Tuesday, 11 August 2009
To The Lighthouse.
Finally it was summer. The morning light fell in through the tall windows of the breakfast room upon the clean white cotton tablecloth and glinted promisingly on the cutlery and the jam jars. The green stoneware butter dish also gleamed with it's sprigged rabbits amid plants. Caroline yawned and stretched her arms over her head. She took another cup of coffee with a smile and poured a little milk into the dark swirling depths.
This time last year... this time last year she had returned home from the university where her son Tom had just become Doctor Tom Savage, doctor of English Literature. It had been a morning much like this one. Stuart was heard in the hallway, then he came through to breakfast and said something about what a nice day it promised to be and how he wondered what was happening with the cricket. She leaned back and gazed up at him. He was a tall man once very slim and now becoming fatter. Still the dark curl of hair in the centre of his brow and the sparkling blue eyes showed why she had married him. He had a slow smile that seemed almost disbelieving when a joke was told or some anecdote that made her feel a warmth to him.
"What will you do today Caroline?" he asked her.
She considered for a moment and remembered how she had woken that morning with a strong desire to go to the seaside. Not the beach, which would be full of noise and children. She had three children of her own and if they were grown now, that was enough. It came to her then and she smiled as she said,
"I shall take a picnic and go to the lighthouse," she said.
Stuart looked up from his toast then and smiled, holding his knife up.
"Do you remember when we went there first, Caro?" he asked.
She did remember it, there had been a sudden storm with gathering clouds and the burst of rain that had spattered down making the earth dark. The sea had seemed to rise up in fury reaching up with watery fingers to tear at the sky, with white spume trimming the waves. The lighthouse light had flickered out across the darkening waters. They had run for the car and sat in it, smelling of damp and laughing. Her hair was wet and so was Stuart's but he had leaned across and kissed her and they had leaned into each other watching the rain and hearing its fusillade upon the roof. They had been cocooned in the car feeling safe and dry. For a while they sat quiet, Caroline surrounded by Stuart's arms feeling his heart beat against her shoulder, resting her head against his shoulder. He was warm and she had felt in that moment, safe and loved, as if nothing could touch them.
They had been silent thinking of that day. Now Stuart laughed lightly and bit into his toast. The moment went and Caroline sipped her coffee meditatively. Yes, she would go to the lighthouse today.
She had phoned to arrange a meeting with two friends at the lighthouse and parked the car nearby the lighthouse. The skies were blue with wisps of cloud and there was a breeze. Caroline wondered if the rain would come again, but the skies were so clear that it seemed unlikely. She got out of the car and took her bag from the back seat. She had packed bread, cheese, salad vegetables and fruit. In a cool box she had two bottles of champagne. Stuart had said that he would come and collect her later. He would take the bus to the lighthouse and drive her home.
Caroline walked along the broad pathway. The breeze plucked lightly at the skirts of her dress and her thoughts drifted to the sound of her heels on the hard tarmac. She thought of her life and how happy it seemed. She had a kind and loving husband, children who had made successes of themselves in their chosen fields. She had friends much like herself and had travelled the world with Stuart. The peacefulness of the day emphasised all that she had. A little nearer the lighthouse she saw Sukey and Lara both similar in age to her, both handsome women with good dress sense and intelligent conversation. They smiled and waved when they saw her and she waved back, speeding up her pace a little.
They found a spot nearer the sea and sat to eat. Caroline told them about her son, about the memory of the last time she and Stuart had been to the lighthouse. Suddenly she felt as if what she was saying was meaningless, as if her whole life was meaningless and empty. She paused, looked out at the sea feeling embarrassed and as if her friends felt this, they fell silent.
At that point, something flashed in the sunlight and leapt out upon the rocks beside them. A mermaid with long green hair plastered to her delicate skin and fabulously long fishy tail sat upon the rocks dripping with seawater. Her top half was unashamedly naked and utterly sensuous. Her tail glittered with the sunlight upon her scales and the fluke at the end seemed unbelievably graceful. She leaned back and her green hair fell back to reveal her chest and elegant throat. There was something finely beautiful about her tinged with something cruelly treacherous. Like the sea, thought Caroline.
Suddenly aware of the three women looking at her, the mermaid gazed back at them. Her gaze was piercing and powerful. Caroline felt as if that gaze had stripped her down to her very soul. She felt suddenly ordinary and irrelevant and as if she was intruding somewhere she had no right to be. The mermaid, as if realising the effect of her presence threw back her head and laughed. It had something capricious and almost vicious about it. It filled Caroline with fear and horror. Seeing the looks on her friends faces, she saw that she was not alone. Despite there being three women to the one mermaid, Caroline realised that it was she and her friends who were powerless. The mermaid did not have to think it, she clearly knew it.
Her nakedness was unafraid because she had power in a way that women generally did not. Caroline would not have dared to sit on the rocks naked, she would have felt vulnerable and embarrassed. The mermaid had no sense of shame or fear. The mermaid lowered her gaze to them and grinned.
"Are you afraid?" she asked.
Her voice was soft, almost lascivious and Caroline fought against admitting that she was terrified. Sukey inhaled sharply and gazed back at the mermaid.
"Not of a cheap hussy like you miss," she answered.
The mermaid lowered her body forward and pushed her face forward at Sukey. She seemed like a tiger preparing to pounce, her muscles rippling beneath her pale green skin.
"Are you sure, child?" the mermaid murmured.
Caroline grabbed at Sukey's hand and Lara backed away from the mermaid.
"Why do you want to frighten us?" Lara whimpered.
The mermaid smiled slowly and grinned showing sharp small teeth like a shark's teeth. She chuckled in a low tone.
"I am not a child," Sukey said indignantly.
The mermaid sat back up and shook back her long hair, hair almost like seaweed. She placed her hands behind her on the rock and gazed at them through lowered eyelids.
"You are a child compared to me for I am old as the sea. I was old when you were born," she answered with open scorn.
Looking at Lara she smiled and Lara shivered. Caroline took the food and crammed it back into the bag. The bright sunny mood had gone and she did not want to be there any more. She took the two bottles of champagne and put them back in the cool box. Snatching up her bag she took Sukey and Lara's hands and pulled them up and backwards.
"Leaving so soon? Did something frighten you?" the mermaid asked lightly.
Caroline felt Sukey's hand tighten and she pulled her back.
"Don't antagonise her, for God's sake, let us just go," Caroline hissed.
Sukey did not want to be bullied away, but Caroline saw the cruelty in the mermaid's eyes and knew that she could bully them away for she had more power.
They strode away along the pathway, Sukey indignant as the mermaid's mocking laughter followed them. Tears suddenly fell hot and quick down Caroline's face, but she dragged them back to the car. They got in and sat together, shaking with fear and horror. Caroline drew them into her arms, her own tears falling still.
Later, when Stuart arrived he found the three women in the back of the car asleep, Caroline holding Sukey and Lara closely. Stuart felt almost as if he were intruding upon a scene he did not belong in. He knew somehow that he should not speak. He got into the car and reached for Caroline's handbag taking the car keys. He drove them home and did not speak. Neither did the three women. For some reason Caroline would not speak of, she would not go back to the lighthouse again. Nor would Sukey and Lara. He never knew why, they could not speak of that day. They somehow dared not in case it became more real to them.