The Water Baby

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by Kathleen

Vacationing in Bermuda, ten-year-old Vivi snorkeled with Liz, her much older sister. Vivi had seen stingrays and parrotfish at the aquarium, a sad place suddenly.

।n sunlit water, she intruded upon bright patterned schools; the fleeting pop-eyed and no-eyed angels and clowns, the damsel-, butterfly-, and triggerfish, the tiny neons and snaky mudfish. Certainly these slippery creatures communicated. Their language simply eluded her.

And the corals! Either rock or plants but also animals. Forests shifted. Porous stone walls reached for drifting morsels. Flowers waved their fingers. Great caves beckoned her.

Liz tugged Vivi’s UV protective shirt: time to quit.

Above water, Vivi begged, “Just until the sun fades.”

“I’m tired.”

“Please! I’ll do your fingernails.”

Liz relented and Vivi dove into the shifting tide. She swam in circles unable to find the coral. And few fish. The sun shot a shaft of white light into the ocean. Vivi swam toward that and everything changed. The water was impossibly clear. Voices gurgled underwater. She comprehended a suggestion to remove her mask.

Transparent but distinct shapes formed. An almost invisible man nodded to her. “Breathe deep and don’t be frightened.” His name was Zee. A girl named Merra said, “Vivi, I knew you’d come.”

A woman, Ondine, stroked her hair. Vivi had slipped into a bubble that existed independent from time or space. “Unlike you, we were never born.”

A boy named Blue led her into a “chamber,” which was transparent yet somehow secluded. He spun her around until she imagined shedding her body. She became a whirlpool and then foam. Ripples lapped on the surface when she laughed.

They invited her to join them forever. “Before the sun rises tomorrow,” Zee said. “You won’t find us after daybreak.”

“Think about it overnight,” Ondine said.

As Bermuda resumed, Vivi saw that Liz was furious. “What happened to you? I was scared to death.”

Vivi told Liz that if she joined them, she could never return. She would exist longer than the ocean. She would be freer than was humanly possible. But she would belong to a separate realm with no bridge to the earth, air, sky, or even, ordinarily, the sea.

Liz scoffed, but then grew hysterical. “Do not go swimming tomorrow. Promise me.”

“So you believe it’s real?”

“No. You’re insane.”

She told her parents, who wondered why she still liked fairy tales.

Before dawn, Vivi ran to the beach. She stripped, anchoring her bathing suit with rubber sandals. And left a note between them telling her family: Don’t be sad.

Underwater, she blinked in terror and almost choked. Then Zee pulled her inside--where Vivi and the rest rejoiced.


Mike French said...

My Mum used to read me The Water Babies as a bed time story when I was little at bedtime.

This brought back those memories :-)

Great writing Kathleen haven't seen you do this type of thing before and I'm not sure how you pulled it off in such a short space - but yet again you did somehow!

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

ooh, I can taste the salt. Love it! "Ripples lapped on the surface when she laughed." sigh...

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks Mike and Jen. After I finished this, I saw it as a reverse "Little Mermaid."
I've come across "Water Babies," but only in places where I barely had time to look at the illustrations.
With these short pieces, I make an effort not to write the same story just using different settings and names.
Again, it's a telescoping of fiction's built-in challenges.

Stella said...

Kathleen, you have such a talent for picking specific details that immediately form a lucid picture.

kathleenmaher said...

Thank you for that, Stella. I've heard people say, "it's all in the details." And I believe that.

Naj said...

Leaving a comment :)


kathleenmaher said...

Naj, Thanks for commenting and for giving me the chance to read your blog, which I found refreshing to say the least.