Thursday, April 15, 2021

The One That Got Away by Malina Douglas

Understand, I was ignorant. I did not yet know what love was, though my body responded easily to the trills of a strange new song. My intent was not to capture him—well, not exactly. At first I was merely curious, at the great dark shape that drifted through the water.
I pulled myself onto a rock to take in the great curved hull, the ghostly sails. That was when he saw me. He was resting his well-sculpted forearms on a long wooden rail, his outward gaze resting softly on the horizon. He turned. His eyes, dark, piercing, strange, bore into mine like a swift and sudden wave. A tingle stirred through me. I had no words—so I sang. Long melodious sounds poured out of me, sounds I had never before made, released by the feeling that stirred them. I expanded in a vast and far-reaching rapture, to thrill him, to extol him, to pull him nearer.
He leaned forward, his lips half parted, dark locks swirling at his temples. I caught him in a smile and his lips stretched outward like an opening oyster. Time froze. My cheeks heated and reddened. I sank beneath.
It wasn't my idea to call up a storm, it was Riora's, Riora who waited beneath, red-gold tresses billowing as she breathed through the gills at her neck.
I foolishly agreed, and, without considering what could happen, was taken by whim to stir up a little something--a harmless wind. I was unfamiliar with passion--I did not mean to put in so much of it, for it too quickly become a gale. We surfaced to watch. He had vanished from the deck. I held my breath as the ship tipped fore and aft.
It was not my idea to lead them to the rocks. Riora clenched my wrist and pulled me forward. I thought she was as sweet as her honey-dipped smiles. I could not see the selfish poison she concealed. I should've questioned her. Instead I followed.
Riora smiled and arched her proud back. We swam with our arms cresting the water, our heads aloft, our tails smacking the surface. I was not trying to be alluring, but that came as naturally as the hair that clung to my shoulders, and the pearls and shells I'd strung there. The ship followed.
I should've called out to her when the rocks rose up, high narrow and severe, but she was swimming with such resolve I could only trail behind her. I should've called out to the ship a warning--but the whirling winds would've snatched my frail voice. It struck more quickly than I expected--we heard the sickening, splitting sound of wood; saw figures dashing the madly pitching deck. It was breaking apart; men were falling and diving overboard. Riora became possessed with a fire I had never seen in her. When I turned back she had her arms laced around a man, wide-eyed and sun-bronzed. She kissed his gaping mouth as his feet kicked the water. I did not now then she had long had her eyes on him.
I swam through the bobbing wreckage, and my eyes could not help but seek him. He was keeping himself afloat with one arm around a barrel, dark hair plastered to the side of his pale face. His lips half-parted, his face pale as the moon. I saw a ray of hope enter his eyes when he saw me. I swam to him.
I won't describe our conversation, but it ended in an embrace as soft as a sea anemone. His lips yielded so easily—you can't blame me for wanting to keep him.
He clung to my arms so closely, so sweetly. Each time I pulled him under, he thrashed his way back to the surface. Perhaps I pulled a bit too hard. His fine mouth issued sounds and bubbles but I didn't understand them. It was the soft caresses that set my skin on fire, the liquefying kisses that drove me to pull him deeper. So this is love, I thought, burning in a flare of desire. I wanted to keep him forever.
I wanted to set him down in my shell chair, feed him kelp-wrapped eel bites and curl up with him every lonely day and night. How can you blame me?
The water grew inky; I knew the way by feel. That's why I didn't see his face. At first he squirmed quite insistently, but I kept a strong hold, and he soon became pliant.
It was only when I drifted through the coral archway of my chamber into the light of the twinkling glow-fish that I noticed his face was purplish and bulging. I fed him air through kisses, I shook him, I scratched him, but he would not stir. If only I hadn't been so forceful, but it cannot now be undone.
I learned he must come willingly for it to be love. I learned this as I held his limp body against a rock and pumped air into his lungs, but his skin was clammy; the brief light was out. I did not know that Riora had loosed her catch and guided the rest of the survivors to an island where they could go ashore.
I'd swum far away by then, to an outcropping of rocks jutting out of the sea. I slid the limp hair from his still, puffy face. Rested my head on the bend of my arm and stayed there, as waves crashed against black rock and my blue-scaled tail wavered in the water. If I'd known real love I would've realised it was not this. I was alone with silent terror of my mistake. I've never felt so cold beneath the moon.


© Malina Douglas

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