She sat still, watching the waves. She watched them roll in, peak in crowns of white foam and fling themselves at the lagoon’s pebbly beach. And, having made their point, roll silently out again. She sat watching them come in an endless progression, never growing weary of it, as she did every day. All day she watched them, reading their messages. And while she did, no thoughts of her home and family beyond the fringe of palm trees at the lagoon’s inlet intruded.
They didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand…and, of course, she didn’t expect them to. To them and the world they inhabited, she appeared a hopeless dreamer, but there was a core of pragmatism to her whose existence none of them could see. It was just a fact of life that she could perceive a lot of things that they couldn’t.
It is said that people who live beside the ocean cannot appreciate it, and this held true for most of the Rodgrigues’, too.
All but for their daughter Clarissa, whose fascination with the eternal waves and surf seemed almost unseemly to the poor fisherman’s family. The ocean was the source of their existence and sustenance – Pedro Rodrigues, his wife and their other two daughters had never seen any reason to consider it as anything else. Yes, they knew that it had claimed Domingo, Clarissa’s beloved, a year ago. Claimed him on the very night of their wedding. He had set out in his weathered fishing boat before the crack of dawn, despite Pedro’s pointed warnings of the coming storm. In the most florid bloom of youth, Domingo had considered himself invincible to the furies of nature; it had cost him and two hired hands from the village their lives.
But one did not brood too long on the uncertainties of life and death when six bellies depended on a decent catch on any given day, and Pedro had blamed neither Domingo, himself or anyone else for the tragedy. It was the will of God, and that was all there was to it. They were simple folk, and were quick to accept the inevitable.
As for Clarissa, her daily vigils at the lagoon’s beach had become an unwavering ritual. No one pressed her for her reasons, simply assuming that she’d get over Domingo’s death, and on with her lot in life. The fact that this did not seem to be happening left her family nonplussed. She was present for most meals and attended every service at the little fishing-village’s church. She performed her arduous chores around the house and helped industriously with the mending of fishing nets and weekly scrubbing of the catamarans. And yet, she was never entirely there; every single moment of respite from labor saw her gazing vacantly out at the eternally restless sea. Sometimes she would wade out to where the small breakers washed over her knees, stare intently at the dolphins frolicking where the water turned deep and green, then silently return.
Under the circumstances, it did not seem unduly strange that she spent all of the night of every full moon at her accustomed spot on the little beach, immersed in her usual solitary reverie. Or that she always wore her Sunday best on these occasions.
The tide of the full moon is treacherous and unpredictable. As a rule, the fishermen did not take their catamarans out to sea for the entire day and night that the bloated yellow orb ruled the skies, and work at the village ground to a virtual standstill. Those who could afford it would get drunk and stay that way, womenfolk included. Those whose catches had been too paltry for such a luxury were at liberty to do anything that took their fancy to get them through the period that the moon was at its fullest….
No, they wouldn’t understand, and she saw no reason to explain herself. Or the purpose of her silent vigil.
Clarissa glanced briefly at the pregnant, yellow disc hanging low over the gently undulating horizon this night. It had been a year now…exactly a year since the ocean had claimed Domingo. It had given no explanation, either, no matter how many times she had breathed the question “Why?” to its impassive face. But she knew that nothing happened without a purpose on God’s earth, and that there was a purpose to her abrupt desolation. The Good Book said clearly that all would be revealed, and that nothing would be left hidden. It had been on this very night twelve moons ago that she had been told that she would be reunited with Domingo. And didn’t it also admonish her to keep a diligent watch, for she knew not when the hour would come?
Her simple faith did not allow her to question the context she was reading into the scriptures. All she knew was that Domingo had been torn from her life, at a time when their love for each other had effectively blanked out the miserable reality of their existence. There was simply no way that it could be left at that… not in a world where love always found an answering echo, just as God had intended. She had seen no cause to confide to her mother that they had not even consummated their marriage. They were not the kind of folk who needed to dissect and embellish their grief.
Though Divine Justice had not yet asserted itself in any tangible way, the still, small voice in her heart had never ceased to reassure her that it would finally come to pass. If anything, it had been growing more insistent of late…more than otherwise on every night of the full moon. She had no concept of how such an assurance would bear fruit, but never doubted or questioned.
Neither the assurance, not its source.
The bloated full moon brooded over the water, illuminating the entire lagoon with its ethereal light. Clarissa was a still, uneven dot on the pristine whiteness of the sand as the ocean began to swell with the coming tide. A cold gust of salt-laden air caused her to wrap her cheap, but immaculately maintained church-going dress a little more snugly over her shoulders. The distance between the water’s lapping edge and her bare feet slowly diminished; when it finally tickled her heels, she rose to her feet and closed her eyes.
The word, so calmly and unequivocally spoken, resounded in her heart. A serene tingle of joy coursed through her…an anticipation of destiny in culmination. She walked a little way into the water, until it was washing around her ankles. Instinctively, she lifted the hem of her dress to keep it dry, then thought of it and smiled an amused little smile.
Looking over her shoulder, Clarissa viewed the deserted beach and darkened village above the mouth of the lagoon. There was not a soul in sight. Looking back at the gently heaving ocean, she faced squarely the bright taper of moonlight on its surface and then pulled her dress over her shoulders. She let it slip into the brine without a second thought, never taking her eyes off the rippling band of yellow before her.
How utterly beautiful it had been, her walking the narrow aisle of the village church as the emphysemal organ rendered “Here Comes The Bride”. Domingo, resplendent in a borrowed tuxedo two sizes too small for him, had never seemed so handsome as when he stood there beside the pastor. She had walked erect and proud, in perfect time to the lovely melody that heralded the beginning of her life together with Domingo.
The increasingly agitated breakers around her now seemed to echo the strain as she walked slowly along the band of light before her. Her legs responded to it, and she did not feel the growing resistance of the seawater. Her ecstatic senses detected to anomaly in the situation. Her faith permitted no quail of doubt as she witnessed the emptiness of the iridescent path. The saturated moon above it smiled benignly down at her, almost seeming to nod in approval. The Lord had provided a wedding aisle…He would supply the groom.
Clarissa stood still, the surging water covering her naked knees as the tide rolled further in. She stood transfixed, seeing nothing but the golden path before her; hearing nothing but the ocean’s surf somehow sublimated into a celestial wedding march.
From above the lagoon’s pale white band of beach sand, the village’s church-bell clanged the midnight hour. The sound resonated peacefully over the water, registering only dimly on her abstracted senses. It merged seamlessly with the steady rhythm that the waves were pounding out, in perfect harmony with the hissing accompaniment of the surf.
Seemingly from nowhere, a gravid, Cimmerian storm cloud drifted across the clear, star-studded sky and began to obscure the moon. A muted peal of thunder issued from it, but that too was lost in the all-encompassing melody. The golden yellow strip never faded, though… and then its symmetry was broken.
A dark shape humped slowly up from the water, straightening out as it cleared the surface. Moonlight reflected off the cascade of brine that poured off it, giving it fleeting comeliness.
A rank, putrid smell wafted over to her. The smell of rotting fish and barnacles she was so at home with from the endless times she had helped in scrubbing the fishing-boats’ undersides… the smell of ocean refuse. The figure had emerged in profile to the now veiled moon, its features both indistinct and familiar. Exhilaratingly familiar.
It turned to face her. Her naked skin bunched up momentarily in ridged of gooseflesh, and an anguished scream formed and died unvoiced in her throat.
The long months of immersion in the corroding sea had extracted their toll. Yellowed bone gleamed softly where strong muscle and sinew had once been, and the endearingly crooked smile had been transformed into a macabre array of skewed teeth. Seaweed hung like a tattered, clumped mantle from its hunched shoulders. The eye-sockets were empty pits, and there was something squirming in there…a, yes, something…
And yet they shone forth a light of shrewd and malignant intelligence.
Soft, protesting creaks issued as the apparition it raised its upper appendages to her in wordless beckoning. Clarissa entertained no more misgivings, no further doubt. Every fiber in her unclad body and every trace of her surrendered will had been conditioned to respond to this invitation.
As the decaying figure before her swayed with the surging ocean tide, she straightened her back, held her head high and began her stately walk down the aisle.
The dark cloud finally blanked out the moon and emitted an almost satisfied growl of thunder in witness of the reunion. Then a muffled splash, and the arcade of flaxen moonlight was empty and unbroken one more.