Don’t think, just act. Or you’ll lose your nerve.
So I didn’t think, I just jumped. My dress billowed out as the wind caught me, then the slipstream of my velocity caused the fabric to cling to my legs. A dignity of falling.
Anyway, it was too late now. There was no way I could stop my plummet to the dark waters below. Some jumpers shut their eyes, afraid of the inevitable impact. I kept my nerve – I forced the fear away and kept mine open, my vision saturated with the blue of my oblivion.
My enemy, my nemesis. The sea. My father used to love the sea; she was a cruel mistress in return. He had been a fisherman on a commercial fishing boat, spent many a year keeping that vessel afloat. A good sailor. Until he’d been crippled in an accident on the water. He couldn’t even walk on land, let alone handle the shifting surface of a ship’s deck. Most of my early life was spent caring for him. I didn’t mind, I loved my father and there was no one else.
My father’s accident wasn’t the only cruel blow the sea inflicted upon us. He used to stare out from our seaside home into the deep blue, sometimes I could catch him whispering, “She belongs to the sea."
I worked out that he was talking about my mother. I have no memory of her. Perhaps she drowned in the same shipboard accident that maimed my father. He never said, and I never asked. I didn’t want to open up old wounds.
We moved away from the sea; that cerulean expanse had stolen his livelihood and his love. Staring at it day after day was a constant reminder of his past torment.
I tried to be the proper grieving daughter, but I’d never even known her. So instead I grieved for him; in my heart she had forsaken us by dying so young. I know that’s irrational; unlike me, she couldn’t choose the time of her death. But as a child I didn’t understand – I just resented everyone asking me where she was and having to reply “She’s dead. She drowned." I grew up without my mother and watched my father’s grief take him. In that respect, the sea claimed both my parents.
It’s amazing how your thoughts fly like caged birds released, just before you’re going to die. The azure maw is hungry to consume me. It can wait a little while longer as I drop; my thoughts on the wing.
My father died last year. I sold the little place we had, there was enough money from the sale to cover the funeral and death expenses and I moved into a tiny studio apartment that was a walk-in closet with plumbing. My father had forsaken me just like my mother had. I know it wasn’t his choice, I know it wasn’t his fault, but the result is the same. He’s gone and I am alone in the world.
I tried to make it by myself. I got a job as an office peon. I put up with the exploitation and abuse. The furniture was worth more than me; it had value. I tried to fade into the background to avoid the wrath of my boss. His dreams had been crushed by society when he was young; now it was up to him to drain the joy from everyone else. He ruled his paper kingdom with a rod of iron – any infraction or threat to his power, real or imagined, was punished harshly.
I endured. I needed the money, just to pay the rent on my closet studio. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had some level of acceptance, I felt like an outsider; I’d lived here all my life yet I had never properly fit in. My father had been my only friend.
It’s not as if I had some freakish outward appearance, nor was completely socially awkward. I felt like I didn’t belong – and they knew it. Even under the common tyranny of our boss, I was a pariah, no matter how I tried to be accepted.
There would be no-one left to mourn me when I am gone. My in-tray would boil over with paper and my boss would storm up on the warpath to my empty cubicle and it would be frustrating — a loaded gun unable to fire — because I wouldn’t be there. Rent day would roll around and my slug of a landlord would hammer on the door of my closet and find nothing but the empty shell of my former life.
As my mother had forsaken me, as my father had forsaken me, so had the land forsaken me. Let the sea claim me as it had my parents. All three of us prisoners eternal of the big blue.
No more time for thought – I’m a second away from the blue of my oblivion. Now I lose my nerve and shut my eyes to block out the mocking visage of the smug sea.
Shockingly cold, I descend deep with the impact. My drenched clothes drag me even deeper. Even if I wanted to survive, there’s no way I could make the swim to the surface.
They say drowning is an easy way to go – like sleep – but I can feel the warmth leave me, a spreading numbness clawing up my legs from my toes. I release the air in my lungs and surrender to the chill grip of the sea; I am no challenge.
Is this death approaching? Is death cool and dark, no tunnel of light or searing hellfire?
They say that suicides go straight to Hell, no chance of salvation. Do not pass “Go", do not collect two hundred dollars.
So what was this? I’ve been under the waves for far too long now. To be trapped within the sea forever; is this my hell?
I still can’t feel my legs. I’m not cold anymore, there’s no numbness. My hair billows out in the current and I begin to make out shapes on the sea-bed. Running a hand down my dress and beneath and bending in the water to see what’s wrong. Hands fluttering over smooth scales that extend down from my abdomen along to my tail?
I gaze awestruck at my new form. From midriff downwards I’m dressed in shining gold, my new scales clothing me as my old dress is swept away by the currents.
In that moment of realization, my memory comes flooding back. Seeing my mother swimming in the water, bare-breasted torso visible but with a flash of gold as she moves. Her smile is love, her eyes bright and brilliant green, just like mine.
My father spoke truly, “She belongs to the sea." I misunderstood his grief – she hadn’t drowned; crippled as he was, he could no longer go to see her. He couldn’t even send her a message. He had forsaken her by his injury – perhaps it was the guilt that lay upon his shoulders that pushed him beneath the soil. He is dead, and I have mourned his passing, but I am so thankful to be alive. My life on land is over; my life in the sea now begins.
As the land has forsaken me, I forsake it – I have another choice now, I embrace the deep and tranquil sea. It’s calm under the waves – something that the land-dwellers rarely know, compared to the hustle-and-bustle of urban life.
I think of my mother – how long do mermaids live, anyway? Is she still pining for her lost sailor, wondering what happened to her baby girl? After all these years, is she even still alive? Does she remember her sailor, does she remember me?
I have purpose, I have vision. My choice – my way – because here under the waves, I am free. I will find her as I explore our world.
Mother, I’m finally home.
This piece has been superbly illustrated by Shanina Conway here
Look at the picture AFTER you’ve read the story!