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An Argument For The Preservation Of The Self In Cases of Mermaid Transformation

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Extract from 'An Argument For The Preservation Of The Self In Cases of Mermaid Transformation' by Miss Holst, the renowned icthyogenesist.


It is an an acknowledged risk that a young lady may give in to temptation when capturing mermaid song and take herself into the sea. All too often this results in the young lady being drowned, but sometimes she will instead change her shape and take on the body of a mermaid.*
There has been much debate on whether such a transformation is so complete as to render it an effectual death, leaving nothing of the young lady behind, or if instead it is a mere transformation of the body, leaving the soul intact.

While I do not believe the change is limited to a physical one, I must categorically disagree that it is complete, or as some argue, that mermaids have no soul at all and are thus incapable of retaining humanity. The following is a collection of proofs, designed to illuminate the reader of the mermaids' potential for love, loyalty and abstract thought and to show that with such similarities between our races, no very great alteration is needed for one to become the other.

*For advice on how to reduce this risk, please refer to the author's previous work 'A ladies' guide to collecting mermaid love songs.'

* * *

 

My Dearest Mabel,

It was so kind of you to invite me to spend the holidays with you and it makes me feel positively green to think of all the fun I'll miss out on by declining – the skating! The parties! The tree! - but decline I must. Father has already arranged for me to board with a woman named Mrs Holst, an old friend of my mother's who lives on a limited income and cannot be deprived of the money she would get from my lodgings unexpectedly. According to mother she had hardly any suitors and her only long term companion was a woman who ran off to become a mermaid over twenty years ago, so father feels very sure I will be kept with convent like security during my banishment. Maybe I'll run off to be a mermaid, that'd show him.

I suppose it's no more use being cross at him than it is being mad at James for having the measles but I think I'll indulge myself a little anyway. We would have had such fun together and I miss you already. Isn't it awful, to be longing to be back at school when only a week ago we were so excited to be going home. Drat James and his contagions! And don't think me a terrible sister, because I know quite well that he is revelling in his condition. Apparently he considers the measles and cold compresses on his eyes a fair price to pay for getting to eat all the ice cream he wants.

Still, Mrs Holst lives by the sea, which must count for something even in winter. I know almost nothing about her; mother hasn't seen her since she was in her twenties and going through that fad people had back then for mermaid glass. I suppose she is a comfortable, middle-aged German widow and she will teach me how to make gilt gingerbread and string popcorn and tell me stories of good old mother Germany. So maybe it won't be so bad.

I'll write you as often as I remember to,

Your Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

It has been three months. Spring is coming, the oceans are warming and mermaids are becoming more prevalent. I do not care about this, it does not interest me. I pretend it does, so that others do not worry or suspect; even now I guard my reputation like it is something precious, as if the only thing worth having hadn't slipped beneath the sea and out of my grasp forever.
I take intrepid, excitable young ladies out in my boat for a small price and they gasp, smile or cry as befits their temperament. They think I care very much about the mermaid glass, they are wrong. I cannot care about anything.

Three of the mermaids that sang around my boat today had silver tails. I do not know if one of them was her. They do not have her face, or wear her clothes, or talk with her voice, or say the kind of things she used to say. I cannot decide which is worse, that she comes often and I do not know her, or that she has never come back to me at all.

* * *

Dearest Mabel,

Disaster.

It all started out well enough. The cottage is right down on the shore and has thick, diamond paned windows with white shutters and a garden half soil and half sand. There are little shells lining the path to the front door, very regular in size and shape and regimental in their lines. This was my first warning. The door to the cottage is painted a serene sea blue and has a knocker in the shape of a mermaid. This was my second warning.

The woman who opened the door was Miss Holst. That is right. Miss. She is not a widow, indeed she has never married and to all appearances has never wanted to and never will. And she is not German, but English.
More that that, she is the essence of English. It is as if her personality has been distilled from the primmest of English ladies and poured into a fleshly bottle so that she can be given as an improving tonic to foreigners and wayward school girls like myself.

My dreams of gingerbread and German folk tales have tricked away between my fingers like so much freezing sand. Miss Holst does not bake. I'm not entirely sure she eats at all.

'What,' I hear you ask, 'will I find to talk about with such a creature over the coming weeks?' Well, fear not. Miss Holst has a passion. Miss Holst has a calling. Miss Holst has a cottage filled floor to ceiling with mermaid glass.

“I suppose” she cried, the minute I'd stepped through the door and put down my bags, “that you'd like to take a look at the mermaid glass?”
I couldn't not look at the mermaid glass, everywhere I turned my eyes there it was, more mermaid glass. The effect is rather more enchanting than if she had a mania for stamps or some such nonsense; globes of glass the size of a large apple, shot through with every colour imaginable like a soap bubble and covering every flat surface in the house - even strung from the ceiling on lengths of embroidery silk. It gives one the feeling of living in a giant bubble bath.

Several of them are not in the traditional globe shape, but are instead shaped like fish, or swans. There are even a few rather wonky little horses. I'm hoping they suggest a whimsical side to Miss Holst I can bring out. It'll be like one of the nauseating novels that are so popular; I will burst into her life with my youthful charm and innocence and teach her how to enjoy living again and how to be generous with her money. Except that I am rather too old and Miss Holst hasn't any money. Maybe she has a crippled relation I can heal with the power of enthusiasm?

With love,

Diana

P.S Don't think me a snooper, for I was honestly just looking for a place to put my things, but I opened a cupboard in the wash room and just think! Miss Holst has seven bottles of liniment. Seven bottles! There is a bottle of liniment for the hands, labelled “liniment for the hands”, a bottle of liniment for the feet, labelled “liniment for the feet” and so on, for all respectable parts of the body. I suppose a woman like Miss Holst doesn't get twinges in any of her non-respectable parts – or maybe she does and just re-purposes one of the other bottles?
Seven bottles of liniment. Doesn't it just hint of a personality to throw gay parties in honour of the young schoolgirl she has staying with her? No, I didn't think so either.

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

The night before she left, she came into my room and woke me by stroking my face with her rough, wind chapped hands. Her two small braids of hair were already fraying into abandon, even with no more provocation than lying still and sleeping, they never would stay in.

She told me of a dream she'd had, where we were living together in the vast, empty depths of the ocean. It was all very fine the way she told it, dressing each other's nakedness in pearls and exploring the great weedy wrecks of ships that she thought must litter the sea floor like so much fallen fruit. I asked her what we would do for food, whether we would dine on raw fish, or sand or carrageen moss, like the Irish do. She laughed and kissed me, and called me her pragmatist.

I wonder if the sea tastes to mermaids as the air tastes to us? It would be dreadful to have salt in one's mouth all the time, I do not think I could bear it.

* * *

Darling Mabel

I am writing this in my bedroom, on a rickety-rackety wash stand that I am making double as a desk. The room did in fact come with a desk, but like everything else in the house it is festooned with mermaid glass and the slightest of twitches on my part, an over flourishing of the pen, could wreak untold disaster upon them. Lying awake last night I could have sworn they were making a faint noise, a humming, crooning sound that was rather pleasant to listen to. It helped me fall asleep, though I think it gave me strange dreams, none of which I really remember. I believe you were in them.


There is a grey, unfestive drizzle of rain coming down outside. Miss Holst is expecting two friends to call on her and they are planning a boating trip to acquire yet more mermaid glass. I would have thought the rain would have put them off but Miss Holst is adamant. Apparently there is a very rare type of mermaid song that is sung only once a year in early December and only on this area of coastline and she's not missing it for toffee.


Did you know there are five types of mermaid song? I didn't, but Miss Holst has not permitted my ignorance on the subject to continue. I seem to recall my mother telling me three of them – the tragic Tails Torn Asunder, the rather racy Ladies Overboard and the even racier Scales of Romance – but there are supposedly two more, very rare and relatively recent (by this, she means within the past twenty years) and discovered by Miss Holst herself.

I hope she doesn't mean for me to come as well. I must stop wasting my energies writing to you and devote them entirely to coming up with plausible excuses. You won't catch me on a wabbly little cockleshell of a boat with the rain running down my neck and gobbets of molten glass flying around!

All love,

Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

I read an article today, published in a very important journal by the very respected scientist Dr. Johnson. He catches the mermaids in nets and studies them. Sometimes he releases them afterwards and sometimes he dissects them, to see how their anatomy works and what it is like inside, where the two halves join. He is not called a murderer because other respected scientists say mermaids have no more soul than an animal does, that they mimic their words like a parrot and that is why their songs have so few themes.

If they are right, these men, then I am looking for her soul in the wrong place and should be turning my eyes up to heaven rather than downwards beneath the waves. If they are right, then she was dying as her legs shivered into their silver scales and the hair that dragged and tossed behind her was the hair of a dead woman.

She never looked more alive than she did at that moment, swimming away, or more beautiful.

* * *

Dearest Mabel,

Yes, I know I am writing this on the same day as the last, but I had already sealed that and put in on the tray to be posted, so you'll just have to deal with two letters from me today. They're not very long, so there's that in my favour.
Miss Holst's friends turned up – a Miss Honeycrisp and Miss Braithwaite – neither deterred by the miserable weather and it turns out I am not invited to the boating party. In fact, it appears that my father has made my staying here conditional on my not being taken out on a single voyage to collect mermaid songs. Miss Holst was good enough to show me the letter so I wouldn't think I was being snubbed. He writes that it is a dangerous and unseemly sport and entirely unsuitable for young, well bred ladies like myself. I read the last bit out loud, never guessing it was coming, which was cripplingly embarrassing as there were two young ladies right there, listening. They neither of them looked the least bit “Ill-bred” though Miss Honeycrisp and Miss Braithwaite both have a certain roguish quality about them that makes me wonder about the “unseemly” part. Miss Honeycrisp even winked at me as the word 'unseemly' fell like a lead weight from my horrified lips.

I've been assuming all this time that because my mother and Miss Holst cared for it, collecting mermaid songs must be crashingly dull and was to be avoided at all costs but this puts a new light on the matter. I'm quite wild to go, actually and instead I'm stuck here in this poky little house. I do miss you. I'm going to have a good snoop about downstairs.

All my love,

Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

I heard two new types of mermaid song tonight. Such a thing has never happened before, no one thought there could be others but I am so sure they were different. I have never been so sure of anything in my life. The first was merry, and turned the swelling glass a rich peach, with threads of lure and longing that shot it through with marvellous spider webs of iris and gold. I think I will name this fourth type: Will My Own True Love Sing Back To Me?

It repeated for nearly an hour and had a real pull to it, a siren's song, almost as if they meant to drown me. I was only just able to master myself in time to catch the second song, which continued from the first with barely a pause but anyone with ears could tell it was different, it was so sad and lonely.
This second globe still had the iris and gold, stronger even than the first I think, but it is lost amongst a muffling grey and a greenish brown the colour of rotting seaweed. No one will think it beautiful and a collector who rates by ornamentation would have tossed it overboard, but I will treasure it, it is so rare and because it reminds me of her last song, which I have kept but never categorised. It is not identical though, so I have given it it's own category: Why Will My Own True Love Not Sing Back To Me?

I was so stupefied by the songs and then so occupied fumbling with my glass that I never clearly saw the mermaids who sang it. One voice in particular rang out above the rest. She had dark hair. I wonder and rather hate myself for wondering, if she also had a silver tail.
I cant stop handling the new glass; running my fingers over it, pressing my ear against it to hear the distant hum, even touching my lips to it.

I keep thinking back to what she said on one of our first voyages - “Do you think they were singing to us?” What a strange question to ask. We have never even known if they sing to each other, or if they are just singing for the pleasure of their own voices. Why would they sing to us? I wonder what she heard in their song that I didn't, to make her say such a thing?

Maybe they were singing just to her. I could believe that quite easily, that they would sing just to her. I cannot leave these new glasses alone, or keep myself from peering at their colours, hoping to see or hear what she did.
A song that was sung for me.


* * *

Dearest Diana

Today was marginally less dull, but only because I'm a terrible person and you should be ashamed of me. Miss Holst is out on yet another mermaid glass collecting trip to which I am not invited. Yesterday's excursion did not yield either of the rare types, or much of anything at all, mermaids being scarce in our cold seas in this old part of the year.

I managed a relatively normal conversation with the Misses Honeycrisp and Braithwaite when they came back last evening after their damp and unexciting trip. They like mermaids very much, but they also like other things, such as popular novels and having pleasant times so we got on alright. I told them about us accidentally locking ourselves in a pantry in our first term and treading in the butter trying to get out the window, and how we were caught by the Hansel and Gretelesque grease trail that led to our dorm. Miss Honeycrisp shared how she'd been dared by Miss Braithwaite to eat a whole stick of lard for a bet and gotten her back by making her eat ten hard boiled eggs. Miss Holst was particularly po-faced for that part of the conversation, though she wasn't exactly a fount of wit for the rest of the evening.

Just before they left, Miss Braithwaite took the opportunity to whisper to me that it was around this time of year that Miss Holst's friend took off overboard and that I would have to excuse her dour silence, but she seemed bright enough this morning so I can only assume she was disappointed because her rare mermaid songs are so late in coming.

Anyway, here comes the shameful part: I have accidentally snooped into Miss Holst's bedroom. I assumed she slept in the room next to mine because I hear her tramping about in there so often, but that is merely her Sorting Room (guess what she sorts) and she sleeps downstairs in an ocean facing room with windows twice the size of any other in the house. If she were so inclined she could climb out her window and straight onto the beach, though I don't believe even Miss Holst is quite that eager to collect the songs.

This is much worse than the liniment snoop, because I didn't immediately leave and I know I should have but I was so bored and she had a shelf full of books and I did hope that at least one of them would be a novel. None of them were, of course. Let me list you some of the titles so that you know just how lucky I am to be staying here and can envy me properly.

A Treatise on the Intelligence of Mermaids by Miss Hallithorpe
The love of Mermaids: Truth or Lure? By Miss Tightwhistle
Finned Human or Human Faced Fish? By Alice Higgings
An Argument for Preservation of the Self in Cases of Mermaid Transformation – by mine own dear host, no less!

I also found two books on the shelf labelled 'Miss Holst: Journal', and 'Diary of Maria Mori'. I suppose it would be a dreadful imposition for me to read them, though probably they contain nothing more than a daily log of mermaid facts or some such. What a conundrum! If they are dull, there is no point to me reading them and if they are interesting then I mustn't.

The diary of Miss Mori is covered in dust, so I suppose Miss Holst has not been reading it. What a faithful friend! If you were to leave me and run off to the sea to become a mermaid you would hardly have time to taste salt before I was peering into all your secrets and appropriating your best lavender gown. Take this as an injunction not to abandon me as Miss Mori has abandoned Miss Holst! Lavender does not suit me as much as it suits you, anyway, so it would be a poor trade on my end.

In hope that you're having better times than I am,

Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

I found a stone on the beach this morning. I saw it glittering all the way from my window. It was one of those ones with a hole bored through it that people like to call witch stones, a minor phenomenon of sand and tide and not uncommon. Save that this one was very bright with mica flakes and had three holes, a little one at the top and two large, sloping ones in the centre that made a shape very like a heart.

We didn't do much in the way of presents when she lived above the surface. Little things; books, gloves or handkerchiefs, maybe, on a birthday or Christmas. She broke a piece of mermaid glass once, one of the awkward little animals she liked to make instead of globes and cried over it. I mended it with isinglass so you could barely see the join and when I gave it back to her she cradled it in her hands - ugly colourless thing that it now was, nearly all the song and love leaked out of it – and beamed at me like I'd handed her the moon. “You always give me such lovely things” she said.

I left the broken glass horse down by the tide line and cried myself when the sea came and took it; it is so unlikely she will find it, or know it, or care for it and it will simply be smashed on the rocks by the violent and unforgiving waves. I have threaded the witch stone on a thin cord and I wear it under my dress. I know I am being very stupid.

* * *

Dearest Diana

I am absolved! Today's voyage – also unsuccessful – had to be ended early due to bad weather and Miss Holst entertained me on her return by inviting me to her room and showing me all her secret treasures. There! I suppose this means my snoop no longer counts. Or is this that heaping coals of fire thing? I don't feel very heaped but maybe that is because I'm an irredeemable sinner.

Above her bed she keeps the most extra-ordinary shelf of flotsam I've ever seen, both in content and manner of display.
Most of the pieces are commonplace enough - pretty shells, pieces of coral, a strand of kelp that has dried in the shape of a heart - but lying amongst them as if it were any old beach stone is a pearl the size of a pigeon's egg which is the most astonishing shade of violet! There was also a tarnished brass casket filled with bright pebbles and sea glass, and another of sea-swollen wood with dull, rough blue stones that I think might be raw sapphires. She showed them to me as if they were of equal value and interest, though I can't imagine what the latter might be worth. If I knew such things routinely washed up on English shores I would have objected less when I was sent here.

One of the things was quite grisly: a hank of long dark hair wound about with seaweed. My first thought was that it came from the head of a drowned woman but Miss Holst assures me it is mermaid hair, though I can't imagine how she knows that. I didn't ask, in case she told me.

I also finally got to see the rare mermaid glass she's been so crazy about collecting these last few days and the sight of the type fours almost made me understand her. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite as lovely and they hum, in a way that gets into your head and makes you want to feel the waves closing over you. The mermaid glass in my room has been giving me the strangest kinds of dreams – I can't imagine what these give Miss Holst, it's a wonder she doesn't sleepwalk right out of her window.
The type fives are nowhere near as nice, there is something oddly distressing about them. If I had been examining them alone I think I might have started crying but Miss Holst's hovering, anxious presence made for a very effective mood breaker. She must have told me not to drop them over a dozen times, which considering there are a score of each seems a little excessive. Would it matter so much to lose one? Or for that matter, to not get another this year?

Yours always

Diana

 

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

I have a dream, and the older I get the more often I dream it. I am suspended in water and I can feel how cold it it is against my skin but it does not chill me for there is a fire inside of me and the water cannot touch it.
My hair is a gold mist about my face and her hair is mingling with it, our tails flash silver in the darkness and there is no air, but we are singing anyway. Above us there is a blue and shifting light and below a blackness so impenetrable it could swallow us whole. We are afraid of neither, we sing and our voices show us the shapes our eyes cannot and the water rocks us like we are it's children.
I tell myself that it will be like this. How I will be myself, only better, myself but with fins and how she will be there, waiting, and I will know her at once.

I tell myself this but it feels like a story.

* * *

Dearest Mabel,

Alone again. Miss Holst had gone before I even woke up this morning. I barely know what to write to you about, so little has happened but I also don't know what to do other than to write to you so here I go anyway. I might go out for a walk later, it snowed in the night and settled, which is very rare on a beach because of all the salt. It is very beautiful, for the first time I find myself wishing you were here with me, rather than me being home with you.
I watched it coming down last night, woken out of a very vivid dream by the mermaids singing. I have never heard them from inside the house before but I don't know enough about it to know if this is unusual. I blame the dream I had on it, although it could have been that mermaid glass at work again.

In my dream I was singing under the surface of the ocean. I don't know which is the more absurd part, the fact that it was me singing, or that I was doing it underwater. I looked down and my legs were scaled all over and the colour of white opals and you were there with me and your legs were the colour of river pearls, with a great hooked fin on the end. We didn't really do anything, just sort of bobbed about and sang and were happy. It was all rather lovely, though it mayn't sound like it. I was rather sad to wake up, though you'd have thought I'd have had enough of mermaids staying here.

I can't think of anything else to write to you about. Miss Holst has left her new book downstairs - 'Daily Lives of the Mermaids: A Supposition On What it May Be Like to Live and Breathe Under the Waves' – and I might go and have a read of it. It is another of Miss Tightwistle's efforts, she is rather fond of run on titles, isn't she?

All my love

Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

It has been such a long time now, since she left. How long do mermaids live? Thirty years? Forty? Longer than a human? It is not forever, or else so many of their songs would not be songs of mourning.

I would have made a very poor mermaid even in my youth, I cannot imagine the disappointing specimen I would make now, if it were even possible. I do not even know if she is herself, or if I would be myself. But if we were! Even if only a little...

I wish I could put my soul, myself, into mermaid glass and see the colours it made. Then perhaps, I would know if I were worth keeping. Sometimes, when I am getting changed, or in the bath I look down at my legs and know I should not miss them.

* * *

Dearest Mabel,

Something rather worrying has happened. Miss Honeycrisp and Miss Braithwaite came over last evening, very pink about the nose and ears and almost levitating with joy. They had come to show Miss Holst the splendid results of the day's voyage; a great gleaming basket of type ones of unusual brilliancy. When I held one to my ear I could almost hear words, although that may just have been the mermaids outside filtering through - they'd been going at it all day.
This does of course raise the question: If Miss Holst wasn't out in the boats yesterday, then where was she and why doesn't she come home?

Neither of her friends seem worried, so I suppose nothing is the matter but she was so set on capturing those rare songs that I would never have imagined her voluntarily missing a voyage, let alone two. Where could she have gone so early and leaving no note?
I'll confess that a sudden paranoia inspired me to check her room, just to be sure she hadn't suddenly died in the night but to my relief there was nobody there. I did notice that one of each of the rare glasses were missing, so presumably her mystery business involves them somehow? 

Perhaps I have underestimated her and she has been spirited away by her secret, wild-eyed, shaggy-bearded lover and even now she sits rejoicing in his rough lodgings, sewing patches onto bearskins and mourning her seven bottles of liniment. I hope so.

All love,

Diana

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst:

I am nothing like a mermaid. There is nothing my body has in common with theirs, I have no tail, no fins, my hair has never reached below my shoulders. I have never had any voice or inclination to sing. I am not beautiful and there is no beauty within me, waiting to blossom and flourish when the released song breathes a stranger's air into my lungs.

What would happen to all the parts of me that are not a mermaid? Where would my new beauty come from? Whose would it be?

My friends all think that my happiest moments are spent out on the sea, with my hair kept orderly by pins and a globe of molten glass swelling and colouring before my eyes. They are right, now, but they weren’t always.
More than anything I used to like the evenings, when the dangers of the day were passed and its iridescent rewards were stored neatly in baskets, ready to be sorted and strung. There is an unquantifiable amount of love contained in those fragile shells but I am sure our living room then contained nearly as much. There was almost always a little fire in the hearth, for our patch of coast has bitter winds at night and we would sit curled in chairs with our feet tucked beneath us for cosiness. Maria had plenty of her own books, but inevitably she would become eager for mine and come perch on the arm of my chair, her own arm thrown around my shoulders for balance. Her hair was always frizzy with the salt air and it tickled when it brushed my cheek. The intimacy of someone else’s hair tickling your skin is startling; you have to be so close for it to happen.

There are no books underwater, no fire and no armchairs, so whatever it is I would get back, it would not be those moments. I do not think I will ever be that happy again. But how easy it would be, to be happier than I am now.

* * *

My Dearest Mabel,

It looks like I'll be coming to see you after all. Father has telegraphed ahead and both it and me will see you before this letter does but I'm rather in the habit of writing you now and besides, I find some things are easier to write down than to say face-to-face.
The Police found Miss Holst's stockings this morning, frozen solid under the snow at the sea's edge, along with some broken glass and an undamaged type five orb. They suspect suicide. Suicide! And I haven't been a bit nice to her, writing about her to you as if she were a boring, horrid old woman, put here on purpose to make my holidays miserable. She was neither horrid, nor boring. She wasn't even very old. She brought me hot tea and always made sure I had a good lunch before she went out on the boats and she told me stories. Lovely stories about mermaids and about her friend, Miss Mori, who disappeared all those years ago. They were like us, I think. She never said so, but you can see it in the way she talked about her; her eyes go soft. Miss Mori is the one who made all the tiny glass animals, she is all over the house, in little ways and I sat at her washstand and wrote letters to you mocking Miss Holst's lonely spinsterhood and lack of suitors. Oh Mabel, I am a beast.

Miss Honeycrisp and Miss Braithwaite are staying with me until the cab arrives, although their presence is more jarring than comforting, they are so cheerful. They don't seem to be upset a bit and they knew Miss Holst much longer than I did. But they sit there, grinning and listening to the glass and talking about the mermaids they saw yesterday; how their tails were dappled like the flanks of a rocking horse and flashed silver in the winter sun.

Miss Braithwaite made a brief nod to grief and tried to console me by saying that Miss Holst was in a better, happier place. A better place! I remember looking out of the window on the night the snow fell and thinking how great and terrible the sea looked, swallowing up the snowflakes like it has swallowed up dear, decent Miss Holst.

But that is enough of that, the cab is at the door and it looks like I'll be handing you this letter in person. Please try to forget the others, I am so ashamed of myself.

All my love,

Your Diana.

P.S I am bringing you one of the type fours as a present. I think Miss Holst would have liked that and Miss H and B said I might.

* * *

Extract from the journal of Miss Holst.

How cold and black the ocean will be, if she is not in it, and how strange. I keep imagining those first steps, the water tugging and sucking at me, closing over my head like a clenching fist, the sand slipping away between my feet and then my body fraying away into that blackness and taking so much of myself with it. How much, I do not know. How much will I have to lose to look back at the cottage on the shore and not see our home? To drift in the darkness and not long for a fire? To see two women in a boat with bellows and a box furnace and sing openly of love to them?

Always, it was she who went first, she who took my hand and kissed it on a winter evening just like this one, she who tasted my pulse with a tongue tip, she who sat beside me and told me how she loved me very much, more than anyone else. Oh, how easy it would have been for someone like me to snatch my hand back, to wipe my wrist with a handkerchief, or to laugh. How frightened she must have been every time, how it must have clogged her throat and made her hands shake..

My hands are shaking now and when I swallow, it sticks. The mermaids sing of many things, love and loss and joy but I have never heard them sing of fear, so at least I will not have to feel this way for very long.

Besides I think maybe it is my turn now, to be afraid.