Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Making of a Mermaid by Kasey Leavitt

 Kasey Leavitt was one of my first follows on Twitter. I saw her interacting a lot with Summer and Dee, the first people I fangirled over and I knew she must be awesome. I was right. She is a sweet person, a wonderful friend, and always has warm words for everyone.
I picked her picture for the project and she emailed me back very emotional. She told me that she believed in higher reasons for things and that the picture, which is actually a postcard is the VERY same postcard she has posted on her wall at home. And it has very special meaning to her. When she told me the story of its importance, I really did get emotional too. This story is a very special to her for that reason. It is the first time Kasey is putting her writing out there for public viewing, and I am honored she chose this project. Or perhaps this project chose her.
She is a beautiful human being with a heart of gold. And her story is one of my favorites. (Both versions. J) Here is The Making of a Mermaid.

The Memory Project (continued)
When I turned the page, I noticed a brand new heading: Things They Loved. This collection of photos and postcards were completely different from all of the others. Immediately I had a feeling of warmth, protection, hope. The feelings trickled from my fingers up my arm, and I couldn't help but smile.
"What's up with you?" Jesse asked with one eyebrow raised.
"What do you mean?"
"You look, I don’t know…like you're glowing or something. Like you just went from sad to unbelievably happy." He glanced down at the pictures and back up at me as if he was trying to put together the reasons for my sudden radiance. I still wasn't telling him anything. Keep it to yourself, I thought.
I plucked a postcard from its place, a single piece of tape had held it to the page. Hawaii. I'd never been. But it was a place I would love to go. A place where I imagined memories grew like pineapples, deeply rooted in the earth.
(to be continued…)

The Making of a Mermaid
By Kasey Leavitt

            Miriam’s toes gripped the sand as she slipped off her dress. She had come to this cove every night since returning to Hawaii a year before. Most nights she’d exchange the warmth of her clothes for the cool of the ocean. The smell and taste of the sea’s salt and the gentle buffeting of the waves comforted her the way an aroma of tomato sauce or the sight of lavender in a garden comforted others. Full moon nights, like tonight, were her favorite.
This was her home, the place where as a girl she had dived in and surfaced only for meals and sleep, lungs burning and legs twitching. She’d been happy there. In that time, her parents were still together, her brother still alive. She’d lived lifetimes between those childhood swims and her return, and her reverence for the place matured. Now she came to pray, her own version of prayer, where she offered up chunks of a heavy heart to the ocean, to the moon, to anyone who would take them. She needed to feel light. And under the dark sky, with nothing between her and the water that cradled her, she did.
Tonight, though, she needed her prayer to be a two-sided conversation. She wanted guidance, a sign, though she no longer knew if she trusted the universe or herself.
            Miriam looked up when she heard a sigh, an offering, much like her own a few minutes before, of something substantial. She waited for a splash, some recognition that the ocean received the weight, but all she heard was the gentle caress of the waves on the lava outcropping where he stood. Miriam swam closer, careful not to get too close to the submerged rocks.  She expressed silent gratitude for the calmness. The ocean had muted itself, as though it knew this was not a time for play.
She heard the lava rock crunch as he shifted his feet. Miriam stared at the shadow she knew better than her own, the shadow she’d both been following and evading for the past ten years. David.
She’d not seen David in two years. He had been the only source of warmth in a city whose chill bit at her until there was nothing left but frozen bone. She gravitated to him during school and the two became close friends, closer than a married woman should have been to another man. Miriam knew she should keep her distance, but she was so cold and he was so warm and that warmth reminded her of home.
            When she could no longer distinguish her husband from the gray fog outside their San Francisco home or the gray anchor weighing down her heart, Miriam cut her ties with David. No wanted to look in dark corners when the sun was shining outside. So she committed herself to looking, to see if there was anything salvageable.
            Returning to Hawaii was the first decision she’d made in a years that felt like hers. She thawed out and the foods of home filled her out. She started writing letters to her friends back in San Francisco. And because she missed David, but wasn’t ready to face her feelings for him or the unanswered nature of his for her, she sent him postcards. She told him of the restaurant where she had breakfast every day, of the cove where she swam every night, and of her mixed irritation and respect for the tourists who combed the island in search of a happiness they could take with them, as though that sort of thing were sold in souvenir shops. He sent her postcards back of the major sites around town, in case she was homesick for them, and shared similarly small snippets of his life. He joked that when he made it out to the islands, he would show up with a matching Hawaiian shirt and muumuu and make her play tourist with him.
            That morning, as she sat at her regular table eating her regular breakfast and drinking her cup of coffee, a man whose coconut sunscreen almost disguised the familiar smell of olive oil and sage underneath slid into her booth. Her heart pounded on the bars of her chest to be let out. The hope was too much and so she refused to look away from her book. He slid a muumuu across the table and laughed.
            “Mir!” he shouted, “It’s me!”
She looked up, struggling to see through flooded eyes, at the person she most wanted to see. “David,” she whispered, as though saying it too loudly would make him disappear.
He laughed. “Surprise! Oh, you should see the look on your face! I can’t believe I pulled it off.” He beamed.
Miriam wiped her eyes and got up to give him a hug. He pulled her into the booth beside him and held onto her. “I’ve missed you,” he said.
“Me too. What are you doing here?”
“Work. I’ve got a conference down the street. But since you raved about this place, I knew I had to check it out. And I couldn’t resist surprising you. You always said you loved the good kind of surprises.” He pointed to the muumuu on the other side of the table. “I fully expect you to wear that out to dinner tonight. Provided you’re free.”
Miriam laughed. “I’m free. Even if I had plans, I’d cancel them. It’s so good to see you. I’m not sure it’s ‘matching muumuu’ good, though.” They both laughed and caught up over a quick breakfast. Miriam walked David to his hotel.
“I’ll call you when I’m done. I’m thinking maybe 5:00 or so.”
“Sure. My schedule is flexible.” Miriam responded. “Being your own boss has its benefits.”
David laughed and kissed Miriam on the cheek.  Her skin burned. Don’t overthink it.
Though overthink it she did. It was a foregone conclusion that she would share her feelings, so she practiced, finally settling on a blunt approach that would need at least two drinks to effectuate. The call that dinner had to be postponed because of a work conflict came just as she was pouring the first. She drank it hoping to dissipate the disappointment and adrenaline. She had another two. They did nothing to touch the static of hope and fear that clung, so she walked to her cove, envious for the first time of the matching tourist couples she passed.
Yet now the moon and the sea had brought him out here to her. It must mean something.
Miriam debated saying nothing to him. The sigh concerned her. They were only a few feet apart, though, and if he turned her way, he could see her illuminated in the moon’s path.
Unsure what to do, she sucked in as much air as she could and dove down to the bottom. She heard the sounds of the sea’s womb: coral-chewing fish and the rush of her own blood. Her hand swept the sand in search of an epiphany, like buried treasure. When her lungs screamed for air, she kicked hard to the surface, back to the pool of moon above her. She broke through and saw David peering over the side into the water.
            “Lose something?” she called out as she shook the water out of her ears.
“Hey there, mermaid.” David tripped as he righted himself. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to be in there alone? At night?”
“I’m not alone.” As if on cue, a fish jumped and startled both of them. David nearly fell in. “Care to join me? If you keep standing there, you’re bound to anyway.”
David nodded, curls bouncing like they must have when he was a boy. He’d grown them out. She liked them better this way. How many times had she imagined grabbing them? David took off his shoes and shirt and prepared to dive.
Miriam, instantly conscious of her nudity, spoke. “Nope. The goddess doesn’t allow for clothes tonight.” Miriam surprised herself, unsure what else she could’ve said, but grateful to whatever goddess she’d just channeled who’d thought of that response.
He looked up at the moon, as if to question her.
“Not that goddess.”
David looked back at Miriam and she nodded, a half-smile obscured in the dark.
As he tried to tug one leg through his shorts, he lost his balance. Miriam laughed, her head leaned back.
“Be careful, mermaid,” David called to her. “You just might eat the moon with a laugh like that. Don’t want you to sink to the bottom.” Looking at David, Miriam thought that there was nothing that could ever drag her down to the bottom again. They floated, both with eyes turned to the sky.
David broke the silence. “Are there sharks here?”
            “Yes, it’s the ocean. They probably aren’t right here, if that’s what you mean. There’s a small reef just over there.” Miriam pointed ahead of them to where coral broke the surface. “If you’re nervous, we can get out.”
            “Actually, I was hoping to stay a little longer,” he said, and he closed the gap between them. He put his hands on her back and pulled her close. She felt his chest on her breasts, the wire of his hair, the slope of his muscles. His face was closer to hers than seemed possible. He was in fact too close to see. She closed her eyes and smelled his familiar scent, still mingled with sunscreen. She felt his breath on her nose. Her own breath shortened, her stomach clenched, and the rest of her released.
            “Would it be all right if I kissed you now?”
            She laughed. How funny it seemed to be so formal after all of these years, after the moments they’d just had completely naked. She saw what she interpreted as sadness pass through his eyes and she nodded. She tasted the ocean in his mouth, on his neck and his chest. He grabbed her hair at the nape and gently tugged her face away from him.
            “Are you even real, mermaid? Is this real?”
            “Just for tonight.”
            He kissed her again and she thought she would crack open.
            “Am I allowed to take you out of the water? Because the things I’d like to do, they require land.”
            Miriam hesitated. How had any of this even happened? Her carefully rehearsed words were still tucked in her heart. She hadn’t worked for it. There was no plausible explanation in her mind, aside from the magic of the ocean and the full moon. What would happen when they left? And what would happen when he saw her in the light, no water to obscure the imperfections?
            “I lose my magic if I leave.” Miriam felt it leaving as she said it. Her voice sounded ordinary, no bravado born of the moon and the sea.
            “Hey.” David put a finger under her turned-down chin. “Your magic never goes away. Don’t you know your name means ‘Star of the Sea’? You’re my mermaid.” He kissed her again, then added, “And I’m only talking about the beach. It’s not so far.” He nibbled at her cheek and back down the slope of her neck. Miriam relented to the parts of her that had already consented.
            “Let’s go back to your hotel… sand and all. But only if you can catch me. And only if you realize I’m likely to turn into sea foam or whatever once I leave here.”
            “I’ll catch you.” In a second David disappeared under the water.
            Miriam swam with all she had, working with the waves to bring herself in. Right before she caught the last wave, an arm hooked around her waist and she felt herself being carried up out of the water, a slight dip down when gravity sank in, and then air cooling every pore. She leapt out of David’s arms and ran to her dress to throw it on. Then she remembered that David had left everything on the lava rock at the edge of the cove. She gave him the towel tucked in her bag and ran over to collect his things.
            As he dressed, she leaned against a palm tree and looked at the moon. It seemed fuller than it ever had on the mainland and brighter. It was a trick of the islands that there seemed more of everything that was so sweet about life. She looked at David when he indicated he was ready to head back. He being there with her, that, too, must be some trick of the islands.
            He reached for her hand and pulled her into him. He held her for a long time without saying a word and she relaxed into it. She allowed herself the brief moment of acceptance.
            “Shall we head back?”
            Miriam nodded. He held her hand. People said hello as they passed. To everyone else, they seemed a couple. But what were they really?
“So, how many days are you here?”
“A couple. I leave on Sunday.” He hesitated. “But I could always stay a little longer.”
“Why?” She was so focused on trying to muster the courage to recite her speech before the hotel, so he could either accept her or she could leave him there, that she missed what he said.
He stopped her and looked straight at her. “Mir, I know you said this was just for tonight, but this isn’t some vacation one-off for me.” He kissed her and she thought that if he was going to continue doing such things it didn’t matter how he felt and she might not be able to wait until they reached the hotel.
He let her go and started walking again. Without looking at her, he said, “I’ve wanted you for so long.” She was grateful the hotel was in sight and she picked up the pace.
Her night was everything she hoped it would be, but still with all of the awkwardness of first being with someone. It took time to anticipate the other’s movements, needs. Not to mention, he snored; she talked nonsense in her sleep and punched him in the nose. At some point in the night, she grabbed a shirt of his so he wouldn’t see the extra around her middle and thighs as she padded to the bathroom. She had a hard time simply sleeping with him because she’d been in a bed by herself for so long she’d forgotten how to share.
When the sun rose, she rolled over to see him staring at her.
“Mermaid, you’re awake. And you didn’t turn into sea foam.”
Miriam smiled at him. “No, it appears I did not.”
The two went to her regular restaurant to have her regular breakfast at her regular table. Miriam marveled at the way David slid seamlessly into her life. Don’t overthink it.
“I loved your cove,” he said when their plates were in front of them. “It was exactly as you described it.”
“Oh, so that’s how you found me.”
“You’re definitely a creature of habit.” He pointed at her breakfast. “Not so hard to track. I’m grateful I didn’t have to visit every beach between here and Kaneohe to find you.”
Miriam smiled, too many thoughts clamoring at the door of her mind.
“Listen, I’d like to make dinner up to you, tonight.”
“I think you already did.” She smiled at herself.
He laughed. “Tonight, 5:00. Have a sweater ready. I’ll pick you up.”
            David was true to his word, waiting outside her door at 5:00.
 “Where are we going?”
“You’re not the only one with secret places on this island. I have one too.”
As they drove, David told Miriam about his friend Keoni who’d lived down the street from him when Keoni’s dad attended UCLA. The families became close friends and visited each other as often as they could. The jeep wound its way up the mountain and Miriam was grateful David recommended she put on warmer clothes.
They eventually pulled off into a residential neighborhood. The houses were lined with chain link fences behind which a succession of angry dogs barked. They drove to the end of a cul-de-sac and parked.
“This is Keoni’s house. Such a great guy. He’s out of town right now, but I’ll get you two in touch.”
“So, this is your special place?”
“Sort of,” David said as he wrapped his arm around her waist. “It’s more of a special event.”
They walked out to his back yard, which would have been completely black if it weren’t for the moon.
“It’s probably not the best night for this because of her.” David pointed at the moon. “But there’s a meteor shower coming. I remember you saying how much you love them. If we turn our backs to the moon, we might be able to catch some.”
David led her over to a large blanket that was spread out. He pulled out two boxes of sushi, a bottle of champagne, and truffles from his backpack.
“Wow,” Miriam said. She couldn’t think of anything else to say. The motor of her mind worked overtime.
While they ate and waited for the meteors, Miriam asked David what he’d done that day.
“You’ll find out.”
Miriam could think of nothing else to say. Suddenly her speech seemed less important.
After dinner, they lay down on the blanket and stared up at the sky. Miriam curled into David’s side and he met her, kissed her, then said, “Mir, don’t get that started. I’m serious about seeing these meteors.”
She laughed, and wondered how she had ended up in a stranger’s backyard kissing David. Stars streaked across the sky. There were so many that the moon barely made a difference. Miriam cried out once or twice when several came in quick succession. She did it again and David rolled over to her and said, “Marry me, mermaid.”
Miriam sat up. David did too.
 “What?” she said. Her head spun.
“I have loved you since that first moment. And I know you’ve felt the same way all these years. I’m not going to pretend to know what went on between you and Patrick. And I don’t want to know. But if he meant that much to you, you would’ve talked to me about him. I’ve waited almost ten years for you. I don’t want to wait another minute. We can do it here. Get a license, Justice of the Peace. Wouldn’t it be romantic?”
She wanted to scream, “Yes! Of course!” But some voice of doubt or reason also screamed, “No! You’ll have to move back. Things with him will change. This can’t last. It had all happened so quickly, under the influence of the moon. It could all go away just as quickly.”
“David, I…” she faltered. “Are you sure? This just happened yesterday.”
“This happened long before yesterday.” He went quiet. When she didn’t say anything else, he started cleaning up the picnic. When he was finished he told her he wanted to leave.
“David, I love you. You are right that I have since the first moment. I’m not saying I don’t. I’m just saying that I need time to process this.”
“Sure, of course.”
“I’m sorry, David.”
David shrugged, gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Nothing to be sorry about. But I’d like to go all the same.”
He parked in front of her house, but left the engine idling. “Mir, I don’t know what happened back there. Maybe it was too much too soon. I was certain you felt the same way about me that I do about you. We know each other. Why wait any longer?”
“I’m sorry.”
“Why do you keep saying that?”
“I don’t know. I’ve upset you. I’ve upset me. I want to say yes, but how does that work? I just got back here.” In that moment, Miriam realized she couldn’t imagine a life without David or one without Hawaii. She didn’t want to have to choose.
 “I don’t know. The only thing here for me is you.”
“And that’s not enough, is it?” Miriam knew she didn’t want the answer.
“If I didn’t have a legal practice or law school loans or any of those considerations, sure. I’d be game to try it.”
“I can’t move back there. I won’t.”
“It’s a little unfair to ask me if you’re enough for me to move here, but then to tell me I’m not enough for you to move back. You’re right, Mir. You do need some time to think. Because it seems there’s something more than logistics at play here.”
Miriam started to cry and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know anything.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “When you do know something, let me know. In the meantime, take good care of yourself, mermaid.”
She learned later that he’d gone straight to the airport.

Miriam spent the weeks after David’s departure tending to her little yellow house by the sea. She had a friend cover her court appearances while she worked in the garden or slept. She thought the stress of feeling stuck was getting the better of her because at the end of each day she would be so sick she couldn’t eat dinner. She could barely make it to the cove. Drained from the exercise and thinking, she would go to bed early and dream of David, beads of salt water on skin, inviting her in to the ocean. After three weeks of it, she went to see the doctor for her ulcer. She left with prenatal vitamins.
Miriam called David immediately, even though she hadn’t had time to digest the news. Her call went straight to voicemail. She left a vague message, “Hi, David. It’s me, Miriam. Something’s come up and I need to talk to you. Please call me.” She left her phone number.
The next day, Miriam called again and was rolled into voicemail. She called David’s office and the secretary took a message. Miriam emailed David’s work and personal accounts. Nothing. Three days later, she tried again. Still nothing. She finally sent him a postcard, one of a man and a woman in a matching Hawaiian shirt and muumuu holding hands.
“Beloved David, did you know your name means ‘beloved’? Here are some other things I know now: I don’t have to stay here to be happy. I am ready to say yes. I know I was a fool not to before. And we two will be three. I love you. Your mermaid, Miriam.” She waited again.
Feeling desperate, Miriam called a mutual friend, Jess. She shared the news. It felt somehow more complete to reconnect with her past, to braid in the threads of who she was with who she was becoming.
“Miriam, that’s fantastic,” Jess had screamed into the phone. “You know he loves you. He’ll be there in a second. Oh, I’ve wanted you two to get together for so long. I can’t believe it’s going to happen. Finally!” She laughed.
“Do you really think?”
“He’s been studying for the Hawaii Bar. Whatever happened out there, I don’t think it deterred him the way you think it did.”

Weeks after Miriam sent her card to David, however, she’d given up hope of a response. She’d received one unintelligible message on her voicemail, but it wasn’t a number she recognized, so she chalked it up to a telemarketer. She still went through the daily ritual of checking the mail, though. She rubbed her belly, even though what was in there was still too abstract to be real, an alien in a photograph. It comforted her, though, to think that she carried part of him with her. If she never heard from him again, she might still catch the flash of his eye or the spark in his laugh when their child grew up. She would always have that thread of him running through her life. It wasn’t him, but in a way, it was better because it was them. Together.
            She watched the mail truck drive away. At first, Miriam waited out front for the mail carrier to arrive. She would make small talk with him, force back her morning sickness at the jeep’s exhaust. When handed her mail, Miriam would rifle through it immediately without turning away. Every day, save for Sunday, Jim, the mail carrier, registered her disappointment. He offered her Kleenex the first few times, when her hormones and sadness overcame her. Then she learned to carry her own tissues. Last week, when she still cried at the junk mail and bills, she vowed to stop humiliating herself. So she hid by the window, behind the curtains, like she had as a girl, and waited for Jim to drive along.
            Miriam walked to the mailbox, stopped to notice the birds, a new batch of hibiscus. She took a deep breath before opening the lid, then peered into the darkness. Sticking out from the usual lot was a corner of promise. A full moon stared at her from between the bills. Her Hawaiian moon. She plucked it out and saw a vintage postcard, a beautiful woman leaning against a tree on the beach, staring at the night sky. She knew it was from him.
Her hands started to shake and she waited a moment to turn it over. He had answered her. And from everything she saw on the front, she knew it was a love letter. It was too much. For the first time, she felt the baby in her belly shift, a butterfly flutter that mirrored what was happening in her stomach, in her heart. A tear dropped on the card and Miriam wiped her eyes before turning it over. She didn’t want the ink to disappear before she’d had a chance to read it.
Mermaid, this is how I picture you. Always. I will forever see you with the full moon dancing for you and lighting you up just for me. I am coming to you. To both of you. Wait for me there, in our spot. In the deepest sense of the word, Aloha.”
Miriam’s face flooded with warm ocean tears. She dropped to the ground, her back against the mailbox post, and held the card in one hand and her belly in the other. She released the months of tension as she sat rooted to the ground. Mrs. Kanaka from across the street ran out, scooped Miriam into her tiny lap, and rubbed her hair.
“The baby?” she whispered.
Miriam shook her head no. She waved the postcard in the air, smiled through her tears, and squeaked out, “Yes. Yes.”
Just as Mrs. Tanaka was helping Miriam up, the ringing of the phone carried outside. Miriam ran in and answered.
“Mir? It’s Jess.”
Miriam was crying, devastated that it wasn’t David, but relieved it wasn’t a telemarketer, and instead was someone she could talk to about the card. Why didn’t he call?
“Jess, you won’t believe it! I got a card from David! He’s coming.” Miriam laughed. All of that stress, the long nights unable to sleep, endless crying jags were for nothing.
“Honey, is there someone there with you?”
Miriam looked at the door and saw Mrs. Tanaka standing there as though waiting to be dismissed. Miriam waved her in.
“Yeah. Why?”
“Oh, Mir.” Jess was interrupted by her own crying. “Hon, he’s not coming.” Miriam heard a sob on the other end of the line.
“What? What happened?”
“God, I wish I was I was there with you. Sweetie, turn on the news. Wait, don’t. Don’t watch the news.” Miriam heard more crying.
“Goddamnit, Jess! What happened?”
“His plane crashed. He was supposed to be there waiting for when you got his card. But…”
In the intervening pause, the news registered and Miriam shrieked and wailed. Mrs. Tanaka rushed to her side.
“Miriam?” Jess screamed through the phone. Mrs. Tanaka set Miriam down on the floor near the entryway and retrieved the phone.
“Hello? This is Miriam’s neighbor, Mrs. Dorothy Tanaka. Can you tell me what happened?”
Miriam curled into the corner. She heard Mrs. Tanaka say, “I see,” and “That is indeed terrible news,” and “Thank you for calling.” It all sounded so reasonable, as though someone had simply lost a dog and not a fiancé in a plane at the bottom of the ocean. The thought of David still strapped in to a chair floating in the Pacific made Miriam delirious with pain. She doubled over and screamed into the floor, her tears forming a small pool.
Mrs. Tanaka called for help through the open windows and Dominic, her next-door neighbor, came running over. He picked Miriam up in one efficient move and ran her back to his car. She couldn’t think to ask where they were going. Instead, all she could say was, “I should’ve said yes the first time. My doubt killed him.”
Dominic kissed her forehead as he buckled the seatbelt around her. “Can’t think about that now, love. You’ve got to think about her,” and he put a hand on Miriam’s stomach.

“Yes, you’ve got a little mermaid swimming around in there. She needs calm seas.”

Follow Kasey on twitter: @thedharmadiva
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1 comment:

  1. Carey, thank you so much for the kind and lovely introduction. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to write this story (which, as it happens, isn't a short story at all, but a novel). Very grateful to be a part of this project.


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