Thalassa’s Song

This story is part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated by LisaBee. This month’s prompt is to tell a fairy tale. Please check back at Lisabee’s blog at the beginning of March, when you can read all the month’s contributions and select your three favorite.

Thalassina lived in an old house with her father and mother, the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia Mariner.

Mrs. Amelia Mariner dressed her daughter in stiff clothes with scratchy lace.

“Keep your arms at your sides, darling. And for goodness sake, still your hands!”

“Must she make that shrieking noise, dear?” the Distinguished Professor asked. “Is she all right?”

Mrs. Amelia invented a thousand excuses not to take their daughter to a specialist. Of course, the child was perfect! How on earth could she and the Distinguished Professor have a child that was anything but perfect?

“I’m sure it’s just a phase. She’ll grow out of it. All intelligent children experience a stage of quirkiness.”

“Whatever you say, dear,” replied the Distinguished Professor.

The summer Thalassina turned 13, the family visited the islands. It was not a vacation, after all, for the Distinguished Professor had a conference, and it fell to Mrs. Amelia to officiate countless functions, as wife to the Renowned Keynote Speaker.

That suited Thalassina just fine. The moment the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia left to attend to duties, Thalassina dashed off to the beach, to comb the shore, wade in the surf, and ponder the strange changes happening to her body, mind, and spirit.

Gentle waves rocked in and out, in and out, beckoning to follow, deeper, deeper, until Thalassina could spread her arms and wave her hands and roll on her back with happy squeaks.

Every day, as soon as her parents left, she ran to the sea.

One day, her fairy godmother joined her. She was never without a friend, then.

“Well, it’s been quite a success,” reported the Distinguished Professor at supper one evening.

“Quite satisfactory, after all,” added Mrs. Amelia.

“Pack up before bed, Thalassina. The plane leaves bright and early tomorrow.”

She hadn’t considered that summer would end, that they would go back to their old house, and that her days would be filled with loud classmates and strict teachers, and hard desks and the powder scent of chalk, and that she would have to keep her arms at her sides and her hands still once again.

After the Professor and Mrs. Amelia were fast asleep, she dashed down to the shore again and plunged into the sea, swimming towards the moon.

In an unfamiliar cove, she heard her fairy godmother call her name.

“I can’t leave! I can’t go back! I can’t lose me!” she cried.

“Right now, Thalassina,” replied the fairy godmother, “you have no choice. But one day, the choice will be yours. You can decide to become a normal person and live a normal life or to live as your true self in your own unusual life.”

“A normal person?” Thalassina asked. “But how will I choose?”

“You will know,” said her fairy godmother. “Both choices bring sacrifice. But you will weigh the costs, and choose with your good heart.”

Seasons passed. Thalassina kept her arms at her sides, her hands quiet, and her voice steady. Her parents grew proud of this studious and responsible young woman.

“Remember how we worried?” Mrs. Amelia asked as high school graduation approached. “Now she’s in the top ten of her class and heading to university in the fall!”

“Would be better if she were valedictorian,” replied the Distinguished Professor, “But, you were right as always, dear. Just a phase.”

Thalassina found, at university, that some of her classmates didn’t mind if she waved her arms or squeaked when excited. Some of her professors, especially in Literature of the Oppressed and Paleolithic Art, rewarded her less-than-common ideas with higher-than-average marks.

“He’ll pick you up at 6:00 p.m.” her mother wrote early in spring semester, “he” being Jonathan Donovan Cure, the son of a colleague of the Distinguished Professor, who happened to study economic theory at the same university.

Thalassina didn’t want to go on her mother’s pre-arranged date, but her imaginative capacity, at the moment, was devoted to the Gobustan Petroglyphs, so no spare synapses produced a passable excuse. “It’ll just be easier to go,” she reckoned, leaving her mind free to ponder the strange Azerbaijan etchings of fin and scale on lichened rock.

They had a decent time. She kept her arms to her sides, her hands quiet, and her voice carefully modulated, as he watched her with fascination and, possibly, admiration. Being with him felt familiar.

One date led to another. She kept up the act; he kept up the admiration. Doesn’t love feel familiar? Family, familiar? So she reasoned as the semester drew to a close and summer approached.

“Don’t go to the islands,” he told her.

“But I must!” she replied. She’d lined up a summer internship restoring wetlands at the estuary.

“Why? To dig in the dirt with eco-freaks and hippies?”

She would disappoint him if she went, not to mention disappointing the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia. They had set her up with him, after all, this promising young son of her father’s colleague.

But the islands. The ocean.

“I must,” she whispered, more to herself than to him, feeling the cost of this independence.

While he watched her pack her bags, he said, “You don’t know what you’re missing. I would’ve married you, you know. You could’ve been a normal person, with a normal life, and normal friends, living in a normal house in a normal world. Now you’ll just be one of the weirdos. One of the beautiful weirdos.”

The moment she breathed the ocean air, the magnitude of her choice fell on her. She would be different, always. It was a sacrifice, to never fit in.

But she made a few friends, and with one of them, she discovered, she could be her true self.

Life might be hard, sometimes, and it might be lonely. But isn’t it better to experience one’s own authentic hardships, one’s own loneliness, while living as one’s own self, than to experience someone else’s normality?