She remembered looking at her reflection in a tidal pool. Her eyes were green, like the color of the seaweed coves. She had dark red hair and her “polka dots” (what Papa called her freckles) punctuated her face like the lakes and ponds in the Verdant Hills to the north. Merilyn dressed in clothes the color of her eyes.
She had only been six years old and lived in a village on a river near an estuary to the ocean. The ocean sustained them in so many ways. Some of the men and a few of the women fished on the long boats. Others managed the seaweed farms. A lot of the older kids worked on the desalination units, each of which stood out of the water like solitary and noble sentries, yet provided fresh water to be sold to the desert provinces and the Negev city of Quebracho.
Merilyn knew they were all necessary but none of them were exciting, not like pearl diving.
They weren’t pearls like the ones Great-GrandMama said they used to have under the oceans and lakes of old Earth. Even she had never seen the mother planet, but she liked to pass down the tales told to her by her Mama and her Mama’s Mama before her. The fierce, excitable redheaded child thought half of those stories were made up or exaggerated. Maybe there never was a mother planet and they’d always lived here, although that’s not what her teachers told her.
The mollusks and the pearls within them on the sea floor were real enough though. Merilyn loved to watch the divers swim out on their boards and then with the tethers on their ankles attached, quickly flip below the waves and vanish for a minute, two, sometimes over three on a single breath.
When Frie had won at the Games two seasons ago, their province got to send another delegate to Parliament in the capital city of Colima for a year. As part of the prize, the province was also allotted a greater portion of technological support, which is how they got the desalination machines. Carlee, the oldest of the divers, said that the city of Nand shipped three units of what they called SCUBA as well, which with training, would let a diver take their air with them so they could stay underwater a lot longer.
Carlee never used them saying it was an insult to her profession and that SCUBA did not let a diver display their merit to the others of their team, to the village, or the province. Merilyn thought that was so courageous and she began to vocally disdain SCUBA in order to show everyone she could have an adult opinion too.
Papa said she was too young to be a pearl diver and should help her Mama with the seaweed farm. Seaweed farms were boring. Even her older brother Nolam got to tend the desalination machines, paddling from one to another on his board (and later when his shift was over, he was already near enough to Apalis Beach to go surfing with his classmates).
Merilyn had a board too, almost everyone had their own. Nolam had made it for her sixth birthday and promised to teach her to surf. She’d been so excited. Most older brothers, especially once they advanced to Second School, only teased their younger sibs, but Nolam had loved her ever since Mama birthed her and she wanted to grow up to be just like him in everything, except she wanted to pearl dive instead of program the salt water machines.
It was getting on to Autumn and there was an afternoon storm coming in. Mama and the other farmers had already pulled in the day’s harvest and were spreading the netting over the crop to protect the younger plants. Merilyn had slipped away noticing that three of the divers were still out from shore. They’d started harvesting a group of mollusks that had been planted last season now had pearls ready for collection. Carlee was with Jen and Titus making what was probably their last dive of the day before the storm hit.
The looming clouds looked like gray giants menacing the horizon when the little girl launched herself on her board into the surf. She was hoping everyone else was too busy to notice her sliding across the water toward where the three other boards were anchored. Merilyn knew she wasn’t trained to dive like Carlee. She just wanted to watch. No harm in that. If Carlee saw her underwater, maybe she’d be impressed enough to recommend her for diver training.
She set the board’s anchor to keep it from drifting too much and wrapped the tether strap around her ankle. The storm was closer than she thought and it was already making it hard for her board to keep from being pushed back toward land. Merilyn took a deep breath and plunged into the depths.
The trio of tethers from the divers dissolved into murky blackness. She didn’t realize you couldn’t see all the way to the bottom, but this was one of the deeper mollusk plantings. She almost cried out when something hard jerked at her ankle. The tether. The storm was pulling at her board and the anchor wasn’t heavy enough.
She saw the divers reappear from below but another wave hit her board and she was pulled sideways and then started to tumble. Merilyn could hear the surf so she was closer to shore. She was running out of breath and had to get back up. Then the tether, the board, everything was gone and she was somersaulting, twisting, flailing around. Where was up? “I can’t breathe! I’m drowning!”
The six-year-old panicked and wildly clawed at the water vainly hoping she could pull herself up to the surface, but she couldn’t find the air. She wanted to cry and scream and beg and it hurt so bad not to be able to breathe.
Someone grabbed her. It had to be Carlee or one of the others. They’d found her. She was going up. Except when she could see again, it wasn’t Carlee, or Jen, or Titus, or anyone from her village. Was it even a man?
They surfaced amid a group of rocks south of where she’d gone into the water. He was holding onto her shoulders and she looked into his eyes. They were the color of the ocean at dawn. She could only see his eyes. The rest of him was still under the sea-foam. Then he lifted her up to one of the long, flat rocks and set her upon it. Merilyn looked back and saw a figure under the water swimming away fast. He didn’t come up to breathe, just kept going deeper and then he was gone.
She tried to tell everyone what happened but they all thought that not being able to breathe for so long made her see things that weren’t there. Even Nolam didn’t believe her, though he told the children who said she was lying to leave her alone.
As she got older, she started to think that maybe she didn’t really see the man and that she had just been washed up onto the rocks. After all, the stories of the sea gods were just stories. No one had claimed to see one since Great-GrandMama had been her age (well, teacher said there had been a few other “sightings” since then, but they’d all been proven to be hoaxes).
She’d forgotten all about the man in the sea until she was twenty years old and running along the shoreline training for the Games.
The sky was a brilliant cyan when she first saw him standing on the beach. He was staring out at the ocean as if witnessing a tragedy and in spite of her vow of celibacy, she experienced an overwhelming sense of Koi no Yokan, the feeling that they would one day fall in love. He looked in her direction for a moment as she passed him and she saw his eyes were the color of the ocean at dawn.
That child’s face is amazing, especially the color of her eyes. I don’t know if the image has been enhanced or not, but it has an almost “fantasy” feel to it.
Yesterday for the “Wordle,” I wrote Koi no Yokan which introduces Merilyn at age twenty. I’m in the process of creating a much longer story about her life and the world she lives in, so when I saw the prompt photo this morning, I decided to give her a “flashback.” This is it. Let me know what you think.