"You need to get away," my friend said, "the ocean air would be so good for you."
She told me about the seaside town of Gloucester, "It's like another place and time. There are still real sailors and fishermen, there. Portuguese names in the graveyard. Cafes with fresh fish."
At her suggestion, I booked a room in a big house that had been converted into a hotel. It was high on a hill in the older part of town. From my window, I had a view of the winding streets and houses with narrow walks along the upper story. Widows' walks they are called, where the women waited for their husbands and sons to return from the sea.
I enjoyed exploring the streets and shops, long walks along the shore. At night, I dreamed of mermaids sitting in front of the houses, like that painting by Delvaux.
I could almost hear mermaids laughing in the waves, among the kids and mothers on the beach in the afternoon. I gathered shells and colored glass. At low tide, rounded stones lay scattered on the sand. They were granite, the hotel manager told me. The same New England granite as the bank steps and the tombstones in the graveyard. "Handsome, aren't they? " she said. "The beach is full of such stones."
A few nights later, I was awakened by the bright moon in my window. I decided to go for a walk along the beach. The sea was smooth as a mirror, and I could see a line of women draped in black. They were humming a low and plaintive song as they gathered the rounded stones. I watched as they held them in their hands, kissing and caressing each one until the stone grew into a figure of a man. The men and women embraced, but no words passed between them. Then, one by one, the men walked into the waves and disappeared in the rising tide.
The women turned toward me. One of them held out a stone. "Be careful if you take one," she said.
Voima Oy lives on the western rim of Chicago, near the expressway and the Blue Line trains. Her writing can be found online at Paragraph Planet, 101 Fiction, Unbroken Journal, Vignette Review, Molotov Cocktail--Flash Worlds, Burning House Press, and The Cabinet of Heed. Follow her on Twitter, too— @voimaoy and #vss365.