Nessa saw her baby once—the same day she realized Angie was no longer her mother-in-law, not really, the same day Adam had locked Nessa in her room, calling her crazy. The tattered remnants of their family’s thin façade were discarded that day, finally, a week after the funeral.
The smell of a warm meal seemed to trigger the pain and anger in Tisander’s family. In the kitchen, both coffee and feud brewed. And on that unsettling day, the day when Adam dragged her to her room, Nessa’s brother-in-law had begun his afternoon especially rude, noting the cobwebs in the kitchen corners and the layer of dust on a typically unused corner counter.
“What a pigpen,” he spat under his breath, inspecting his fingertips. Truly, the house’s maintenance couldn’t have been that poor. In fact, he had to squint to make out the dirt. “Nessa, the world doesn’t stop. This house is your responsibility.” He smirked. “Unless it’s too much for you.”
Before she could reply, the screen door slammed behind him.
At the table, Nessa watched him march down the stairs, then shook her head, stifling the wish to swear, and turned back to meet the blank face of her mother-in-law. Without a word, Angie looked down, her attention returning to their united task. Nessa and Angie had been cleaning vegetables for a stew, that time snipping green beans.
They had worked out a rhythm. When one grabbed a bean, the other snipped then placed a green bean into a large metal bowl in the center of the table. They had been cutting beans and snipping beans and placing and grabbing more beans in quiet productivity for twenty minutes before Tisander’s mother spoke.
“How old would your child be?” Angie asked.
Such a question, unexpected, shattered the calm silence like a grenade. It exploded inside Nessa’s chest, leaving her without any retort.
“Six months, seven maybe, I think, yes?” Angie continued, oblivious to Nessa’s shock. “Very dear at that age. Helpless. Needing love.”
Nessa managed a nothing-murmur in response and nodded. Inside, she berated herself for letting her guard down after Adam’s jeers.
“Oh, if only you had been able to keep the baby.”
“I know,” Nessa rasped, fighting the pain radiating from her chest.
Angie hummed to herself, filling the awkward silence with a bubbly song. The tightness in Nessa’s chest slowly eased to numbness.
“That’s very pretty,” Nessa offered as she cleaned the beans.
Angie ended her singing with a sigh and shrugged. “A child’s silly song. I used to sing it for my boys. . .”
Her voices faded, and silence returned like a thick wall between them.
“Why, Nessa?” Angie whispered finally, her eyes staring through Nessa, then suddenly fixing on her. “If only you had been able to carry Tisander’s child, how different this day would—”
Angie’s voice had cut off as she broke apart, flinging herself onto the table—for the first of many times—and the bowl of beans tumbled to the floor.
Nessa felt only the air passing through her nostrils as she watched the metal bowl spin upon the floor until it slowed to a halt. She counted the scattered pieces of beans before she could stand up and go to her mother-in-law, who was no longer her mother-in-law. Someone had kidnapped her, surely, replacing Angie with an impostor. Someone had replaced the happy, affectionate, bubbly lady with a hollow shell, a martyr, a frustrated, pained old crone.
Nessa had grabbed this imposter, who had stolen the beauty of that woman, and she had held her tightly as the woman wailed, “What have you left me, Nessa? What have you left for me?”
Nessa hadn’t thought the words were meant to hurt her. And even if they had been spoken to cause her pain, Nessa knew the words weren’t spoken by Tisander’s mother but by this new person who inhabited Angie’s body.
And they were all imposters, in fact, even the ever-missing Adam and Heather. They were replaced more quickly than anyone. They changed overnight. They changed from the distant, cordial siblings into something else entirely. Overnight, within the space of the funeral, they became two creatures very close to the moment, active, demanding. They became raiders who brought their rented SUVs to Nessa and Tisander’s home. Boldly, they took what they thought belonged to them—or to charity, of course. They hollowed out the memory of Tisander.
As Nessa had rocked this emptied woman in her arms, she suddenly realized they were all hollow; the house should be an empty shell too then. She didn’t complain. And when Adam barged in, lathering from the mouth with a son’s anger, she didn’t protest. She cleaned. She didn’t defend her home, exactly as Tisander’s ghost accused days later.
Instead, that night she had walked upon the beach to clear her mind of the family’s many accusations—from Angie, that she had been clumsy and reckless with her pregnancy. That she had never wanted the baby. That she had never loved Tisander. And from Adam—that she was torturing his mother. That she should move on with her life, away from them.
She had meditated upon the slowly rising tide, its long, powerful, graceful waves, and had released the tension from her body. She lit the firepit Tisander had built on the beach, opened a bottle of Riesling, and thought on happier times, like the night their baby was conceived, there, by the ocean as the fire slowly died. Embers in the dawn. A new growing ember in her womb. Happier days, those.
Feeling centered and closer to her late husband, she had been prepared to return to the house when something splashed in the water, like a stone skipping toward the shallower edge. She had gasped, remembering that distinct sound, and she had turned back to the sea. Within the luminescent turquoise waters, a blurred dark mass shaped like a dolphin weaved then flicked the surface.
“Ma maaaa, ma maaaa.” The call, like the bleating of a lamb, hovered above the water. Then the call turned to gurgles. Then the squawk of reeds. Laughter like a flute followed.
Nessa ran down to the water’s edge just in time to see him. Wet golden locks and little eyes, sparkling like opalescent sea-foam, hovered above the water, then submerged. An emerald tail hit the water with a playful splash before disappearing.
Nessa clamped her hand over her mouth in amazement. The golden hair was Tisander’s. There was no doubt in her mind. She knew. This was her baby. Taken from her womb at five months, grown in the sea, transformed into something remarkable!
Nessa had rushed into the sea, calling out to her baby. When she couldn’t find him, she ran back to the house, beside herself with excitement. Too caught in the moment, she had told those in her house what she had seen while a puddle of seawater formed around her. At the news, Tisander’s mother collapsed. And Adam grabbed Nessa roughly by the arm and dragged her to her room, while snarling out curses between calling her a crazy drunk and everything else he could imagine.
“Sleep it off,” he had bellowed and slammed the door, locking it behind him.
In the week that followed, Nessa heard her baby’s cry nearly every night. She would look out her window toward the sea, sometimes seeing faint splashing near the shore. If the cries occurred deep in the night, she would sneak down to the beach and wait. But she didn’t get another close glimpse. Always too late. And as the nights passed, her heart filled with dread. And yearning. And fear. How long can my child survive out there? Alone?
Tisander’s ghost was right. After seeing him fade into nothing, Nessa faced her biggest challenge. She needed to be strong—but not in the way he had said. The house didn’t matter. Their son was all that mattered now. His family wouldn’t help. Nessa was barely speaking to them and certainly not about her worries. There was only one way to help her child. She would embrace the sea.
End of Part Two
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.