She is trying to walk between the raindrops. Her head is cocked thoughtfully towards the dark, clouded sky as she calculates where the next bit of water is going to fall. The black umbrella in her left hand is hanging open at her side, forgotten even as it bounces against her leg with each step. It has caused a run in her stocking. The umbrella is filling with water that sloshes with every bounce. Her black hair is soaked, her “dry clean only” black dress is ruined, and her black stilettos will never be the same – her attempt is failing miserably. Luckily, she didn’t want to succeed.
The little girl a few steps ahead of her is enthusiastically jumping into puddles. Her red boots shatter the pools of water, and she squeals with evil childish glee with every pounce. Her bright yellow rain slicker threatens to trip her up with every leap. “This is the best New Year’s Eve in the history of New Year’s Eveses,” she shouts happily. “Oh, look at that one, Mommy!” she says upon spying a particularly promising puddle.
Her mother glances down from her contemplation of the sky to watch her daughter turn into a yellow blur as she bounds into the pond-like puddle, landing smack in the middle. Water geysers up and cascades down on her like a miniature rainstorm. The little girl stands in the middle of the deceptively deep puddle, up to her waist in water.
“You silly little seal,” the woman says, laughing kindly at her daughter’s predicament.
The girl giggles and slaps her hands happily against the surface of the puddle. The bottom of the yellow slicker floats around her, becoming obsolete as the dress underneath it comes in contact with the water. Soon bored with her splashing, she raises her arms beseechingly towards her mother. She obliges, leaning carefully over the puddle to sweep the child into her arms. The girl sleepily lays her head on her mother’s shoulder, the exertions of rigorous puddle-hopping catching up with her.
“I’m glad we left the party, Mommy.”
“Me too, love.”
“Will Daddy be mad?”
Her mother is silent, and the girl falls asleep. The woman sticks her tongue out and a drop of rain lands on it. It lacks salt, but it will do.
“Where the hell have you been, Rónnad? One minute you’re standing next to me and then I turn to ask you to refresh the drinks and you and Marianne are gone,” his voice is a mere whisper to avoid waking the little girl, but it is full of anger. He is blocking the door.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to cater to your guests, Trent, but Marianne and I needed some … air.” She brushes by him, ignoring the debris of the recently abandoned New Year’s party, and walks down the hall to the bathroom. He follows.
“‘Needed some air’? It’s raining and the two of you have been gone for hours. You’re both soaked! And they were your guests too.” His voice begins to rise.
She ignores him. She sits down on the side of the tub with the sleeping Marianne in her lap, turning on the taps and checking the temperature before letting the water run and fill the bathtub.
“I demand an answer, Rónnad!” he nearly yells. The sound echoes off the walls of the bathroom, making his command ring.
She turns her head away from the slow rise of the waterline in the tub. She doesn’t look at him, but somewhere beyond him as she says calmly, “You’ve demanded a lot over the past several years, haven’t you Trent?”
He is caught off guard by her reply but before he can say anything more, a small voice pipes, “You’re not mad, are you Daddy?”
Marianne’s eyes are wide open, staring at her father in concern.
“No, baby, I was just worried. You have a nice bath, okay?”
She nods, satisfied.
“Let’s get you out of these cold clothes and into a nice warm bath. Do you want some of mommy’s nice sea salts?” Rónnad says, turning back to her daughter.
Trent listens to the drowsy prattle of his daughter for a few minutes as Rónnad bathes her, but feels too restless. He kisses Marianne on the forehead and leaves.
When Rónnad walks silently into the kitchen a half hour later, Trent has taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. The bottom half of his arms are submerged in soapy water. He methodically and gently cleans the fine-bone china plate in his hand. In the past, this scene of domesticity would have cooled her anger. She would have walked up behind him and put her arms around his waist. He would have turned to face her and she would have stood on her tip toes to brush the sandy hair out of his eyes and kiss him. And without a word the fight would be over. The dishes would be left till the morning. They would go to their room and lock the door and not come out until late the next morning.
But now she has a choice. He has made too many choices – where’d they live, where’d they go on holiday, even the dress she was wearing – denying her the one thing that’d make her happy, make her peaceful.
He loves her, though.
She had loved him once, back when things were simple. That little cottage by the sea, no more than a shack really, swimming naked everyday because they could. But he had changed that and brought them to this land-locked piece of suburban hell where the nearest body of water was the community pool. The smell of the chemicals would invade her nose from a mile away in the summer, sickening her, making her run to the house and submerge herself in cold bathwater dosed with sea salt.
No, he’d made too many choices and his love just wasn’t enough anymore.
He finally feels her gaze and looks up. She is standing in shadows, her hair still wet and her already tight black dress clinging to her even more with moisture, like a second skin. She can see the nostalgia in his eyes. He is gazing at her in the same way he did on the day they met, the same mixture of confusion, lust, and fear.
She steps into the light and it is then that he notices that she is carrying two things. His glance turns cold, the ocean blue of his eyes freezing into ice. He turns back to the sink and washes the soap slowly off his arms, taking time to dry them.
“Trent.” And now her voice is the commanding one, not the gentle, accommodating brogue it has been for their entire time together.
He turns once more, and is faced with the image of the three things he brought back from Ireland seven years before – Rónnad, the suitcase he had bought her and filled with clothing, and the hatbox he had bought to hide something he had taken.
“How?” is all he can manage to get out.
“Marianne found it when she was making mud pies a few days ago.” Rónnad remembered the look on her daughter’s face when she was convinced she had found buried treasure. It had taken several chocolate chip cookies and the promise of a new toy to soothe the tantrum that had ensued when Rónnad took the ‘treasure’ away upon realizing what it was. Marianne refused to believe it was a ratty old coat. She could feel it was something special.
“You’re not just leaving me, you know. You’re leaving her. Have you thought of that?”
“I explained it to her, Trent. She has a touch of the Blood. On some level, she can understand the feel of the Call.”
The Call – when the words come out of her mouth, giving that longing a name, she can feel the breeze in her hair, the smell and taste of salt, the cold smoothness of being utterly surrounded by water.
“She’s going to grow up without a mother,” he says, cutting into her thoughts. His arms are crossed in front of him, his expression hard. He can’t look at her.
“That’s the way it is, the way it has always been when our two kinds mate.”
She had spent every moment since Marianne was born hoping that they could break the pattern. That she could be both a mother and herself. If only Trent would let them go home, just to try, she’d thought, angry with his stubbornness. But when she was honest with herself, she knew that she was bound eternally to only one thing and it was no man, no child.
She walks over to him but he is staring obstinately at the ceiling. She sets the suitcase next to him. “I’ve filled it with letters to her – advice, history of our kind, stories, ramblings. There are memories in there too, in writing and pictures, even some baby clothes.”
It is then he crumples, but Rónnad makes no move to comfort him. Her mind is already beyond Trent, beyond the little American suburb that had held her prisoner for seven years. She leaves without a word.
Early on a new day in the new month of the new year, on a lonely beach on the west coast of Ireland, a woman wearing a fancy black cocktail dress that has seen better days and carrying a hat box, makes her way toward where the waves crash against the shore. When she reaches the surf, she stands in it, gazing contemplatively into the distance. After a few minutes, two seal heads bob out of the surface of the water, large eyes observing the woman curiously. She smiles, satisfied, and takes off the dress, casting it carelessly onto the beach behind her. She takes the lid off the hatbox, tossing it away with a barely contained joy. She lifts something dark and furry gently out of the box.
Then, faster than you could say “Níl aon tintéan mar do thintéan féin,” there are three seals, the first two swimming joyfully around the recent arrival with grey eyes and the hatbox lies forgotten on the shore.
Leah Wickman is better known as Queen Leah (to her friends) and Know-It-All-Over-Achieving-Mumble-Grumble (to her even closer friends). She enjoys making elaborate plans for simple things; participating as an attorney in her county’s Teen Court (Juvenile Justice) program; taking over the world; playing various instruments; writing (en español) about top-hatted opera-going fish named Cinderpez; driving The Silver Arrow; and getting in odd positions to read. Leah will be ecstatic if she is accepted into Brown University for the freshman class of 2007. She is currently attempting to write a novel, but occasionally finds it difficult without her muse (who ran off with her invisible friend, Fred, to Atlantic City, in the summer of 2005).
© 2007, Leah Wickman