It surrounds me. Envelops me. I push my hands out gracefully against the resistance pressing in. I imagine I am a dancer, or an acrobat caught in slow motion. Each movement of my hands and feet beneath me I coordinate with the rhythmic puff of tiny bubbles that issue from my lips. I look up, following the bubbles, trying to catch where it is that they disappear. They remind me of jewels; little teardrop jewels, as they erupt just before they meet the surface.
The surface – it seems as if I have not been up there for an eternity. The blue expanse continues to sway me, only gently, as if I am caught in the midst of the water’s breath. Looking to the surface, it almost tricks me, creating the illusion that it is glass. I shoot myself towards it like a canon. Only, I am caught. My ankle, something pulls at my ankle. It doesn’t hurt, it just frightens me. I immediately tell myself to remain calm as I fumble against the water, looking for the attachment. I panic, despite telling myself not to. I want to cry out, but am greeted only with the cold stabbing of water in my chest. She has turned on me, the water. I allow myself to sink, to reach the knot on my ankle. Deeper, darker. Colder.
In my frenzied state, a sudden wave of calm overtakes me. I feel as though I may be ok, if I stop fighting her. I am shot with a memory of being very little, looking to the surface just as I am now. I had fallen off my sister’s back as she began to show off her newly learnt strokes. I remember trying to reach the glass, to break to the surface. I was scared, because it seemed so solid that it would not even budge, should I try and break through it. Only, the sun stopped me. In the translucent distortion provided by the water, I felt as if I was looking through cellophane or some sort of magnifying liquid. It had me under the impression that everything above the water was emitting florescent light. I was blinded, and continued to flounder about, disorientated as to which way was up. Had it not been for my uncle who watched overhead and plunged into the water to lift me from her unkind hands, I would have drowned. I am sure of it. I am still sure of it now as I slide to the waters heart, like a tear down a lost child’s face. Deeper, darker. Colder.
People say that once a child has a terrible encounter with water, it may be years if ever that they risk returning to her depths. No one was ever able to understand how quickly I got over my fright. It was not as though it was something that plagued me, although occasionally it does still haunt me. It was after my uncle died – the same uncle who had saved me – that I returned with arms outstretch to the ocean. She calmed me. Although she frightened me at times, her lull and sway often had me in a trance that even a passing sea monster would have failed to wake me from. I am greeted with another memory – I would have only been a little older than what I was at the funeral. I was determined to be a mermaid. I told my mother that, should I go down to the beach and not return, not to worry, it was just because my mermaids had taken me off to their underwater palace. I even went so far as to tie my ankles and knees together, trying to imitate a mermaid’s tail. I was sure that eventually, by force of nature, my one leg would evolve into a fin. My theory did not last very long, as I tripped down our porch steps before even making it to the road. If only I were a mermaid now. I am growing tired, I feel what is restricting me. It is a weed, only not the soft sloppy kind of weed that is easily persuaded to release once tugged at. This one seems to entwine first in my toes, then wrap like ribbons on a ballet slipper, choking my knee. I felt it only around my ankle at first, but as I flail and lose my calm, it seems to taunt me. It is the ocean who is taunting me, boasting that she has me in her control now. I will not leave without her consent. Deeper, darker. Colder.
My hands feel numb and they give up fight with the weed. I look to the surface. It is so far away now. I feel as though I am at the bottom of a well. Shouting, only to be heard in whispers. But I cannot shout in the water. I will be a whisper soon enough. The water pressed in hard now, on my temples – an iron vice. My eyes hurt as they fight the salty sting, so I clamp them shut. I let go of the weed. I cross my hands over my chest, just as my uncle does as he lies in his coffin. He is not coming to save me this time. I feel alone. I am alone. The water seems to echo around me. Hollow and nasty. It laughs as I give up, as I open my mouth and breath in the only matter around me. It fills my lungs, helping me sink. I know I will drown. I am sure of it.
Deeper, darker. Colder. Maybe if I wait here long enough, the mermaids will come and take me off to their palace.
– Madelaine J. Osborn