Can facing the past transform the present?
In a small fishing town on the Mendocino coast, the tides of time have washed over rumours and suspicions, yet the members of a maimed family still struggle to cope with their memories.
A broken woman, refusing to let go of her vanished husband.
Her widowed brother, clinging to the shatters of the life he loved.
His delusional daughter, planning to turn mermaid on her fifteenth birthday.
But when a young man realizes he made a mistake, secrets start emerging from the deep.
Will they bring further grief, or possibly redemption?
"An imaginative, brilliantly told story. Full of vivid imagery and complex characters,
plus a good dose of mystery."
―Dayna, proofreader, Canada
Foam on the Crest of Waves
Mommy must rest now, to gather strength. Later she will be able to help me haul her into the dinghy. Her funny bone points toward the sky while the gunwale rubs against the soft flesh on the inside of her elbow. I clasp her cold hand with both of mine; the ocean wants to play tug of war. Her fingers are wet and slippery like bull kelp leaves ― I fear they will escape my small palms any moment.
She watches the clouds rushing across the sun. I gaze at her white face. Water splashes over her eyeballs, nose and mouth. My lips are salty too. From tears, or sweat, or from the whitecaps’ froth. I can’t tell them apart. The wind is stronger now. I feel its force. Waves pound against the thin hull of the dinghy. The sea gurgles and foams all around us. Seafoam.
I hear a low rumbling and peer at the horizon. Far out in the west, a container ship goes by. Too far to spot us. The jagged rocks of the shoreline to my right show no interest either. The cliff tops are empty. Nobody lives on this part of the coast. Nobody will look out the window and see our struggle. No one knows I’m here.
I cower in the dinghy, still clasping her white hand. How cold can skin get? Hers seems colder than the icy water. I want to jump overboard and hug her, warm her, and bring her ashore. I can swim as well as a dolphin, but my wetsuit lies in the trunk of our car, which is parked behind the boathouse.
My arms are numbed by the chill, and tired because of the ocean’s nasty pulling. I claw my fingers into the cuff of her sleeve. The rubber stretches. Her arm twists and I let it go. It bumps against the gunwale and flops into the water.
I bend over the side of the dinghy, reach down and seize the hood of the wetsuit top, which is floundering around her neck. I try to lift her head.
Ocean spray pelts my face. My hair hangs down into the water and mingles with hers. Long red locks, swirling ― like in the mermaid painting on my bedroom wall, like in the pictures of the lovely book she made for my sixth birthday two years ago.
“Please,” I shout, jerking her neck, “you have to help me!” Her chin pokes up. Water runs into her nostrils.
She must be too exhausted to move ― or to speak. We are face to face. Her clear blue eyes stare without seeing me. I yank the hood again. Her body shifts sideways. The dinghy thumps against her. I wince and let go off the hood. The boat strikes her a second time. Right on the forehead, where the Band-Aid has been. The cut stopped bleeding a while ago.
She floats, looking skyward again, unmoved, enduring the pain in silence while the water gushes over her face. Her beautiful face. Oh, if only I hadn’t come. “Stay in your room, Abbie, until I get you!” she had said. I didn’t obey.
I try to grab her shoulder, but I can’t get a hold of the slippery rubber. I try to seize her hair, but it swirls out of reach. I paddle with my hands, attempting to move the boat closer, but the sea tosses her farther and farther away ― away from me.
“Mommy,” I scream. “Don’t leave me!” A wave leaps at my face. I blink and cough out water, and when I look for her again, she’s gone.
ABALONE ― Friday afternoon
The eelgrass sways. Kelp curtains shelter me. I sit among the leafy pillars of the serene temple, looking up at the shimmering roof of azure. Streamers of sunlight dance through the moving water. Floating algae touch my arms like loving sisters. The current’s supple melodies wave by my ears.
Down here, we don’t use words. Yet they lie in wait, in the niches of my brain, ready to crawl out and gather, unbidden, unwanted, whenever I try to forget them and become one with the world I love. How can I describe the peace surrounding me with blunt expressions that tarnish its beauty? How can I praise the soothing cool, the colors of the anemones, my finned companions, without employing the only language I know?
During the last seven years, I have mastered silence — learned to ignore my tongue, as I could not rid myself of it. I never speak to the Props; however, I have no choice but to think their thoughts. That is until I meet my people. They will teach me their ways and words, and call me by my true name.
Abalone Macklintock ― I drag this tag around like an anvil chained to my ankle, though not for much longer. Soon, I’ll be able to leave everything on land behind when the indigo gates will finally open and my new life begins.
I stretch out my limbs, and my fin brushes past a holdfast next to me. It doesn’t budge. Oh, to grab onto the ocean floor like the bull kelp with its tasseled anchors — to never let go again, to never leave this place. I suppress the urge to sigh. I still have about three more minutes before I’ll need air.
Across from me, by the fissured rocks, the slender kelp stems part, and a small face appears. The diving sunrays reflect on smooth, speckled fur, turning forehead and shoulders silvery white. It’s a young one, maybe six or seven months old. Yet, it moves without the natural gaiety of a harbor seal pup. Dark eyes stare at me, mirroring my mood. Contrary to mine, though, its unhappiness is curable, its predicament obvious: it wears a necklace — and not a pretty one. Choked by a Prop-made device, ensnared by people who do not care that what they do brings hurt to others, the little seal is facing death by slow suffocation.
It lingers close to me, only a few yards away. Holding its gaze, I hope understanding and compassion will show in my eyes. No words could ever soothe this suffering.
My knees bend; a quick dolphin kick propels me forward, and I thrust my fingers into the thick bright-green mesh tangled around the creature’s throat. It trembles but doesn’t attempt to bolt. I yank at the nylon netting, with no avail. Some of the strings are already embedded in the blubber.
I grab the small diving knife hanging from my weight belt. Usually it gets employed to harvest kelp blades and stipe, now it will give life. The seal keeps still as I fix its body with my thighs and start cutting the twisted ropes. I have to be quick; I don’t feel the need to breathe yet, but I know with the physical effort it can’t be much longer. With every string coming off, I envy the seal more, long to slash my own ties to the world I have to return to. The seal’s head pushes against my belly as the knife slides over its wounded skin. Carefully, I sever the last tightly wrapped cord.
I loosen my thigh hold and the seal zips upward, its belly grazing my face. Above my head, it performs a series of loops and rolls as if wanting to confirm its liberation. I wave my hand farewell, but it darts back to me, nuzzles my shoulder and then thanks me with the ultimate proof of seal affection: the nose touch, before it vanishes into the emerald wilderness of the kelp forest.
Flooded with joy, I dash to the surface for air. Soon I will be free as well. When I’m fifteen, the ocean will take me away.