I wrote this a few days ago, and today being Tell A Fairytale Day, thought it appropriate to post now.

The Woman Who Feared The Sea

The woman who feared the sea loved the sea. She loved it so much she saw its ugliness. Its deep, dark deep-dark. Her love, unlike most loves, was honest. Prying. In her love, all objects paled, their shadows turned into truths. She expected the worst, and in this way, could subvert its hold.

This is how she discovered that she feared it. She was sitting by the sea with the man who would become her husband. It was 3.30 in the afternoon, thirty years ago, thirty miles or thirty thousand from where you first hear this story. There weren’t that many people around. The shore was prettied with the pawprints of dogs. The man asked her to remove the hairclip she was wearing. It had a pink synthetic flower on it. She obliged. She left it in the sand, next to her thigh.

It was the second time she was meeting this man. Already, her future had rolled itself out in front of her. She could look into the sunlit blue of the horizon confidently. When he took her hand in his and squeezed it, she suddenly felt like she should leave a token to the sea. Like a ticket to a concert. Or a votive to the Virgin.

The waves flirted near her toes. A little nearer, a little further. She was thinking about how to say thank you, how to pay this debt, when suddenly the water swarmed around them. Her skirt became drenched. Sand stuck to her knees. As she stood, laughing, patting down her clothes, embarrassed and happy, she spotted something pink swirling away. Her hairclip was gone.

Ever since that day, she could never visit the sea without leaving a token. Sometimes she would decide the night before what she would offer. Sometimes, if she found herself by a shore spontaneously or serendipitously, she would leave something she would find in her handbag – a receipt, a name card, an unused tampon. There was something illegal otherwise. The only time she tried to walk away, she had gotten back home, turned the key in its lock, and seized by terror fled back to the seaside. Empty-handed, not even earrings to part with, she left her house key, watching it sink into the shallowest wave. It was still on the sand, being lapped, when she left. She didn’t want to touch it again, after giving it up. She told her husband she had lost it.

When she had her first child she took her to the sea. But the moment she stepped out of the car and shut the door behind her, she shivered. It was a downcast day. Her baby was strapped to her front in some sort of pouch, like they were kangaroos. She felt a chill run up her spine and at that same moment, the baby woke up with a shriek.

She took off her slippers and nearly hurled them into the water. Then she hurriedly got back into the car, started the engine, and sped away.

So her children grew up never knowing what playing on a beach was like. Ever since that day with the tremulous clouds and the wind and the fear, she knew she couldn’t take them to the sea. She knew the sea would extract revenge, a gift. Or two. Both her children at once, gulped away like in an ocean horror movie with every trick in the book.

After her divorce, she moved with them to a landlocked city. Her daughter, in adulthood, would take vacations exclusively to coastal destinations. Her son was more like her. He didn’t long for things that weren’t meant to be his. He was steady, certain, elegant in his sensible ways. On the morning of her fifty-third birthday she woke up to a phone call telling her he had drowned in a swimming pool.