Sunday, October 23, 2011
Later, much later, Andrina was caught in the net of a fisher of men. She was a soulless thing like all of her sisters, except for the youngest who had earned hers through sacrifice. But when that priest looked into her eyes she felt a pang in her chest.
What eyes they were, round and silver like moons with amber striations radiating from the darkness of his pupils. His hair too was silver streaked with black, like lightening flashing in a tempest, it hung long around his face, undulating as the sea in the brisk gale that blew over them, rocking the tiny boat.
Helpless in his net, Andrina gazed back through long black lashes and the pale hair that hung limp and heavy around her face. She had never seen a priest before, and so his long black habit revealed nothing to her of his occupation, but it impressed her nonetheless. She had never seen a fisherman wear such a garment.
He did not speak to her at all before he cast her back into the sea, and after following him and singing her most alluring song to no avail, she at last swam reluctantly back to the depths.
As the tides ebbed and flowed the pang in her chest grew into an unbearable torment. Creatures such as herself do not sleep, but they dream with eyes wide open, concealed in kelp forests whose swaying lulls them like a silent song. But her dreams were only of those eyes and the way he flung her into the sea and never looked back. She could not bear to dream, and soon could neither eat nor sleep. She found no pleasure in the arms of the sailors that she dragged into the watery abyss and sucked their last breath from them with deadly apathy.
Desperately, she followed her younger siblings' example. After arduous searching, she found the sea witch in her caverns, gumming the bones of dolphins and drowned children.
The witch drew herself up out of the silt, stirring the water momentarily to muck. Then her one remaining golden eye locked onto the pale face of Andrina and she commenced to indulge in a laughter which began modestly but soon rumbled through the caverns, disturbing other dark things that once lay sleeping.
“Another little mermaid tormented by love.” the witch gloated, “And with a priest, no less. This should profit me well.”
“Love?” Andrina felt insulted. “I cannot love. I’m sick, witch, and I’ve come for a remedy.”
“Silly thing.” the witch said rearranging some bones to form her magic circle. “You are sick with love. You were contaminated by that priest. You’re only hope is to make him love you back. You must seduce him if you wish to be released from your torment. I will do for you what I did for your sister. I‘ll give you legs. Now hurry and leave before you transform. I love to eat things that have legs. You have one year, and if he hasn‘t made love to you by then, I get to eat you anyway.”
The witch quivered as she spoke this last line. Then her laughter swelled again, shaking slimy things from hidden crevices in the deep.
Andrina arrived with the storm, tossed onto the earth by titanic swells of white capped water. She hated the legs from the moment she stood on them and each step brought pain as though a dagger had been thrust into the arches of those horrible feet. Andrina dragged herself away from the angry mouth of the sea and staggered up the first path that presented itself, up to the church on the cliff. Above her the stained glass sparkled in the darkness, red and blue and gold, candle light flickering from behind so that the colors blinked like stars. The priest's boat was torn from the dock behind her and smashed in the waves while the wind howled and the icy rain pricked her flesh like needles falling from heaven. Naked and shivering, she burst into the chapel where her priest kneeled at the feet of the virgin. He turned as the doors were flung open and she limped, wild eyed and chest heaving, across the threshold to collapse in a pale heap.
With the same somber attitude with which he had cast her out of his net, the fisherman priest rose and shut the chapel doors against the storm. When he lifted her from the floor, Andrina wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his, but the priest held still as though a snake were at his feet, his lips unyielding. Then very slowly and gently he pulled his head away from hers as she lost consciousness again.
Having never slept before, Andrina lost a week to slumber in the priest's bed. When at last she awoke he fed her broth and bread, things she had never tasted, things that made her stomach sour. He tried to speak to her, but though her eyes remained fastened to his, she could not understand a word that spilled from his tongue. She tried to kiss him again, but he pushed her sternly, though gently, away.
He converted a store room into quarters for her and showed her how to stuff her own mattress with straw and scented flowers. He made her wear a scratchy gray dress and showed her how to draw water from the well. She was made to kneel before the altar with him several times a day. He attempted to teach her to speak his language though she could scarcely manage to feign interest in the coarse sounds that he uttered.
He taught her to tend the garden, but things of the earth withered in her care.
He built a new fishing boat and took her out with him, and here she excelled. She would cast the net and sing in her own tongue until it was heavy with fish. After discovering this talent he sent her to fish alone and tried to teach her to sing his own music. She would not look at anything written on paper, but he taught her to repeat after him and was amazed by the perfection of her memory. She could perform complex melodies if he sang them or played them for her on the organ but once.
Thus routines were established and Andrina fell into step with her priest, each footfall filling her body with searing pain. Every Sunday he rang the bell and one old woman would trek up the path and take a seat in the pews to listen to the mass and take the sacrament and hear the priest play the organ as Andrina sang. Andrina grew weaker with each passing day. The priest was immune to her physical charm. His eyes were more hypnotizing than her own, his passion distilled into religious fervor. Only her voice could reach him and this he bent into his songs of worship, his will stronger than her heart.
Andrina’s pale hair grew brittle and her eyes lost their sparkle. There were days when she could not move about without the assistance of a cane, and yet worse days dawned when she could not rise from bed at all. Her priest ministered to her then and she followed his eyes with her own, as entranced as if she were in the kelp forests of her home.
The seasons passed, 1, 2, 3, 4 and the old woman from town died. Her casket was carried up the cliff by two men with coarse faces and tight fitting suits. They lowered her into the ground and left the way they had come, walking stiffly down the dusty road. Andrina, supported on her cane, watched them go and thought of how she would like to draw them down into the darkness and suck their last breath from them. The priest prayed for the old woman and buried her and made Andrina come into the chapel and sing.
His language was beginning to make sense to her.
“Ashes to ashes.” she heard, “dust to dust.” It terrified her that she could understand this, she who had once been immortal, she who was now running out of time.
That night, she slipped into her priest's bed and he flung her out, just as he had flung her from his net eleven moons ago. He made her kneel with him and prayed for her forgiveness and salvation the rest of the night. As the dawn broke over the sea outside and peeked through his small window he clasped her face in his hands and said:
“My child, god's love is infinite. Seek his love, not mine. The flesh will die, your immortal soul will go on at his side if you abide by his commandments and do his work.”
Andrina formed her mouth awkwardly over the words leaving large gaps between each utterance:
“My flesh was im-mortal…I lost that to be at your side. I have no soul. Your love is my on-ly salvation, since you caught me in your net. Save me, please, save me, my love.” she wept and the priest, taken aback by her first words since her arrival, turned pale and released her warm cheeks. He clambered to his feet and left her alone on the cold stone floor.
Andrina went out in the boat and sat upon the sea weeping. The wound in her chest had only grown in the months that had passed. She whispered farewell to the sea and the long life which now seemed like a distant dream. She wondered if it had been real at all, or if she had always been a mortal creature, the crippled daughter of a fisherman perhaps, weak minded and fanciful. She wondered if she might escape the witch’s appetite by running from the sea and settling inland, she wondered if she would die somewhere surrounded by stone and root and if some priest would lower her stoically into the earth mumbling about ash.
At that moment the sea hissed and bubbled near the small boat and a black dagger broke the surface of the water, a pale hand wrapped around its barnacle encrusted hilt. As the knife rose into the cool air the sea quieted beneath it and Andrina could see the face of her sister, Arista, just under the shimmering surface, black hair radiating from around the pale oval like the rays of a dark sun. Andrina recognized the dagger that had been cast away by their strange youngest sister long, long, ago in the moment of her sacrifice. Andrina herself had been the one to place it in her hand. Now it was Arista who offered it up. Trembling, Andrina seized the dagger, her finger tips brushing against the cool slick flesh of her sister’s hand before Arista sunk back into the depths. Andrina concealed the dagger under her dress and turned the boat back to shore.
The priest was gone for most of that day. Andrina waited for him in the chapel, but would not kneel at the feet of the virgin. She paced and felt the bite of the earth sting her feet. As dusk approached she nearly gave up hope that he would return, but then he came into the chapel looking pale and weary. She limped to him and shaking he pulled her against his chest. For a moment the pain in her heart was eased, almost transformed to euphoria, but then he spoke into her hair, the heat of his breath touching her scalp:
“My child, my vow is to God. I can do nothing to break my covenant with him.”
She tried to turn her face up to kiss him.
“Save me, please.“ she begged, but he held her until she stopped struggling,
“No!” he cried fiercely though softly, “What you ask for is not saving, you would damn us both!”
The sun was slipping away behind the stained glass, leaving them wrapped in gloom. The moon would rise soon. She fell limp in his arms and wept for a moment longer. Her hand was wrapped around the dagger's hilt as she spoke into his chest:
“I will not die for your God.” She plunged the knife into his belly and he gave a little startled cry as he crumpled heavily around her. “Now you can feel my love, as I have felt yours.” she whispered.
The chapel doors blew open, a sudden gust coming up from the sea. Andrina pushed her priest off of her onto the stone floor where he lay bleeding and gasping like a fish. She took hold of the hem of his habit, and wincing from the pain in her feet, she dragged him out of the chapel and onto the dirt path.
Storm clouds were gathering over the sea and the lightning flashed over the water. Silver against black, like his hair. She pulled him through the dust, ashes to ashes, down the path cut in the cliff, the dagger lodged in his belly, his blood spilling into the earth as they went. The moon was rising, silver over the water, like his eyes, as she stumbled and fell and crawled still dragging him behind her. Her knees were torn by the rocks so that she too bled and her blood mixed with his and with the earth.
On the beach she struggled to her feet and dragged him into the surf, then collapsed with him where the sea met the land. She wrapped her arms around him and sang her most alluring song to him, waiting for the waves to pull them free. The mouth of the sea opened hungrily around them and swallowed them up, pulling them into the deep.
Now Andrina gave him her kiss, drawing him down, down, down with her into the inky depths, far beyond the place that nets can reach, mortal dreams peeling away from them in their descent. She was a soulless thing like all of her sisters, except for the youngest who had earned hers through sacrifice, but when that fisher of men looked into her eyes it left a wound in her heart that not even eternity could heal.