In the Cottage by the Sea

Ligeia watched as Calliope rummaged through the old sea chest, filled with forgotten remnants of other people’s lives. In the beginning, the pair had spent decades poring through its contents. More bored than curious, they’d made up wordless ghost stories about the misadventures of those who’d lived in the cottage before.

It had been centuries since the women had touched the odds-n-ends memories the trunk held. Ligeia frowned.

Why today, of all days?

Calliope set aside a threadbare quilt, an age-yellowed journal––the ink faded to illegible smudges. Her spine stiffened as she rubbed the tarnish from a silver baby rattle. Ligeia couldn’t see Calli’s hazel eyes, but knew they sparkled with tears.

Stop torturing yourself with what cannot be, love.

As if sensing the thought, Calliope glanced over her shoulder, flashing the taller woman a watery, apologetic grin. Ligeia dipped her chin, but couldn’t bring herself to return the smile. Instead, she turned and paced the tiny room. Her bare feet slid across a floor polished silken by a hundred thousand footsteps. Three to the stove, seven to the straw pallet in the corner, thirteen more to the window.

Ligeia twitched aside the salt-crusted, sunbleached curtain. Perched on a wind buffeted cliff, the cottage overlooked a stretch of rocky beach. Below, a pair of hippocamps frolicked in the waves, manes flowing over their scaled backs. Her stomach clenched, as the rising tide inched across the sand. Longing warred with guilt.

Gentle fingers stroked her hair. Catlike, Ligeia leaned into the caress. She turned and drank in Calli’s familiar features. Smooth, tan skin; straight nose. Thick dark waves––untouched by the silver strands of time––spilled over her shoulders. Ligeia reached out to trace the other woman’s thin lips, mouth too wide for her face, as if stretched from incessant smiling.

Calliope responded with butterfly kisses to fingertips. Not once, in a thousand years, had she spoken. Silence was Ligeia’s curse, but her love shared it by choice.

Ligeia shrank back.

I stole your future. Your chance to live a normal life. To have a family.

Calli’s eyes flashed defiant. They offered a forgiveness that Ligeia didn’t deserve. Leaning forward, their foreheads touched, arms wrapped in a desperate embrace. A millennium wasn’t long enough to say goodbye.

Calliope pulled back and opened her palm. A golden chain dangled from her fingers.

So that’s what you were looking for. You were wearing it when I found you, half-drowned, washed up on the shore.

The metal felt cool as the necklace pressed into Ligeia’s palm. Her eyes widened.

I don’t need this to remember you.

Calli’s smile insisted Ligeia take it anyway. She slipped it over her head and settled the delicate charm––Eros’ bow––in the hollow of her throat.

Without words, they knew it was time. As one, they left the cottage and picked their way down to the shore, hand in hand. Two sets of bare feet burrowed in the sand, toes marking the high tide line. Out beyond the breakers, the hippocamps watched with dark, liquid eyes.

The sea tugged at Ligeia and she yearned to dive into the surf, but Calliope’s warm hand kept her grounded. As the waves crept closer, they clung to each other. Foam licked at their toes and the sun dipped below the horizon.

Warmth blossomed in Ligeia’s throat as the curse broke. Like a brush with an eel, sparks shot through her. A thrill tickled her spine. As she turned to Calliope, the elation turned to horror.

Wrinkles creased the once smooth skin, raven locks turned brittle white. The strong hand, enfolded in her own, grew slack and bony. Calliope’s desiccated lips twisted––smile or grimace, it was impossible to tell. The light went out in her eyes, and she crumbled to dust, swept away by a salty breeze.

Collapsing to her knees, Ligeia sang. For the first time in a thousand years, she poured heartache and guilt into her lament. Her throat burned raw. Darkness fell; the tide turned. Still she sang on. When the final melancholy notes faded away, the hippocamps reared, hooves pawing the air.

Numb, Ligeia stood, stumbling into the surf. As seawater rose from ankle to thigh, she glanced back at the deserted cottage on the bluff. The true weight of the curse settled into her frozen heart. She turned and dove into the waves.

By the light of the moon, the siren who dared to love a human, returned to the sea.


12 thoughts on “In the Cottage by the Sea

  1. innatejames says:

    I loved the mythology you built up here, Maggie. The hippocamps as silent watchers served nicely as a chorus. I could have used the information of the last sentence earlier in the piece. I didn’t understand that one of them was human.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MM Schreier says:

      Thanks Nate. That was actually by design. I only dropped maybe one clue, throughout the piece, hoping the last line would bring it all together. Perhaps if I decide to tell their full story, I will reevaluate.

      Like

      • innatejames says:

        It did tie it together at the end. But for me I was distracted wondering if Calliope was the muse and Ligeia was from the Edgar Allen Poe story. Knowing they weren’t allusions sooner would have eased some of my distraction. Probably just me though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • MM Schreier says:

        Ah, I didn’t think of my good friend EAP. How embarrassing. In classic Greek mythology, there are 10 named sirens including “Ligeia the Clear-Toned.” Which was supposed to be a clue as to what she was. I guess it’s sort of silly to assume readers would be more familiar with Homer than Poe!

        Like

  2. Laissez Faire says:

    This was my favorite line: Three to the stove, seven to the straw pallet in the corner, thirteen more to the window. <– because it gave a sense of isolation and rising stress in the repetition.
    It was a lovely, haunting story with so much imagery that I felt I was on the rocks in the surf watching. I, too, didn't know that Calliope was a human…my thought went right to Calliope the Muse of Greek Mythology. I presume that they had used up the 1000 years and Ligeia had convinced herself not to think about it so didn't know what day it was? Or was it because Calliope had been stretched too thin with time and decided it was time to go?

    Liked by 1 person

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