She hadn’t breached the surface in a long time. After all, as the All-Mother, what use did she have for the brackish air above? She had her children to tell her stories of their escapades above, of their adventures, of sore feet instead of hip flexors. All the while, knowing their stories pale compared to hers, to all that she had seen and done. No, she hadn’t breached the surface in a long time, not even so much as to poke her head from the undulating water to feel the rain on her face.
Marcelina supposed it was time to poke her head up again. To think further on this, she went hunting for shark. Her hands flexed readily, tongue poked out to lick permanently full lips. Her body, made round and soft with many centuries of living but packed with powerful muscles, carried her out of her system of caves into the open ocean. These days it took much longer to find ample prey, venturing out of the warm Mediterranean into the chilly, dark Atlantic. Hair miles long drifted past her tail, providing a resting place for fish she deemed too small for a snack along the way. All the while she thought.
Would she be able to handle the air after so many millennia? Her children had told her of the worsening state of things above, comparable to the decline of their world below. Gone were the days of azure blue skies, air tinged only with the smell of salt. Now, Marcelina learned that humans had learned of travel beyond simple ships. They replaced the birds. She wondered what her dear brother Sergio would have thought of being able to replace the birds. His eyes matched those pristine skies, perhaps, when he did pass on, his spirit lingered there, too. There was a burning sensation at the corner of her eyes, a cautionary feeling. Her face could heal only so many times before the tear trails kept their burns on her cheeks and chin. She had done well as his sister, hadn’t she? Sergio had reassured her constantly when she broke down enough to ask. He would hug her with a strength that she still swore wasn’t human, tuck his head in her neck and call her the best sister a man could ask for.
Even when he was an old man land locked and half-blind, he still would lift her off her supple feet. Marcelina couldn’t watch him die, pregnant at the time, but she received his body at his watery burial, cradled his body in her arms and wept the hardest she ever had before. Then she let him go to the currents and the fish, as the endless sailors before and after him had been released. She named her little son after him, and urged him to explore the land above them, to tell her about the family he was named after, until they grew so numerous and distant that she could no longer keep track, and her brother’s existence became more of a faery tale. Marcelina caught the presence of a suitable quarry from the undulations of water that matched the style of her own swimming. Half of her brain switched from humane to predator, senses attuned to track every movement. Her tail’s strong, sweeping strokes sent her on its trail.
The surface held more than she could imagine. As the All-Mother, it wasn’t her job to imagine, but to collect, to remember what she had been told by the ones she bore. Marcelina had grown bored of being told stories and never telling her own. This could be the long-missed chance to reopen that book, to find courage and inspiration. Where had her gumption gone? She didn’t sing anymore, perhaps she ought to. That’s what breaching the surface was for, singing and mating. It could be amusing, to teach the humans above what real powerlessness was like, to awe her children and great-times-however-many-children with the true gifts of their kind. Marcelina hummed a string of notes, feeling the ageless power bubble up in her chest. Even that little bit had sent the fish around her in a tizzy, freezing any movement of their fins, floating aimlessly. Green eyes flashed, and teeth sharpened with the prospect of easy pickings. Her smile was empty of any reason, of any of the parts that made her semi-human. She feasted.
When Marcelina ambled back into her cave, shark in tow by the mangled, bloody gills, she presented it to her second mate with a giddy smile. He eyed her curiously but accepted her kill, automatically beginning to carve it with his well-trimmed, deceptively sharp nails. He whistled for their small school of growing children, an even mix of boys, girls, and those who weren’t sure (Marcelina’s pregnancies had an uncanny pattern of odds and evens, coinciding with the year) and they ate well under their watchful eye. Once they had fed to full, and ambled off to their own desires, Marcelina sidled up to her mate, fingers walking up a tanned arm. “What are you thinking in that head of yours, love?” He cooed, gleefully seduced, as always.
“Ramon, I’m going to breach the surface, explore for a bit.” Marcelina worked her lips along his jaw-line, mouthing the dangling earrings with still bloody teeth. He distractedly grabbed at her hips, but not in passion. “The last time you told me you were going ‘exploring’ you were gone for ten years and brought back a mate I still want to skin, Poseidon take him,” he grumbled, licking at a peach-colored scar over his bottom lip. Marcelina clicked her teeth dismissively, though her heart did clench painfully. She hated when he brought Emilio up like with distaste on his tongue. He didn’t deserve the slander, he never deserved it.
“If you recall, I didn’t plan that. This is different.” Ramon rumbled a wordless submission from deep in his chest, his grip on her softening out of concern into affection. This was how she preferred him: sugary and pliant, living in his fantasy of finally having his love in his arms, Poseidon’s reward after waiting for centuries, after losing her to forces far beyond his standing. Marcelina solidified the decision as she played sweet with Ramon, and whispered promises of trinkets and stories to her children at bedtime, her tail curled around those she couldn’t fit in her arms and hair. That morning she drew up her voice and commanded it with a fervor she’d dearly missed, and launched for the sun.
Her head burst from the surface in a way like a reverse baptism. Air, such as it was, flushed out the water from her lungs, leaving them empty. It tasted flat, still flavored with salt, but now accompanied by a parade of strange smells. Very few were pleasant. Marcelina spat out the water that drained from her nose, then took in gulps of air with a hiss of displeasure. So far, breaching the surface had been far from the epiphany of glorious freedom she had imagined. The novelty had yet to wow her, she was already craving the water on her cheeks, the life in it. Death lingered heavily in the air, despite it having been decades since the last human tragedy according to her history.
Of course, no boats were in sight, rendering singing useless. She couldn’t enchant what wasn’t present. Her arms working in a wading motion, Marcelina began to tread for land, searching for the trademark cliffs that would tell her to turn south for the beaches. The air was chilly, leading her to believe the season was heading towards winter if it wasn’t already there. After some hours, she found the cliffs and paused by habit to feel the memories come. She had jumped from there into the waiting arms of home many times, sometimes with her mate by her side, sometimes her children during the decades on land. Emilio always seemed surprised when his body transformed accordingly for water life, making her tease him about looking like a fish. He would wink and kiss her messily, mocking a fish’s mouth.
Marcelina missed him, wished he had let her die with him. She turned southwards and headed for the beaches, feeling the water become steadily shallower, warmer, grainier. When her tail stirred up more sand than not, she willed her body to shift, an easy mental switch. The process was a bit painful, after having abstained for so long, but brief, and she was seen by no one as she took her first steps on land in eight centuries. Now she was sure the season was winter, as the air was frigid on her naked skin. There was still time to turn back, Marcelina thought. Time to return to Ramon and her children, to let memories be memories. She wanted to, desperately, but that time was brief and swiftly cut off.
“M-Mom? I never thought I’d see you on land, but man, you’ve forgotten how to mask yourself, it seems.” She closed her eyes at the surprised, but excited voice of her daughter. She very well couldn’t leave now, she owed the girl a visit, too. She’d missed this one.
The young woman returned with a blanket, a pair of sandals, and some hair ties, pulling up the thick, salt-softened mass of brown hair into a sloppy bun and wrapping her gently. Marcelina remembered how to walk just fine, keeping pace with her child almost as an afterthought. The planks of the boardwalk creaked just like the ones on that ship, the ones that would give away whenever she wanted to sneak up on Sergio or Emilio or any of the deck hands. Small buildings that were closed for the winter advertised surfboards, snacks, and various necessities for a proper beach day. Their attractive pastel colors seemed rotten and disillusioned compared to the lack of people about, and the chilly air kicked up a very slight sandy tint to everything. “I’ve settled into a nifty seafront hotel with Marico, I think you’ll like him, Mom.”
They passed a postcard vendor on the way to the hotel, one that was stubbornly still in business. The elderly person who worked it seemed deeply surprised to see the young women walking, more so that one called the other ‘Mom’ with complete seriousness. The two looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. They whistled to draw Marcelina’s attention and she flashed them a sharp grin so that they cowered and remembered their place. For an extra touch of superiority, Marcelina had her daughter nick one of the paper cards, her green eyes daring the vendor to object. They kept quiet.
Marico didn’t ask questions when he saw Marcelina, looking back and forth between her and her daughter and giving Marcelina his best ‘I’m a good boyfriend’ smile. “Nice to finally meet you, I can see why the storytellers don’t neglect to mention you.” Marcelina wasn’t sure what to say to him, noting that he looked painfully like Emilio, from his blue eyes to his curvy frame. He was lithe, but strong, with long, sandy hair and eyelashes that curled up in a feminine manner. His voice carried a bit of an accent, from where Marcelina couldn’t place. She smiled approvingly nonetheless, not wanting to make the poor boy nervous. Her daughter returned with a pair of sweats and a black tank top. Having the girl hold the blanket open wide like a curtain, Marcelina dressed slowly, feeling the foreign fabric on her skin in more ways than physical. It was so unlike the dresses she wore, but also equally as soft and easy moving on her body. Emilio had an uncanny way of finding clothes like this, the kind that made taking them off just as easy as putting them on, sliding away as water does from a sea bird’s feathers.
Fingering the postcard in her hand, Marcelina scrutinized the 20s style picture, a shapely middle-aged woman lounging in the sand with a striped umbrella providing shade. Her husband posed for her ogling, and in looping words, a phrase: “Spain, home to bellas and bellos!” It was only after seeing the golden necklace at the edge of the blanket that Marcelina burst into teary laughter. “This is me! Me and Emilio, look!” Sobbing fully, she showed her daughter, who recognized her parents immediately and went to console her mother. She was the last one who knew what had happened to her father, why her mother was still here, looking much younger than the picture suggested. “Oh, Mama, I’m so sorry—I should’ve looked better before picking one.” She went to take the postcard and Marcelina recoiled with a sharp hiss.
She would keep this card until it dissolved in the ocean. Or until she did. “Maybe Poseidon will let me go if I show him those. That the Gemini can’t be separated anymore,” she burbled, in a mess of Spanish and Latin. Her daughter didn’t try to protest, knowing that this picture, just like the others, would do no such thing. Poseidon was and ever will be unmoved to her begging, as Emilio’s last, undeniable sacrifice.
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