[Written in the margin: IF I AM DEAD THROW ME TO THE SEA]
In laying out the bones of my terrors, a solution may be found.
I’ll start before the beginning, when Mother took me for walks on the beach and told stories. Together we missed my father, who sailed the sea. These are my earliest memories, but I remember things had always been this way. We walked together, and I counted my many steps and Mother’s few. When I stretched my legs, I could make it so my path went over only her footprints.
The sand was soft where she had stepped. Elsewhere was gritty, and unclean.
I was young for all of Mother’s stories. Here I will write the relevant one as best I remember.
“A sailor was on a ship. This ship was far off course when the wind died. With the ship becalmed, supplies ran low and the sailor’s mates grew restless. They watched the sailor’s dog, which looked meaty from eating beneath their tables. The sailor tried to protect his pet. A friend pushed him overboard. The sailor could swim, but he didn’t. He sank into the green sea.
“The crew told themselves his pockets were filled with stolen coins and that was why he sank. They ate his dog.”
This was the first time uncertainty of Father’s return troubled me. I understood the meaning of death. I tried to recall his face.
[Written in the margin: THIS WAS HIS FAULT]
“Later, they heard a woman calling to them, though they knew there were none aboard. She called again, affectionately, and told them where to find her. The seamen looked over to where their friend had drowned, and saw her swimming there, naked. They called her beautiful. Her eyes were dark seas; and her hair, glittering like white light on water, covered her breasts. And while the men were lost in the image of her, her sisters came and sang.
The song stole their minds, and so when the women called for the sailors’ company, they jumped. They might have noticed then the fishtails where legs should have been. The Mermaids took their prey under the sea, where the water is black and nothing is seen.”
She told me this story not long before she killed herself.
That day, we ran to the cliff overlooking the sea. Her hands covered my ears. Panting, Mother stole glances behind her – towards the cliff edge – but her attention always returned to me. She said something, but I heard only blood rushing in my ears. Now I think she might have asked me to cover her own.
She wanted to leave the cliff’s edge, I could see that, but whenever I tried to move her away, she pulled us both back. I used to remember everything about her face. Now I see only the echo of this last moment – her teeth, all visible, in a clamped grin as she wept. In my dreams the tears are not always clear, but sea green and gritty with salt.
I remember when she gave up. She removed her hands and screamed while she replaced them with my own. It took two seconds. She held my hands there and pressed them tight and nodded. When she knew I understood to never move them away, she ran off the cliff.
My mother did her best to protect me.
Only hours later, I was found by a visiting couple. When they pried my hands from my ears I heard the sharp whistle of the wind scold me in Mother’s whispered tones. The woman received bite-marks for her assistance.
Trouble began when I met my wife.
I had fallen in love with Elaine – a woman who smiled easily and sang from a deep place. And despite my severe personality, she reciprocated my feelings. Once when I asked how she could, she said, “There is something beneath your still waters that appeals to my soul.” I did not bring myself to ask more.
On our wedding night, she tied chimes to our window. I heard but noticed none of the gentle, chaotic music that night. When we woke, I asked Elaine if she liked the sea.
We moved to my mother’s house which had since fallen into my name. What I had experienced as a child I now took to be a childish delusion used to separate myself from the true horror of my mother’s suicide. Elaine settled in well. Inspired by the sea, she sang new songs. Her only complaints were that the door latches were too rusty to use and the tap water tasted salty and undrinkable.
Elaine wrote a song for me. She had written many in truth, but this one she loved most. “It’s your song. It has something you carry in the way you are you.”
We both sat on our bed. Her knees were tucked underneath her. As she took her violin out of its case, an instrument she scarcely favoured except on special occasions, I was filled with love of her. The window behind her was open, and the night sea wind breathed against her black hair. Closing her eyes, she played.
At the first note, I shuddered.
At the second, something strong and internal broke.
And at the third, I saw my dead mother.
I remembered her in that last moment, with her scared grin and her tears. She took her hands away, and she screamed so I wouldn’t hear the song. But I did. In a vulnerable moment, I heard three notes.
And here the notes were, embedded in my wife’s song, over and over and over. There were no lyrics, just a melody spun from the core of a suppressed memory. The taste of blood filled my mouth. I had bitten something.
I don’t remember how the song ended. When I regained consciousness, we were bare and tangled. My body ached with weariness and content, but my mind was fatigued with terror. I held Elaine and slept not at all.
In the morning, she spoke little. Her silence scared me. When pressed to speak, she asked if I hated the song. I told her no, I didn’t, and that was no lie. I also told her I never wanted to hear it again. Silence singed my skin. She was angry with me. Elaine would sing and make music as she pleased. I had no say in it, and rightly so.
“Last night, you hurt me,” she said.
[In the margin, ‘Elaine’ is written multiple times.]
If I told her the truth, she might have stopped the song.
During the next few days, my thoughts felt thick and wrong. I doubt I can describe this. My internal self became unfamiliar to me. Some part of my mind had changed, suddenly and irreversibly. Elaine wanted to leave me and I wanted her to go. If things were not right in my head, it did not matter how badly rightness pained my heart.
She did leave a few times. She packed her things and left, again and again and again. I watched from the window, willing her to take the road, to go to town. But she only ever went to the cliff and sat there before returning.
Like Mother, she had no choice.
Like me. I cannot ever leave this place. The sea and the wind play their own music. I can hear it now. It keeps me.
Elaine stopped sharing my bed. I asked if she feared me. What kind of man needs ask such a thing?
I wish she never left my bed. I wish she smothered me with a pillow when the song frightened her. I was afraid too. At night, another woman came for me, and she was not kind.
The moon was unnatural. Too large. Too close. My view from the bed placed it squarely in the piece of sky framed by my window. Moonbeams slipped onto my torso and pressed. She was on me. Her white fingers and silver nails were placed on my chest as she lay on top – my Mermaid with her big, sea eyes.
“You return my song,” she said, “and light a beacon in my dark depths. You are my siren.”
I lost myself in the contour of her neck until she brought down her blue lips and kissed me.
Water flooded my lungs. Heat crashed out from me. Drenched in the sea water that spilled from my mouth, I shook and thrashed and drowned. She held me down, body and soul.
“No death until I have tasted you. Will you taste like your mother? Or your father?
“No. I know your song. Abhorrent hunger and violence is a rare flavour. You, my sweet thing, will taste better than them all.”
In her open-mouthed smile she showed her carnivorous teeth before sinking them into flesh. That wet, tearing noise. I had no breath. There was no scream. The never-ending gurgle of salt water washed my wound.
She swallowed her meat. “How will your wife and child taste?”
In the morning, I woke whole and empty. I thought of my father, who died at sea. His face eluded me still, but I felt his presence that night more than I ever had. I began to understand the legacy he left me.
I was walking past the bathroom when I heard it again. The Mermaid’s song. My song. Outside, I stood and listened to the notes hummed from Elaine’s lips. When I pressed my hand on the door, she stopped.
The tap dripped into the tub. It dripped in threes.
Without wanting to, I pushed the door open. The latches were too rusty to use.
Elaine reached for a towel to cover herself, but it was too late. I saw. I saw the bite marks on her arm. She must have been to the sea. The mermaid must be here.
The song burst forth from everywhere. The dripping tap. The whistling wind. Elaine’s cries. My chest hurt from where the Mermaid mutilated me. Salt tears sprung from my eyes. I could not let Elaine go through that. I had to protect her from what was coming.
It was the song that made it easy. It took my mind away as Elaine’s voice bubbled underneath the surface. When the violent water stilled, the song withdrew.
I looked at her – no, at the marks, not at her. The Mermaid did not do this. These were old bite-marks, made by human teeth. My teeth.
I can write no more.
[The ink consistency is thinner, and the writing is hurried.]
I have lived for weeks afterwards. But the song nears its end. I feel the rise of tides in my blood. She comes too close.
Someone has to read this. Someone has to know.
In the past weeks I have wracked my mind, wrecked as it is, for my solution. I have read this letter a thousand times and now know what to do.
The pain is starting [indistinguishable] toxic medicine.
The legacy of my father cannot be escaped. BUT IT ENDS WITH ME. I killed Elaine, and thus my
It is unbeara
[The pen has ripped the paper]
IT ENDS NOW. See the wind has thrown the doors open. Beckoned. Summoned. She knows not what I have done.
I go prepared – I go to drown.
ELAINE I GO
TAINTED MIND TOXIC MEAT
MY BODY BURNS