“Mom!” Luca screamed. “Come quick!”
Aveny stood, her body swaddled in sand and salt, and wandered mutely toward the crowd. She didn’t want to hear aloud what she already knew within.
But Luca was smiling. “They think they found her!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, that’s her,” Brand cried, tears streaming down his whiskered face. He was staring at an image on an officer’s cell phone, relief and joy radiating from every feature. “I can’t believe it. She’s ok. She’s safe.”
Aveny collapsed again and sobbed into the skin, tears of grief and gratitude. Brand did not approach her.
Tali had been found by a pair of beachcombers, some two miles away. The elderly couple swore the child had washed up in front of them, riding a wave and naked as Venus herself. After what felt like hours of intensive interviews, Tali was back in their arms.
“I saw a whale,” she whispered to Aveny, glee shimmering in her small face.
Finding no evidence of abuse, the police chalked it up to a miracle and left the family in peace. But all was not well.
Brand was silent the whole way home.
The skin felt like a lead weight on Aveny’s lap.
As the truck rumbled down the road, a thunderous voice resonated in Aveny’s brain. “I saved her this time. I won’t do so again.”
Aveny could see the woman’s visage hovering just outside her consciousness, suspended between the speeding roadway and the ether.
Rionach, I presume.
The woman inclined her head, “Of course.”
Aveny nodded, gazing into the woman’s dangerous eyes.
“This will continue to happen, in one form or another, to you and your children,” Rionach said. “You aren’t safe in the sea – and you were never whole on land. None of our family have been since my daughter’s betrayal. One way or another, through tragedy, illness, or accident, your fates are sealed – unless you repair the rift.”
Aveny thought of her great aunt Cora and all those before her, whose sanity had been destroyed and whose lives had been cut short. Was it all because of this rift? Because of a centuries-old decision that they could not prevent, control or even understand. It was unjust.
My grandma was ok, Aveny thought. The rift didn’t destroy her.
“She was one of very few,” replied Rionach, “but she is not you. And you are not her. You found the sea. The skin found you. The severed connection still lingers inside you as it did for so many who came before – who paid the price for my daughter’s foolishness. It lingers inside your children too. You can reunite with your true identity now, or you can suffer the consequences later. But either way, you do not escape who you are.”
“Will we lose our humanity?” Aveny asked, hesitantly. “If I do this, will we … change?”
“I cannot say where your path will lead,” Rionach replied. “But I can assure you that any control you think you wield over the future now is only a myth.”
Aveny sighed, her mind overwhelmed by turmoil.
“You do not control your fate and I cannot tell you what will come,” Rionach intoned. “But if you fail to heal this rift, only tragedy waits on the horizon.”
Aveny glanced back at her sleeping children, their heads resting on one another’s shoulders in the back seat.
Ok, she relented, I’m ready. Just tell me what to do.