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Diary of a radical merma.., p.14
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       Diary of a Radical Mermaid, p.14

           Deborah Smith
 
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  “But there are some happy cases?”

  “Yes. Lilith’s younger sister, Mara, tormented a Lander for years, and he tormented her. But now they’re together, and happy. He’s Griffin Randolph’s uncle. Griffin is only a Mer on his mother’s side, you see. Randolph men are notoriously strong-minded when it comes to Mer women. But the story of Griffin’s parents — now, that’s a different story. A typical Mer/Lander tragedy. His mother was a beautiful McEvers, from Scotland.”

  “Related to Rhymer?”

  “Yes. An older cousin of his and Tara’s. Undiline McEvers. She came here to visit the Bonavendiers, then fell in love with a Randolph shipping heir. Porter Randolph. Pure Lander, through and through. She hid her Mer heritage from him.” Tula raised a foot, clad in a shimmering, high-heeled sandal. She spread her toes slightly, showing off the beautiful webbing. “She even mutilated herself for him. She cut the webbing from her feet.”

  I raised one of my low-heeled, sandaled feet, staring at my plain toes wistfully. “How could she bear to do that?”

  “She adored him. He adored her. She feared he couldn’t accept the truth. So she hid her Mer status from him and married him. They were deliriously happy when Griffin was born. She had a doctor secretly remove his webbing, too. So Griffin was raised not knowing he and his mother were Mers.”

  “Oh, Tula.”

  “But eventually Porter discovered the truth. She’d been right to worry about his reaction: He couldn’t take it. Couldn’t comprehend that Landers aren’t the only kind of human beings in the world. Couldn’t accept that the essence of reality, as he knew it, wasn’t real. As I said, Randolphs are strong-minded. Meaning hard to control. Otherwise she’d have saved him’— soothed him, planted sublime understanding in his mind. That’s how we coexist in the Lander world. By putting forth our illusions.”

  “What happened to her? And Porter?”

  Tula looked at me sadly. “He killed her. And then he killed himself. They’re buried on a bluff at Sainte’s Point. Their graves face your cottage. They built it. They were happy there.”

  I stared at her, speechless. Another giant freighter inched past us, blocking out the view. Eventually it slid by, a man-made eclipse, and the bright necklace of Savannah’s riverfront appeared in the distance again. Tula frowned. “Landers and Mers shouldn’t mix. Juna Lee always says so. She’s right.”

  “My mother was a Lander. She and my dad were very happy. I have only good memories.”

  “She wasn’t a Lander.”

  “What?”

  Tula gave me a gentle smile. “There are a lot of people in the world who love the water beyond reason, who have special talents, who know they’re not quite like everyone else. Almost always they’re Floaters, like you. They have Mers in their recent bloodlines. They just don’t know it. Your mother was a descendent of a Mer clan in northern California. Lilith told me so, before she left Sainte’s Point. Your mother was a Miakawa.”

  “A Miakawa? But . . . that’s a Japanese surname, and my mother wasn’t Asian-American. She was a brownish blonde with light eyes. She and Dad ran a bookstore on Cape Cod. She grew up on the coast of Maine, helping her father catch lobsters.”

  “But her great-grandmother was a Miakawa who migrated from Japan. A full-fledged Singer. So you’re a Mer on both sides of your family tree. That is, your family river, as we Mers say.” Tula smiled. “Did she ever mention whether she and her father caught lobsters in a trap — the Lander way — or by hand?”

  After a long moment, I said numbly, “She did mention something about the fun of outwitting the average crustacean.”

  “There you go. A true Mer. She loved a hands-on hunt for shellfish. For Mers, chasing lobsters is the equivalent of fox-hunting. Royal sport.”

  I held my head with both hands. “Let’s get back to the present. About your own romance — wasn’t there any hope?”

  She hugged herself and shut her eyes. “No. When I let him know about me — about being a Mer — when I dropped the illusions and let him see the real me, he was . . . repulsed.”

  “No. Surely—”

  “Repulsed, yes. Horrified. Afraid of me. Is it so hard to imagine? Look at you. If you weren’t a Floater, with an inborn instinct to accept what Juna Lee told you about yourself when she kidnapped you, wouldn’t you be in shock? Traumatized? Afraid? Wouldn’t you question your own sanity?”

  “I suppose. Yes. Yes, all right. I’ve questioned it anyway. But I’ve accepted my new reality easier than I expected.”

  “Because you’re a Mer.”

  “Just a Floater.”

  She squeezed my hand. “You’re one of us. That’s all that matters.”

  “The man you loved. What happened to him?”

  “I made him forget me.”

  “Made him? But I thought you couldn’t control—”

  “There are ways. Drastic ways. Lilith helped me find a Healer.”

  “Like Rhymer’s nieces?”

  She nodded. “They’re rare. But effective.”

  “This Healer—”

  “Had the power to heal the mind as well as the body. She healed him.”

  “You mean she made the man you loved forget he ever loved you?”

  “Yes. It’s as if I never existed to him.”

  “Where is he?”

  “He travels a lot. He lives in London, New York, Los Angeles. Other places. He has plenty of women to keep him company. Lander women. But he’s never married. I think, somewhere deep in his soul, he remembers me.”

  “Couldn’t the Healer have made you forget him, as well?”

  She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “Yes. But I didn’t want to forget him. No matter how much it hurt.”

  “Oh, Tula.”

  We hugged. She drew back, crying a little, wiping her eyes. “Enough. Enough. I was supposed to take you out for a good time, but here I am, stoned on tonic fizzes, depressing you with tales of my morbid romantic history.”

  “At least you didn’t air-kiss a penis tonight.”

  She laughed hoarsely. “I’m going inside and wash my face. I’ll be right back. Then I’ll take you to a club out on Tybee Island. We’ll eat raw oysters and watch an Elvis impersonator.”

  “As long as he’s fully clothed.”

  Laughing harder, she got up and headed back inside the club.

  I sat there on the shadowy river’s edge, growing somber and sad. Given the chance, would I ever want to forget Rhymer — the most compelling man I barely knew?

  No. Never.

  “It’s never easy to forget what we can never have,” a female voice said.

  I turned, startled. A beautiful woman stood on the patio behind me. Black hair cascaded over her simple black minidress. Her eyes were dark and large. No, not just dark. Deep. As deep and mysterious as the river water moving slowly beneath my feet.

  A little rattled, I said, “I’m new at Mer social rules, but isn’t it rude to listen in on someone’s thoughts?”

  She smiled. “Perhaps.” The dark eyes never left me. She glided up to the rail and lounged gracefully, gazing down at me with that unblinking stare. And yet I didn’t feel afraid of her. She was only studying me, curious. “Quite a show in there,” she said, nodding toward the club. “Distractions are welcome in long, bored lives.”

  “It seemed to go on forever.”

  “You were embarrassed?”

  “Not embarrassed, precisely. But I’ve spent so much time alone in my life that I treasure intimate privacies. Public displays of powerful emotions — erotic or otherwise — make me feel naked. So much about our lives is exposed. Why add the most personal desires to that list?”

  “Nicely put. But you were a good sport.”

  “I had no choice.”

  “You want to do the nice thing. Not offend. Not judge.”

  “I try to be equitable.” I shifted under her stare.

  “I’m making you uncomfortable.”

  I smiled. “I’m always uncomfortable.


  “No. You have a remarkable ability to bring out the best in people. They sense your innate fairness.”

  “You’ve never seen me around my distant cousin. One Juna Lee Poinfax.”

  “Children adore you. You have an endless capacity for understanding and forgiveness. They know it.”

  I stared up at her. “Have we met before?”

  She ignored my question. Her dark eyes seemed bottomless. The Abyss of Forever lay behind them. I felt a chill up my spine. “Are the local children coming to see you?” she asked, leaning toward me. “I’m sure they must want to. Tell me. You’re a magnet for the lonely children of the world. Tell me about the children you’ve met during your stay here on the coast.”

  One if by land, two if by sea.

  I didn’t speak that verse from the famous Longfellow poem about my ancestor, Paul Revere, but I thought it — loudly — like a protective charm. Paul Revere had seen trouble coming and risked his life to warn his compatriots. I sought to warn myself.

  The dark-eyed stranger tilted her head slightly, studying me harder. “One if by land, two if by sea,” she repeated, mulling the words. “When you were young and alone, you chanted that to yourself, for courage. One if by land. Two if by sea. To make yourself believe that you weren’t alone. On land, yes. In the sea, no. You knew, even then, that you would find the other half of your heart in the ocean. One if by land. Two if by sea. To shut out the pain, to shut out the fear. To shut out all other thoughts, and keep your peculiarities only to yourself. Very effective. I can’t hear a thing you’re thinking when you’re in that mindset. I’m impressed.”

  “Who are you, and what do you want from me?”

  She leaned closer. The head tilting. The eyes like black tunnels. She . . . flickered. Like an old television screen. As if revealing some subliminal image. Just hinting. I thought I glimpsed . . . something, someone. But then I blinked, drew back, and she was a dark-eyed stranger again, frowning slightly, as if puzzled at her own reaction. “I’m not quite sure what I want from you,” she said. “I’m still deciding.”

  I didn’t like the sound of that. I opened my mouth to say so.

  “Hey! Baaay-bees! Show us some tit and ass!”

  The loud, drunken male voice was underscored by the raucous laughter of other males and the quick putt-putt of a skiff engine. I craned my head and stared past my unnerving companion at some new unnerving visitors. An overloaded rowboat wobbled down the river, angling our way. A half-dozen blitzed college students leaned over the sides, waving their arms. The little boat looked like some kind of large water beetle floating on its back, its legs fanning the air.

  “Give it up!” they bellowed. “Let’s see some booty! Shake it and spread it!”

  I unleashed a righteous librarian glare on them. “You must be very entertaining at fraternity parties. Take your drunken obscenities elsewhere.”

  They hooted. A couple grabbed their crotches. “Entertain this, bitch!”

  I grabbed a lower railing and hoisted myself to my feet. More hoots and catcalls accompanied my actions. Nothing to do but make a dignified retreat, if possible. I refused to look over at the dark-eyed woman. She, no doubt, was about to desert me quicker than a heron deserts an empty beach. I cringed at the thought of the catcalls I’d get as I limped slowly up the sidewalk in my lowriders and skimpy top, a scrawny Britney Spears imitator with a bum leg.

  I heard guttural sounds. When I looked at the rowboat crew, they had stopped flapping, stopping laughing, stopped breathing. They looked terrified. Their eyes were riveted on some sight other than me. Had someone walked up behind me and the dark-eyed woman? Someone much taller than me and her, judging by the angle of their stare? Someone much scarier?

  “Let’s get the hell out of here,” one of the boys finally said, his voice choked. “Please.”

  The navigator fumbled frantically with the outboard motor. Everyone else began scooping their hands into the water, trying to help by paddling. The boat’s little engine strained and sputtered. The skiff disappeared in the darkness.

  I whirled around to speak to the dark-eyed woman. “Did you see someone behind—”

  I was alone.

  She’d vanished. Or shapeshifted.

  My legs turned to rubber. I swayed and held onto the railing.

  Orion.

  * * * *

  I didn’t tell Tula what had happened. I put up a great pretense of being so tired I suddenly wanted to skip the Tybee Island club and go home. She was subdued from her own emotional turmoil and agreed readily. Inside, panic ruled. I was afraid to even think about Orion, afraid to call out to Rhymer in warning — afraid Orion would tune in to my distress call, that he’d follow me.

  Maybe he’s trying to find Rhymer and the girls through me. But why can’t he locate them himself if he’s this close? Something is keeping him at bay. Or he’s waiting. Watching. Deciding whether to kill us all? Deciding whether to risk the wrath of the entire Bonavendier clan and all its many familial tributaries?

  After Tula went to bed I slipped into my rental car and drove to Randolph Cottage I hurried to the end of the pier and stared helplessly at Sainte’s Point. There was no moonlight that night; the island was just a barely discernible shape on a black horizon, haloed by stars.

  My heart raced. I looked at a mile of dark water.

  One if by land. Two if by sea.

  I came from the blood of patriots and mermaids. I had to get to the island and warn Rhymer without Orion hearing.

  I undressed down to my bra and panties, carefully laid my cane atop the discarded clothes, then limped to the open gate where the pier’s ladder disappeared down into the water.

  Taking a deep breath, I dived in.

  Learning To Breathe

  Chapter 17

  The dolphins were screaming.

  I woke to the sound and leapt from a deep teak chair on the veranda at Sainte’s Point. The dolphins massed in the cove just off the docks, a dozen or more of them, calling me in a high-pitched trill that vibrated inside my skull. The air was pink with dawn; the brisk rumble on the seaward beaches said the tide was near its peak. Jordan came running outside, looking more than a bit half-asleep and rumpled. It had been his turn to grace a couch in the front parlor, while I sat guard duty outdoors. “What are they calling for, Rhymer?” he yelled.

  “Someone’s needing help, they say. Stay here. I’ll go see. You go upstairs and station yourself outside the girls’ suite.”

  He ran back inside. I slung a gun over one shoulder and ran down the knoll to the marina. The dolphins chattered and squealed. We do no’ share so much a language with them as an understanding. Akin, you might say, to Lassie rushing home to bark: Timmy’s down the well!

  Your she, your she, your she, they were telling me. Hurt, hurt, hurt.

  My she. Dolphins were none too concerned with niceties. They decided things by blunt observation; they were practical matchmakers. My she. Moll. Hurt.

  Tell me where, I signaled. They did. I ran back up the knoll and plunged down a forest path, headed for the island’s bayside.

  I found Moll unconscious in the sand of a gray little shore facing the mainland. The currents built grand beaches on the island’s seaward edge but little more than narrow strips of muck and sand on the bayside. Moll was streaked with mud the color of pewter. She lay on her back, barely clear of the water, dressed in naught but her lingerie.

  “Moll,” I groaned. I scooped her up and carried her onto dry sand, then knelt with her draped across my arms. She was cold as ice, but then, our kind are cold-skinned in the water, conserving our warmth deep inside, the way the other sea mammals do. I bent my head close to hers and sighed with relief when I felt the faint puff of her breath on my cheek.

  She was not near-drowned — for a Mer, even a Floater such as she, drowning is a rare concern. But she was exhausted to the point of forgetting to breathe. I rimmed her lips with a fingertip, gently forcing them open. Then I sank my open mouth onto h
ers, and exhaled into her lungs.

  Her heartbeat quickened; I felt the rhythm in my blood. But it wasn’t enough. When a Lander performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on another ailing Lander it’s a mechanical action, inflating the lungs, coaxing the muscles to flex, the nerves to fire. But the procedure for us Mers has a different intent. It’s an infusion of oxygen, a gift of living breath. I had to remind Moll’s lungs to search out the deep stores of oxygen that can let a Mer stay underwater for an hour or more at a time.

  I needed the water’s help.

  Trust me, Moll. I carried her into the bay, covered her mouth with mine again, then sank beneath the surface. The water was black and murky. Dolphins surrounded us, fighting off everything from curious minnows to aggravating jellyfish. I breathed into Moll; I held her tongue aside with my tongue. Moll and I shared an essence of ancient water memories; the unseen vapor of our kind. We were bodies of water and, for us, the water breathed.

  Moll came to with a languid start. Her tongue curled around mine sweetly. She knew it was me. Her body arched in my arms; I held her tighter and continued to breathe into her. Slowly, she lifted her hands and stroked the sides of my face. Then her arms slid around me.

  I’m no fool. No monk or saint. I was instantly hard, instantly needing her. You’re here, she whispered in my mind. You’re inside me already. More. I want more. I want the rest of you.

  You own all of me, Moll. With a quick fumble of my trousers and her panties, I slipped inside her.

  She curved her good leg around my back. I eased the other one close to my hip, and stroked the scarred thigh.

  Together, we came back to life.

  * * * *

  They knew. Stella, Isis, and Venus knew I’d made love to their uncle.

  “Good afternoon, Aunt Molly, “ they said in unison, smiling, when I woke with them sitting in chairs beside my bed. I blinked. The world came into focus. I was submerged in the deepest feather mattress at Sainte’s Point, in a golden guest room of antiques and fine brocades. The early afternoon sun streamed across my silk comforter. I pulled it higher on my chest and did a quick mental checklist of my hidden parts. Muddy, sodden bra? Gone. Muddy, sodden, ripped panties? Likewise. Rhymer had tucked me into this gorgeous bed, naked, kissed me, and held me until I fell asleep.

 
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