The Siren Dialogues

The Siren Dialogues

From the book

Libby, close your eyes, the voice whispered. It is body and desire that have to be reconciled. Think back. Past this island. Past this moment. Remember back through your body. You would never call a thing directly by its name. That might frighten it away.

To get to the island in the first place took longer. It took Libby premeditation, preparation, travel. And leaving—if she could ever leave the place for good—would take longer still. Three years felt like a lifetime, as if the island had always been part of her, owned or not.

Libby cupped her palm around her ear. For now, sang the wind, there is still purchase below. Given time, though, everything changes and branches off. Then it sighed. Even you, woman below.

The wavelet washed and rippled, and withdrew with a curl. All practice and posturing like the boy. The undertow, mother to the wave, grabbed its own child, and pulled it out to sea, murmuring, cradling, the human child and the wavelet separated for now. A well-tended ripple needs only time and circumstance to gather itself all the way to life. On return, nobody would recognize it. You’d have to look with different eyes.

“Still got room for me?”

The words were more bark than speech. Without waiting for an answer, the speaker dumped his shotgun in the dark center of the hull and jumped into the boat just before Jasper backed them away from the dock.

A figure lay almost motionless on the sand.

Not a real person, but the shape of one like a shrugged-off cloak finished with a long tail that curved artfully into a spiral, a figure of twisted kelp fanned out on the beach, just above the reach of the waves. Libby circled around it. It looked exactly like a mermaid, or like a perfect cast-off skin from which a mermaid might emerge.

Bixby appeared next to her again. “Do you hear something?”

Pay the ferryman, appealed the wind, blowing hair into her eyes.

Bixby’s eyes roved over her, expectant and hungry.

“Just the wind.”

Much later, when the little wave reared up in the ocean, it spanned a full mile. The wave tested its force, reaching for the shore, but far away and still in formation, practically harmless for the time being. Carrying itself north with a flip of the tail.

By then the boy was somewhere else and not there to see it off. The beginning of a journey. The gestation of a disturbance. 

Pay the ferryman, called the wind. Because there is always a price.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. “And where do you think you’re going?” asked a brusque voice.

She whirled around. A bearded man wearing a thigh-length oilcloth coat stood beside her on the otherwise empty deck. He grasped the gunwale with a big hand. Grinned and showed two teeth crossed over.

“Bixby! What are you doing here?”

His laughter cut at her like the rudder slicing the watery road. Her stomach twisted.

“Did I scare you?” He leaned so close she felt his breath.

“No.” She pulled her coat tighter. “You didn’t.” That was exactly his intention, of course, to catch her off guard.

A smug, self-satisfied smile creased Bixby’s cheeks. “I’ve just been waiting for my ghosty writer to return. Helping out where I can. You know me.” He lifted his hands, as if the two of them were in cahoots, as if she’d met him on this deck a thousand times.

“Actually, I don’t really. I hardly know you at all.”

Bixby laughed.

They were getting close to the island. She let her eyes wander down the boardwalk and counted eight cabins down from the dock. She counted back up to be sure. It was habit. Less sophisticated than the birds’ homing sense, but it sufficed. Rustic wood like the rest, Jasper’s cabin pushed right up to the edge of the bay. A big picture window. A walkway up to the sliding door.

Bixby followed her gaze. “You know, that cabin isn’t the only place on the island.” He extended his hand. “It’s just all you know.”

You don’t belong, whined the wind. Not here or anywhere. You’re only headed where you’ve already been.

A spray of salt water shot up to the top buttons of her coat. Bixby’s hand stayed out. Did he expect her to shake?” She wasn’t ready to deal with him and his mermaid tales. He should get out of her face. At least let her get to the other side first. Let her finish her transformation. “What do you want?” she asked.

His mouth opened into a slit and formed a solitary word with his lips and tongue. His crossed-over tooth glinted. “Tick-et, Little Bit.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You’re collecting tickets? Where’s the regular guy?”

He laughed. “Gone for the season. If you weren’t just a weekender you would know that.”

She held his gaze as she fumbled in her coat pocket for the folded square of blue card stock with Jasper’s name and lot number and an official signature. The regular guy didn’t always ask. It was a formality. She ran her finger over the crease. The ticket was worn at the edges, folded over so many times it was soft. “You know where I’m going, Bixby.”

“Still, we have to follow the rules. We have to mark things off.” He examined the card. “No more weekends. This is the real deal.” He stood too close. “But good for you. With all your jacket changes you’ve managed not to lose your ticket yet.”

“I haven’t.” Libby held her ground, forcing herself not to draw back or look away. “Not yet. Not ever. So don’t count on it.”

Bixby didn’t laugh this time. He punched the ticket and passed it back, his fingers coarse as they brushed hers. His voice came out hard. “Oh, I count on everything.”

The Siren Dialogues