my lawyer, and my mother’s,” Adam growled while Angie winced at his barking threats.
“Is that what you want, Angie?” Nessa asked her mother-in-law. “To turn your back on what’s left of Tisander? To move to Ohio and live in a small room? Alone?”
Angie began to wring her hands. She shrugged. “Do you think I have any say?”
“Oh, I do.” Nessa offered her hand to Angie. “You do.”
Angie and Nessa sat at Tisander’s firepit, cooking a marshmallow above the flame. Its blue tongue turned to orange embers as Nessa blew on the singed glob, then she smooshed the marshmallow between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate.
“Here.” She handed it to Angie.
“Thank you, Nessa,” her mother-in-law said. Carefully, she bit down on the cracker sandwich, then allowed herself a quick chuckle as a string of chocolate fell onto her chin. “Hot.”
“Be careful.” Nessa made one for herself and sat back, inhaling the ocean air and the scents of burning wood and melting chocolate.
The fire crackled as each woman ate her treat in silence and listened to the snap of those branches and the whoosh of the sea. The week following Adam and Heather’s departure had been uneventful. Calm. But Nessa wouldn’t go so far as to say the week had been peaceful. Yet this moment, beside the fire perhaps, yes, that was peaceful. Finally.
Angie gathered her shawl close to her body and looked out at the sea. “It’s going to be a cold night, I think.”
“Winter breeze,” Nessa offered.
“No doubt,” Angie agreed and smiled.
Nessa’s heart did a weird flip at another hopeful sign that the old Angie would return. Nessa had witnessed subtle moments when the light of the real woman poked through the shadows of gloom.
Maybe it’s time.
Nessa stretched, shaking off the night’s quiet, and rose to her feet. “I want to show you something.” She walked as quickly as she could upon the sand toward the back porch. The bag of golf balls hung from the canopy support where she had placed them on the day she had saved the mermaid. Nessa grabbed a ball from the bag and rushed back to Angie.
“Come with me,” she said to Angie, extending her hand.
Angie looked at her in bewilderment but didn’t refuse. She stood up and grasped Nessa’s hand. Together, they went to the edge of the sea and beyond, until the cool water was up to their knees.
Nessa turned to the side and pulled her arm back, her fingers gripping the golf ball, and she found her courage in its weight. Though small, it would sail far. Angie grabbed her shoulder.
“No, Nessa, don’t do that. Don’t throw such things into the sea.”
Nessa covered Angie’s fingers with her own and squeezed them reassuringly. “Just watch.”
Angie let go of Nessa’s shoulder, and Nessa wound up for a good throw. “Just watch,” she said to Angie again. Then she looked out at the sea. “Four!” she hollered.
“I-I don’t understand,” Angie said, laughing nervously. “What are you doing? Waiting for something?”
A rippling line cut through the moving dark waters. A green luminescence gathered under a finned silhouette weaving a path near them. “There!” Nessa said, pointing excitedly. “Four!” she yelled and tossed out the golf ball. With a big splash, it disappeared into the water.
“What are you doing?” Angie exclaimed, catching Nessa’s enthusiasm.
Suddenly, a small white orb broke free of the water to sail through the air. The golf ball landed on the beach behind them and rolled to a stop at the water’s edge.
“What in the world!” Angie cried, looking behind her and clapping, delighted.
Nessa grasped her shawl-draped arm and pointed back to the sea. “Look, Mom.”
Reedy laughter lifted from the water. Angie turned toward the sound. The young mermaid waded in the shallow. Her golden hair shook as she tilted her chin toward the sky and shouted with glee, “Four!”
Then she submerged and swam toward the horizon. Her magnificent tail gave them a grand, goodnight splash.
“What have I just seen?” Angie cried then clamped her hand over her mouth. Girlish giggles of amazement bubbled up from her. She lifted both her hand away from her mouth to encompass the ocean wonders in front of her. “What did I just see?”
Together, they dissolved into laughter mixed with tears. Nessa draped an arm over Angie’s shoulders and hugged her mother, welcoming a hopeful, magical beginning on Tisander’s island.
copyright 2019 A. H. De Carrasco. All rights reserved. Stock image from Depositphotos: mihtiander
Thanks to Tania Cardenas, for help with content and line editing many moons ago, to Hot Tree Editing for proofing, and to my beta readers, Leslie Dow and Mary Hall-Knapp, for their pointers with an earlier draft back in 2011.