A woman finds she must choose where she belongs. For The Writer's Cramp. :)
|I remember when my mother left. I was still very small, but in a way, so was she. A small, silent woman who, it seemed to me, if I touched her, my hand would pass through like smoke. |
I would go to her several times a day, grasp a ribbon hanging from her waist or gently touch her sleeve, to make sure she was still there, that she hadn’t become a ghost.
Then came a day like any other, the only difference was that she was gone. The house was just as silent and the sky just as gray. The waves crashed on the beach and brought a cold wind from the north.
My father sat on the front steps his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. I was afraid to see him this way, I was afraid to see him. He usually kept himself so well hidden.
I didn’t ask what had happened. We continued on just as we had before.
Twenty years later and I returned to the house by the water. It is mine now, should I choose to keep it.
The journey there took both longer. . . and shorter than I’d hoped.
The door creaked wickedly on my way in, just as it always had. I closed it behind me and turned to face the house. The air was so still and quiet, the only sound the pounding waves.
The grayness was unchanged. Gray wallpaper and gray carpets, even the furniture had long ago lost its wooden sheen and now hid itself beneath a fine layer of salt. Everything here smelled of the sea.
I sighed and felt a release of the weight I had been carrying. I could do this, after all. There were no ghosts here waiting for me. Just an empty house.
I began in my father’s room. I felt that it might be the hardest and so chose to do it first. I picked up his dirty laundry and I stripped and remade his bed. I scrubbed the walls and cleaned and waxed the furniture until it shone again.
As I worked on the floor a loose board snagged my cleaning rag, tearing it clean down the middle. I looked closer, for a nail or splinter but instead found that the board itself could be lifted free.
In the space beneath was tucked a small metal box. Inside were a book and a folded piece of paper, aged but still able to be handled. I sat down on the floor and placed both items in my lap. I dried my hands on my skirts and looked to the paper first. Drawn on one side was a portrait of my mother.
It had been so long since I had seen her face that I had long ago started to forget the details. The shape of her eyes, for instance, or the slant of her lips. But here she was, looking so much like herself, right down to the hollow distance that was always present in her eyes. For the first time, it struck me how much I look like her. And how much I shared that hollow look and the haunting emptiness around the eyes.
It was no wonder my father had been glad to see me go. I set the drawing aside and picked up the book. I recognized my father’s sure, heavy-handed writing. Only one page was filled and it was addressed to me.
There can be only one thing left to tell you. You must be finding this, if you do, after I am gone and can be troubled no more.
Your mother spoke to me, only once.
I saw her for the first time on the seashore. Late at night, when I could not sleep. She swam up out of the ocean in one form but soon she adopted another. I watched her step away from her seal-skin and turn from seal to woman. I watched her dance, her body tangled in seaweed and her face shining under the moon.
I had heard the tales, when I was a boy, about the selkie kind and how they could be kept from going back to the water. She was so beautiful.
It shames me now to tell you what I did. I took her sealskin. When she turned and looked at me, oh, her eyes looked into mine and then her gaze dropped to the skin in my arms. All the joy bled from her face but still, she came home with me.
I thought I could give her back her joy. I thought I could be enough. I thought that you could be. But nothing mattered to her.
The day she found her skin, she didn’t go immediately. She waited for me to come home. She waited for me to find her on the line where the ocean meets the land and she said only, in a clear voice, “How dare you?”
I could not answer. We stared at each other in silence until she shook her head and dived back home. Leaving me.
Here the writing ended. I stared blankly ahead. What a thing to be asked to believe. And yet, what reason would he have to lie? And didn’t it make sense?
I gathered up my skirts and stood again on shaky legs. I stumbled down the steps and to the beach. I stood there until the sun finished setting over the water. I waited, heart pounding.
Soon, she came. Even when she dropped the skin and stood before me as a woman again, she moved with the rhythm of the water, a smooth swaying.
She looked alive. She looked happy.
She handed me my own selkie skin and asked, “Will you join me, daughter?”
I shook my head, “I don’t belong there.”
She gestured to the house. “Nor do you belong there.”
Both were perfectly true.
There is a freedom in displacement.
The freedom to choose my own place.