Grief didn’t always come in order. Outrage at the death of the churchwarden’s gentle son made everyone denounce the sea creature. They knew better than going after her. Everyone drank to believe or forget the fins that were where the feet should be.
A spectacle was made when John was seen with the apparition of Matthew. Arriving home, a lump of guilt cemented his throat shut. He abandoned everybody and couldn’t explain why. No amount of love could salve the wound he lacerated.
As Eli lit apple scented candles and the minister continued to comfort the Trewellas, furious knocks rapped the door. Charlie tussled to open it. Immediately, his eyes bulged and he fell wet-eyed into Matthew’s arms. John all but screamed for his parents, who came in a whirlwind to find their son alive and well. Jaimie practically tackled him. Eli, who had temporarily absorbed Charlie’s emptiness, wanted to strangle his friend. But he greeted him with relief and joy. They stuck like glue to him.
Matthew retold his adventure to St. Ives again to the listening crowd.
Morveren failed miserably at attempting to not sulk. She didn’t dare to breach, but drifted up and willed the rain away. For a while she stretched out on the floor and let her mind race. Then, mentally slapping herself, she followed him at a distance, declaring herself stupid the entire way.
After locating Matthew and finding him far from home, she charged home ready to beg her father for legs. She believed he was stranded in the foreign city, broke and exhausted. She ended up right where he was, but with a pouch full of aquamarine. The ocean that mimicked watercolors, the cramped buildings with roofs the shade of honey, an array of vessels hunched below a looming hilltop - it all left her enraptured. Yet she was so overwhelmed by the activity, she almost succumbed to defeatism.
Swimming through crowds of sunburned tourists, she called his name. She stopped before the quaint inn to read the signs. In a rush, she interrogated the bartender, describing Matthew. An almost grey complexioned woman with a fur coat downed a tonic beside her. Morveren continued,
“He would’ve been sopping wet, as he was out swimming.”
“The one who sings?” the lady broke in.
Morveren nodded, perceiving her secret. She carried the scent of a sugar cookie to hide the ocean’s saline fragrance. She also had a knowing look about Morveren.
“He stood out there, singing for money. I tossed him a couple pounds and he went in here to eat. I came in shortly after. He asked for directions to Zennor and set off that way.”
“Matthew, that girl. Is she?” his mother breathed.
“She is. But it’s not her fault. She didn’t try to kidnap or drown me.”
Eli interrupted, “They can’t be real. Every time we’ve seen her she had legs like the rest of us.”
“You all saw her.”
“We saw her go under and then you followed.”
“I messed up.”
“Maybe she lured you. Binded a spell or something.”
“She didn’t put a spell on me,” he insisted. “She was my friend who had to leave. I wanted to go with her.”
“You went under and didn’t come up,” Mrs. Trewella choked.
Charlie shook his head. “Matthew isn’t lying. I saw one once.”
Everybody turned towards him.
“About a year ago, Dad was at Rosevale. I went out fishing and as I came back to Veor, there was one washed up on the sand. It was half dead and barely moving, but I couldn’t kill it.”
He shifted in his seat. “But it didn’t look malicious, it looked helpless and small. I put one of my coats over it and took it back to sea. It just sunk.”
No one spoke, but exchanged glances.
“Sometimes I think I hear voices from the sea when I’m out there alone. It doesn’t drive me into the waves or feel like a spell. It’s just..mollifying.”
Matthew finished off his tea. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” John asked.
“In a split second, I chose to follow her. But I wouldn’t have never returned.”
Charlie prompted, “I’ve heard a mermaid’s kiss supposedly allows you to breathe underwater. Did you?”
“I did. Really.”
Morveren thanked the selkie with her tears. Wading back into the water, she knew there’d be plenty more to come. She’d never shed so many up until recently. Her heart was sore, and her mind relentlessly picked at its scabs. Thoughts of every time she fell in love with him over and over again rose.
She doubted she’d see Matthew again. Like the ending of a song or rainshower, he left her too soon. Morveren floated on her back, limbs splayed, wishing she was a seastar. The moon was still visible in the blue. Gazing up into it, she knew she was smaller than a grain of sand. So her troubles must be as well, if not smaller.