Here is the next chapter which some of you have been asking for! Thank you for your patience and I hope it was worth the wait. This was one of my favorite chapters to write and it answers some very important questions in the story. Please let me know what you think and I’ll post another chapter soon, maybe even on Thanksgiving! We’ve also gotten another choice for the cover and this one is my favorite.
Even though my falling overboard had been an accident it almost seemed like I was grounded. Mom was watching me so closely I felt like I was in prison. She had postponed her trip to Edinburgh until the following week so she could keep an eye on me and she kept checking to see if I was alright. The whole time I was thinking about the key. I wanted to try it on the desk drawer when no one was around. I wasn’t sure why I was being so secretive but it felt like something that I had to do alone. For some reason I felt sure that it would work. I tried my best to be patient by staying in bed, reading, sleeping and waiting.
Finally on Wednesday morning Mom decided to go into the village for groceries. I think she was getting a little stir crazy too. Dad was meeting with Dr. Brayer and would be back at lunchtime. Mom kept asking me if I was sure I’d be okay by myself and I finally convinced her that I would be fine for an hour. As soon as I heard the car leaving the drive I jumped out of bed and climbed down the ladder from the loft. I tiptoed into the library and knelt down in front of the desk. I held my breath as I put the key into the lock. It slid in but when I tried to turn it, it stuck. I wiggled it a little bit and it came out. I couldn’t believe that a key would fit in this old lock and not work. Maybe it had rusted from not turning for so many years. I remembered a spray can of oil that I used on my bicycle chain and went outside to get it. I sprayed just a little inside the lock and sat waiting, counting slowly to 100 and feeling my heart pound. Then I tried the key again. It turned. I couldn’t believe it. It actually turned. Very slowly I opened the drawer.
I’m not sure what I expected to find but I was disappointed at first when I found what seemed like a bunch of junk. There was an oil paint palette with dried up paint in it and several paintbrushes wrapped in a rag. There was a nearly empty bottle of linseed oil, the cork had dried up and most of the oil had leaked out. There was another green glass bottle with tiny bubbles in the glass. Under the bottle was a pair of stiff black leather gloves with buttons on the side. They felt like they would break if I bent them. At the very bottom was an old book. Everything looked old and worn out and kind of useless. I slumped down in the chair, feeling tired and hopeless. Why had I had been holding onto the idea that this desk had some kind of secret in it that was going to save the shore? I put the palette and gloves and bottle on the desk and took out the book and opened it. Inside the front cover were written the words “The Diary of Annabelle Lee”. I wondered who she was. There was an envelope that was sealed with wax and it was addressed “To Genevieve on her 20th birthday”. That was strange. Why would there be a letter to my mother in here? Next to the envelope was another folded brown piece of paper. I carefully opened it and realized it was a hand drawn map. It was hard to read in the light and I moved closer to the window. It was written in the same handwriting as the diary and the letter, slanted and faded and it looked like it was at least a hundred years old.
It was so delicate I was afraid it would crumble in my hands. The map looked like a coastline. The boundaries were uneven and showed a faded blue that seemed to be water and brown and black for land. There was a symbol that looked like a labyrinth laid out over the surface of the land. And I could see as I looked more closely that the area was actually somewhere very familiar. It was of the land right near here, our land, our coast, right along the path to the seashore. I had butterflies in my stomach as I looked more closely. We’ve never seen anything like a labyrinth here, there are no rocks or standing stones. What if someone had already destroyed it? Maybe a farmer had dismantled the whole thing and used it to make a rock wall to keep his sheep from wandering. I couldn’t tell from the map where the entrance to the labyrinth started, it almost looked like it started in the ocean. I thought I heard a car in the drive and my stomach knotted. I quickly locked everything back in the drawer except the diary. I put the chain with the key around my neck and tucked the map inside the diary. I wanted to put it somewhere that it wouldn’t be discovered. I crept up the steps to my loft, holding the book carefully.
I slid my treasure box out from under my bed. There was just enough room inside for the diary. I climbed back into bed and lay there trembling and listening to my heart pound.
I waited until everyone was in bed that night to slide the box from under my bed. I carefully unlocked it and removed the diary. Even though it seems strange to read about someone else’s private life I was sure that whoever wrote it had been gone for a long time. And I wanted to read the letter to Genevieve too. It couldn’t be for my mom if the key has been lost for such a long time. Maybe it had been written to my great grandmother.
I opened the diary to the first page.
I am so excited to be on land at last. After much talk I have convinced my family to allow me to work as a “Herring Girl” during this summer in Stornoway. It is one of the few ways that people such as myself can slip into the world of humans without arousing suspicion. Here I can walk around on land and be with the people who only come to the water in their boats, seldom swimming and when they do, they struggle so! After completing the spiral walk I have transformed and can speak as they do. I have clothing now, dresses and petticoats, hats and shoes! The shoes are the hardest to grow accustomed to. They squeeze my feet and I have had to learn to fold the webbing so it doesn’t rub against the leather. My shoes are larger than any of the other girls who work here, but none seem to notice. We have a good time talking together, gutting the fish and throwing them into the barrels with salt to preserve them. I cannot eat my fish like that, I prefer it fresh and cold as it is when caught in my hands. But here I pretend to be like everyone else and eat the food that the other girls eat. There are two of us gutting the fish and one who packs it into the barrels. I bought myself a pair of soft black leather gloves to cover the roughness of my hands when I am through working. There is a fine looking man who comes round to inspect the barrels and he has caught me looking at him more than once. Tomorrow I shall be bold and ask him his name.
So it wasn’t just my imagination! There were actual mermaids! And they could live on land and work and talk and everything! I kept reading, growing more and more excited…
Today I asked the man his name and he is called Caillum. He acted pleased that I had asked him and then when he came back later to weigh our barrel he asked me if I would go to a Ceilidh with him later this week. It is a dance and there is music. I surprised myself by saying yes. His eyes are the clearest grey I’ve ever seen, like the clouds right before the hard storms in autumn. I told him my name is Annabelle and that is all.
The Ceilidh was like nothing I could have imagined. There was music and dancing and food and drink. I danced until my poor feet could take no more and then Caillum came and sat with me by the docks and brought me something to eat. He asked me where my family lives and I told him it’s far from here. How he would run if he knew the truth!
I am still here in Stornoway and Caillum comes by every evening to walk me to the boarding house where I stay with the other girls. He is such a fine man, so gentle and sweet to me. He tells me his family has land here and he works it with his brother when he is not inspecting the herring. I am afraid that he is looking for a wife and I could never be his. I can’t bear to send him away though. I look at his eyes and imagine what my life would be like if I were to give up the sea and stay on land. But I could never…
It was as I feared. Caillum is looking for a wife and thought that I would be his. He looked so hurt when I told him no, I cannot be. He asked why I could not love him and I hesitated to answer. Finally I told him that it is because my family is depending on me to bring money home to them at the end of each summer of work. He asked again if I could ever love him. And then he told me that he loved me. My heart aches at the thought of leaving him. How could I have allowed myself to fall in love with a man?
I felt so sorry for Annabelle as I read this. How terrible to love someone and not be able to be with them because you’re different.
Caillum was back today and in fine spirits. I thought that perhaps he had found another woman to be his wife but that is not it. He said he has discovered a way for us to be together and he will tell me at the next dance.
Caillum came tonight and brought with him a ring, a ring that he would have me wear as a symbol that I will be his wife. He said that I should go back to my family and tell them that they are to receive a flock of sheep that will provide a steady income for them. He and his brother have a sheep farm and he has convinced his brother to offer them half the flock in order that I might come here and not leave my family to starve. Oh, how can I ever explain this? What would my family do with sheep? They would drown in the waves in an instant. Caillum would not let me say no. He said I must talk to my family and he will go with me to ask for my hand in marriage. I cannot imagine how I will let the poor man know my true story. My heart is filled with sadness. Summer is nearing an end and I see no way to happiness.
My eyes were stinging with tears. She couldn’t have left, could she? That would be too sad. And if she had left there wouldn’t be a diary here, right?
I cannot believe what has happened. I sit here feeling as stunned as a fish about to be gutted. There was no other way to let Caillum know why I could not be his wife except to show him my true nature. I asked him to come to the sea with me on the night of the new moon. I feared that he might kill me when he saw what I meant to reveal. At least I knew I could swim away if needed. He sat patiently on a rock as I unlaced my boots. He watched in wonderment as I removed the heavy woolen stockings and stretched my toes. There was the webbing for him to see. I slipped out of my dress and into the sea, reveling in the feel of the cool water against my skin. And then from the shore I heard him calling me. Annabelle, please be my wife. I love you all the more. And I swam back to him. And I said yes.
My name is Annabelle and I am the woman of this house. How strange that sounds, coming from the likes of me. Well, ’tis true. I have married this fine man, Caillum, and together we live in this little stone cottage. I am close to the sea but often yearn for it. My days of gutting fish are over for now as I learn to work on the land.
I am gradually becoming accustomed to this place and to my role here. Caillum has taught me about the seasons and years that humans use and now I will record them each time I write. For the holiday called Christmas Caillum bought me a little packet of paints with brushes and a palette. The bottle of oil has a beautiful smell when it is mixed with the paints. I have made a picture of this place, where the land meets the sea and of the cave from where I swam. Caillum hung it on the wall of the library. The labyrinth within remains my secret. I often look at it and remember watching my sisters swim away as I waited to enter the spiral.
Our child is born at last. We have a daughter, Genevieve and she is beautiful. She looks much like her father and shares his clear grey eyes and good nature. We were both relieved to see that her feet appear as any other child’s. Her life will be easier without that burden to bear. Caillum rocks her to sleep and gazes with such love at her. I sing to her and she responds with the most charming sounds. We are blessed in so many ways. While I do miss my people I feel that I can be happy here now, with a child to care for and the love of my husband. I no longer grieve for what I lost when I came to this place. Here I have love and my own family.
Sad news today. It seems that Caillum will go to fight in this terrible war that is raging through Europe. I have begged him not to go but he feels that he must. He comes from a long line of men who have fought to defend this land. He assures me that he will return in the spring. I am afraid but must be brave for him and for Genevieve.
Words cannot express the pain in my heart. We have had a letter from the Army and my dear Caillum has died in the trenches of this horrible war. I am so lost and terrified. I am afraid for myself but even more for our daughter, Genevieve. What chance does she have in life with a woman like me as her mother? I cannot work this farm alone and what man would have me? Other than Caillum who looked beyond my differences and loved me as I am, I feel that there is no chance for me to find another. Margaret, my sister in law, who I trusted with my secret, now looks at me askance as if to say that I deserve this fate. My brother in law is a simple man, kind, but unaware of what I face. I am so lost. I miss my own people. Somehow I will find an answer but now I only want to sleep.
I have made a fateful decision. Margaret has agreed to raise Genevieve as her own daughter, finding her “without obvious faults”. When she was born I secretly wished for her to share my characteristics, the feet that send me flying through the water like a seal, the love of the sea. But Genevieve looks like any other baby and seems content to crawl about on land with no yearning for the water. Thus far Margaret has remained without her own child and I know that she will care for her lovingly. Genevieve will be told about me when she reaches her twentieth year. I will write her a letter and leave it for her to read then. She will live her life as a good Scottish girl and needn’t be afraid of what the women of the village will say about her. But if she starts to feel need of the cool water upon her skin she must have the means of return. I will leave her what she requires and she will know what to do when the time comes, when the moon returns to the stones.
My heart breaks to leave her but I see no other choice. If I stay I will only be a burden on this family and my daughter will have no chance of a normal life. I must go now while I still have the strength.
Let me lock this up for the final time and give Margaret the key. I pray she can be trusted with it and to give it to Genevieve when the time comes. I am keeping the other key for myself as a memory of what I am leaving behind.
My throat felt full and tears trickled down my face as I read the last entry in Annabelle’s diary. I wanted to know more about the woman I now knew was my great-great grandmother. Why hadn’t she written any other entries? Was she too busy working the land and caring for her family? Maybe she found writing difficult. I looked at the envelope containing the letter. I opened it carefully, breaking the wax that sealed the envelope closed.
I am sending you birthday greetings far into the future. It will be 1933 by the time you read this letter. You don’t know me but I am someone who loved you so dearly that I did the hardest thing in the world to do. I left you in the arms of another woman. Margaret, who you have only ever known as your mother, is truly the one who raised you. But it was I who carried you in my womb and carried you in my arms for the first year of your life. Your father died in the Great War and I could not raise you on my own. Your father and I met when I was working near the docks packing herring. It is work that many young women love here on the coast. He asked me to a dance and I loved his laugh. Caillum and Rob shared that same laugh. I do hope that Rob talked about him with love. You might have known Caillum as your uncle, and nothing whatever of me. And now comes the time to tell you why you knew nothing of me until this day. I am fearful that you will not understand and yet you must know. The reason I left and did not stay here in this house and marry another man is that no man other than your dear father would have me. I was not born here. I was born in the sea and my body is different from your own. My feet are webbed and permit me to fly through the water like a fish. Some would call me a mermaid or a selkie. My people have our own name for ourselves and it is impossible to write it in any language known to humankind.
But you have been born as human as your father and your aunt and uncle who you know as your own parents. We agreed before I returned to the sea that you would be told on your twentieth birthday the true facts of your birth. I will always love you and my heart breaks as I leave you. It is all for your good. I pray for your happiness and health and that when you have children of your own that you have no cause to ever lose them.
With all my love,