The midnight air felt as if it was pushing her to go into the water. It was warm and heavy on her skin, sticking to her tongue as Ann Bitterday took a deep breath. It was twelve o’clock and the lights of small gas lamps had begun to disappear one by one as the small fishing boats go further away into the distance. It was dim; the only lighting she had came from the lamps on the abandoned street. Some covered with tall trees that made whispering noises as the wind blew.
Ann sat hugging her knee, eyeing the darkness of the ocean. Closing her eyes, she could hear sounds of laughter and soft chattering from her house. She could hear her parents chat with some of her relatives, talking about her sister. About Meg’s love of the ocean, about the great things she had done in her life, and about the things she would have done if she had the change to live it.
But despite the lifelines inside, the outside lights were off, leaving shadows around the small but cozy house. Ann could hear her poor Aunt Linda, laughing dryly at one of Dad’s strange jokes, while her Mother spoke to one of Megan’s old friends; Sarah. There were sounds of plates being taken out; glasses being set and taken from the table, their house dog Mr. Gen barking to get out.
“Somebody let that dog out, he probably wants to pee,” Aunt Linda said, just before the door of the house opened. Ann looked back; Mr. Gen had jumped off the porch, running with all his might towards her. Mr. Ger was a beautiful Golden Retriever, she thought, opening her arms to catch him.
“What is it, boy? What is it, boy? Are you worried about me?” Ann whispered to him.
Mr. Gen barked, licking her face enthusiastically. It felt like soft sandpaper on her skin, wet and smelly. Still, she knew this was still better than that time when Dad let Mr. Gen run around on his own. Gen had found his way to the garbage can; all filled with sausage, old chicken, and God knows what, because afterward Dad couldn’t let him stay in the house. His snout was too smelly, it filled the whole room.
“I know,” Ann said in a low voice. Mr. Gen leaned on her, watching the few too; his tongue hanging from his snout. With care, Ann put her hand on Gen’s back and patted him. “I miss her too Gen, but you should stop waiting, she isn’t coming back,”
As if it hurt him, Gen turned his head to Ann, and then barked.
“You don’t think she’s coming back do you?” Mr. Gen whimpered, lying down. He put his head on her lap, refusing to answer Mom’s calls.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t run away Mom!” Ann said loud enough for her mother to hear.
“Alright, just stay away from the water, okay?”
“Okay,” And with that answer, her mother went back inside.
Ann didn’t blame Gen for feeling sad, she didn’t blame herself for feeling like a cruel witch; telling a dog his friend isn’t coming back. No matter how true it was. Maybe she should just let Mr. Gen believe that Megan was coming home. Gen was Meg’s dog.
Mr. Gen was just a puppy when Megan found him sleeping next to a garbage can, just a few weeks old. As far as he knew, Megan might as well be his mother. And when Meg left, Gen never stopped waiting. He always sat by the door every night, waiting for Meg to come. At night when Meg didn’t come, he slept next to her bed, and in the morning when he didn’t see her in her bed; he would go out and look for her.
Ann wondered, can a dog understand what death is?
“Hey Ann,” A soft footstep approached her. Ann glanced at Sarah, finding the girl looking ten years older than she should. Without an invitation, she sat next to Ann, “Mind if I join?”
“You should have asked that before you sat down,” She answered jokingly.
“If I did you would have told me to go away,” Sarah said rather dryly. There was no humor in her voice, only sadness, and seriousness. Her hair was short just below her ears, straight, and strawberry blond if not brunette. Ann eyed her earrings and suddenly wanted to cry.
“You still have that,” Ann started, “You don’t think you’re too young for that?”
“It’s the only thing I’ve got left from Meg,” Sarah answered, touching the small seashell with its colorful glitter. “I don’t usually wear this but, I’d wear it to remember her. Just for today, I guess,”
“How do you remember her? How can you remember her? When you don’t see someone for a long time, they always fade away, until nothing is left from them, until the only thing you can remember is that they existed once in your life,” And as soon as she said it, Ann regretted it. She hated making Sarah cry, Megan would always scold her for making Sarah and her impossibly sensitive heart cry. But it was her thought, what better way to tell than to just say it?
Sarah dried her eyes, sniffing her small nose, “Well, that’s what memories are for, I guess? It’s been four years since she died, but you can still remember how she was, the stories she told,”
“Ah yes,” Ann replied, “Her stories,”
“What’s wrong?” Sarah elbowed her, “You used to love her stories. We both listened to it, almost every night. About the Jellyfish witch, the Sirens in the trench, uuuh and my favorite, the mating chambers,”
Ann couldn’t hold in her smile. Despite how sweet and innocent she looked, Sarah was the most perverted person she had ever met. There was a time when they sat on the floor talking about buying a Dildo secretly. Ann could have sworn Sarah was a bad influence on Meg.
Ann leaned on her elbows, feeling Mr. Gen’s fur between her fingers; soft and clean. The wind blowing her face, pushing her hair back.
“I was a kid and you love fairy tales. Seriously, do you think Mermaids are real?”
Sarah taught about it for a moment, “If you think about it, it always felt real when Meg told those stories, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, because she was a great gossip,” Ann mumbled before looking up to Sarah, “I don’t think Mermaids or Atlantis, or Jellyfish witch, or whatever she ever told us was real. It was an obsession, and I don’t want to remember my sister like that.”
Sarah frowned, “Without those stories then we wouldn’t be able to remember Sarah the way she was. Why are you upset about it Ann? Something tells me there’s something more to this. Come on, tell me,” Sarah demanded.
Ann looked away from Sarah, once again watching the flow of the sea, the sound of crashing water on the beach. She could feel everything at once, all her emotions, words that were on the tip of her tongue. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say it, couldn’t destroy the image of Megan’s tragic death. To spoil what was taken as the cause of that pain. It was a good enough explanation, if she said something then she would destroy it.
“It’s nothing,” Ann finally said after a long moment. Sarah took a deep breath, “You know you can always talk to me, say anything you want. Megan would say so,”
“I know. But, I want to protect you,” Ann said in a low voice.
Sarah looked bewildered, “Protect me? From what?”
“From what I think. How I feel about this. I know it’s been four years but I just can’t let it go,”
“It’s called missing someone,” Sarah began, but Ann went on. “It’s not missing someone, I know what that feels like, and it’s not a denial either, because I accept that Meg is gone. I just know from her stories, from all the time she spent swimming, for years she knew exactly what to do to not drown, or get carried away, and the water was so calm…”
Ann glanced at Sarah, the other girls' eyes were large and blue in the darkness. Should she tell her? Should she destroy the image of Meg’s death?
“I just think it doesn’t make sense that she drowned,”
“What do you mean?” Sarah asked, hugging her knee tighter. It was too late now, Ann knew, she had to say it. “I think Megan died of suicide. She killed herself,”
As she feared, there was a very long silence between them. Even Mr. Gen who was half asleep, enjoying the wind, could feel the tension between them. Gen looked up from one girl to the other and decided he was better of somewhere else.
Right when Ann thought Sarah wouldn’t say anything, she finally spoke, “I don’t think that’s the cause. She had no reason to commit suicide Ann. You can’t say that about Meg,”
“You just said to me I can say whatever to you,” Ann protested.
“Yes you can, but I didn’t imagine this.” Sarah buried her face in her hand, and then waved at the sea, “Look at how big that is Ann, no matter how great someone is at swimming, it’s always possible to drown. It doesn’t mean that person committed suicide,”
“Are you going to tell?” Ann said coldly. Sarah’s face went blank, “What?”
“I said, are you going to tell? Tell my parents that’s what I think about Meg’s accident,”
“No,” Sarah said shortly, “I’m not going to tell anyone. But I’m really worried if that’s what you think Ann. That’s not healthy,” If Ann could take a rock and hit Sarah’s head, she would. She knew Sarah wouldn’t understand, wasn’t strong enough to see things her way, to even try to understand. But then again, how could she?
Ann turned her head away, the cold wind brushing her cheeks. It sent shivered down her spine. “Good, then just go, okay? I want to be alone.”
“Ann...” Sarah started.
“I said go!” Ann said, louder than she had attended it to be. The look on Sarah’s face was a blur in the dark but it was clear enough, she had hurt Sarah.
Surprised, Sarah got into her feet and left her alone where she sat. Sarah’s footsteps faded away, while Mr. Gen was playing tag with the wave. With her last strand of strength, she took another deep breath, forcing herself not to cry. It was pointless; it was stupid to cry over something she did herself. She should have known someone like Sarah couldn’t possibly understand what she thought. Megan, Ann thought with a sniff, Meg would know what to say, Meg would ask her what would make her think that and told her that there was always a possibility.
But Meg is gone. A voice said in her mind. You’re never going to see Meg again, and you know it.
In front of her, Mr. Gen began to bark, harshly, the way he would when he sees a cat or another dog. Ann looked at where he barked to but nothing was there, it was quiet and dark and empty; only the small lights of fishermen’s marking the lines of the horizon.
“Gen, Sssh, don’t bark so loud, Mom’s gonna come and get you,”
Mr. Gen didn’t stop. He ran left and right and left again as if he wanted to swim.
“Mr. Gen,” Ann shouted this time. It was the name Megan gave him, and if Gen wasn’t good enough for him to listen then Mr. Gen would. But this time Mr. Gen didn’t listen. Grumpily, Ann went to him, grabbing his collar when she saw someone coming out of the water.
Under the bright light of the blue moon, a shadow of a boy appeared silently; his eyes were shining like cat's eyes at night; golden brown. It may just be her imagination but the boy was watching the house, ducking onetime as a wave passed him, before coming back to the surface.
Ann stood, eyeing the boy closely. Quietly she told Mr. Gen to be silent, putting her hand on his snout. The dog listened, still, he was moving nervously; not sure what to do. Ann wasn’t sure what to do herself. Ann wasn’t sure if she let this opportunity pass, would she ever see this mysterious shadow again.
Ann stepped into the water. It felt warm, slowly rising up to her knee. All the way, Ann’s eyes were fixed on the boy who didn’t seem to notice her there. She took a deep breath, imagining what kind of monsters were hiding in the ocean, what animals were crawling between her feet, sharks taking a bite of her leg, and jellyfish stinging her skin.
The water had finally reached her chest.
“Hey, you!” She called out to him.
The boy’s neck snapped, his eyes were now on her. And to Ann’s amazement, they were shining gold, bright as if casting its own light in a silhouette. She sucked in a breath when her feet lost footing. She heard him gasp, meaning to come closer but hesitated.
Ann couldn’t feel the bottom anymore, only water and the darkness all around her. Her nose floating just above the water, enough for her to breathe and see the starry night. The boy who hesitated decided to leave. He ducked down, causing a small splash of water. His tail, she saw, was a mixture of black, gray, and dominated by white; glittering under the light.
“He-” Ann swallowed some water. It was salty and thick in her throat, “Help!” She told herself not to panic, carefully swimming back to where Mr. Gen was watching her soundlessly; confused. Ann kicked and pushed, kicked and pushed, but it seemed the more she tried the more she was taken away. Ann cried out, once more swallowing water. She cried one last time before a small wave took her down.
On the edge of her mind, she imagined this was how Meg died, and in horror imagined how she was going to die. Ann reached out, nothing but water all around her; wrapping her body until her last take of breath was blown out, creating large bubbles floating to the surface, soft like feathers. Desperate, Ann opened her eyes to nothing but the round shape of the moon somewhere above the water and a silhouette of someone swimming down toward her. She could see how he really was a boy, it was shown from his slender body, the shape of his hip, and where there were supposed to be legs, was a long slim tail.
Her heart began to protest in pain, needing air. Ann closed her eyes again, giving up to the pain, and as she felt his hands come around her she let go of her consciousness.
Ann coughed the water out of her mouth. She took a deep breath, feeling the cold midnight air as a blessing she would never take for granted again. She couldn’t remember what happened; only that she had passed out running out of air. And the rest she thought, must have been her imagination. It was a blur.
Weakly, Ann’s eyes opened to find a pair of golden eyes staring down at her. She felt slim yet rough hands brace her cheeks as if feeling her warmth.
Ann blinked a few times, her sight coming to focus. But there was not enough illumination to make out the lines of his face, only the shine in his eyes. Ann tried to say thank you, to ask him who he was, to say that she was glad he saved her. But when Ann saw his tail wavering behind him, above his head, all thoughts were forgotten.
The boy was a Merman, she thought, feeling as if in a dream.
“Thank you,” Ann whispered to the boy. He didn’t say anything, but instead, he leaned down, so close, until their lips touched. It was a deep, long kiss; her very first. And it made her body warm in shock down to the tips of the legs; like electricity.
Ann wanted to cup his face when she heard Mr. Gen barking, followed by a crowd of people; her mother, father, Sarah, and Aunt Linda. The boy pulled away, Ann could hear him dragging his body, followed by a splash of water. ‘Wait’ she wanted to say, but she felt so sleepy.
“Wait...” She whispered before letting the darkness take her once more.