“You’re serious?” He laughs. “You come from a place called Melancholy Beach?”
“Well it’s not actually called that on the map, but the locals call it that,” I sigh, “you know after that old song.”
“What old song?”
He is shaking his head, as if he thinks I am joking. Making it all up, as if this Melancholy Beach place is just a figment of my imagination, and not my home. The place I grew up.
“An old song that used to be really popular, and the singer she had this video when she sat on that beach and sang that song.”
It is all true. She did sit on the beach with her guitar. The sunset was beautiful. Everything was like it was supposed to be on a beach like that. Made everyone in my home town proud. A real paradise.
“She sat there singing on Melancholy Beach?” He is still smiling like it is a joke or something, but tomorrow we will be there and then he will be able to see Melancholy Beach for himself.
“It is a beautiful beach,” I regret this, regret the whole thing. Going back there. Taking him with me, I don’t understand at what point I thought this was a good idea.
“Hey, I’m only joking you know that, right?” He grabs me, brushes my hair away, “I would love to see where you grew up, the house, the beach, everything,” he kisses my nose, “meet your mother and try my best to charm her.”
“Yeah, about her …” I hesitate, feel the words get stuck in my throat. Struggling to get them out.
“Something wrong with your mother?”
“No, I don’t know,” I think I wanted to pretend when he proposed that it would be no problem to meet my family. I think I wanted so badly to be normal that I forgot that I wasn’t, forgot that I’m not really in a position to bring people home. “She just got some ideas.”
“Yeah, you just shouldn’t listen to her if she starts talking crazy, but my dad’s okay.”
I loosen his hands. Probably should have prepared him more, not said these things like this just before we’re going to the airport. I don’t know, there just never seems to be a good time to talk about shit like this. How could Jamey understand, I have met his parents already and they are perfectly normal, just like him. His mother was so nice to me, said that she was so glad to finally get another girl in the family. I know that my mum won’t be like that to Jamey. For sure.
Dad was so glad when I called and said that we were coming. I tried to pretend like it was no big deal, maybe because Jamey was in the room when I called, but it was a big deal. Dad asked; You’re really coming? I think three times, not that Jamey could hear it.
“Don’t you worry, Elisa,” Jamey says, probably sensing that I’m more uncomfortable with it all than I’m pretending to be, “nothing in this whole world can change how I feel about you,” he grabs my hand, squeeze it. People say things like that all the time. They promise that they won’t change they’re opinion of you no matter what. Probably the hardest promise to keep, to be honest probably not one you should ever make.
“Elisa,” dad is hurrying towards us.
His feet are sinking into the sand as he struggles to get to us.
“You’re weren’t kidding when you said you used to live on the beach,” Jamey is saying a little too cheerful. Dad reaches us, doesn’t even look at Jamey, just hugs me. Seems to squeeze me so hard that I almost can’t breathe. He holds me for a lot longer than a dad should if he sees his daughter often. Too be honest I don’t really remember how many years it has been, seven or eight maybe? Not that I haven’t called from time to time. You know, to let him know that I am okay. I just haven’t come back here to Melancholy Beach with all the small, sweet houses lying so close to the white sandy beach.
Dad finally seems to remember Jamey and lets go of me. Turns towards Jamey with a big smile and shakes his hand.
“So you’re the lucky fellow?” he says just as cheerful as Jamey.
“It seems so,” Jamey smiles, “and I have to say this beach is just amazing,” he turns around to have another look at it, “Elisa said it was a beautiful place, but I have to say it just blew me away when I saw it.”
Dad laughs, that kind of laugh you can laugh when you’ve heard compliments like that before and know that they are true.
“Oh, we know how lucky we are,” he says.
She is sitting in the garden, in that same, old chair that she likes, has a good view of the beach. I can see that Jamey looks towards her, as if he thinks she is going to come to greet us. Dad sees it too.
“Oh, Margaret isn’t having the best day,” he says trying to make it a little better.
He walks in front of us towards her. Doesn’t say anything before he stands right by her chair, and even then it sounds like a whisper.
“Margaret,” he tries, but she doesn’t look at him, “Elisa has come home, and she brought her fiancé with her.” She looks up, for a moment she really looks happy, but then she sees us and her expression changes again. She just sighs, as if she was expecting someone else.
“Well, how nice,” she says, but still she doesn’t get up. Just looks towards that beach.
Dad turns towards us again. Shrugs. I can see that he is embarrassed, wants her to say something different. Wants her to be more like him, but he doesn’t try again. No point really. It is better to leave her alone.
“I didn’t know that this place was so beautiful,” Jamey says smilingly to my dad, “I have to say it really does remind me of some kind of paradise.”
“It does, it does,” dad is in a cheerful mood as he puts dinner on the table. He has made my favorite. Spaghetti and meatballs, just like he used to make it when I was a kid. He has even gotten mum to the table. She just sits there, looks at what he puts on the table with a frown on her face.
“Must have been great growing up here,” he says to me.
I just smile, don’t answer.
“This isn’t a good place for kids,” she looks at him. Seems to have woken up at the end of the table. “Kids go missing around here.”
“Stop talking nonsense, Margaret,” dad goes to her, puts some spaghetti on her plate. “There have been no kids going missing around here,” leans over to give her some meatballs with sauce, but she doesn’t want any. Her hand hits the bowl so that all the meatballs fall down on the table. Meatballs with their red tomato sauce right on the white tablecloth.
Dad doesn’t say anything. Bites his lip, closes his eyes for a moment. He has always been patient. I don’t know how he does it. “You see, they always used to tell us stories about those kids that went missing when I was child,” she is talking very fast, “but I didn’t believe it back then.”
“Margaret, please,” he whispers.
She looks at him. Frowns.
“I’m tired,” she suddenly says, even though she almost seems like she has too much energy. She gets up. Walks quickly away from the mess she has made. Dad tries to get some of the meatballs back in the bowl. One has fallen off the table, down on the carpet. Will probably make a stain. The tablecloth is so covered in red tomato sauce that dad will probably have to throw it away.
“I’m so sorry about this Jamey”, dad says. “She isn’t having a good day, but maybe tomorrow will be better.”
“Oh no worries,” Jamey tries to sound as normal as he can, like it really is no big deal, “we all have bad days.”
I wake up in the middle of the night. Just lie there in the dark, looking up into the ceiling, don’t know what has woken me up.
Oh, I’m just someone sitting on the beach
“Damn,” I can’t help saying it out loud. She is singing. In the middle of the night. In the room next to ours. Doesn’t give a shit that she is making too much noise.
If you saw me, you would not believe, the life I’ve had, the things that I have done
“What is that?” Jamey stirs next to me. Sits up in the bed.
No wonder that I cannot move on
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I try, “She is just singing.”
Oh, I remember this very beach, when I was young and carefree
“Now?” he sounds astonished, “how much is the time?”
“It is late,” I hesitate, don’t know what to say. He is getting up. Putting on a t-shirt.
It seems so long ago, too long now, seems like a different world somehow
“Probably best to leave her alone,” I whisper, but he has already opened the door to the hallway. I hurry after him. The door to the room next to our room is open. He looks in there, I try to see what he sees without going in there.
She sits on the little bed with one of those stuffed animals in her hands. Looks up as he comes into the room. Surprised to see him, as if she has already forgotten that we are visiting.
“Is everything okay, Mrs. Johnson?” he says.
I don’t go into the room. Just stand there looking at them from the hallway. She has opened the closet door. Laid all the stuffed animals out on the bed. The little pink bunny, she is holding that one.
“Did I wake you?” she say as if it only now occurred to her that she has been singing.
“I have to admit I did hear you singing,” Jamey says trying to smile as he sits down on a chair, looks at her as if he isn’t sure what to make of this. That grown woman sitting on that little bed with that pink rabbit clutched in her hands.
“I used to sing that song for her, it is that melancholy beach song,” she explains, “she always wanted me to sing that song.”
“Oh,” Jamey is looking around the room. The little girl’s room. Just no little girl in it. Not anymore at least.
“Sometimes I think that if I just sing that song she will find her way back to me,” she sighs, “but I guess it isn’t that simple.”
Jamey looks confused. Turns to look at me, but I look down.
“Did you lose a child, Mrs. Johnson?” he finally says.
“Horrible thing to lose a child so that you can’t find it again.”
I can hear dad opening the door at the other end of the hallway.
“Margaret?” he says, but then he sees me. “Is your mum there?”
I nod. He hurries along the hallway, interrupts Jamey before he can ask another question. “You can’t be up like this in the middle of the night, you know that,” he grabs a hold of her arm. She follows him out of the room. Don’t even look at me as they pass.
Jamey is still sitting on the chair, looking puzzled. I haven’t been into that room for forever it seems. 20 years is a long time. It still looks exactly the same. She hasn’t changed anything. Still looks like a little girl’s room. I step over the threshold as I see Jamey lean over the desk to pick up a framed picture. A big smile missing a couple of teeth. Pigtails, she always used to wear it like that. Not a pink dress, a blue one. She didn’t really like pink that little girl, always preferred blue. Just like the ocean. Blue is a special color.
“Your sister?” he looks up at me.
“No?” he frowns, probably thought he had it all figured out. Nothing is that simple around here.
“It’s you?” he looks so confused, “but she talks like she is dead.”
“But why?” he puts the picture down, a little too quickly like he doesn’t like it anymore.
“She doesn’t recognize me.”
“She doesn’t recognize you?”
“No,” I shrug, “I’m tired, we have to get some sleep,” I say as I walk out of the room. Push the closet door shut again as I pass it.
Dad has made a bonfire on the beach. A big one.
“Just like we used to do when you were a kid,” dad says to me. “We can roast marshmallows.” I think he imagine some of the things he thinks we used to do when I was a kid. Mum was never a marshmallow person, but I don’t say anything. Jamey seems to think it sounds like a good idea at least.
The bonfire, the marshmallows and dad’s cheerfulness, for a while it all feels very normal and nice. Mum doesn’t say anything, just sits there looking into the fire. Dad gets up. Goes to get something in the cooler he brought. Leaving us alone with mum. She just stares into the fire, doesn’t seem to notice us.
“Mrs. Johnson,” I don’t know why Jamey would ask her something, why he just wouldn’t leave her alone, “would you like a marshmallow?”
She looks surprised. I think that she is going to say something mean to him, but she doesn’t. Instead she reaches her hand out for that marshmallow.
“They were Elisa’s favorites,” she says smilingly.
“I think they still are,” he answers as he gives her the marshmallow.
She drops it. Immediately into the sand, as if it burned her.
“That’s not Elisa,” she says, but not loudly. Not loud enough so that dad can hear her. He is still looking down into that cooler, as if he can’t find what he is looking for.
“I’m sorry?” Jamey leans closer to her, maybe he didn’t hear it. He really shouldn’t lean closer. Whatever she is going to say isn’t going to sound more normal if he gets closer.
“I say that thing, it’s not Elisa,” she whispers to him, “be very careful.”
He just frowns. Doesn’t respond. Probably doesn’t know how to.
Dad is still going through the cooler. I could call him. Get him to come and stop her. He would do that. I know. I just need to give him a little shout. “Elisa got really sick when she was little girl,” she continues, “the doctor said she was going to be fine, but she was in bad shape,” she talks fast, probably watches dad with the cooler, knows that she won’t be able to tell this if he hears her. “I nursed her for days while she was just lying there in her little bed.”
“What is she talking about?” Jamey turns towards me. Doesn’t know how to handle her.
“Don’t talk to her,” mum hisses, “can’t you see that she got those dark eyes?”
I haven’t said anything. Just been sitting there looking at dad going through that cooler.
“I went down to fetch my little girl a glass of water that night, and she was so very, very sick,” mum almost murmurs, “when I came up the closet door was open and that thing,” I know she points at me now, “had taken her place in her little bed.”
Dad finally closes the cooler and looks towards us. It is like he instantly can see what is happening, even if he can’t hear it.
“Margaret, calm down,” I can hear him call as he hurries towards us.
“That is how it is,” she turns towards Jamey again, pretends not to notice that dad is coming, but he will make her stop talking at least, “I never believed those stories,” she sighs, “never believed in them until my little girl disappeared.”
“Has your mum been sick for a long time?” He has been lying in bed pretending to read a book for a while, but hasn’t turned a page for 20 minutes. I turn the pages in my magazine exactly when I’m supposed to. Sitting in the chair by the open window. Listening to those waves. I do miss the waves.
“For as long as I can remember.”
“So from you were five and until now, you own mother hasn’t understood that you’re her daughter?” he shakes his head.
“Yeah that’s pretty much how it has been.”
“But your dad he seems so nice.”
He nods. Still thinking. Having those thoughts churning around in his head, I bet. Pretends to read again. Just forgetting to turn those pages. Looking up again, meeting my gaze. I do have very dark eyes. I know that. Very dark if you start to really look into them. I have heard it before, from others than just my mum. Not brown. I know that. A lot darker than brown. Some would probably say black.
“We should get some sleep,” he says. Puts the book down. Looks at me with this frown on his face, I bet he can hear my mother’s words in his head whether he wants to or not.
I don’t really think of her like my mother anymore. That goes away. So many years of her being like this, would be impossible to feel like she was my mother.
I have to admit when I was younger I would pretend like she was right. I would pretend like I could open that closet door and go into a different world. That would look a lot like this one with our beautiful beach and our little house, but in that other place, that other world, I would have a real mum. One of those who would love me. Sometimes when I was a kid I would open that closet door. Look into the darkness behind the clothes and hope that it could be a way out. Not that all that matters now.
“Okay then,” Jamey leans over to turn off the light, doesn’t give me a kiss like he usually would. The room becomes dark too now. Dark and silent. He does stay awake for a while, but then I can hear his steady breath.
She is singing again. Not as loudly this time, but still that same song.
Oh, I’m so sorry if I have made you feel all of my melancholy
I get up carefully, don’t want to wake Jamey. Go quickly out into the hallway.
I just don’t know how to smile with all these feelings hiding inside
She looks surprised when I come into the room, maybe she hoped for Jamey, to have another one of her conversations with him.
“So it’s you?” she says.
“Seems like it.”
“You fooled all the others,” she laughs, “but you never fooled me.” She sits on that bed now as well, close to the pillow. On that pillow a little girl would rest her head. Once upon a time, you know. “That night when she was so sick, I thought she wasn’t going to survive it. Crying all the time,” she is angry, of course she is, she is always angry, “and then I walk downstairs for that glass of water and when I came up …” she bites her lip, almost can’t finish it, “you were as healthy as can be, lying there with those big, black eyes.” She shakes her head, as if trying to get the image out of her head. “Scared the shit out of me.”
“You must have heard too many stories to be so scared of a little kid.” She really must have. Someone must have told her those stories, really gotten her to believe in them.
“I guess,” she holds on to that pillow.
“A changeling, right?” I smile. “How would that work?”
She frowns, looks at me again.
“That door was open,” she points at it. She has opened it again now.
“So your kid would go into the closet and disappear, and I would take her place?”
She bites her lip so hard, looks like she could start bleeding any minute. Creepy shit.
“She wouldn’t go voluntarily.”
“Oh, she wouldn’t?” I have often thought of this other Elisa. My so-called mum has talked of her so often, so it would be impossible not to think of her. She was so sick that night. Crying. Endlessly crying. Inconsolable. A weak child. A weak child with a weak little child’s body, she might not have made it through that night. Might not. Unless that closet door had opened when it did.
“She loved me, my little Elisa,” she mumbles.
“I’m sure she did, it is you I don’t know about.”
She looks up again. Her eyes are brown. They are, just normal, common brown. Brown isn’t safe though. You see, all kinds of things can be hidden in brown eyes as well. Eyes does not need to be black to hide shit.
“She opened that closet door,” I whisper, “said that you had told her that if she didn’t stop crying, you would put a pillow over her face.”
Her brown eyes. Brown, shitty eyes, looing at me, then she gets up and runs out of the room.
I just stand there. The window is open. The closet door moves in the ocean breeze. That breeze is strange. Sounds like that song, sounds like something calling me from afar. Calling me home.
I hope you have enjoyed Melancholy Beach, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.
About the song:
Lyrics/vocals/music composition/mixing: Therese J (Me)
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If you like the images that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first and fourth photo is by kconnors, the second (SoundCloud photo) and third photo is by rikahi, the fifth photo is by ArielleJay, the sixth photo is by dieraecherin, the seventh photo is by mconnors, the eight photo is by Melodi2 and the last photo is by lisaleo.
© Hilde Therese Juvodden, MyStoriesWithMusic, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hilde T. Juvodden and MyStoriesWithMusic with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – Simply don’t steal my stuff 😊