Wave

Hally happened to be at the registration desk when they came in, hand in hand, and for a moment she was fourteen again, and it somehow hurt as it had hurt back then. As if it were the most important thing in the world.

It was the summer that two dreams had died. One, that she’d get a swim team scholarship to college. And the other–

She used to have posters of him all over her room. Other girls had posters of rock stars, but she had Morgan Muir. Pictures of him smiling, lifting his Olympic gold medal aloft, when she was just seven or so.

Morgan Muir was when she’d first become aware that men were different, that she wanted to marry one someday. Well, beyond men being like daddy, of course. Not that she’d been exactly sure what the relationship between men and women was, just that you married a man and then he’d be with you all the time. Oh, and you got to wear a pretty white dress. And somehow babies appeared and they looked like him, and you got to be mom, and run the house.

By fourteen, she had a better idea. Enough to fuel daydreams. Not from the sex education classes. That whole thing was too real and vaguely squeaky. Dreaming about it would be like dreaming of butchering the chicken, instead of the Sunday roast all golden and mouth-watering. Instead her day dreams were composed of the love scenes in a million movies — not that she watched much, but when mom and dad were watching something, she caught glimpses of men and women embracing, their faces full of ecstasy of love, of belonging — and of stories of the attraction between couples in books. Not that she read Romance because she simply wasn’t that sort of girl. But there were love scenes in every adventure book, particularly westerns.

Sometimes in her daydreams he came and saved her, but more often she saved him, which is when he realized she was special and important and he loved her. This was because she was conscious of being ten years younger than him, and that the difference between fourteen and twenty one was a great gulf. She still looked like a little girl who’d grown too fast. She knew that. And he was a man.

But mostly the dreams were of how he’d smell like the salt sea, of the touch of his hand, of being held by him and told she was his one true love. Whatever feat of valor or devotion — a lot of the dreams involved arriving at his death bed, and somehow nursing him better — that got her there, the important thing was that she’d have him all for herself forever.

She’d never understood how he came to be where he was, though the papers later — with glossy photo montages and tales of how beautiful and romantic it was — had said something about a sail boat capsizing. But she’d learned long ago that newspapers just came up with some plausible story and ran with that. She remembered even the school newspaper had done that about the cookie sale for the swim team, saying the cookies were store bought and taken out of the package, when she’d just said that as a joke, and been at pains to describe the hours and hours of baking.

Besides sailing would be stupid unless he was really far off — and then how would he end up in her cove? — because the entire area had a ton of submerged rocks at high tide, the kind that you could only navigate if you’d grown up here and had the entire landscape in your had from years of familiarity.

She suspected he’d been climbing down the rocks to the cove and fallen. But perhaps he didn’t want to say that to the paper, because it sounded stupid: great Olympic swimmer, slips and falls on wet seaside rocks, and almost kills himself.

However he came to the cove, she’d never have seen him if she hadn’t come down early morning to practice. It was early March and mom and dad hadn’t had the pool conditioned and open for the summer, at the hotel. And that was the other reason she headed for the cove. It wasn’t that big. Just half the size of the pool. but it was surrounded by rocks which meant even as the tide came in, it was slightly warmer. Because the rocks gave off some of the warmth of the day, or something. Or perhaps it was an illusion. It just felt warmer.

She’d been early too, so the water was barely up to her ankles there. Not enough to swim. Which was good, because Morgan Muir — she’d paused, in her red swimsuit, the towel under her arm, sure she was dreaming — was in the cove, his mouth and nose only above water. Barely.

She’d tossed the towel, and scrambled down. With the tide coming in, he’d have been dead in minutes. If he wasn’t dead already. He looked dead: pale as the belly of a fish, and limp as day-old catch.

She’d felt for his pulse, though, and there it was, beating at the side of his neck, in a regular thrum. And it was a good thing she felt for it, before she tried to lift him. Because when she tried to lift him, she could see half of his head was all over blood, which kept coming and coming, and mixing with the water.

Pressure. She thought, hazily from her high school first aid classes. Pressure.

First she tried to lift him, and when that didn’t work, she’d gone and scrambled up the rocks, and got her towel. She got kind of under him, lifting his head out of water, and pushed the towel against the wound.

She still didn’t quite remember how long she’d been in the pool. But it must have been two or three hours, because the tide came in completely, lifting them both, and she couldn’t swim, not holding him above water, not with the towel now completely wet with his blood. Yes, she’d taken lifesaving, but she could never get a proper hold on him, while she had that towel pressed against his head. She kept thinking he should be dead, there was so much red on the towel. And she couldn’t feel his pulse. There weren’t enough hands.

The tide had kind of jammed her against one of the rocks, with her leg wedged against it, and she took advantage of that to keep his head above water.

Periodically, she called out, but the beach was pretty deserted till much later in the day. She didn’t expect an answer. She kept wondering if she should or could hold him like this till there were people on the beach. Couldn’t you die of hypothermia? Was he dead.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, it seemed, there were running steps on the beach, and she called out. Moments later a young woman stood on the rocks. She was Morgan’s age, at least, and blond, and had on jogging pants and an old sweater.

She made a sound when she saw them, then plunged into the water, clothes and all, and relieved Hally of her burden.

Hally would never remember the conversation right, but it was all rushed. She thought the woman asked her if she had a cell phone. When she shook her head, the woman said, “well, then, can you run and call 911 somewhere? I’ll hold him up.”

Hally felt half dead, but she scrambled up, and ran stumbling to the stairs that went all the way up to clifftop, the hotel her parents owned and ran.

And then she didn’t remember anything. Mom said she’d come in and said “Morgan Muir is dying in the cove where I swim, in the beach. Call 911.” And collapsed.

Turned out the leg she’d wedged on the rock was cut almost to the bone.

“I have no idea how you managed to run on that leg,” was what she remembered when she’d woken in the hospital, recovering from blood loss and pneumonia.

She hadn’t said anything, because a hellish throat infection had piled on the pneumonia, and she couldn’t talk.

The pneumonia had been bad. Really bad. She’d spent ten days in the hospital on IV antibiotics.

That was when she had first become aware of Kemp. Kemp had been in swim team with her forever, but apparently he was volunteering at the hospital that summer. And also, he looked completely different from during the school year. Like he’d grown a foot, being now taller than her, and his voice had dropped.

The first time he’d seen her, he’d just smiled and said hi. But then he kept coming back, with flowers, and books — he’d bought her the ridiculously expensive, illustrated fairy tale book she’d been mooning over in the local bookshop — and hard candy which made her throat feel better.

It was funny because in her head she remembered that time as two different things. One was getting to know Kemp, and thinking what a great guy he was to be paying so much attention to her.

Another was lying in the hospital bed, knowing she’d be out of shape for swim team, and — when the infection set in on her leg and they told her the bone itself had been cut, and that she might never walk without a limp — that she’d probably never get the scholarship she’d been aiming for, and never get to go off and study art. Lying in the hospital and reading the newspapers and magazines about how Morgan Muir’s fiancee had saved his life, and how romantic it was, and how the wedding was planned for the next month, and all the celebrities who’d be attending.

No wonder the nurses kept giving her sleeping pills. She didn’t take them, but practice sleight of hand and then hid them in the box of pencils mom had brought her from home. She didn’t like taking tablets was all.

But it had led to the temptation.

On her tenth day in the hospital, when she had been waiting for the doctor to come in and discharge her, Morgan and Marissa, his fiance, had come in. They were all put together, and she looked perfect, make up and designer jeans and all.

Hally could talk now, but found that in their presence she couldn’t find her voice.

“I hear you saved me,” Morgan said. “And you got sick because of it. I’m sorry.”

His voice in person was oddly disconcerting. It sounded more mundane than when she heard him in interviews. Like it had less resonance.

He and Marissa had brought in coffee, from the drive through place that was expensive, and they’d got her a hot chocolate. “Your mom said you like that.”

She’d sat there and sipped, and then the nurse came in. And of course she fawned all over Morgan and Marissa. Because “so romantic.”

They’d left their coffees on the tray by the bed, and she’d thought–

For just a moment she thought she could put the tablets into Marissa’s cup. There were nine. It would probably kill her. And no one knew she had them. And it could be some big accident.

But then she heard, in her mind, clear as day “No. You’re meant for better things.”

And that was it. It was like a thought, but not her thought. And she blinked in shock. What better things? What could be better than consoling Morgan. Having Morgan fall in love with her.

Only–

Only she’d know she killed someone. Even if he fell in love with her — as if there were no other women in the world — she couldn’t live with it. She couldn’t.

She sipped hot chocolate, and Morgan and Marissa talked to the nurses, and Kemp put his head in, with a big smile, “Still waiting for discharge, Hally? I’ll go grab doctor Grant.”

And now, now twenty years later, here were Morgan and Marissa coming into her hotel to register for a stay. She guessed Kemp must have taken the reservation, because she’d have noticed the name.

She smiled at them, as she registered them, and gave them the room key. Her parents had retired and left her and Kemp in charge of the hotel ten years ago. After she’d finished her art degree. Which she mostly used to make haunting drawings of mermaids and knights. They sold really well in the gift shop.

Morgan’s hair was receding. Marissa seemed to wear more makeup than Hally remembered. But they looked happy.

As she was signing them in, Morgan looked at her name tag. “Halcyone! Like the girl who–” He paused, and his face split in a big grin. Suddenly he was pumping her hand, saying “You saved my life. Marissa told me.”

“Oh, it was nothing,” Hally said, and just then Kemp came in, saying something about pool maintenance.

The four of them ended up having dinner together that night, after Kemp and Hally lined up a babysitter for their kids. “The twelve year old,” Kemp explained. “Could babysit them all, but you know what the law is, so we get a babysitter.”

“I remember those days,” Marina said, her voice reminiscent. “The twins are away at college, though.”

During dinner, Hally kept trying to figure out what had been so special about Morgan, what caused that terrible ache of her 14th summer. He was a nice, middle aged man, with receding blond hair, and a devoted wife.

She didn’t regret getting injured saving him. He and Marissa seemed very happy. And somehow, that summer, she’d got Kemp.

As if knowing what she was thinking, he reached and caught her hand, under the table. His hand was very warm, very firm.

And his hold on life and love and the future would never let her drown.

73 thoughts on “Wave

  1. It’s your birthday; why do we get the present? 😀

    Anyway, congratulations on surviving another year in this mad universe. We MUST go on, for two reasons: to see what insanity happens next, and to SPITE the bastards!

      1. Wait. Our Esteemed Hostess is a Mormon Male HOBBIT with a Great Rack?

        Er …

        Or a Beautiful but Evil Space Hobbit Princess?

      1. Disney has a way of sucking all the subtle out of any source material. Sometimes this doesn’t matter; they TARZAN is the best film version I can recall seeing. And sometimes they can, for a wonder, inject something INTO a tired old trope that we hadn’t seen before. FROZEN, with the saving grace being the love of sisters (ok, VERY PC for the times, but an improvement on the traditional SNOW QUEEN tale), or MALELIFICENT. But sometimes the Disney version of something is just a disaster. The Disney POOH lacks the humor and wit of the original, and frankly strikes me as the filmic version of sugar cubes with honey. They’ve done HOW MANY versions of THE JUNGLE BOOK?, and each one has been a botch. Goddamnit, Kaa is one of Mowgli’s best friends!

        I shudder to think what the Disney team’s reaction would be to ‘Letting In The Jungle’ or ‘The King’s Ankus’ or ‘Red Dog’.

        Or ‘In The Rukh’

        1. Disney is big enough that it has it’s own (if only mental) gravity. I think they sometimes get a little ossified in that and lose sight a little of how “real people” think. Like the recent weirdness with “The Child’s” (aka Baby Yoda) antics in The Mandalorean. They seemed surprised that people found it disturbing.

          As a side note, we were looking for something for the family to watch the other night and my Youngest was definitely not in the mood for anything Disney. She said she didn’t feel like watching yet another woman get “saved by a man”.

          1. Try her on something from Studio Ghibli. SPIRITED AWAY, PRINCESS MONONOKE, and others. Disney brought them over, but seems to have passed them on to some other company. Good, strong, intelligent female characters. Award winning, too, so libraries tend to have them, so you can try them on the cheap.

            1. Better still, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind, Laputa: Castle In The Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle. Nausicaa and Laputa in particular are epic in scope and concept. Hayao Miyazaki is a creative giant.

          2. Always bugged me that folks summarize the stories that way. It can kind of be made to fit, but not very well.

            Most of the Disney shows have female main characters, most have female main villains, and most of the time women do as much saving as men– they just don’t do it with muscles. The male characters are often not-very-developed.
            Sword of truth, fly swift and sure! That evil die, and good, endure!

        2. Disney’s idea of a “proper ending” is that Titanic slows down before hitting the iceberg and makes it safely to New York.

        3. The newer Winnie the Pooh movie (2011) went back to the source material and managed to be a lot better than most of the stuff they’d put out before, including having jokes that were aimed at adults without being snarky or arch. I was very surprised once I saw it, because I’d been expecting something barely tolerable and I rather liked it.

          1. Now that is old school. Early Disney, Hanna Barbera, and all that lot had some rather perverse animators who would insert all kinds of risque flashes in kiddy cartoons.
            I always thought it was the artists’ way to show some defiance toward the iron fists of old Walt and the lesser lights running all the animated production shops of the day.

            1. More likely a middle finger to the Motion Picture Production Code (the ‘Decency Code’) used to censor movies starting in 1930.

        4. I enjoyed Frozen, but it doesn’t so much inject something new into the story as borrow one or two fragments and go somewhere so completely different I wouldn’t have identified it as inspired by Andersen’s Snow Queen. There are existing fairytales where sister-love is key and… now I kind of want to review and see if anybody involved pulled identifiably from some of those, or if they thought they were doing something unprecedented.

          I agree fervently that making Kaa into an enemy is just utterly wrong. He’s scary — Baloo and Bagheera getting caught up when he is hypnotizing the Bandar-Log especially — but he’s awesome. And an excellent teacher/friend/ally. As you say.

          ….Giving him Winnie-the-Pooh’s voice actor was just brainbreaking enough to go around the end and be a little entertaining again (Just a sssmall sssmackerel….?) — but I’d much rather have seen him done properly.

          1. THE JUNGLE BOOKS are so spectacularly non-PC that I don’t really EXPECT anyone to do better. The Chuck Jones tv specials were OK, and everything else is just drek, and unlikely to not be.

            *sigh*

      2. Ah. That makes sense. I was in the wrong age bracket to be significantly exposed to that movie; it was during one of the periods when Disney had different movies they were pushing.

        I’m definitely going to remember this one for later.

      3. I only read the Grimm version… I wonder if there was added detail in the originals that conveyed this.

        Or perhaps it is a case where the tale is supposed to be told with a context of adults who know the missing pieces and can explain. Which doesn’t work so well when no such adults exist.

        1. Gripping hand: perhaps I was just reading fairy tales far too young to understand anything beyond the surface.

          Waldo hand: but then that can’t happen if no one in the area knows there is something under the surface…

          1. Hmm, well not sure what version I read…. My fairy tale (and many other stories) source were the Everyman’s Children’s Library books.

            Since there was a deeper meaning behind the story I assumed it was an old story.

  2. Many happy returns of the day! And thank you for the lovely gift.
    Here’s the least I can offer, with the same title, which should speak to anyone in our age bracket (it was released in 1979), especially what with Red Francis in our times:

  3. Happy Birthday Sarah. Like the others, I feel like a Hobbit now (and its not just that I really like mushrooms :).

    Thanks for the wonderful story and enjoy your day.

  4. Loved the story! Great reverse birthday gift 🙂 Happy birthday! (Though I think that all mothers ought to be able to celebrate their children’s birthdays too 🙂 Yes, it’s all about me, why do you ask?)

      1. Happy Birthday! And thanks for the story. Niiiiiiiiiiice!

        A few days ago we celebrated our Lab-Aussie’s 16th birthday. Born on the 14th-ish. (Shelter pup, don’t know for sure.)

    1. I used to wish my mother happy birthday on my birthday. It was fun and always seemed appropriate. She did all the work after all.

  5. I knew you could write, but until this story I didn’t know you could write a sweet, romantic story set in the world we live in, and not a world made up in your wonderful imagination.

        1. These are sort of the Renaissance Faire version of things – how wish it would have been, rather than how it really was (first/eventually) told. I know there is a supply of Faerie Tales and such that would allow this to go on for some considerable time. However, should there be cause to look elsewhere, I’d have NO objection a re-telling/re-casting of various Ancient Greek stories. Yes, including (perhaps especially) THAT one.

          1. That’s a story that I’d love to hear your version of, but in general I enjoy the stories of nonhuman individuals because of the difference in perspective.

  6. Good job there dear niece.
    A few minor typos so when you put these all together let’s do a final scrub before putting them out there.
    But all these riffs on traditional fairy tales are so very much needed by the greater reading public these and the coming dark days. So, my new mantra is scrub before pub.
    And thanks for last night, appreciated your efforts though I am an idiot and forgot to wish you happy birthday.

  7. Joe Biden and the STILL tells us to UNITE and to HEAL– — as their Poster Child Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for making a lists of people they intend to destroy, treating Trump and his supporters as if they were Domestic Terrorists and wishing death to all his family. And calling us Republicans “Sycophants”…
    This is exactly what was done in the 20th century in the United States it was called a BLACKLIST denying employment to professionals believed to be Communists sympathizers. They were also denied employment because of their beliefs.

    So let me tell you now, NOW that our current President t is trying to exercise his right to question a RIGGED election, If anyone thinks with Biden’s winning that the Left intend to forgive and forget, to heal and unite, they are a fool—- people forget why they voted for Trump four years ago, and with Biden and Harris, they think that all of a sudden their going to Change the way that those animals in the streets were beating up old ladies and destroying, and upsetting a peaceful demonstration!. The Only Healing and Uniting the Left intend is for you to accept Biden’s winning and MOVE ON, forget any hope of living without them running your life, and that even if you WANTED to Unite and Heal, THEY WON’T LET YOU “UNITE” they want these riots, and Protests. They want the economy to tank .And they want you to believe that it all Trump’s fault.
    I was glued to to the TV the other night. Why? Not because I wanted to watch Dancing with the Stars, or some stupid “Funny Video” about Cats, and people falling…. No, but because of all the violence I saw in DC when the Sun when down, and Night fell that night. I saw almost every video that was posted, whether of couples and parents with children or of minorities and elderly people being attacked, and Sucker Punched, by JOE BIDEN’S SUPPORTERS. All innocent people who came to protest a Stolen Election. I watched as nobody on the left condemned this behavior. I watched as law enforcement did literally nothing to stop the violence, instead, the Mayor’s, and Governors of these States let their States, and our nation’s capital become a hellhole.
    With Antifa, marching around Shouting that “America was NEVER Great”!

  8. Another beautiful story that ever so gently skims the waves in the sad world of the Little Mermaid. 🙂

    (BTW, I once closely rewrote “in modern English” the very hard-to-read 1756 version of Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont for a client who wanted a legal-hassle-free retelling of this well-known story for a sleep-tales project. It came out well, and the client was pleased with the results. For some stupid reason, though, the onion ninjas were out in force at the finish.) :-/

    https://pitt.edu/~dash/beauty.html

  9. Thank you so much for the hobbit birthday present. I hope your birthday was full of fun and romance, and that you have many many more.

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