Meeting the Water Again

10 minute read.

Our kind came from the sea.

Webbed hands gripped the smoothed rock. The softened wood of the pier fractured in our fingers. Our taut forearms were strong from life beneath. We dragged our blue-tinged bodies up, scaled – or perhaps furred, with algae – shaking tangled kelp from our hair. And in our blood, the song that drags a man to his grave.

So my mother told me. And her mother told her.

It’s just a story. But that doesn’t stop me listening for the lapping of waves in my pulse, just the same.


I go to Venice because that is the place we rose from. Leave my keys behind in London, trace canal edges to a door that is mine just for now. Drag my case up marble stairs, turn the lock twice to open and then remember the raincoat I wanted to bring, still on the kitchen table. He will clear it away come dinnertime. He loves to cook. Sauces, breads, sugared treats. I am so lucky, people tell me. I am lucky.

I text: I’ve made it.

Good, he replies.


For months, I have been trying too hard to decipher my lover’s low pulse. He tells me to stop overthinking. Venice is my distraction, a city built on mud and yet still standing. I want to learn its secret. And I am eager to know what other stories this ancient place might offer me. If this blood echoes in our veins, then surely more stories will reveal themselves. Before all this meets the water again.

That sounds like destiny, but I don’t like that word.


I throw back the thin curtains and unlatch shutters that are hundreds of years old. I push them hard, revealing the pink-washed sky and teal water below. I think of his words: You don’t know what you want. Trust me.

Maybe. But for now, there’s a cool breeze and the fading sun on my cheeks.


Morning light fills the apartment. I find a Mokka pot in the cupboard and a bag of coffee held shut with a yellow clothes peg. To the sound of steam escaping, I watch the canal below. A man passes by in his boat, stacked high with boxes of fresh lettuces, apples, cherries, radicchio. A cigarette hangs loose from his lips. Despite leathered skin, he is beautiful, like the façade behind him; lit in sunrise, edges peeling where the plaster has come unstuck. As if he and the whole city were torn from tissue and layered there just for my pleasure.

I send a quick text but receive no reply.

He told me last week: I can’t fight for you.

I should stop pushing but when you feel something slipping away, the urge is to hold on as tightly as possible. As the shore is swallowed by the sea, my eager fingers cling to life above.


I try to write but I can’t write anything other than the story of how I got here. Perhaps because I keep asking myself: How did I get here?

The wind is picking up. When the shutter slams, I try again to latch it open. Peering over the outside edge, a figure appears in the window across the water. A hand snaking out, a perfect mirror, securing the opposite shutter. Our eyes meet.

He smiles.

I smile back.


Mother told me the story of those wet webbed hands from the dry comfort of our sofa growing up. At the end of her telling, sister would say, that’s a stupid story. Mother would laugh. My sister is too much a force for such tales, but not me. I fall right in.

I put my head to mother’s chest and listened. Waiting to hear that seashell sound.

And I swear to you I’ve heard it, and all of this is true.


It is November, so the streets are quiet. I take a tour to show me what these buildings mean, how they have stood tall despite the ever-shifting seabed. How they defy odds, still.

The sky is bright, but the wind is stronger. I pull my beanie down over my ears the way he hates.

You look like a strange little pixie girl, he’d say.

My guide, on the other hand, is a caterpillar ready for transformation, her coat a brilliant green. Her mouth opens and out spill words, demanding silent obedience. There seems to be no limit to the knowledge at her disposal; she knows every moulding, every windowpane, each arrangement of brick and marble, their source and significance. She knows all there is about the lives of those who looked out from those noble floors.

She knows too about the weather, and tomorrow it will be on us, she warns.

He’s told me before: If only you were more focused, you’d be unstoppable.

All I can do is admire my guide’s passion.


My door has a circular ring of iron that could serve as a noose. Footsteps on the cobbles lift my head. It’s the man from across the canal, edges of a grey coat flapping in the wind. He sees me and smiles again. I wave. His face is visible only for a moment before he disappears over the bridge – tense brows, and a clear set of eyes.


The sun never quite rises. In the Ca’ D’Oro, I’m sheltered within the first loggia. I scoff at the story of the man who threatened to destroy this place for the sake of a ballerina’s love. He wanted to tear out the old, lay it anew. Sacrilege, perhaps. But it sure is easier to scoff with history’s distance.

The wind is strong now, battering umbrellas out of hands. Nearby, a man holds his lady close, tucks her practically into his coat. Boats rock and strain against their moorings. Screaming for release.

Would I rip historic marble from the walls for the right someone? Destroy history for the present moment?

You shouldn’t trust your feelings, I hear him say. They can change.

But isn’t love a force unto itself? Outside time? Outside space?


An old woman sits at the table next to mine. The skin of her hands is so thin, I can watch each vein at work. Decades of sun have sprouted freckles over every inch of her face, layered into the deep folds in the corners of her eyes. Skin loose at her jaw as she speaks. She wears a Barbour jacket identical to one I left hanging in a wardrobe at home. Her dyed red hair reminds me of the way my lipstick looks after I have kissed my lover goodbye. She wears green hiking boots like the ones I use to trudge into Epping Forest. I’d never be caught dead in them here.

I know I am judging her and can’t help it. My eyes meet hers. She tells me her name is Madeleine, from Paris.

At the next table, a young family settles in. They coax their boy into a highchair, and his eyes find mine immediately. His wobbly body leans unsteady over the frame. He wants to say hello. He wants to say a lot of things, the gurgled sounds rising and falling and rising. His mother, who is perfectly rounded the way painted cherubs are, tries and fails to feed him. I ask where they are from.

Bogotà, the father says, you know it?

Never been, but I have heard great things.

Madeleine speaks little English but is entranced by the child. He likes girls, she manages to say, and the parents laugh politely.

I ask her if she has grandchildren of her own.

No, she says. No husband, no children, no sisters, no brothers. Only cousins, and a desire to travel as often as her hard-earned money will allow.

You didn’t want it? I ask her, aware that I’m overstepping.

It never came, she replies, waving her hand at the waiter.

She torments the young man in his apron in indecipherable Italian. He does his best, but she gives up, walks away, finds someone else to hear her better.

I wonder: How long can you believe that good things come to those who wait?


When I am finally home, I am soaked. Rain pummels the world into submission. I hang my jacket to dry beneath the air-conditioning unit in the corner. I settle in, drink coffee though I know I shouldn’t at this hour. Across the way, the man holds his own coffee cup in his hand. I call my lover.

We can talk about it in a few years, he says. Not now.

Years? I repeat. And the word bounces around the room and settles into a dark corner.

And maybe even then…

I open the window, desperate for air to fill the sentence he will not finish. The canal and its loud symphony crashes in. Cold wind slices my heart in two.

I need to go, he says.

Just me and the knocking of hulls against the stone walls for company. I try to call again, and it goes straight to voicemail.


I risk going out. Battle the cold to eat dinner by the water’s edge. I haven’t eaten enough lately, my hips lose their softness. So, I order baccalà mantecato, the rich cream of each mouthful a meal in itself. I order a rocket salad with chunks of parmesan and a generous dressing of balsamic. I order fried fish and aioli and a small glass of white wine which the waiter overfills. As he pours, he leans in close and whispers that I have a beautiful smile.

I eat and I eat until I do not feel cold.


Sleep doesn’t come easy. I let the heat and heaviness of my stomach turn my body into stone. Let it fall down, through ages and rest in the mud. Where it seems to belong.

Down there, I hear a voice: Set me free!

It’s so desperate, so pitiful, I search for it. I cry out, where are you?

Please! It begs.

I turn and turn but there is nobody there.

Of course not. The voice is my own.


I see the man from across the canal at the market. He waves at me this time. I am buying the giant curled tardivo radicchio that has captured my imagination.

Can you cook it? He asks, and I am surprised to hear a British accent. Low and gentle. I’m not sure what I expected.

I’ll figure it out, I say, and his laughter rings out like we’re old friends.

That’s the spirit.

He buys two of the purple husks for himself. You’ve inspired me, he says. His is the smile of a boy, at odds with the grey collecting at his temples.

Will you walk with me, neighbour? He asks and then he asks me my name.

And in between the words, I hear it, very softly: a beat. In my chest. Faint, as if arriving from over a great distance.


The storm hits harder. Warnings appear on TV, instructing us to protect ourselves from what the water may claim of the city. I try not to watch the man’s apartment from the corner of my eye, lamplight filtering out from beyond a curtain. I smack three mosquitos dead on my wall. Three black smudges remain on my fingers.

What future do we have? I ask my lover, desperate now. The words seem to belong in my throat the way the water does in my stomach. I can only hold it down for so long.

Don’t, he says, again, and then: it’s wrong to keep asking.


Because. These things come and go.

What things?


I never say: feelings come and go, but not the tide. Certain as it runs out in the morning, it will heave in come noon. Wind may turn and waves may form, but the tide will rise and fall again. Certain as a heartbeat. Certain as death. 

Nothing I do is enough. We’re on two different planets.

And I want to scream because I always fall short here – my wanting, in direct opposition to his living.

Either you give me what I want (nothing), or I give you what you want (too much).

Maybe so. After all: Who am I to want a thing?

Finally, he says it: We can’t go on this way.

Over, it’s all over.


I open my eyes. The room is cast in blue and grey. There is the roar of a wave – it is coming. Suddenly, water rushes in. Filling the room, filling the bed, filling my clothes. I feel myself rising; I must swim out of here. I must survive. I hold my breath tight, rushing for the window. I reach for the metal latch, but my hand is comprised of strange skin and spindly fingers, slipping and sliding without purchase. I slam my closed fist against the glass. My chest grows tight, my stomach aches. My body screams for air. I slam that fist down, again and again. Across the way, the figure is in the window. Somehow, I hear him: Breathe, he says. Just breathe.

My body burns with the need. Time is running out.

I slam that fist again; the glass begins to crack. It won’t work. It is me, my body, versus a thousand years of history.

I can’t hold it in any longer.

My body gives up. Draws the wet into my throat, down into my lungs. I wait for the death that should come swiftly now.

But instead, I feel warm. Calm. Tension fades from every screaming pore. The hum dampens.

I was made for this water. My body breathes it right in.


The storm ends. It’s clear and vibrant and perfect outside, and I am crying in the market. Tears don’t stop as I hand over coins for a rich red nectarine.

I really thought I was certain. That I knew what I wanted.

I must tell myself over and over: I have been wrong before and I will be wrong again.


My key doesn’t turn in the lock to my door. I can’t see through the tears to set it right. A warm hand on my shoulder makes me startle.

Are you okay? The man says, coat buttoned to his neck. When I can’t reply he says, you drink coffee, don’t you?


His apartment is filled with stacks of books – no shelves. A collection of colourful coffee cups sits on the kitchen table like a centrepiece. It’s the detritus of a nomad, only temporarily rooted.

I am here six or seven times a year, he tells me, but I live in Barcelona. I admit to being a Londoner and he says only, yes of course you are.

I watch him fill his Mokka by the sink, set the pieces of silver tight together as if it’s a magic trick that I am seeing for the very first time. He is not a big man, but there is something sturdy about him; these well-worn actions feel reassuring.

We sit by the window, and I realise my own room, which I thought sufficiently obscured, is in very good view.

You can see my whole apartment, I say, and his face remains neutral. I should close my curtains.

Not the whole apartment, he says at last. There is heat in my face. People come and go there, and I like to give them stories.

What’s mine? I ask.

He smiles but he won’t tell me.


I take too many pictures of the Palazzo Fortuny. Dizzied by it, I let its beauty consume me whole. Disappear within each hanging picture, in the reflected light of each object, displayed with the pride that comes from a life lived uncut. A husband and wife made this place a timeless monument to their unity. I am envious beyond belief.

It’s all I can do to stop myself falling apart and crying again, especially when I turn a corner to find a wall-to-wall fresco of a garden tucked neatly into the heart of this house. A whole world! Right here, contained in these walls!

They must have been happy. How could they not be?


I agree to meet the man from across the canal for lunch. But as we approach the restaurant, it’s already overflowing with people. A shame, he says. And then, I still have that radicchio.

He cooks it in butter and wine.

We eat by the window, and I tell him more than he would care to know.

I pushed too much, I say. I don’t know what I want.

He looks at me a moment before he says: It sounds like you know exactly what you want.

I laugh. How absurd.

You wanted to have the conversation. And you need two people for that.

Maybe, I say. Maybe so.

Sounds like your heart has been breaking for a long time, he says. His warm hand comes to rest on mine, still holding my fork.

I don’t know how much time passes there. Green glints in his eye. I should look away, but the song inside me is loud enough that I do not hear the tide.


On the Rialto Bridge, a man kneels. Right in the damp. His coat is caught beneath his leather shoes. He produces a velvet box from a pocket and the crowd turns. They start clapping, as at last the woman before him realises just what is happening. Her squeal turns the water in my stomach. She kisses his face; yes, of course, yes.  

I stare long after others move away. Read the lovers eyes that say: here is a future. You and me and us, together. The ultimate storybook ending.

I should close that book and keep walking. Forget that I know all the words. But how?


Don’t even try to sleep. My lover’s old words echo in my ears: We’re perfect. But as soon as the world gets in, we’re lost.

He also said: You never just say what you need.

Which is it?

I want nothing. I want everything.

I let the shutter smash and with each ricochet another piece of anger falls from my chest. I watch it ripen in my hands.

All that wasted time!


I bring the man from across the canal a tray of cicchetti, still warm. Set the tray down, search out a plate to arrange them on. He hovers nearby. Just out of reach.

And then I turn.

Let the curve enter my back as I lean into that marble countertop. Tuck my elbows behind me. He watches. Takes a step, and another. His hand meets my waist. With that touch, everything folds. His body meets my arc; his leg, warm between my own, he pulls me into him. When his lips trace mine, heat spreads into my stomach, down into my thighs. I want to live there, in the perfect leaning between us. When he lifts his hand from my hip, cold rushes in, but then that hand lands again, around my wrist. The other trailing up into the tangle of my hair. When our lips part, I stare into the sky of his eyes.

What should happen next? Choices unfurl there. But then I hear it: the song has begun to play. In time with the drip, drip, drip of my heartbeat. I watch him trying and failing to calculate, the blood pumping violently in his neck. Hunger fills his eye, and then his fingers close around my throat as though he is clinging to the shoreline in a storm. His lips meet the ridge of space beneath my collarbone and then I know: He never stood a chance.


In the heat of his bed, I tuck myself into the smooth of his chest. Like I belong there. And he tells me about the woman who broke his heart a year ago.

She was everything, he says.

I marvel at such a sentence.

Pain takes time, he says. So much time.

I don’t want to admit that instead of such feelings, all I hear is the roar of unchecked waves and the cold, hard, clattering of antique shutters.

In my smallest voice I say: I want that pain.

And he looks at me, confused, like he hasn’t quite heard. I don’t bother to repeat or explain. This man is just a boat in the harbour.

Coffee? He says at last, for lack of anything else.

Why not.


In my room, I toss and turn, twisting the sheets around my legs. I’m hot. I shiver with cold. Inside my chest there is a hollow. And in that hollow, the water rushes in.

I want to know: If you place your ear to my chest now, what will you hear?

A heartbeat? Or a siren’s call?

The call says: set me free.

And I see the face of a young man, pulling his net into his boat. He looks down into my eyes and smiles. Come, he says, reaching out his hand. Come up here.

With his strong grip I feel my body rise. Freed from the dark, colour and light blows in. By his side, in the sweet morning sun, I feel safe. He tells me his name is Orio, and he promises to marry me.

You must also promise, I warn him. That you will not look on me again until that wedding day.

He swears he will not.

But the sun rises again, and I hear him say my name. Melusina! He calls over the waves. My beautiful Melusina!

I try to hide but he is sharp-eyed, a lifelong sailor. And when our eyes meet, I feel my body shift. Form and reform. He sees me for what I am now: a hideous creature from the deep. No, I want to say. Please try to understand.

But my jaw unhooks; my lips widen, my mouth doubles, triples in size, my teeth gathering and sharpening to taste his blood. I slither into the boat, and he is screaming.

He raises the fishing hook high above his head and brings it down, piercing my skin again and again.

My laughter erupts as he drowns in my own blood. Filling the boat and bringing it down.

Serves you right, I say as I meet the water again. Cool, calm, my dark home. Serves you right for loving me.


I pack my case, disordered. Leave the key on the table by the heavy door. I see a light on, across the canal. No more words now, not even goodbye. In London, I will have to let the past fall at the feet of another future. I’ll have to write this story anew.


When I see my lover, at last, on our doorstep, at the place that was once our home, I realise we are not two planets, that’s not quite it. We are two islands that used to meet in low tide. But not anymore.

He looks at me, eyebrow raised.

What did you do?

Whatever I wanted.

He laughs hard, like it’s a joke. And then he turns away. Good, he says as he goes. So you should.


I make my way to the Thames as though its grey and brown surface will fill my need for the water. I long for the teal, the pink sunset. But never mind, it will do. I lean over the edge, reach down for it. My fingers are blue, and my eyes shine green. And my pulse, rhythmic in my chest, sings. I want a pain that strikes down into the very bedrock, and I want to build a house on the shifting mud that I find there.

From the depths I see a cool hand coming to rest on my own. A smile against my shoulder. A distant shoreline, where we make our promises. The crying of a newborn. Dust swept clear of the threshold of our home.

All too much. But I can’t help it. I want and I want and I want.

About Christina Care

Christina Carè is an Italian-Australian writer living in London. Overly curious, she studied Architecture, Art History and Philosophy before finally leaning into her passion for fiction. She interviewed actors for Spotlight, turned data into compelling stories at Google, and has edited for the F-Word feminist collective. She was selected for an Arteles artistic residency in Finland in 2023 and was a first runner up for the Evening Standard Short Story competition 2022. She’s had short fiction published in the Bedford Square anthology 2023, City of Stories anthology 2022, and the Mechanics Institute Review 2021. Previously, she was a Faber Academy scholarship winner 2020, a London Writers Awardee 2019, and was mentored by author Kirsty Logan. She is working on her debut novel.

Christina Carè is an Italian-Australian writer living in London. Overly curious, she studied Architecture, Art History and Philosophy before finally leaning into her passion for fiction. She interviewed actors for Spotlight, turned data into compelling stories at Google, and has edited for the F-Word feminist collective. She was selected for an Arteles artistic residency in Finland in 2023 and was a first runner up for the Evening Standard Short Story competition 2022. She’s had short fiction published in the Bedford Square anthology 2023, City of Stories anthology 2022, and the Mechanics Institute Review 2021. Previously, she was a Faber Academy scholarship winner 2020, a London Writers Awardee 2019, and was mentored by author Kirsty Logan. She is working on her debut novel.

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