Every Friday I brought muffins. It was just one of those things that gradually became a ritual between two people. My Grandmother hardly ever left her house anymore, so the least I could do was cheer her up with a variety of baked goods. The reason she scarcely set foot out into daylight was because of her crazy obsession.
Bottle beyond bottle of Gerber baby food jars lay stacked upon every surface of her house, filled to the plastic lid with a rainbow assortment of the sea glass she found on the beach. Whenever I visited, I always felt as though I were playing that childhood game where the floor becomes lava. You had to carefully maneuver through the intricately stacked piles yet not break or damage anything. I did once. The lava got me. Needless to say, I had to clean up a lot of baby food jars and bring doughnuts the following Friday to make up for it.
Gwen, my crazy glass-collecting Grandmother, was always in the middle of some “project.” Stained woven baskets filled with these bits of polished glass were the threads to her tapestry. She eyed and fingered each piece carefully as though she were a professional diamond cutter, looking for sparkling value in a raw earthy material. No one understood her obsession. Many tried to talk her out of it, told her to get a real job so she could have a normal retirement. Others tried to explain that she could make a small living off of her “arts and crafts.” She paid no attention to them. The only person she would talk to was me, probably because I was the only one who didn’t ask questions.
“Morning Gwen, I brought lemon poppy seed this time.”
She acknowledged my presence with a brief wave, her eyes never straying from her thick inspective spectacles as she continued her very important work with a sliver of turquoise.
It looked as though she were making a decorative net to catch mermaids, clever creatures that were almost impossible to ensnare—or so she told me—unless you used the rarest of gems. Each one separated into its own unique color group, woven professionally and diligently into the mesh of thread derived from seaweed. The unique thing about this net was that the knots were deliberately not secure. So that once the net was complete, she would cast it out to sea on a clear morning, releasing all the stones back into the vast watery world so they could be polished and smoothed over once again.
I suppose she does this repeatedly because there is no cosmic mandate dictating what you can and cannot do. She collects the glass, washes it, treats it with care, boils up a huge batch of seaweed, creates a thread of sorts from it, then weaves it into a natural net and casts it back into the nature to which it belongs.
The alternative explanation is that she is crazy, or perhaps just bored.
Either way, Gwen is an artist in her own fashion. Catching mermaids that she never brings to shore.
I always set the muffins on her couch—which is clear of jars—and pop open a book containing old stained maps of the Atlantic or the anatomy of giant ships. Everything in my grandmother’s house pertains to the ocean in some shape or form, whether it is the plethora of beach sunset watercolor paintings lining her walls or the sea creature imprinted coffee mugs in her cabinet. Like I said, she is a tad obsessive.
As the hours flew by, her cat, Peachop, would eventually come find me and curl up by my feet. If I wiggled my toes, they would immediately become an object of prey. To be honest, I was amazed that the cat had stayed alive this long, since my grandmother claimed she didn’t have time for anything other than her projects. I guess that’s why the cat liked me so much, because I was the one who would make sure he was still fat and happy. That was our typical afternoon visit, just Peachop and I listening to my grandmother as she clinked and clacked through the baskets of sea glass, looking for the perfect piece to weave in next.
It wasn’t until the following Friday that things got a little…weird. I remember bringing her favorite, blueberry muffins. The moment I entered into the house I knew something was iffy; there was actually space to walk! I’m not just talking about a snow-shovel pathway; the entire entrance was completely clear of the Gerber jars! A lot less lava to play with. This was unheard of.
“Gwen?” I called out as Peachop scampered over to my legs, mewing and rubbing his body affectionately all over. I gathered his purring fluffy body into my arms and strolled into the kitchen. Everything was freakishly clean. It appeared as if Snow White and all her animal friends had come in and scrubbed the place spotless. I opened the back door leading out to the ocean; the sand beneath my toes was warm and shimmered softly in the yellow yolk glow of the sun. Peachop mewed when we finally found my grandmother, sitting at the shore next to the largest net I had seen her create yet, letting the frothy waves collect around her thin ankles in a teasing to-and-fro motion. The waves were unusually soft today, as though someone had shushed Mother Nature and told her to play the silent game.
“Gwen, what are you doing out here?” I perched next to her, letting Peachop wander around a bit as we talked.
Her face was serene, as though she were lost in a pleasant afternoon reverie that she did not wish to return from. Her turquoise gaze held a quiet sorrow unknown to me as her wild silver locks collected around her wrinkled jaw like a living sea creature.
“Did you know that when I was a girl, I used to decorate myself in shells and kelp and wade out into the ocean to watch the sailor ships as they made their way out into the sea?”
As she spoke, I noticed the collection of seashells woven into her hair, tied in a delicate pattern so that they chimed and sang in the soft breeze.
“I did not. That sounds very…you.” I smiled, watching as the crows feet around those sad eyes crinkle in laughter. “Come back inside, I brought blueberry today.”
She took my hand, patting it as she smiled genuinely.
“You have always been my pride and joy, bringing an old crab muffins just so that we could spend some time together. I’m sorry I never got a chance to spend more time with you.”
“What are you saying Gwen? We still can spend time together. Now come inside and eat your muffins, Peachop wants you to.”
She threw her head back and bellowed out a laugh that started in the depths of the stomach and evolved throughout the throat. Ringing with such clarity that it almost sounded like singing rather than laughing.
“Oh Peachop, take good care of him for me won’t you?”
“I won’t have to, you’re coming back with me.”
“No my dear, it’s time for all my hard work to finally pay off. The sea is calling, and if I don’t make the next tide, I may never have another chance.”
Gwen rose to her feet, gathering the giant kelp and sea glass net into her arms and wrapping herself inside it.
I had no idea what to do.
I panicked and advanced to keep her from committing this strange suicide, but she lifted a hand to stop me.
“If they’re not thrown back by their captor, they must make a net identical to the one by which they were caught. Only then can they return to the heart of the ocean, from which they are born.”
With a gusto that I had never witnessed before from her, she launched herself into the ocean. The water around her fizzed and swirled, bubbling madly until she was completely submerged. Somewhere between the screaming and the flailing I too jumped in. My eyes stung from the salt and it took a moment to adjust. I scrambled around for my grandmother, reaching out for something that might resemble her, but she was nowhere to be found amongst the breaking threads of kelp and sea glass. All that was left was foam.