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The Liaison

Shades of green

By Lori LamothePublished 3 years ago 10 min read
The Liaison
Photo by Noel Nichols on Unsplash

Claire — for that’s what she said her name was — had been staying with Jack seven days when the village began to talk. He should have been grateful: had it not been for the power outages and the chaotic state of the roads, the rumors in Raven’s Cove would have started far sooner.

Raven’s Cove wasn’t exactly a hopping place, even in summer when the town swelled with tourists, but in winter it was positively lifeless. What could be better gossip than the fact that the town’s brainiac biology professor was now living with a dead woman?

Not dead, Jack amended. Nearly dead.

Or at least Claire had been when he’d found her on the beach after the ice storm. Until the day she used her burning reddish-brown hair to warm the ice that coated her frozen form and shatter it into a thousand pieces. At which point she proceeded to jump to her feet — good as new — and demand that he help her locate her “sealskin.” Which, she claimed, must have washed up on shore.

His life, his lovely, ordered, predictable life, had been become the stuff of a YA fantasy novel. Or worse, depending on which rating rumor you wanted to hear. There was, he had been told, an X-rated version someone had uploaded onto MythErotica. Apparently it was doing quite well. God help him.

As it was, the rumors didn’t reach their peak until the following month. That was when simply concocting stories wasn’t enough to satisfy people anymore. They genuinely wanted to know: Who was she? Where had she come from? Was she the real reason his marriage had broken up? Of course, no one actually went so far as to pose that last question to him directly. But the hints were too clumsy to ignore. If he’d been vulnerable after Donna’s departure, he was a thousand times more so now.

Claire, predictably, didn’t mind at all. Nor did she appear to mind that she didn’t have a last name. Or couldn’t remember it. Or wouldn’t tell him. Just Claire. Like she was the Madonna of the Atlantic Ocean.

His mother caught wind of the liaison (as she called it) within a few weeks of Claire’s arrival. Despite the eminently dull nature of his existence, his mother insisted on finding scandalous artifacts where there were none.

When Claire’s stay stretched from one month to three, Jack called Maine Mental Health Services.

“Is she a danger to herself?” an anonymous, official-sounding woman on the other end of the line asked him.

“No,” he had to admit.

“Is she a danger to others?” the woman went on in her clipped manner. Abrasive, if he had to put a name to her manner. He imagined he heard her typing something on her computer.

Feeling a little desperate, Jack had replied, “Well, she might be. She definitely might be. I mean it’s possible.”

A pause.

His heart leapt.

“Possible.” She didn’t sound convinced. “Has any violence actually been committed? Any damage been done?”

Now Jack was the one to hesitate. “Uh, well, no.”

“Nothing we can do for you,” she said, washing her hands of him. “Have you tried the police?”

He hadn’t tried the police, but he did phone his lawyer to inquire about the proper procedure for having an insane person declared incompetent as a precursor to institutionalization.

His lawyer chuckled at the anachronism. “This is 2013, Jack, for Christ’s sake,” he said. “They don’t institutionalize people anymore. They integrate them back into society.”

Integrate. That sounded promising. “How does that work?” he asked.

“Not so great, actually,” his lawyer said. “A lot of them end up homeless. But that’s her problem, right? What you need to do is file for a protective order against her. That would allow you to evict immediately after she was served.”

Much as Claire exasperated him, he didn’t want to feel responsible for anything like that. He didn’t want her homeless, he just wanted her to get her life back. Rather, he wanted his own life back.

By Fuu J on Unsplash

There was nothing breathtakingly unpleasant about her. Granted, she was odd. Or at least he thought she was odd, based on his not-so-extensive knowledge of women, which he had to admit was limited to his mother, his wife, and a live-in girlfriend who had shared an apartment with him for a year during college.

Some of her habits were not so different, he supposed. Yes, she stayed up late and seldom rose before noon, but many people would fall into that sort of thing if given the chance.

Part of the problem, he told himself, was her forgetfulness. Or was it more of a lack of attention to detail? She was content to wear her waist-length hair in a heavy, disheveled knot at the back of her head and she only cut her toenails when he reminded her to do so. Her eyebrows were thick, almost like a man’s, and she didn’t seem to have the slightest idea about plucking them or about shaving her legs or anything like that.

Then there were the baths. She spent hours a day in the tub or the shower, causing his water bill to go through the roof. When she was in the tub she read and afterward her books — the entire bathroom — smelled of salt.

By Erik Mclean on Unsplash

If he thought about it, he was surprised to realize she was more or less always reading. She read everything and seemed to have no ability to discern what was good and what was useless trash. One day she’d be deep in a silly romance novel about an assassin and an archaeologist searching for a magical talisman that would save civilization. Meanwhile on television, another chosen pastime of hers, would be a NOVA episode about the riddles of aurora borealis. The next day he’d find her highlighting a tome about particle physics while half-listening to a rerun of Hell’s Kitchen.

The only thing Claire absolutely wouldn’t read or watch was anything that touched in the remotest way on World War II, which she claimed was the result of her husband’s harsh treatment of her (“that lying, sex-crazed bastard” as she liked to call him).

He didn’t know if Claire was a mad genius or an insane illiterate just pretending to read. Could she be an idiot savant?

The results of his observations were inconclusive. Undoubtedly, her intuition was beyond anything he had ever seen. She soon knew more about the goings on in Raven’s Cove and at the university than he ever had, even though she rarely asked people personal questions. Or, if she did, nobody bothered to answer her. Everybody seemed a little afraid of her.

Who could blame them!

At night, when she would amuse him with stories of his own little Peyton Place, Jack was mildly shocked by the scandalous nature of the human heart. As for his own thoughts, they hardly seemed his own any longer. “I know what you’re thinking,” became her common refrain, so much so he could hardly stand it.

If she were in the shower, she would sing. When he heard the first couple of notes he’d been rather hopeful, remembering against his will tales where sirens and mermaids sang songs so alluring they drove men mad. But Claire’s voice wasn’t all that good. And she didn’t sing in an ancient language or some obscure Celtic dialect; she mostly sang cheesy tunes from the thirties and forties, “When you wish upon a star” and “In the Mood” and a whole repertoire of Glenn Miller songs.

Later, she began to mix it up, adding in some Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson. For an entire month, she sang only “Walk Away,” until he got to the point where he really was considering filing a protective order against her. He would have liked to tell himself that her singing was a happy sort of sound, but it wasn’t. Her voice held pain inside it like a glass contains water. And always, always, he felt himself waiting for the glass to crack into a thousand spider webs, to shatter.

By Octavian Dan on Unsplash

For the first few months, he fully believed Claire was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, PTSD is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.”

That fit the bill all right: a natural disaster, a terrifying event.

But nothing else did, not really. For one thing, people with PTSD were supposed to want to avoid anything that reminded them of the disaster. Not a day went by when Claire wasn’t down at the sea, walking the beach, collecting sea glass and shells, looking for that damn “sealskin” she refused to admit was sheer fabrication.

It wasn’t just the sealskin, either. The sea exerted a genuine pull on her. As winter gave way to what passed for spring but was actually just winter warmed over, she began spending hours a day walking the rocky coast with him. Purportedly, she was “helping him with his research” but he knew it was more than that: she was tied to the seal in some deep, soulful way, the way he imagined mermaids were. Sometimes, usually at dusk, he imagined a greenish light emanated from her—almost like an aura.

If there were such a thing as mermaids. Not to mention auras.

“I don’t have an aura. And I’m not a mermaid,” she said one night as he was pondering her deep soul. “I’m a selkie.”

“A selkie?” he asked, watching her down her fifth cup of green tea that night. “I’ve never heard of that.”

She had arranged herself in a pale green beat-up chaise in the living room, in the corner furthest from the fireplace. Even from where she was, her hair glowed like embers. “You mean to tell me I’ve been here six months looking for a sealskin and you couldn’t take the time to google that?”

“I’ve been busy,” he protested. “I’m working on a very important paper.”

She eyed him doubtfully. “Selkies are seal-women. We live in the water, but sometimes we like to take off our pelts and sun ourselves on rocks or whatever. If we’re not careful, a man will fall in love with us and steal our seal-skin so we’ll be forced to have sex with him. We’re sort of like love-slaves for years, then one day we find where the guy has hidden our skin. Then we leave. End of story.”

“I didn’t steal your skin.”

“I never said you did.”

“You implied it.”

Claire set down her mug and readjusted her favorite forest green blanket over her legs. The light from the fire cast shadows across her face. “If you did take it I would forgive you,” she said carefully. “If you gave it back.”

“Then you’ll leave?”

“So you do have it then.”

“No,” he said, raising his voice slightly. “I’ve told you a thousand times.”

“Then why did you ask if I’d leave if you gave it back?”

He could hear it so clearly. The desperation.

“Because I do want you to leave!” He was nearly shouting now, he couldn’t help himself. “Because I’m tired of you!”

“Then why won’t you give me my pelt?” Her eyes shone too brightly in the dim light.

Jack rose up out of his armchair so abruptly he knocked over his mug and scattered coffee across the oriental rug. To make matters worse, he stumbled and accidentally sent a precarious pile of his biology journals flying. One landed on the stone hearth, at the very edge of the fire. He instinctively bent to retrieve it but left it where it was.

Let it burn, he thought. Let the whole place burn to the ground for all he cared.

As he marched toward the door to the kitchen, he cast a glance back at her to see if she looked frightened. With all his being, he wanted her to look truly scared, to be terrified of his wrath.

Claire’s face was pale, sad, uncannily beautiful. She opened her mouth, as if she were about to ask him again what he had done with her seal-skin.

He wanted to bellow like some wounded animal. He wanted to drag her by her hair to the sea and rid himself of her forever. He imagined her pale body floating further and further away from shore, rocked to sleep by the ocean’s lullaby.

She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. Sniffed. “I know what you’re thinking.”

Jack took a deep breath. “If you possessed one iota of the intelligence necessary to fathom the true nature of my thoughts, then you would perhaps deduce that I have no conception whatsoever where your skin is.”

And with that small triumph, he turned and walked out of the room, carefully closing the door behind him.


About the Creator

Lori Lamothe

Poet, Writer, Mom. Owner of two rescue huskies. Former baker who writes on books, true crime, culture and fiction.

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