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A Short Story.
Copyright (c) 2008 Judy Upton.
Mum was having one of her clear-outs. She used to go to jumble sales, charity
shops and car boot sales and buys loads of stuff. Fish made of glass, seashells
and tiny model boats stuck to fridge magnets. Then once a year she’d throw it
This time though, I heard her cry out as she pulled her hand from a box under the stairs. There clasped in her hands was a pearl necklace. I asked if I could try it on, but she looked at me, in a startled way, like she’d only just noticed I was standing there. Then she went upstairs. When she came down she ignored my questions about the necklace and I didn’t see any more of it for a while.
Next thing I knew we were moving to the Sussex Coast. Mum said this was because Dad was going to be based at Portsmouth for a while. Dad is captain of a ship that goes to places like the Caribbean for months at a time. It’s okay though, because we’ve got a web-cam so I can still see him most days. Anyway, Dad was away on his ship while we were moving but Mum said that was okay, because when he did come home, we’d already be nearby. The new house was very like our old house really. The big difference was that it was right by the sea.
I liked our new town straight away, especially the beach, though in the evenings when it got dark, there was nothing to do. In the window of the newsagents there was a postcard advertising a chess club. Mum pointed it out to me but I just made a face. I can play chess, but I didn’t want to play people who have been playing for ages. There was bridge club too, but that turned out not to be anything interesting like building a bridge, but another game where I’d lose all the time.
The only other thing going on was a choral society. “That’s singing.” Mum explained, as if I didn’t know. Mum rang the lady running the choral society, but when she came off the phone she said that the woman didn’t sound very friendly. We’d been invited to go along to their meeting that Wednesday evening though.
Wednesday evening arrived, and it was time to go to the choral society. As we got near to the church hall we could hear singing. Reaching the door, I realised the song was in some foreign language. We went in, and there were twelve women standing in a group, with one at the front holding a stick to conduct with. Some of the women were Mum’s age and some had grey hair. There wasn’t anyone young and I was starting to know this was a bad idea. The woman with the conducting stick invited Mum to go and join in. She didn’t even glance at me. The group was obviously for adults only and I felt really embarrassed for turning up.
Then the singing started again. But the weird thing was that Mum knew all the words! She was singing in this strange language. It wasn’t French because I know two songs in French from school. Then I noticed another strange thing. Mum was holding the pearl necklace in her hand.
In the night the wind started howling. I couldn’t sleep so I went into Mum’s room to see if she was awake too, but she wasn’t there or anywhere in the house! The next thing I remember is waking up in bed and Mum calling me down for breakfast. Her hair was all tangled like she’d been out in the wind.
Things were fairly normal again until the next Wednesday, when Mum went off to the choral society’s practice again without inviting me. The old lady from next door came in and attempted to teach me to knit. I tried, but I was angry with Mum and couldn’t concentrate. When she came home I didn’t talk to her, but I noticed her hair was wet and it hadn’t been raining.
The following Wednesday it was the same, and when Mum came home her jeans were soaked, and sand spilled from her coat pocket onto the carpet. Every day, she’d be singing in that strange language, she kept leaving all the windows open and forgot to buy any milk or bread. I emailed dad ‘Come home quickly!’ but he told me I’d have to be patient.
I was determined to find out what was going on. The old lady often fell asleep when she was supposed to be keeping an eye on me, so the next Wednesday night, I waited for her to nod off. Then I crept out of the house. It was very windy but at least it wasn’t raining and there was enough moonlight to see by.
As I reached the church hall I couldn’t hear any singing. I climbed on the recycling bin outside to look in the window. Nobody was there. I felt angry with Mum for telling me she was going to the choral society when she wasn’t. I was also worried, wondering where she could’ve gone. Then I remembered the wet hair and the sand falling on the floor. I headed for the beach.
I climbed up the steep shingle bank. It was low tide and I could just make out the smooth stretch of sand and the white foamy waves beyond. The beach seemed deserted and I was about to turn back when a faint burst of song was blown towards me on the wind. Slipping and slithering on the shingle, I ran down onto the sand.
There they were, Mum and rest of the women from the choral society. They were sitting in a little wooden boat a little way out from the shore, singing as it bobbed up and down!
I scrambled down to the shore, rubbing the salt spray from my
eyes. “Mum, Mum!” I shouted. The singing stopped. They had heard me. All the
women plunged straight overboard and into the sea. That’s when I saw it. I saw
Mum’s tail – blue, scaly and shaped like a fish’s.
I was scared and I knew I’d seen something that I wasn’t meant to. I didn’t know where they’d gone after they all dived in the water, but the sea was churning and foaming like they were all rushing towards me. I ran, stumbling back up the shingle bank without looking behind me. I ran all the way home and I locked my bedroom door. I didn’t hear Mum come in.
The next morning at breakfast, Mum said that she didn’t think she’d go to the choral society again. I noticed that she was no longer wearing the pearl necklace. “Where is it? The necklace?” It was the only thing I could say. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “I know your secret Mum, I know you’re a mermaid”, because I was afraid to, and still only half-believing what I’d seen. Mum said the clasp of the necklace must’ve broken and she had lost it. Later she said that it would be nice to go for a picnic on the downs rather than go to the beach again. I agreed. Then Dad came home, and soon we moved to another town that wasn’t near the sea. I never saw the necklace again or heard Mum sing in that foreign language. For a while I pretended I’d imagined the whole thing, but I knew that I hadn’t.
Copyright (c) 2008 Judy Upton.
Text and Site Design - Copyright © 1999-2009 Judy and Peter Upton.
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