I am as ancient as the earth. I am The Moaning Mother: The Sea. I incorporate your mountain streams, canals and cataracts; your fjords, rivers, and straits; your polar icecaps and your oceans. My name is Amphitrite.
Poseidon rolled on my belly, calling himself my mate. I humoured him. He was the brawn to my brain.
Tiny creatures drew life from me, and crawled from my depths to colonise grasslands and forests. I watched my babies grow, change their forms, thrive, perish, and thrive again. I watched them gain sentience, swim in the breakers, and strut and stroll along the shoreline, while their young played in the sand.
“Look at them, Po,” I said, with pride. “They’re intelligent.”
He wasn’t impressed. “They’re pathetic.”
“No. They’re compact. Not a great sprawling, roaring, rolling monster like us. They’re neat.”
“They keep on dying. What use are they?”
“They leave their young behind to live on and learn. I’d like to be human for a while.”
“To understand them better. It would only be for one lifetime and they live for less than a century. I’d be back before you had time to sink a few trawlers.”
He sulked. “Forget it, Phit. If you turn into one of those things, keep away from me or I’ll snatch you back.”
I called to Selene in the night sky. She winked. I laughed. “You’ll be howling at the moon, Po. She won’t let you do it.” I was still laughing as I flung my soul into a human womb.
My mortal mother called me Marina. From this fragile human I learned to love. I also learned to fear. Thalassophobia, the doctors called it: dread of the sea. Having no memory of my true identity, the irony evaded me, but the ancient people had known me as Thalassa, mistress of the waves.
I found a different kind of love with Lloyd, who became my child’s father. He accepted my phobia without mockery. “We’re all scared of something, Rina,” he said. “With me it’s chickens. They scare the crap outta me.”
“You protect me from the sea,” I said, “and I’ll fight the chickens for you.”
We took holidays inland. We roamed the hills, marvelled at castles and cathedrals, and watched the sunrise at Stonehenge. We were content with dry land beneath our feet, until Emma, our six-year-old daughter, with hands on hips and a well-practised pout, said, “My friends go to the seaside. Why can’t we?”
I couldn’t blight her childhood. “We can,” I said. “Take a bucket and spade to make sand pies, and you can splash around in the water with daddy.”
She punched the air. “Yesss! What will you do?”
“I’ll hold your shoes and socks.”
I was trembling. Lloyd pulled me into his arms. “I’ll take her,” he said. “You can spend the day somewhere dry as a lunar landscape.”
“No. I have to face this sometime. It might as well be now.”
Two days later we stood on a cliff above southwest England’s Atlantic coast. The waves crashing onto the rocks below sent self-awareness crashing into my consciousness. I remembered who I was. Exultation and horror waged a battle in my brain. I closed my eyes and let the greetings of the gulls swooping overhead soothe me.
Emma tugged at my hand, “I want to go to the beach.”
“We’ll have to wait until the moon pulls the tide out.”
“But the moon won’t come until night.”
“You can’t see her light until the sky’s dark,” I said, “but she’s still there, hauling the water backwards and forwards.”
“She must be very strong.”
Stay strong, Selene, I prayed. Hold tight to Po’s reins.
When the tide turned we walked on the sand. Lloyd put his arm around me. “Yell if it gets too much for you, and we’ll head for the hills.”
“No, I can’t disappoint Madam.”
“As long as you’re sure, I’m going for a dip in the ocean. I promise I won’t be long.” I felt a trickle of sweat run down my back. It’s alright, I told myself. Po’s not interested in him. He can’t tell one human from another. It’s me he wants.
“Be careful,” I said.
Emma danced across the sand towards a cave in the cliff face. “Come in, Mama,” she called. “It’s like Santa’s grotto.”
I longed for the comfort of an inner-city concrete high-rise, a Pendolino Express journey away, but I followed her into the gaping mouth. At high tide the cave would be submerged. Tangled streamers of seaweed clung to the roof and I could smell Poseidon’s breath. Bile rose in my throat. I turned to face the entrance. Beyond the strip of beach, the Atlantic Ocean stretched to the horizon. I knew the old sea dog sensed my presence. I was out of his reach, I told myself. He couldn’t disobey the moon. It was then that I felt tremors beneath my feet. I’d forgotten Po’s second portfolio. He wasn’t just the sea god; he was Poseidon Earthshaker. I knew what was coming next. The shoreline started to recede.
I grabbed Emma’s wrist and ran along the beach, screaming, “Tsunami!” Lloyd bounded towards me. He swept Emma into his arms, took my hand and, with the panicking sunbathers, we fled to higher ground. The waters rolled back, revealing a thousand flapping, crawling creatures deprived of their comfort zone, and the petrified stumps of a primordial forest peeking, naked, through the sludge. The air was silent apart from the sound of running feet and the peevish wails of protesting infants, until we heard the bellow of the returning wave.
I touched Po’s mind, feeling his anger and loneliness. “I’ll come back,” I told him. “Don’t harm my family.” His joy flooded my frail human form, tearing away my soul as the ocean reached us. I carried Lloyd and Emma, and my lifeless female body, wrapped in the embrace of the wave, laying them on the cliff top.
The pain of loss engulfed me. Po felt it. As the waters settled back within the oceanic boundary, he said, “I’m sorry, Phit. I didn’t know it would be like that. Go back to them. I can wait a little longer.”
I woke, coughing and retching in Lloyd’s arms. He was crying, Emma was crying, and then we were laughing, hugging each other in a soggy mess of salt water, tears and snot.
The ocean slept. The afternoon sun cast a satin sheen on the still waters. “Mama,” Emma said, “Our teacher says the first things that ever lived were born in the sea and that’s where we all come from.”
“She’s right,” I said.
“Does that mean the sea’s my mother?”
I smiled. “She is.”
“But you’re my mother.”
I looked into her eyes, and saw awareness beyond human intelligence. “Yes,” I said. She smiled back at me as our minds touched.