Near sunset, Nessa left her bedroom. She passed by the nursery, which was now just a room stripped of everything. A plain room. Hollow. As it should be.
As she walked down the stairs, she heard quiet conversation below and paused. Her stomach didn’t twist into a knot this time. Of course, she already knew what they were planning.
“Simple. An intervention. Or an eviction. Commit her if we must. Take the house.”
The greedy eagerness in Adam’s voice earned him a quiet snicker from Nessa. She tiptoed down the remaining steps while they plotted on.
“I would hate to—” Angie began a meek protest.
“For her own protection,” Heather assured.
“And yours, Mother,” Adam said pointedly.
So obvious. Seize the moment. Lay claim.
Let them take the house then. But she would not be taken from Tisander’s island. She would share the endless sea with her child.
She stopped at the kitchen and almost gleefully took in the shocked looks on the faces of the pillager’s sister and mother. Their surprised eyes narrowed to cover their shame. Heather inspected her manicured nails. Just beyond her fuchsia claws, a stack of folders and papers dominated the center of the kitchen table.
Nessa walked past them, ignoring the corner where Tisander’s ghost had appeared previously, and she opened the refrigerator door. The cold air sharpened her mind.
“Been busy?” she needled, grabbing a bottle of Pinot Grigio and closing the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Adam asked sternly.
“Going to the beach,” she said, turning her back toward him and making her way to the screen door, but first, she sidled up to Angie and placed the brochure in her lap. “Interesting reading material,” she told her mother-in-law.
Heather gasped out loud before the screen door slammed shut behind Nessa. Beyond that cold hollow house, Nessa realized that her chin was pointing to the stars.
Tisander’s beach, she added silently, defiantly. Adam couldn’t hustle that into his big SUV. The beach was hers for the time being, anyway. Soon, the sea.
When she reached the edge of the patio, she realized she wasn’t alone. Tisander was there, near the shore. He threw ghostly golf balls into the sea, the water splashing as the balls skipped upon the surface.
“How do you do that?” she asked, venturing closer. The dark tide rushed through his translucent torso, the foamy edge like wings across his shoulders. She focused on his hair, on his ears. She willed them to opaqueness. Let him be real.
“Oh, hi, Ness,” he said, turning away from the sea for but a moment to look at her, a lopsided smile pulling the corner of his mouth upward. A dimple appeared. He shrugged as he returned to his diversion. “The fish like to humor me. Splashing like that. Maybe I’ll hit a mermaid—”
“Stop!” Nessa suddenly shouted, thinking of their child and fearing the brief time fate allowed before Tisander’s image faded. “There is something I need to tell you.”
He turned back toward her and pushed his hands into his khaki shorts. “So I guess you’ve given up?”
Nessa bit her lip.
“You’re going to let them take everything, aren’t you?” He didn’t wait for her reply as he walked toward her. “Heck, they’ve already gutted me from the place. Should be easy now.”
“No, not that,” Nessa interrupted. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now.”
“It doesn’t?” Tisander asked, his eyes turning sad. “Do you want to be rid of me, too?”
“No, God no,” she cried, fighting the urge to reach for him, because she couldn’t bear if her hand passed through him, just another illusion in the confusing world that had taken over hers. She breathed in deeply and pressed on. “It’s something else that changes everything. Tisander…”
“I’m listening,” he said in that voice that had always meant the opposite. It used to annoy her.
“You know the day you died?” she blurted out.
“Can’t forget that, I’m afraid,” he muttered.
“I knew when it happened. We lost our baby that very same moment.”
“I’m so sorry, Nessa.”
“You don’t understand, Tisander. I’ve found our baby. The sea took our child, but like a miracle, I’ve seen—”
“Yeah.” Tisander sighed and looked down, his ghostly foot softly kicking the sand. “Yeah, I’ve seen him, too.”
“You have?” Nessa cried excitedly. “Then you know!”
“Know what?” he said sadly, his eyes dark with emotion. “That life sucks when you think about it? That life is loss. And your own family can hollow you out of it?”
“No,” Nessa whispered. “No, my love. That there is always hope.”
His glimmering hand reached up to touch her chin. Though she couldn’t feel his touch, the gesture comforted her, after all. “So you haven’t given up, then. My courageous, little Ness. I’m glad for that.”
“I can’t,” she said. “Not when my child needs me.”
He looked at her strangely, as if he did not understand what she meant. His hand dropped away from her. “And we will always be waiting for you, Ness. When the time comes.” He slowly faded away before her eyes, leaving behind the sea.
Nessa sat down in the sand and watched the sunset. She opened the bottle of Pinot Grigio and lit the fire. She waited.
Ma maaaa, ma maaaa.
Nessa bolted awake. She had fallen asleep and the fire was nothing more than amber flecks of smoldering heat. From the darkness of the sky, she guessed much of the night was over.
Nessa jumped to her feet and ran to the ocean’s edge just as the moon escaped the silver clouds. “Oh! My beautiful baby,” Nessa whispered.
The girl wrinkled her button nose, then swam in a circle.
A beautiful girl! Momentary confusion clouded Nessa’s thoughts. Tisander said that he’d seen him.
But Nessa’s heart melted as she stared adoring the magical girl. Golden-honey hair framed her round face. Soft, pudgy cheeks with a hint of rosy color narrowed to a pointy chin with just a touch of roundness under pouting lips. The girl called out again, revealing pointy teeth.
In the moonlight, her angelic face was dusted with glittering sand. Her eyes were as bright as the froth from the sea, her voice insistent as the tide.
My child is a cherub. The sea had snatched her baby and wrapped her in emerald before God could give the girl wings. I knew I wasn’t dreaming! I’m not going mad!
The young mermaid called again then made a noise like giggling, but the sound dipped down to a mournful cry, disjointed and quivering.
“Oh… you are not laughing, are you?” Nessa whispered, worried. The mermaid blinked quickly, and tears spilled beneath her eyes to join the trail of ocean water down her cheeks.
“Please, don’t be frightened,” Nessa begged as she carefully waded into the water. Immediately, her skirt sagged around her legs, and Nessa lifted her hem while carefully stepping closer, determined to follow the girl. But the girl swam away like a seal chasing a fish.
“No,” Nessa whispered, then shouted, “No, please don’t go. Come back!”
The young mermaid swam farther away while staying near the shoreline.
Is she playing? Nessa began to fear she would never know. The mermaid’s form shrank further, her golden hair becoming merely a green dot under the moonlight. When the girl had finally disappeared under the sea, Nessa felt her heart twist with loss.
The moon disappeared, too. Nessa scanned the dark horizon, right to left.
Small, surrounded by the darkness of the sea, under the overwhelming canopy of clouds and sharp, brittle stars, Nessa sobbed.
Insignificant, without any love to hold her up, she felt the weight of her body, its lack of buoyancy as if all the pain within her had turned to lead at her ankles. She dropped her skirt hem, her eyes pinned to the far horizon of water.
She took a deep breath and moved two steps toward that nothingness of starry everythingness as a chilling cold filled the pit of her stomach. She took a third step. And a fourth.
With a great splash, the young mermaid surfaced, barring Nessa’s way. The girl turned around in the waters and flicked her tail. She frowned.
Relief flooded Nessa’s soul. Then another splash of the mermaid’s tail doused Nessa’s head with water.
“Okay, sorry!” Nessa said, wiping salty tears and sea water from her eyes. “I’m trying, but I don’t have a tail!”
The girl’s lips twisted, and she nodded before leading the way. Rocks replaced the sandy bottom as Nessa edged along the shoreline, toward another part of the island where the ground rose higher and merged with a cliffside.
Nessa followed the child in the darkness, sometimes seeing the faint glitter of sparkling, golden hair, other times the darting eyes of luminous turquoise as the mermaid girl coaxed Nessa onward.
I‘ll follow you anywhere, Nessa promised silently. I’m right behind you. Don’t worry. I am following you.
Another bend and another, they waded deeper into the water. The child was swimming, and Nessa was up to her chest in kelp-tangled waters. The darkness mixed with time, stretching into what seemed like hours until they were right underneath the highest point of the cliffside, and the cliff cast its shadow over their spot among craggy bushes and harsh shrubs and thistle-like branches.
Carefully, Nessa avoided the sharp branches as she watched her child do the same but with little effort. So at ease in the waters, Nessa thought as she watched the young mermaid splash farther ahead, quickly moving toward a set of rocks twenty yards out from the shoreline.
Nessa took a deep breath and followed her. At first, she could only see the outline of the rock, but as they approached another shape stood out, darker than the gray stone yet barely discernible from the natural formation. Then a large fin lifted from the water and fell heavily back down.
Sea lion? Nessa wondered. She moved closer.
“Ma maaaa,” the young mermaid cried, insistent.
A dry cry answered, choked and muffled. Nessa squinted in the darkness. Upon the rock lay a mermaid.
The child’s true mother.
“Oh my God,” Nessa whispered as the truth dawned on her.
Of course, she isn’t my child. Nessa’s nostrils flared as she sucked in a moment of deep disappointment and loss. How could I be so stupid—so crazy?” Then with the next breath, she fought against the painful talons of jealousy as they ripped her insides.
“P-Please,” the mermaid begged hoarsely. Her golden-honey hair had become so entangled in the thorny brush that her neck was immobile. Her head could not even move from right to left.
Nessa’s eyes teared as she nodded, her jealousy fading as she reached the rocks and lifted herself onto the ledge.
“How did this happen?” Nessa whispered.
The mermaid’s chest lifted and fell unevenly. Her ribs were bruised purple and jutted against the taut skin. The poor mermaid hadn’t eaten in many days. Has she been trapped here since the night I first heard her daughter’s cries?
“How can I help?” Nessa asked her softly.
The mermaid breathed shallowly, her lungs wheezing. Carefully, she moistened her lips. “My hair. Stuck.”
“Yes.” Nessa nodded in sympathy. “I see that.”
“I can go back to get some shears… scissors to cut—”
“No, no cut. Not cut hair. Cut, I die.”
A chill passed down Nessa’s spine. “I cannot cut your hair? If I do you will die?”
The mermaid blinked slowly.
Nessa took a deep breath. “Okay then. Cutting your hair is out of the question.” Nessa eyed the formidable, thick branches. “But I must cut the branches of this shrub to free you.”
Nessa eased back into the water. “I will return as soon as I can. I promise, I will help you.”
Nessa quickly retraced her path to the beach. There, she took a moment to catch her breath, her hands planted in the sand. She bit back a momentary weakness, the sadness in her heart, her hopes to reunite with her child dashed. With a grimace, she lifted to her feet and made for the house.
Water dripped from her, marking the trail of her quest, as she rushed into the kitchen and slid toward the laundry room. She opened the door to the garage and found Tisander’s tool chest. Grabbing a small saw and pliers, she returned to the kitchen and looked in the fridge. Leftover fish from dinner sat wrapped in foil on the third shelf. She grabbed it and tucked it under her arm.
“Good God,” Adam growled behind her. “Look at her.” He grasped Nessa’s elbow roughly. “Where the hell have you been?!”
End of Part Three
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.