by Olivia Yayla

I never thought about how I would want my body prepared after death. I didn’t think my husband did either, but upon reading his will, I realized that I didn’t truly know him at all. Sure, we have always loved our beach house, but I didn’t think Desmond loved it enough to have me spread his ashes there. I never understood it, but my son, Sam, had a different understanding. In fact, he wanted to be there when we set Desmond free.

“Mom, you’ve been quiet, I know you’re not exactly excited to go back to the Cape, but is it bad that I am?” He said calmly, his eyes fixated on the highway but his white knuckled grip on the steering wheel contradicted his coolness.

“No, no! Not at all,” I over enunciated, scrunching my eyebrows and dramatically shaking my head for him to see from the corner of his eye.

“But mom,” Sam started.

“Samuel, I said I’m fine. Now pay attention to the road,” I finished, cradling my purse on my lap as he signaled towards our exit.

Cape Cod had remained stagnant, like the still bay our house resides upon. And as our car wobbled against the unpaved driveway of our old beach house, I could feel my late husband’s presence. My son unknowingly made sure of that, as the resemblance has gotten more and more uncanny as he grew into the man he is today. I look at the aged white awning of the house and see my husband in the distance, teaching Sam how to cast his line in the bay. I hear my son’s giggles and my late husband’s storytelling voice as he fills Sam’s mind with sailor stories of sirens and sea creatures.

Tales of tails that glow green in the day and purple against the moonlight. I never stood in his way. Sam loved those stories. He loved the idea that there is more beneath the surface of the waves. Sometimes, I believe that Desmond didn’t think they were just stories.

“You ready, Sam?”

I knew he was ready, more than I was. His memories of his father were still seen through rose colored glasses. His recollection was still bubbly and sweet. Mine have rotted, like the undeniable scent of old bait wafting through the tall grass beside the patio. Our last night here has burned a hole into my brain, and I can remember every detail without trying…

Desmond had been missing all day, leaving me to make a sad butter pasta for dinner and send Sam up to bed after his bath and without a bedtime story. Desmond had promised us a feast that morning. But he returned empty handed.

His boots squeaked on the wooden planked floor, following the dim path of light from the front door to the kitchen. I had been sleeping on the couch, waiting for him to catch him red handed.

He slipped his pocket knife beneath the beer bottle’s cap and swiped it off. After it clanged against the floor, I waited for him to notice that he wasn’t alone. Still nothing.

“You’re not gonna pick that up?” I said, readjusting my robe as I appeared out of the unlit living room.

“Clara, not now,” his eyes were avoiding mine.

“Des, this is our vacation. Not my ideal one, but this is the place you choose every year, and I never argue against it. So the least you can do is return home on time. The very least, Desmond.”

“There’s a woman, Clara,” he said.

I remember how I couldn’t find the words, only specific, unhelpful ones, “What’s her name?”

He hesitated, shocked by my coolness, “Clara, I…”

“Her name, Desmond!”

“Nim. Her name is Nim.”

I remember turning to the closet, grabbing my luggage and Sam’s, “Leave your keys on the counter. We don’t need you here. Nim can drive you back home.”

He stuttered, tipsily fumbling around the kitchen island, “But, she can’t drive…”

“That’s all you can say to me?” I laughed, cutting off his reel of excuses before I could take his bait. “My God, how old is she?”

I had always assumed he had gone to find his girlfriend, but by morning, the entire sheriff’s department stomped onto the porch. Desmond had drowned in the bay, deep bites lined his face and arms. And around his neck was a frail rope necklace, with a purple fish scale pendant. I remember how it gleamed green against the morning sun. I remembered how Desmond had never once worn a piece of jewelry. And I was never able to enjoy a grilled sea bass again, not without imagining his dead gray eyes and green, clammy skin…

Sam had been spending all of his time by the docks, leaving at sunrise, returning in the dead of night. Just like his father. But by the time I realized that Desmond’s urn was gone, Sam had finally returned.

“What the hell were you up to! You know you can’t worry me like that, Sam!”

“It’s fine, mom, I wasn’t alone.”

Sam tried to move around me, but I blocked his way.

“Mom I…I met someone. Someone who knew Dad.”

Sam was never one to wear jewelry. But this morning, a glimmer of green and royal purple was hanging around his neck. My eyes were glued to the fish scale pendant, and I knew exactly what I had to ask next.

“What’s her name, Sam?”

He seemed shocked, both that I knew it wasn’t an old fishing buddy, and that I was able to pull it out of him this fast. It couldn’t be true. I knew it. I was waiting for him to say something generic like “Carly” or “Anna.” Then I could take a deep breath. Then I could take these nightmares of mermaids and sirens and blame it on an overactive imagination. But, he just looked so much like his damn father.

“Her name is Nim.”

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