Both of us strongly agreed that venturing into the waters, even just for the five or six steps it would be, was a risk we weren't prepared to take. Daisy hadn't even stepped out the door, merely looked at it from the doorway, breathing heavily, and leaning against the frame. She looked at the water that spread out past the small cottage, surrounding us with a small moat of pale water. It shimmered yellow in the morning light, pinks catching the small ripples that grew from the breeze, lifting the water delicately out of this world. It looked so inviting, so pretty and innocent it couldn't be natural. All I wanted to do was to brush my hand through the water, make it sparkle and shake in the early morning. I almost reached out towards it, unthinkingly, before Daisy slammed the door shut with a force I'd never seen her use before.
"We stay inside," came her hoarse decree. Coughing rattled through her, as she shuffled back through the hall, into the lounge. I didn't dare argue with her, only lowered my hand back to my side, and stared out the glass to the floodwater.
As Daisy said, we stayed inside. The whole day was spent, busying ourselves by making meals, tidying, finding anything to do within the confines of the small cottage, the rough-hewn stone of the outer walls feeling like they were closing in on me. I wasn't used to staying inside so much - I would always walk to work, or Daisy and I would wander on the beach, endlessly searching the shore for something new, borrowed from the deep blue of the ocean by the sand, to add to the growing collection in the attic.
Once the entire cottage had been cleaned, twice, Daisy sent me up to the attic to fetch the small cardboard box next to our collection. It rattled as I carried it down the ladder, tucked safely under my right arm. It was far lighter than I had expected, much more empty than I could have imagined anything in her home being. Unlike all the other boxes, which were stuff with old china, toys and books from childhood, clothes she'd never gotten around to donating to charity, and various other assorted boxes, this one contained more space than matter. There was room for things to jostle about, clatter against one another, shattering the silence of the cottage.
When I placed it on the coffee table in the lounge, Daisy looked at it for a long time. I could not tell you what she was thinking, her face blank of emotion.
"Well, open it," She finally grumbled, looking away from the box, and straightening the already straight blanket over the back of the couch. "Go on. I didn't want it down for a decoration."
I did as I was bid, opening it, and carefully lifting out the contents. A photo, in a neat, slightly battered frame. A collection of letters, written by hand in a faded ink on heavy, yellowing stationary, tied together with some frayed string. They looked as though they had been in the box for years, a thin film of dusty covering them, but there were crinkles on the edges of the paper, splash marks that had taken the ink into spirals on the paper. Finally, I pulled out a small jewellery box, the dark wood untouched by light. It could have been new, freshly varnished and straight out of the shop, it was so untouched. Only the dust that covered everything else in the box told me it had been in there at least as long as the other items.
I rested each item carefully on the table, neatly arranging them in a row, straightening them in line with the edge of the table.
"What is all this stuff?" I couldn't help but wonder aloud, looking at it with barely disguised fascination. My question was not met with a response, and so I turned to Daisy, who was pointedly not looking at the items in question.
"Open the box," She ordered once more. I didn't move. Her gaze snapped to me, and she repeated the order, her voice sharpening to a point and scraping on the inside of my ears. I winced, her barked order ringing against my ears, but did as she told me to. The lid of the jewellery box was stiff, unwilling to open at my touch. The hinges groaned with lack of use, tensing against their forced movement.
The inside of the jewellery box was a plush, rich velvet. Soft to the touch, it gave way easily under my fingers, moulding their shape to allow me to search through the material and reveal the contents nestled inside. A small collection of what appeared to be fish scales huddled together, encased in the jewellery box. I had never seen fish scales of this colour and size before - the translucency normally seen on fish scales was not here, they were more opaque, and opal, a shimmering, ever-changing hue of whites and pastels. The scales were larger than my thumbnails - probably double the size, if not more - and rigid in my hand. It seemed magical in the afternoon sun, filtering in through the window. I stared at it, running my finger over its surface, feeling the ridges and bumps that stretched across the whole scale. Without looking away from the iridescent scale, a half-formed question fell into the room.
"Are these…?" I didn't even have the confidence to finish my query aloud, it felt so impossible. Daisy nodded finally turning to me. She stood, seemingly taller and stronger than before. She did not lean on the arm of the couch, but moved over to me with an ease I hadn't seen from her in a while.
"Aye, lass," Daisy confirmed, the words simultaneously a gift and a curse. Warning me with its enlightening nature. "Those are mermaid scales."
I could not tell you how long I sat there, enraptured by Daisy's story. It was impossible to believe, but she kept weaving the threads of her past in and out of each other with such precision, and confidence that I couldn't help but believe her. It was fantastical, impossible, and yet it all made sense. It fit. It explained why Daisy persisted in living in this small cottage, why she didn't squash any conversations about mermaids like others had. She was curious too. She had seen one too.
Where my mermaid had been alive, lurking in the distance with an eerie warning floating over the waves towards me, Daisy's mermaid had been thoroughly dead. Huge scars had warped its face into something unrecognisable as humanoid. The aquatic tail of the beast had been torn clean in two, its guts falling out on to the sand. Even the brief description Daisy gave of it threw pictures running through my mind of a hideously deformed creature, ripped to shreds by an unseen evil, lying abandoned on the beach.
Daisy had taken some of its scales, these scales, and kept them. Her scientific curiosity had led her to analyse, take apart, experiment on and with the scales, but none of her prodding and poking had amounted to anything. She couldn't find anything more about the scales, other than they had a greater fortification than the average fish scale. They were tough, almost impossible to pierce through with a tooth, so the damage on her mermaid could not have ever been done by another creature. It was a weapon created for the sole purpose of killing these creatures that had done the damage to her mermaid.
Daisy had told me that she collected the scales from the mermaid at the shore line, had turned to put them in her bag, and when she had turned back around, her mermaid had disappeared from sight. Only a small smear of blood on the sand had confirmed to her that it had been there, but even that vanished before her eyes, the tide rising to steal the top layers of sand away, washing the evidence from the earth, but not from her memory.
I held the mermaid's scales between my thumb and forefinger, testing its pliability without even realising. I teased it, let it flex between my hands, and let the day go past me outside the window. I was stuck inside my own hand, wondering constantly, obsessively, if my glimpse was the only interaction I'd ever have with one of those elusive creatures. The scale shifted colours in my hand, catching the light and reflecting back at me a hundred different hues of the world outside my window. The colours would transform before my very eyes, and reflect the sun in shining stripes on the surface of the scale.
I stayed in my position by the window, staring out at the endless water for a long time. The water level never lessened - in fact, the water seemed to rise higher up the wall, without ever moving. It seemed to crawl up over our home, encasing up in a dome of water, surrounding and suffocating us, waiting for us to go outside and drown in the skyful of water. And then I would blink, and it was back at ground level. I needed to move away from the window, but the sea was so mesmerising, tauntingly out of reach. I wanted to see my mermaid again, to know why it had spoken to me.
I wasn't the only person to have seen a mermaid, Daisy had seen one too. It made me wonder if others might have seen these creatures, but only out of the corner of their eyes, and dismissed it as something more sensible. Something more normal.
Or perhaps they had known what they had seen, and it had scared them. Scared them so much that they moved as far inland as possible, and avoided proximity to rivers. Perhaps my mother's paranoia had been founded in something more concrete than myth.