Whisper of the Waves



The briny tang of sea and salt on his lips was the closest Tony could get to his first love. Not that he was complaining, if it meant having Krissy in his life. But still...  As if in mockery, she leaned over to trail her hand in the water, setting off tiny ripples which mimicked the white-foamed track streaming out behind their boat.  
The Mediterranean slapped against the fishing boat's hull, and droplets darkened his protective clothing, his gloves and boots. He killed the engine, letting the boat drift with the current. Then he lowered the anchor, the splash jolting Krissy out of her reverie. She stretched and stood. Even after three years of marriage, the fluid grace of her movements continued to take him by surprise. Not even her oversized sweater--one of his--could mask her heritage.

He coughed. "It's time." 

Her gaze lingered on the horizon where the last sliver of sun had turned the sea and sky orange-purple. Then she stepped over the tangle of nets and the beehive-shaped cane pots he used to catch fish. A tear glistened on her cheek. 

His breath caught. As a child he'd learnt to read the mood of the sea and the sky, and to coax the engine of his fishing boat to start when it was at its most stubborn. Yet he'd never learnt to read Krissy. He'd put it down to her nature. But now, for her to reveal so much emotion...  His heart missed a beat.  

"Krissy, sweet, wait. What's wrong?" 

She took his face between her hands and ran her thumbs across the stubble on his cheeks. Then she planted a kiss on his lips. "My love, always."

Tony stared into her dark brown eyes. The words--not spoken but communicated nonetheless--stunned him mute. 

She pulled off the over-large sweater and dived into the sea as the sun vanished below the horizon. 

Leaning over the side, Tony watched her sink and drift away from the boat. He caught a brief flash of silver before the darkness of the depths took her away from him. 

His hand clenched into a fist. Something was wrong. Again. Hopefully, for Krissy's sake, it wasn't the same trouble. She had to accept the fact that she would never be a mother. She'd miscarried twice already. And each time she'd become more and more distant. Some things were not meant to be. 

Anger at the gods for making his Krissy what she was would not change the situation. Or her. 

She loved him--that was all that mattered. 

Everything else mattered...less. 

Sighing, he straightened and checked that the thick gloves covered his hands and arms to the elbow. Then he dropped the cane pots into the sea, careful not to splash onto his face. For three years, ever since he'd met Krissy, he'd had to protect himself from the element that was his life, his livelihood, his passion. No longer able to fling himself into the cool water on a warm summer day or haul in barehanded a net or pot. It was either that or trigger the curse Krissy lived by. 

Not that she'd ever consider it a curse. 

Best she never knew how much his loss hurt him. 

With more vigour than necessary, he switched on the engine and headed back home. 

#

Tony tossed back and forth in bed, unable to get the look on Krissy's face out of his mind. The gurgle of the huge aquarium in the living area broke the silence in the house. He thumped the pillow, then glanced at the luminous clock on his bedside table. 2:34. The dawn that would bring Krissy back was hours away. But there was no getting back to sleep. 

The house had never felt so melancholy before Krissy moved in. Now the walls themselves seemed to be caving in around him. 

Could one cry in the deep? He'd never thought to ask her. 

Tony flung off the bedclothes and pulled on his clothing. He'd wait for her on the boat. 

Less than an hour later, he lowered the anchor at their usual spot. Unlike the distant light from the numerous seaside bars and restaurants at St Julian's, the moonlight glinting on the ripples around him cocooned him like the embrace of an old friend. The Mediterranean whispered against the hull, loosening and washing away the tautness around his temples. In a few hours' time, Krissy would return and be amused by his apprehension. They would laugh together and she'd prepare them breakfast before he'd leave to sell his catch.

He reached down to pull the cane pots back into the boat. Fish thrashed within. No seahorses, thank Poseidon or, gods forbid, their larger cousins.  A seahorse's idiocy had brought Krissy to him. She'd surfaced with the pot, long hair loose and clinging to her cheeks, her bare shoulders. 

His first thought had been that she'd fallen overboard, off one of the several yachts that cruised these waters. Or that she'd gone for a midnight swim and got swept out to sea. He'd pulled her onto the boat and snuck out of his fisherman's jersey to cover her. She'd been more interested in his catch. 

Slow to understand her gestures, she had pressed her lips to his. "Release the hippocampus."

If she'd turned him to ice he'd have been less shaken. He'd thought he'd been too long in the sun--except that golden orb had just made an appearance. Or he'd gone mad.

But he did what she asked. That seahorse had been the largest specimen he'd ever seen--almost the length of his arm, and with a gigantic bad-temper to boot. It took a nip out of his finger before he threw it back into the sea. He still had a faint white scar to prove it. 

Tony felt the edges of the scar with his thumb. He'd considered chopping off the finger. He would have done it if that would have gotten rid of the curse. But Krissy told him it would make little difference. He had been marked (her words)--infected, more accurately--by a hippocampus. He was now one of them. 

Tony opened his eyes. The blackness of the sky had lightened considerably. He must have fallen asleep, the slight swell lulling him as the comfort of his bed had not done. He scanned the white-tipped waves around the boat. Krissy would be rising out of the spume soon.

The sun sprouted from behind the dark outline of St Julian's. Tony's gaze darted back and forth. She was late. A dark silhouette glided beneath the vessel. 

Not Krissy. A tuna, probably. 

The sun, fiery and merciless, crawled across the sky. Krissy had never been this late. His jaw locked tighter with each passing empty hour. Neither hunger nor thirst tempted him to raise anchor and speed back home. 

She could be hurt, tangled in a net, hit by a gigantic propeller. 

He should dive and look for her. 

He couldn't touch seawater. And she could be anywhere. 

She'd kissed him before leaving. 

The possibility that it had meant goodbye clawed at his mind.

The sun dipped towards the Mediterranean, then disappeared. She wouldn't be coming now; she couldn't transform back into her human form. Without bothering to throw the pots into the sea, he turned on the engine and sped back to shore. His destination--the woman he least wanted to see. Krissy's mother. 

He had no illusions whose side she'd be on.

Tony thumped on her door until she opened it a crack. He'd only once entered her house and that was for Krissy to introduce him to her--an encounter that had not endeared the two to each other. 

Yet each time he set eyes on Maria he was struck by how beautiful the woman was. He could see Krissy in her. Until she opened her mouth. 

Maria eyed him head to toe, her eyebrows rising. "What brings you here?"

What do you think?

Swallowing the rising irritation, Tony cleared his throat. "Can I come in?"

A moment's pause later, Maria stepped aside. Tony followed her rigid back to the inner room--the kitchen. Which could mean that Maria didn't think he merited being shown into her sitting room, or that she was treating him as family. That would be a first.

"Sit down," she said. "You seem in need of a cup of tea."

A shot of whiskey, more likely.

Maria busied herself with kettle and cups. The kitchen had a homely clutter, and an aquarium, similar to theirs, burbled in a corner. Two seahorses drifted inside, muzzle to muzzle. He looked away. Even watching two fish hurt more than he could bear. 

Maria pushed his cup towards him. "He's pregnant, you know."

In the process of taking his first sip, Tony spluttered. 

Maria grinned. "I saw you eyeing the aquarium. The male bears the young--didn't you know? One of the few creatures on this earth that truly shares the responsibility. Pity it's so rare."

Tony shifted in his seat. Maria had received her fair share of scorn in her time. The villagers were not so accepting of an unmarried mother then. Claiming a god had fathered her child had only brought her further derision. Yet the woman had braved the gossip, the contempt. She'd borne Krissy and brought her up to be the wonderful woman she was.

"All right, Tony. Spill the beans. What's up? I can't read your mind as Krissy does." Tony put the cup down. Despite the sharpness of her tone, Maria's eyes looked kind. Or perhaps she merely felt pity. 

"Krissy didn't return today. I waited all day..." His voice cracked. "I've sensed she's been unhappy lately. But, she never indicated that she wanted to leave, to return to...her father."

Maria grunted and sat down across from him.

"I just want to know that she's well. And I need to know--I need to know why she...didn't come back."

Maria placed her hand on his arm. "Krissy hasn't told me anything, but I suspect she's with child."

Not again.

He unclenched his jaw and nodded. "You have an aquarium, like Krissy. Can you communicate with the fish, like she does? I need to contact her. I need to speak to her." 

"It's not a telephone line." She chuckled.

She's enjoying this, seeing me beg. 

He gripped the cup tight to stop his hands from shaking. 

Probably told Krissy to leave, too.

"But Krissy said she can speak to...  Is there a way of asking her...father?"

Maria exhaled noisily. "Haven't you learnt anything these last few years? All you have to do is put your hand into the water. The seahorse will latch onto you and your thoughts will reach Poseidon."

The witch. Tony felt the heat rise in his neck. "You know I can't touch seawater. I'd become one of them."

"And is that so terrible?"

"I don't see you yearning for it. You could have joined Poseidon if you had."

Standing, Maria leaned over the table, brown eyes flashing. "I'd have welcomed the bite if he'd asked it of me. But Poseidon's not the faithful kind. Unlike his hippocampi. Unlike Krissy. It's one mate for life for them. Unless the mate is lost. As in your case."

"She hasn't lost me." Tony's voice rose. "And Krissy loves me. She told me--"

"Krissy needs her mate by her side if she's to save her babies. The hippocampus male carries -remember that. Since you're not available, maybe she's seen sense and found one that cares enough."

Love you, always, she'd said. But Krissy wanted to save her children.

Maria turned away from the kitchen table, giving Tony a weary wave. "Go home, Tony. Forget my daughter. Find yourself a fully human woman and live an ordinary life." She plodded to her front door and swung it open.

Tony stood, his chair crashing to the floor. Without bothering to straighten it, he strode out of the house. Trigger the curse indeed. To become a monster in the dark.

But Krissy was no monster, just half human, half fish. 

She was about to lose her babies, his babies. Again. Unless she'd found another male to carry them. 

She'd drift along the seabed with another, snout to snout, like her tiny cousins in their aquarium. 

And he'd never see her again. 

Tony stared at his hand turning the house key in the lock. He'd no idea how he had reached the house. Pushing open the door, the emptiness of the tiny hallway repelled him. 

But the gurgle of the water in the aquarium summoned him in. 

Anyone would think him crazy to give up his life. 

He had no life without her.  

Wonder what Daddy thought of him. If Krissy's mother was anything to go by, Poseidon wouldn't be too happy with his daughter's choice of mate, either. 

Tony's feet took him to the aquarium. 

He could reach her, or Poseidon. Talk some sense into her. All he had to do was plunge his hand in. And lose his humanity-–at least part of it.

It might be too late already. 

The silence suffocated him. If only there was someone he could talk to. None of his relatives or any of his few friends knew who Krissy really was. They'd think he'd been touched by the sun if he mentioned Poseidon. 

One of the seahorses drifted to the glass to peer at him before returning to the bottom. It latched onto an outcrop of fake rock. His mate drifted towards him, attaching herself to the same ridge. Without a care in the world. 

A tranquil life. A loving mate. What more did anyone need?

He'd end up pregnant. 

They were his kids. His flesh. A man protected his own. 

If that infernal hippocampus hadn't got trapped in his pot, if it hadn't bitten him-- 

If it hadn't, he wouldn't have met Krissy, and he wouldn't have the solution within him. All it took was some determination. 

Some courage.  

Tony plunged his hand into the aquarium. The tepid seawater enfolded his hand like a returning friend. One of the seahorses drifted up to his fingers and sucked. 

"Tell Krissy I'm coming."

No more gloves and jeans tucked into boots even in the heat of summer. No more lonely nights. No more silent anger and buried longings. He scooped the two seahorses into a bowl and strode out of the house with it under his arm. He and Krissy wouldn't be returning any time soon. Not until the babies were born, at least. 

The thrum of the fishing boat engine resonated with the thud of his heart. 

Reaching the usual spot, he gazed into the tranquil waters. The moonlight sparkled on the surface. Another flash. Not the moon. 

He'd recognise her anywhere. 

Tony lowered the bowl into the water and watched the two tiny creatures drift towards Krissy. 

Then he snuck out of his sweater and jeans, the fresh breeze sending goose bumps down his spine. He dived in.   

Water had always washed away his troubles.



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