She is a spirit known by several names, but most often as the Lady From the Sea. My family encountered her one fine summer afternoon, and I am the only one left to tell the tale.
We were promenading by the seashore with the intent to stop at a likely spot for a picnic — my mother, my father, my elder sister, my maternal uncle and myself, a babe in my mother’s arms — when we came across her. Of course, I was too young then to remember what happened, but I was often told of it in subsequent years.
She appeared to emerge from the sea, fully dressed but in a gown so faded, shapeless and tattered that it looked to have lain on the seabed for decades. Her bonnet-less hair was matted and colorless, and as we approached, her ice-blue eyes glittered like shards of glass.
She held out what looked to be a tangled fishing net to my uncle. He put down my mother’s parasol, with which he had been fooling as we walked.
“Will you help me with this, sir?” she asked in a wisp of a voice, insubstantial as smoke, a small smile carved into her porcelain face. My mother frowned, holding me in one arm while trying to keep my sister from fidgeting with the other. My uncle took the knotted skein from her and tried to unravel it, to no avail.
“I am sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
My father, who fancied himself something of a sailor, then reached for the net, giving my uncle the wicker picnic basket in return. My mother’s frown deepened.
“Allow me,” he said in that tone of voice that everyone instantly obeyed. He was unable to unknot the net, either. With an embarrassed shrug, he handed it back to her.
The Lady accepted the net and clutched it to her chest with long pale fingers, her carved smile now sad. She moved back, still facing us, toward the sea.
My family members turned to look at one another in astonishment at this odd occurrence, but when they looked back at the place where the Lady had been, she had disappeared, with nothing to show that she had ever been there — not even footprints in the firm, damp sand.
This was the main topic of discussion at the picnic that followed, and for many days after. My mother was convinced that she was a supernatural being of some sort, while my father was positive that she was not. My uncle was perplexed by the whole matter, and my sister’s only thought was that the Lady was “strange but pretty.” I, being an infant, had no opinion to offer.
Some say that she was the shade of a young woman swept overboard during a storm at sea, and when her battered and bloated corpse was discovered some days later, it was entangled in an old fishing net deep underwater.
I do not know the truth of that, but I do know the truth of another thing that people say: Those who meet with her are destined to meet with untimely deaths. This has proved true for my parents, my sister and my uncle — all of them taken in the bloom of youth by illness, accident and, in one case, the self-administration of poison.
Whether I alone have survived so far because I was too young to retain any memory of the meeting, I know not. I have the presentiment, however, that one day, on that same stretch of seashore, which I find myself drawn to visit regularly, I will come upon the Lady From the Sea once more. With her carved porcelain smile, she will beckon me to follow her and the rest of my family, and we will leave no footprints behind.
Bridget Goldschmidt received her MFA (concentration in fiction) from Brooklyn College in 1991. She has had stories published by Flash Fiction Magazine. She lives in New York and works as an editor for a trade magazine.
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