I sighed heavily as I gazed out over the sea from my bedroom window. Once again I couldn't sleep, and stood there watching as the dawn crept slowly across the water. That lilting sea song that I had heard wafting over the waves so many weeks ago still haunted my dreams and waking hours.
My mind drifted back to that night. Once again I found myself lost in an impossible daydream of running out on the sand, diving head first into the surf, and swimming out to sea to find the owner of that haunting alto voice - or was it a high tenor? The more I tried to recall, the fuzzier the details became.
But I hadn't followed that dream, and the reason was right there in the words to that song - I don't know how to swim. The ocean is a scary place, according to all I was taught - something to be avoided, not embraced.
The only person I knew that loved the water and swam like a fish was my Aunt Freya. Even though she was getting on in years, and seemed to be drifting even more apart from reality, she still showed up at her herb shop every day. I spent most of my evenings there, helping out and playing for anyone who would listen. Occasionally I would broach the subject of how she learned to swim, but the answers I got became more and more incoherent, so eventually I gave up. I thought about asking Astana or Cinnamon, but the thought of having to explain my 'not quite coherent' reasons gave me second thoughts.
Even though my haunting singer still dominated my dreams, my mundane life moved on, in the form of Shavon. I met her at the Garden Grove. She was older, a lot older, than I was. And she had a daughter, whose father was somewhat of a mystery. There were rumors of an old affair with her cousin Alick, but Shavon was completely tight-lipped about the matter.
She wasn't beautiful in a traditional sense, but she had a magnetism - and, err, other assets - about her that i couldn't resist.
I thought I was experienced, but soon learned I was a neophyte compared to Shavon...
and her passionate advances did make me forget about my sea singer - for a few hours at least.
After the break-up, I suddenly realized how out of touch I had become. And what better way to reconnect than to throw a party? I invited everyone I knew - my best friend Dane, of course, Dane's brother Nate, my cousins Orin and Rob...
... my first crush Molly, now married and pregnant..
Everyone was pairing off and making babies, it seemed - except for me.
Even my best bud Dane was married now. Sonia couldn't make it to the party though - their baby was due any day now. So Dane agreed to dance with me for a bit.
" I think he likes you, Dax," Dane grinned at me.
"Orin. He keeps giving you these looks. He's doin' it right now, even."
"Orin? Heh. You sure? He's my cousin, you know."
"Yeah, I know. But a little convention like that wouldn't stop you, now, would it?"
"Hah. I guess you're right. But.. I think I'm done with relationships for now."
Dane nodded knowingly.
"Still stuck on Shavon, huh?"
I shook my head empathically.
"No. Not at all. It was just a fling, it's over."
Dane stuck around after everyone else had left. I guess he could tell something was bothering me.
"Okay, Dax. Spit it out. You haven't been yourself for a long time now. 'Fess up. You know I won't tell anyone."
Even then, I hesitated. I didn't want anyone, especially Dane, to think I was headed down the same road my Aunt Freya had traveled.
"You promise you won't think I'm crazy?"
"I promise. Just tell me what's going on already?"
I finally broke down then, and poured my heart out, about my haunting sea singer, and my sleepless nights, and how I wished I could just run out into the sea and swim forever.
I even played my sea shanty - the one that I had played that night. And like many times before, at the edge of my hearing, I heard the melody answering back - as usual, not nearly as clearly as the first time, and no words that I could understand, but it was there, I was sure.
"There! Did you hear it?"
"Um.. I think so.. yes! You're right! Like a faint humming?"
"Yes! But it's faint tonight. Sometimes it's louder. What should I do? Aunt Freya is getting way to old to teach my how to swim."
"Well, I bet she taught at least some of her kids. How about Atsana? You should ask her. She's wild enough to learn something like that."
"I thought about that. But I don't want to tell her my secret."
"So don't tell her. Make something up!"
"Are you kidding?" Atsana laughed in my face. "Oh, Mom tried alright. But no way was I going to take a chance of being caught out in public with wet fur! Besides, even if I did know how to swim, I'm kind of indisposed at the moment."
She glanced down at her obviously pregnant belly, and I just nodded in reply, as her husband Jace looked on.
"You might try Orin, though. He's just crazy enough to want to learn something like that."
Then she paused and gave me this look, like she was going to ask my why in the world I wanted to learn how to swim, so I started thinking up wild excuses in my head.
But I lucked out when she was suddenly distracted by Jace, and I managed to sneak out unawares.
The next morning I headed over to Aunt Freya's at the crack of dawn to see Orin, excited at the thought of finally learning to swim. He greeted me with tears in his eyes.
"Dax. It's Mom. She..she passed on last night.
"No! Aunt Freya? Oh, Orin. I'm so sorry."
I felt like I was going to cry, myself.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Orin just shrugged helplessly, so I took his hand land led him into the house, and fixed pancakes for him and his little brother and sister.
I stayed all day, and in the evening I made him promise to let me know if there was anything else I could do. Needless to say, all thoughts of swimming lessons had fled from my head.
Dad and I spent the next few weeks helping out, although Orin claimed his dad was watching out for them. I never did see the old vine man, even with all the time we spent there those few weeks. Orin, like Aunt Freya, just shrugged and reminded me that he was shy.
The weeks passed, and we were all beginning to recover from our grief. I still couldn't bring myself to visit my aunts old herb shop, but I did start hanging out at the Garden Grove again.
I hadn't seen Shavon in a long time, but one day, there she was. And she was... hugely pregnant??? Hurriedly I counted the days in my head as she approached. Ack! The timing was right. Was it possible? Well, yes, it was possible.. ACK!!
"Soo.. ah.. Shavon... you look.. ah.. radiant.. today."
I couldn't keep my eyes off her belly. She smiled at me as though nothing at all was untoward.
"Dax! Good to see you again. Sorry to hear about your aunt."
"Uh.. thanks? Um.. Shavon?"
"Hmm?" she smiled in reply.
I gingerly reached out a hand to touch her belly.
"Are you.. I mean.. is that.."
"If you mean, 'is that a baby', yes, you would be correct."
"I mean.. is it.."
She laughed then.
"Haha! Oh Dax. It's nothing you need be worried about, I promise."
I was insanely relieved to hear that. It was only much later, when I recalled her words in my mind, that I realized she had never really made it clear exactly what she meant by that statement.
But for now, with Orin back to pretty much normal, my swimming lessons began in earnest. He charged into the water as if he owned it, and I tried to imitate him as best I could.
Surprisingly, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. It was way much more fun than I'd thought it would be. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Once I had the pattern down, it was like second nature.
Often we'd spend all day out in the water, racing, diving, and laughing until the sun went down.
Then we'd head, shivering, down into Orin's cellar, to warm up in the hot spring. Heh. Dane was right about Orin.. nothing like a romp in the hot spring to warm you on a cold night. Over the last few weeks, he had become one of my best friends, and I love him like I love all my friends. Even so, I know there is something more out there for me, somewhere.
Finally the day came when I knew I was ready. Dane was there to give moral support.
"Alright! Just so I don't mess anything up, I'll go downstairs and wait in your room, and stay up here and play your fiddle."
I listened as his footsteps on the stairs faded into silence, and when I heard my bedroom door click shut, I pulled out my violin and softly began the jaunty strains of the sea shanty that had first attracted the sea singer. I played through once, with no result. I wouldn't be so quickly defeated. I began again, slightly louder and faster this time. I paused between the verse and chorus, straining my ears for any sound. Nothing. So. Again, putting my whole heart and soul into the music.
Suddenly, I heard it - louder and clearer than anytime since that first night.
"Come live with me in the sea said she,
Down on the ocean floor
And I'll show you many's a wondrous thing
That you've never seen before..."
I finished out the tune, my heart pounding almost out of my chest, then packed away the violin and raced down the stairs.
"Did you hear? Did you hear?"
Dane was almost as excited as I was.
"This is it. I'm ready. You sure you don't want to come along?"
"Nah. Sonia and the baby are waiting for me at home, this is your adventure."
I gave him a quick thank-you-and-good-bye peck on the cheek, then it was time for me to be off.
I stood at the edge of the water for a few minutes, straining my ears for my sea singer. But all I could hear was the pounding surf. Now what? I wasn't a great singer, but maybe... I began the second verse hesitantly, my voice cracking slightly as I tried to make it heard over the sea.
"A pillow made of tortoise-shell
She placed beneath my head
She fed me shrimp and caviar
Upon a silver dish
From her head to her waist was just to my taste
But the rest of her was a fish."
As my voice died away, I heard an answering tune. Faintly at first, then growing stronger, it picked up where I had left off..
"Cause her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
I loved that maid with all my heart
I liked her curvy upper part
And her shiny mermaid tail"
I strode confidently out into the water then, and armed with my new swimming skill and the underwater breathing spell that Orin had taught me, I swam toward the sound of that voice.