Easter is for me stories. All kind of stories really, but mostly magical tales of ghosts and fantastical creatures. So I have given myself a challenge this easter, to write and share as many stories as I can. This is the first. I hope you will enjoy it.
By the willowed banks of a black lake, between a grove of old cashew nut trees and a thick bramble hedge, someone has pulled a boat on land. The green paint is scaling off the keel and white prickly splinters poke up from the dried up wooden surface of the stern. A name tag on the side of the boat reads: Memory. I should know, I put it there, and yet, I have never seen the boat anywhere but on land. It is not my boat.
I first noticed her on a rainy day in April. I know what you are going to say, there is no such thing as a mermaid, and you are probably right. I never really saw a fish tail. Just a girl with long black hair and a blue dress sitting on a rock beside the boat crying.
I was a student, just months away from graduation. Life seemed like a broad pathway with opening doors on each side, every door revealing some new and exciting opportunity. I loved walking, especially by any body of water. I took immense pleasure in the play of light on expanding ripples, willows swaying against the blue surface, and the quiet pathways with tiny round pebbles crunching under my feet. I walked by that particular lake often, breathing the scent of the wind beaten lake, sweet and fresh. It was always quiet. People prefer treadmills in front of TV’s to cold and humid nature, vulnerable to shifting weather, these days. But that particular day there was one exception: the girl in the blue dress.
When I first heard her crying I didn’t know what to think or do about the situation. Had she come here for privacy, should I just leave her alone? Or was it my own awkwardness around strangers that prevented me from approaching her?
“Oh, I am sorry, have I startled you?” It was the girl who spoke first. I apologized for sneaking up on her, slightly embarrassed, and turned around to leave. “It’s okay, you can come and sit with me if you like.” Her face looked so vulnerable and imploring I could not get myself to decline her offer, so I made my way through the netted brambles and sat down on a black slippery rock beside her. She smiled at me through her tears and I could see that she had green glassy eyes, like an exotic fish, I caught myself thinking, and pale gauze-like skin. She was beautiful in an ethereal way. ” I love coming here to see my boat.” She sighed and gave me a curious smile. ” He used to take me out rowing all the time, ” she continued. I assumed she was talking about a man now. ” That was when he was still in love with me. ” I nodded, feeling her loneliness deep within my own heart, like a hushed sea in a conch you’ve taken back to the city after a day on the beach. Faint, but still there if you really listen for it. Much like her story:
We met in a bar. I know, not very romantic, but that is what it was. He bought me a drink, and I accepted. He took me home with him afterwards, and I guess I just never left. Oh, those first days together were like in a fairy tale, filled with roses and talk of dreams and late night kisses. And of course the boat. He gave it to me one day by the lake. He knew how much I missed the sea. Every day that summer we went rowing. I sat at the rear with my bare feet in the lake, he lifted and lowered the oars into the water, it was like a dance, how the boat rose and fell into the water by the touch of those oars. He was red -headed with purple-green eyes. His skin was tanned and smooth. Water made him dreamy and still, even the rain, when it beat steadily on our bedroom window. He was the last thing I saw before closing my eyes to sleep, and the first thing I saw when I opened them. Sometimes I could swear I could smell the sea on his breath. Salty and wild. Gradually he took the place of the ocean in my heart.
But summer came to an end, and he had to go back to his office job. His bare feet were covered up in black leather shoes, and he cut his red hair short. Long days I spent alone. First I missed him, then I missed the sea. Our flat was far from the lake and even further from any seaside. But one day I defied the distance and walked on the gray cold concrete to our black still lake. I took off my shoes and dipped my bare feet into the cool colorless water. I sat like that for hours, until a hundred tiny fish came and nibbled at my red skin, irritated by the uncomfort of shoes. I let them remove the layers of my hardened skin, until the soft glow of the water was restored. I came back late that day, and my feet were tired. He scolded me, told me it was too far to walk by myself, and I begged him to take me out rowing again. “Tomorrow,” he said.
Tomorrow came and went, and more tomorrows came and went, but he said he was too busy.
I took to going to the lake every day, timing the journey so that I would return before him. The fish nibbled and restored my skin. For each hour I was in the water I became more and more at one with all that lived in it. I learned their ways. And they, I suspect, learned mine. I whispered my secrets to the deep dark blue. My breathing slowed, my movement slowed. The lake and its many creatures was never too busy to listen or to love me. I pretended to myself that I loved him more.
One day I again asked him to take me out rowing, but the same answer came, he was too busy. Something broke in me that day. When I dreamed back to those summer days I saw a different man, not the one standing in front of me. I missed that man. The man that smelled of the sea and made boats dance on water. He was gone, perhaps spirited away by the lake itself.
The next morning I went to the lake as usual, but this time I did not sit on my rock. I pushed the rowing boat gently off the bank and into the cold autumn water. I did not bother about the oars, I just dipped my feet into the lake like I had in those first days of summer, and let the current take me farther and farther away from land, from people and houses, roads and the shoes we must wear to walk on them. It started raining and I smiled. When the boat was as far from the banks as possible, I let myself glide into the water. It welcomed me with its silence and its softness. I was home. At last.
I don’t know what happened to the boat that day. But a year later I resurfaced and found it here, the same place it had always been: on land. I still miss him, but I was happy to return to my family, I guess my love for my home: the sea, was in the end stronger than my love for him.
As her story ended, she stopped crying and stared longingly at the old boat. I got up and stretched my legs, walking slowly over to the boat. Was it really her boat? Or was she just a sad lonely lost girl making up stories? When I turned around to look at her once more. She was gone. I never saw her again.
By the willowed banks of a black lake, between a grove of cashew nut trees and a thick bramble hedge, someone has pulled a boat on land. It is almost invisible against the greenery. No one ever comes here but me. I guess everyone is too busy to bother about the life of an old dried up rowing boat.