THE WOMAN OF WATER

ASHLEY HILL

Long ago, when the world was young and time moved more slowly, a hateful fisherman and his docile wife lived in a small village by the coast. They spent their days in a small boat with fishing nets and bowls, blinking the salty spray from their eyes and shivering in threadbare clothes to catch just enough fish to sell at the market and feed themselves. Nights were spent in a small hut, huddled silently around the fireplace. The fisherman wanted strong, healthy sons to carry on his legacy, but the rocking of the fishing boat and the sickness it caused made the wife miscarry. Each time his wife lost a baby, the fisherman’s anger grew. When she finally did give birth, it was to a little girl and not the boy the fisherman had wanted. Furious, he struck his wife dead. Rather than killing his newborn babe, he resolved to wait until she was old enough to be married off to a rich man.

Time passed, and the little girl grew up to be an enchanting woman. She had smooth golden skin, bright round eyes, and dark, wild hair that suited her impish nature. For all that she was a girl, she was not modest and reserved as daughters were meant to be. She loved to run through the wilderness, leaves in her hair and dirt on her skin, and to sing and dance under the sky. Of all the wonders she saw, none captivated her more than the sea, for she had felt a connection to the waves even from inside her mother’s womb. She sneaked from her father’s small hut under the cover of darkness almost every night, drawn by the sound of the waves crashing against the shores. She watched, mesmerized, as the moon pushed and pulled the water along the sand she stood on, brushing her bare toes with cool kisses. Others in the village noticed her unusual actions and remarked upon them, and each rumor displeased her father more. Fearing that she would repel suitors with her bold and passionate behavior, he used his belt and fists to try to subdue her. And so she hid her true nature and resisted the call of the sea, but her yearning for the water and the freedom it promised never left her.

Because she had grown so lovely, many offers of marriage were made when the girl came of age. Her father set a high bride price and announced he would give his daughter to whomever could pay. The wealthy son of a merchant came forward after hearing tales of the woman’s beauty, and they were married the same day. There was no celebration or feast after the simple ceremony, and the woman was quickly whisked away by her new husband.

The woman believed that her life would improve away from her father, but alas, it was not the case, for a life of wealth and privilege had made her husband cruel. The strength and pride she possessed meant that she would not submit to her husband and so she was subjected to harsh treatment once again. Her husband locked her up in his fine house, and the woman was kept as a prisoner. Each night as she slept in her gilded cage, she heard the sound of her beloved sea crashing against the rocks. Desperate for liberation, she plied her husband with wine and food one night, lulling him into a stupor. Once he fell asleep, she stole his clothes and cut off her hair and, disguised as a man, stowed away on a ship with dreams of sailing to a faraway land to start a new life.

The woman worked among the sailors and hid in plain sight for three days and three nights. She rose early each day and retired late each night, and in this way the men never saw her but in her disguises. However, it was not to last. On the morning of the fourth day, she was late to rise for her daily chores. When the sailors awakened, they saw her womanly shape in slumber. Convinced she had to be a witch to deceive them so, the sailors beat and desecrated her body in the belief that doing so would break her spell. They then bound her arms and legs together before throwing her overboard and into the sea.

As she slowly sank through the water, the woman opened her mouth and wailed. Water flooded her lungs and no words passed her lips, but still, the sea heard her. The sea remembered her as a girl, remembered how she splashed and played in its waters and how she was carefree and spirited. The sea too knows what it means to be wild and untamable and so it felt a connection with the woman, and it saved her. Slowly, legs fused together to form an iridescent tail with scales that glittered like gems, even in the depths of the ocean. Gills opened along her neck, the salt of the sea bleached her dark hair white, and her lips turned blue from the unforgiving cold of the water. Teeth and nails lengthened and sharpened, turning the woman from prey to predator. Thus transformed, she slipped from her bonds and swam into the abyss.

To this day, the woman of water glides through the depths of the oceans. She sings to passing sailors, voice husky from the salt she breathes, and lures them close. Only those men ruled by lust, rage, and greed can hear her song, and it is those men that are pulled into the deep to be consumed.