Salt & Iron
By Kellie Fahy
My very atoms were fighting one another as I looked at her standing in my hotel room. Half of me wanted to rush to her, enwrap her in my arms, and cry into the familiar spot of her shoulder. Half of me wanted to scream, tear her to shreds; to verbally and physically strip her down to the bones. But because my atoms were at such a dilemma, I did nothing. I stood there, waiting for my body to destroy itself from the conflict writhing within it.
Her green eyes pierced me. They used to be so much lighter, like the foam that forms on top of the ocean waves as they rolled over one another toward the shore. Now they were darker, like the color of the ocean drop off at the sand bar. There was a bit of red in them now, radiating out of her pupils like a sparkler twinkling against a night sky.
“Hey Maria,” she said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
She would only come at the end of the summer, when the warm winds came and churned the water of the Atlantic down by the Caribbean. Alex came with the hurricanes to the Gulf, washing up on the beach with the crashing waves. We had met when I was 16, back when I spent the entire summer at the beach. I spent entire days in her arms, laughing at her jokes, marveling at her perfect body. There on the crowded shore, she would look at me like I was the only person in the world.
The summer before I went to college, she drew me out to the beach in the middle of the night. Her hand was shaking as it held mine and she walked into the water, her legs shifting and changing beneath the waves until they formed a long, gorgeous tail. She confided in me that she spent most of the year with other sirens, singing to men and women, luring them into their waters. I had left for college the next day, marveled and horrified, unable to stop thinking of her. When the last couple weeks of the summer came, I came home for my birthday, but really it was to see her. When the winds changed and the humidity rose, I ran to the beach, and I waited for her. Her smile was the largest I had ever seen, and as we parted ways that night, she kissed me on the forehead and made me promise to see her the next day.
My body leaned into her chest, her arms wrapped around me, her chin resting ever so slightly on my head. The wind picked up around us, blowing the small blades of grass this way and that, picking up the pollen and spiraling it through the air in a beautiful haze around our bodies.
She plucked at a dandelion, her curly blonde hair tickling my cheeks. I played with strands of it in my hands, twirling the already tight curls between my fingers. It was coarse, bits of sand stuck between the strands, but slick from the sea.
“What classes did you take this year?” She asked.
“Mostly English. I’ve gotten through all my prerequisite courses, so I can focus on my major now. One of my professors told me about an internship in D.C. this winter I’m pretty excited to apply to.”
“D.C.? Like the White House D.C.?”
“Yeah! It would be nice not to spend my whole break in this little rinky-dink town with my parents. I’d fly home for Christmas but spend the rest of the time up there.” I felt her arms stiffen around me. I turned around to face her, my hand cupping her cheek. “Hey, you’re not even here for winter break, don’t worry about it.” Her gaze moved past me toward the horizon, and I felt the space between us fill with silence. “Tell me about your year. Where did you go?”
Her eyes lit up and locked with mine as she took my hands in hers, her thumbs making small circles against my palms. “I spent a long time in Madagascar. I loved swimming in those waters. They were so warm and blue, and the fish weren’t scared of the sirens, so they swam alongside us.” My eyes flickered at her legs, it still shocked me how her body could change and morph in such mysterious ways. “The island was incredible, probably one of my favorite places I’ve ever travelled to. I think you would love it there.”
“I probably would. Anywhere else other than there?”
Her face fell.
“Yes, but we don’t have to talk about that.” She turned me around, so I was against her chest again and pulled us backward toward the ground.
“She loves me, she loves me not.” She said, plucking at a new piece of dandelion.
“Alex!” I said, laughing, my shoulders shaking against her.
“What, is this not a thing you humans do? She loves me, she loves me not.”
“Alex c’mon you already know the answer to that question.” She liked to play games with me. In moments like this, when she teased, I wondered if this was what she did to the men at sea. Did she tease them? Is that how she brought them into the depths of the ocean? Or was it deeper? Did she really wonder if I would return every year as she had? Did she really wonder if I loved her not? Could a beautiful, gorgeous siren from the sea, ever wonder if a human would be anything but in love with her?
“She loves me.” She said, this time making a more dramatic motion as she plucked the piece of the dandelion away. She let the wind take it. I watched as the small white piece floated away, until it blended with the blue sky and I could no longer make out where the wind had carried it. “She loves me not,” she said, sighing, releasing another piece of the dandelion. I picked myself up, twisting around and tackling her to the ground.
“I love you,” I said. She smiled at this, her grin widening through both of her cheeks. I loved these smiles, gentle and genuine, different than her teasing smirks. I leaned down to kiss her, my brown hair entangling in hers. Her lips were soft and tasted of salt from the sea, and she smelled like seaweed and sea breeze. My hand cupped at her cheek. Her hand pressed against the small of my back, holding our bodies tighter together, and I let myself be suffocated by the taste of sea and salt, breathing it in as if it were air.
My fists were clenched, my atoms still fighting, one side beginning to win.
“Maria,” she said. Her voice was deeper now. Still melodic, but now it resonated like a cello instead of a violin.
“Alexandria it’s been six years.” I saw a tear fall down her cheek. She opened her mouth, revealing her teeth, still twinkling and bright, straight as can be, but now the edges were jagged and sharp, like someone had sanded them down to a fine point. I gasped.
The next year I waited for her on the pier. She always came in the evening, as the sun was setting, when the fisherman had packed up their coolers and gear and left. She told me she could hear the vibrations of their feet against the wooden planks of the pier, how it reverberated down to the water and out to her. She waited patiently, and I sat at the end of the pier, my arms draped over the wooden ledge in front of me, my chin resting on my hands. I sat and watched the sky get darker and darker as my eyes stayed glued to the horizon. The orange and pink hue gave way to a dark navy that cascaded over the whole sky, the sound of the waves lapping at the structural footings of the pier beneath me. And then I saw the dolphins. She always came with dolphins.
I felt my skin leap from me as I ran down the pier, my shoes beating down on the planks. I wondered if it made her smile, how hard I ran, how fast I tried to get to her. I leapt down from it, jumping over the small set of stairs, my shoes slipping in the soft sand with my landing. She stood on the edge of the beach, her calves still wading in ocean water, her hair soaked. She was in jean shorts and a blue bikini. I ran to her, and she smiled. We collided, laughing, falling back into the water, gentle waves rolling over us. She kissed me, her hand entangling in my hair. She tasted the strongest on these days. Salt and iron mixed with her wet lips and damp hair entangled with seaweed. She smelled like a hot summer day at the beach, the water, fish and sand mixing with the humidity of the sea breeze.
Since I started college, we spent our days away from the shore exploring the small town which raised me. We browsed gift shops where I used to waste my time. She watched as I got my nails done at the salon that had become my mother’s favorite. And when we heard our stomachs growl at us, I took her to the food truck in the parking lot of Winn-Dixie that served the best burgers I had ever had.
I took her out for ice cream and laughed at how it got on her nose, scooping it off nonchalantly with my finger. She leaned into me and dragged her thumb across my bottom lip, slowly at first, and then swift at the end. She sucked the ice cream off of her thumb, smiling at me with her wicked grin, her perfect teeth showing. I felt my heart race and I pulled her behind the ice cream shack, away from the kids and parents in line and let my lips devour her. Her lips, her jawline, her neck, any part of her open for feasting, and as I grew drunk on her smooth skin and lean figure, she decided to have her fill of me, twisting our bodies and pushing my back against the shack. I smiled at her, and I wondered if it looked even a fraction as devilish as hers did.
I looked her up and down, trying to see if anything other than her teeth had changed, the memory of her body engrained in my brain; what it felt like to hold her, kiss her, run my fingers along the inside of her forearm and watch as the sun shone on her skin. I reached out to her, running my hands up her arms, past her shoulders, clavicle, feeling her neck tense as my fingers brushed up her muscles to cup her cheeks. I could see her more clearly now. Her eyes were so dark. Her teeth were fangs. But she looked like Alex. She felt like Alex.
“I don’t understand, I thought you had another ten years at least.”
“Guess I’m an early bloomer,” she whispered.
The last night I had spent with her we laid on the sand, staring up at the moon. Our pinky fingers were looped around each other’s, her hair tickling at my chin. I traced shapes into the palm of her hand, never paying much mind to what they formed, just never wanting to let go of how smooth and soft her skin was.
I felt a question gnawing at my throat, my heart rate increasing.
“How much longer do we have?”
She was still. The sound of our shallow breaths lingered between us.
“Until my fangs grow in?” I knew about the fangs. She had talked about them before. When your fangs came in, you became different. The job of the adolescents was to lure humans into the water, but they did not kill them, that was the job for the elders, the ones with fangs. “I’m not sure.” She whispered. “Most people grow them in their 30s, but some are later, some are sooner…At least ten years, I think. At least ten.”
I felt the air I had held in my chest release itself, pressing my back deeper into the sand. Ten years, I had ten years with her.
“When you graduate next year, what will happen?” She whispered.
“I don’t know, I’ll look for jobs.”
“Will you be back for the summer?”
“Of course,” I said, turning my head to look at her. Her green eyes met me. “I’ll always come back for my birthday you know that.” My voice wavered as I spoke, and I felt my body begin to tremble. The breeze from the sea rolled over us, making me shiver even more. She clasped our hands together and pressed her forehead to mine.
“Only for a week, or even a few days now.”
“If I was at a coast, could you come to me? Could you come somewhere else, not here?”
“Maybe,” she said. I wrapped my arm around her, pulling her closer to me, the sand between us shifting awkwardly and sticking to our skin. She was different in the moonlight than in the sunlight. In the sunlight her skin glowed as if it were threaded with gold. At night, in the moonlight it shimmered, like small specs of sand were ingrained in it, twinkling as her body moved and shifted. Her eyes, usually a beautiful radiant green glowed like an animal’s, the whites of them darkening. She was a predator; I knew every part of her that enraptured me was designed to do just that. She was the perfect seducer, I was the perfect prey, and for some reason I did not care. I had not cared for years.
Was I another victim? I had asked her before, the tricks she played on men to get them to come to the sea, did she ever use them on me? She swore to me no, she would never dare. How long could we keep this up? A week a year wasn’t enough, it had been hard in college, being asked on dates and knowing that in no way could I ever commit myself to anybody else because the second I saw her everything else would slip from mind.
“Does she love me? Or does she love me not?” Alex whispered to me. And something inside of me burst and I kissed her. I kissed her and kissed her and kissed her. My hands fumbled with her shirt and pulled it over her head, and I marveled at the body I had seen so many times in the light of day but only a handful of times in the moonlight. I trailed my finger down her side, her body jumping at the slightest touch. My lips found her smooth skin, damp from the sea and sweat, pieces of sand were stuck to it, crunching between my teeth, but all I could pay attention to was the taste of her skin, and how she gasped as my lips trailed over it.
She reached for my shirt and I shook my head. “No, not here in the sand,” I said, pulling her up. I stepped backward, pulling my shirt off, limply discarding it. Her eyes stayed transfixed on me, darting up and down my body. This was how I must’ve looked like the first time I saw her walking along the sand, the waves lapping at her ankles. I bit my lip as my eyes soaked up more of her. My hand lifted in front me, my fingers coaxing her to me. On command she walked, pulling me into a kiss.
We fell into the water, it was still tonight. I reached for her bikini top, slowly pulling at the knot that held it together, watching as it fell into the water. My eyes drank her in, seeing the full effect of her skin. I did not even notice when she pulled on the straps of mine, and it carelessly floated down to the sand bed beneath us.
I could barely feel the warm waves lapping at us. All I could feel was her skin on mine, and her breath on my skin, and the sound of her voice as she leaned into my ear, her lips brushing it as she said, “I have loved you since the moment I stepped on this beach.”
And then her hands were everywhere, and my hands were everywhere. Our lips were on each other’s, on our skins, under the water, gasping for air, and back on each other, anywhere and everywhere they pleased. She trembled beneath me. And I trembled beneath her.
And then we lay there, on the beach, collecting ourselves, the sound of crickets echoing from the dunes behind us.
“You’re meant for more than this place.” She whispered. I didn’t respond. She knew I hated it here. How I craved to live in a city, to travel like she did, to see the world and the people who lived in it. “This small town will destroy you.”
“This small town can’t destroy me if you’re in it.”
I held her hand as we watched the waves roll into the shore, the reflection of the moon shifting over the ever changing water. I watched her pick herself up, and wade into the shallow shore. She turned over her shoulder to look at me and my heart shattered as she smiled a soft smile, only the corner of her lip twitching toward the moon. She dove into the water.
I cried. My tears soaking into the sand.
I returned the next summer, and I sat at the pier every night, the dolphins never came.
The next year I moved to Brooklyn, I moved in with a friend who worked at a bakery. I bartended as I filled out job application after job application. I asked off of work for five days and I went home for my birthday. She did not come.
She did not come the third year.
The fourth and fifth year I stayed in the city. My parents had moved farther away from the shore, downsizing their house now that I had left the nest. On the sixth year I came back and bought a hotel room on the beach. I returned to the small rinky-dink town that raised me and said hello to the shopkeepers that still remembered my name. I drove past my old home, looking at the strange and unfamiliar plants that were now in the front garden. I spent the day on the beach sunbathing and listening to the waves crash against the shore. And at the end of the day, after I had watched the sunset, I walked back into my hotel room, and there she was.
She was as perfect as she had been that last night. Not a single knot in the curls of her hair. Her body smooth, delicate, lean, and strong. Her eyes were ferociously green. And suddenly I felt my atoms at war with themselves.
I searched her eyes for answers but as always, they gave me none. I wanted to ask how many. How many people had she killed? How many throats had she ripped out with those new shiny teeth of hers? But I couldn’t, the thought of it made my stomach churn.
“It happened right before that next summer. Right as the water began to warm, I felt them grow in. I couldn’t – I didn’t know. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s been six years. What are you doing here now?”
“I have control over myself. But I can feel it, I’m changing.”
“In what ways?” I felt a grip on my heart, squeezing it, forcing it to work harder and harder with every beat.
“I don’t care for humans anymore. I used to be so entranced by them, now they are becoming almost like ants, or a spider’s web. Interesting for a fleeting moment, and then nothing.”
I focused on her. How her stature was a bit taller, her body stiffer than before. She had changed. I had changed. The city had changed me. I loved the cool weather and the snow that blanketed the streets. The crunch of fall leaves was far superior to the crunch of sand in your mouth. And yet still, I longed for those summer days along the shore, to have said one last thing to her before she dove into the water that night.
“And what of me?” I asked. She flinched. She never flinched. My eyes locked on hers. My breathing stopped.
“I could never fathom growing disinterested in you.”
My movement was fast, as I grabbed her face and pulled it to mine. I moved us toward the bed, plucking at the strap of her bra beneath her shirt. She fell on top of me on the bed and tugged my pants from my hips. Our bodies found ourselves mirroring the motions we had made years ago, exploring new spots in a bed where we could not on the beach.
I had forgotten how smooth her skin was, how I loved how her hair fell and tickled against my lips; how she shimmered in the dark, and as she gasped I was enraptured by the glowing of her eyes that seemed to be even more incandescent than before.
I stirred in my sleep, I could feel her finger on my spine, circling small patterns into it. I tried to determine what they were, circles, triangles, or swirls. They all seemed to be deliberate. I turned to face her, her delicate fingers pulled at mine, the covers pulled up to our chins. I wrapped one of my feet around her ankle.
“She loves me. She loves me not,” she whispered.
I breathed deeply, and I felt her hand tremble in mine. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes. I could still remember the day I had left for the city. My hands trailed over my family’s furniture as I looked at photo albums of myself as a kid. I had said goodbye to Sal at the pizzeria, and Nicole at the hair salon. I was finally doing it, getting out of Florida. But even then, I had left a piece of myself on the shore for her to find.
“During autumn in the city the air gets crisp, and sometimes you can’t smell the garbage that sits out on the street like you can in the summer. And I remembered the first time I smelled it I thought that maybe that would be my favorite smell. But every time I come home, nothing beats the smell of the Gulf, and the sound of the waves and the distant caw of the birds circling overhead. “
“Alex,” I whispered. Her eyes locked on mine.
“I know,” She whispered back, her lips trembling. And we held each other, our arms wrapped tight around our bodies, our foreheads pressed together. We kept the covers pulled over us as the morning light spilled into the room.
“I know this is it, but will you promise me something?”
“What is it?”
“Will you keep your eyes out for the dolphins?”
About the Author:
Kellie Fahy’s short fiction has appeared in The Summerset Review in the past. She was raised on the panhandle of Florida in a small town named Navarre. In 2019 she graduated from Florida State University with a degree in creative writing and classical civilizations. She is currently residing in state’s capital, Tallahassee, pursuing her writing career and private pilot’s license.
She can be found on Twitter at @QuarterLifeKell