When I am with any of my children, even just one of them, I feel ten times stronger. I feel almost invincible. Touch a hair on their heads and I take you down, man. You, be you a school administrator who’s so beleaguered you’ve become brittle and mean, a stupid-ass little leaugue policy that hurts children or a playground bully, you are going DOWN.
But when it comes to me, I am a wimp. I hesitate. I hem and haw and try to see it from the other person’s point of view. Don’t get me wrong. I might be simmering mad, but I am a wimp about it. My issue has always been how to harness discontent and even outrage effectively so that I can stand up to any opponent and effect positive change and feel whole and stong, like I am taking care of myself and my own needs in a healthy way.
I grew up thinking someone else had to protect me or give me permission to stand up and speak.
One reason it might be good that I am now supposed to learn how to deal with my powers of magical persuasion is that I have to address the fact that I have LARGE power. That I, Phoebe Quest, am powerful and empowered in a very unique way. Or can be if I choose it. My children remind me of my power. Being a mother is powerful stuff and takes major guts, no matter what kind of mother you are. In fact, I think mothers who’ve struggled to be “good” moms and keep trying despite setbacks have more guts and bravery than those who’ve never had to wrestle with themselves as mothers.
I used to volunteer in the county courts with mothers who were in danger of losing their children because they struggled mightily to keep their shit together. And those moms had serious troubles: long-term poverty, histories of sexual abuse and physical abuse, lack of education, drug addiction, you name it. One mother, in particular, explained to a room full of social workers and legal advocates that when she was four years old her stepfather picked her up by her feet, swung her overhead and bashed her head against a wall. When it came to keeping her own brood safe, her biggest sin was a scary lack of knowledge of what good parenting looked like. And who could blame her for that? She’d never seen good parenting. And both she and her children were suffering the results of it, for sure.
There were good reasons moms like her had to come to court and explain why they should continue to raise their kids themselves. But they did. She did. Many of them did get their shit together, slowly at first, and walked into that court time and again over many months to face a room full of people who must have, through their eyes, seemed hostile to their cause. I watched them try to hold their heads high, keep their voices level and clear, look the judges in the eye and make the case to keep their kids.
This takes a kind of grit I think is singular to women. Motherhood can make you strong even when you are otherwise feeling weak and living in a system that, even though we don’t like to see it, strongly favors men. I, too, have this grit. I know I do. But I need to understand that I am strong beyond being a mother. That I have powers that reach beyond my womb and vagina. It’s weird to think of it that way. But that’s what is on my mind this week, while I have seven precious days with my sweet Pearl.
[Midday: New underwater mermaid show, Mermaid Heaven, built on the riverbank; Phoebe, Phoebe’s daughter Pearl, Lucy, Cooper and Ernesto sit in the underground auditorium, eat popcorn and watch a wall of glass, behind which the mermaid show is taking place.]
Phoebe (puts her hand in her popcorn bag while she watches): I think this kind of thing works better in clear water. Does anybody else not see a mermaid?
Lucy: Nope. (chews popcorn)
Cooper (grabs some of Lucy’s popcorn): Don’t dis the customer. They ordered all the lumber and hardware to build this place from my store. Besides, I think I saw a red bikini top somewhere over there a minute ago.
Lucy: Where? Where did you see a bikini? All I see is muddy water and I think I saw the bumper of a car float by a minute ago.
Cooper: Over there, behind the seaweed.
Phoebe: I thought that was a rope.
Cooper: It was definitely seaweed. Come on ya’ll. Be willing to see the mermaid. See the mermaid. Feel the mermaid. Be the mermaid. (looks intently at the glass)
Phoebe and Lucy frown at Cooper. Pearl and Ernesto stare intently at the glass and eat popcorn.
Ernesto: I see something!
Pearl: Me too!
Phoebe: Where, honey?
Cooper: Oh! Oh! Right there….oh, no.
An obviously dead mermaid drifts forward in the murky water and bumps into the glass. Her eyes stare blankly. People in the audience scream. Phoebe covers Pearl’s eyes.
Phoebe: Ernesto! Can you get Pearl out of here? We’ll meet you back at the house. (Ernesto nods and escorts Pearl toward the exit door)
Cooper and Lucy (look at Phoebe): We will?
Phoebe: Yeah. I’m tired of hearing about these weird deaths in the newspaper. If I’m supposed to use my powers for good, I need more information and usually by the time I hear about something the trail is cold, and, generally speaking, I just feel kind of lazy after a long work day, ya know?
Cooper: But what are we supposed to do? Jump into the Cape Fear River?
Phoebe (shrugs): Maybe.
Lucy: I’m game.
Cooper: You guys scare me sometimes.
Phoebe leads the way toward the small door at the front of the auditorium, while the rest of the crowd hurries toward the back exits. Phoebe turns the handle and the door is locked.
Cooper: Oh well, nice try. Guess we’ll just have to go…
Phoebe uses her new-found, fairy strength to turn the handle hard and the doorknob comes off in her hand.
Phoebe (looking at knob in her hand): Oops. (Phoebe hands it to Cooper and Cooper tosses it under a chair)
Behind the door is a dark hallway lit by a buzzing, yellow light bulb in the ceiling. There are shallow puddles on the floor.
Lucy: Yech! Did you say this place was new, Cooper? It feels like we’re in the sewers.
Cooper: It’s funny you should say that… and might I add that you are really smart, Lucy. Have I told you that, before? Anyway, the owner bought the old sewage treatment plant on the river–cause, you know, duh, the river…great place to build the underwater auditorium. Anyway, they revamped it into its current splendor as the Cape Fear Mermaid Emporium. I guess some rooms are more remodeled than others…
Phoebe (pushing aside a sinewy rope of slime dripping from ceiling): I’ll say.
Phoebe pulls out her fairy wand and the tip lights up like a flashlight. They proceed down the dank, echo-y hallway.:
Lucy: Did anyone notice her eyes?
Cooper (makes a shiver sound): Are you kidding? I’m doing everything I can to un-see them.
Phoebe: They were glowing slightly.
Lucy: Exactly. Like she’d been…
Phoebe: Zapped or something. With a wand, I mean. She had that shimmer I am beginning to recognize with all things wacky and magical.
Cooper: Are you saying a fairy did this? I thought fairies were all Yay Nature, who’s your buddy? Why would a fairy hurt a mermaid?
Lucy: Um, you do know that they weren’t really mermaids?
Cooper (clears throat): Of course, I just meant that…
Phoebe: It’s true though. Why would a fairy do something so violent?
Phoebe: Unless what?
Lucy: Unless it was another kind of magic.
Cooper: Like what?
Lucy: I don’t know, like maybe…
Cooper (snorts): Witches…I mean, come on…ugh, what’s that smell?
Lucy (stops walking and turns to face Cooper): What’s so funny about witches?
Cooper (taken aback): I don’t know. They’re just kind of…funny. (Cooper tugs at his collar)
Lucy (makes a face): Something does smell kind of fishy.
Phoebe: We have to be open-minded here. I’m starting to think that Cape Fear isn’t called Cape Fear for nothing. Something’s up with this place. Who knows what’s possible? We’ve already watched our landlord and mayor turn into a panther, been chased by werewolves on the beach and attacked by bird tornadoes and evil trees. Who’s to say there aren’t witches in this new reality? What do we really know about them, anyway? And you’re right. Is it low-tide or what?
Cooper: They’re like cat-ladies gone wild, witches.
Lucy glares at Cooper.
Lucy (looks resolved): Well, I might have something about them back at the store.
Cooper: You have books on witches?
Lucy (frowns): Maybe.
Phoebe: Great. Let’s talk about that later and focus on here, while we’re here. Look for clues.
Cooper: Like what? I can’t see anything. (Cooper trips and falls)
Phoebe turns around and shines her wand toward Cooper on the floor. Her wand illuminates both Cooper and what he tripped over. Cooper screams and scoots back. He has fallen over another mermaid, who…appears dead.
Phoebe (looks startled and then thoughtful): How come Lucy and I walked right by her and you’re the one to trip over her?
Cooper (looks up at Phoebe): That’s your most pressing question right now? Because mine is, “Why did we decide to go down this dark hallway instead of going home, like normal people?”
Lucy (to Phoebe): Hold your wand closer. I want to get a better look.
Phoebe moves the light of her wand closer to the dead body, the scales of the mermaid’s tails glistening in an array of rainbow colors. Lucy feels her pulse and shakes her head sadly.
Lucy: She’s cold.
Lucy moves her hands near the waist.
Cooper: WHAT are you doing? Why touch her? What if she has a disease?
Lucy looks at Cooper, like “Calm yourself.”
Cooper: Fine, fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Lucy: Look at this. (she moves her hand over the woman’s waist and then over the place where the fish tail begins) I don’t know how this costume is attached, but it looks very real. I can’t find a seam.
Phoebe: Let me see (Phoebe runs her hand over the place where the waist meets the scales–Cooper makes a gagging sound) That’s no costume. I think what we have here is a real-live…er…dead mermaid, to be included on the list of weird creatures that seem to flourish in the Cape Fear region.
Lucy: Phoebe, look at her eyes.
Phoebe begins to move the glowing tip of her wand closer to the mermaid’s face but Lucy stops her hand and pushes it back.
Lucy: You don’t need a light ’cause, well, look.
The mermaid’s eyes emitted a strange green light.
Cooper: Maybe mermaids have naturally glowy, creepy, scary eyes.
Phoebe: Maybe. But something’s still strange. Lucy, do you see any marks?
Phoebe holds the light close and Lucy carefully rolls the body and checks.
Lucy: No. There’s nothing.
Phoebe: You’re wrong. There is something that is very clear.
Cooper: What’s that?
Phoebe: This mermaid is out of water.
Cooper: Good point.
Lucy: It made more sense if she wasn’t really a mermaid, but…she’s got a tail.
Cooper: Which means…no legs. Hey, I wonder what else she doesn’t have. Can we take a closer look?
Lucy and Phoebe give Cooper a stern look.
Cooper: It was just a thought.
Phoebe shines her light further down the dank corridor.
Phoebe: Hey, guys? Take a look at this.
On the floor, where Phoebe shines the light, there appear to be wet foot prints. The three of them follow the footprints.
Lucy: I hate just leaving her there.
Phoebe: We’ll come back for her on the way out. Nobody can do anything to help her now.
Cooper: I know we’re being all proactive and gutsy and go fairy-power, but did you stop to think what we’d do if we found whatever it is that did this?
Phoebe (shrugs): Not really.
Cooper: Just checking.
Lucy: There’s always running, you know, away.
They follow the wet footprints to a metal door. Phoebe barely touches the door and it swings open with a loud, grating, squeak.
Cooper: Serious WD-40 needed there.
They go through the door and enter a large room with a high ceiling that has old equipment in it. The footprints lead to a metal ladder that runs up the wall and through a hole in the ceiling.
Cooper: Seriously? We’re doing this?
Phoebe holds her wand in her teeth and starts climbing. Lucy follows.
Cooper sighs and puts a foot on the first rung.
Cooper (to himself): Why do I ask?
The three of them climb up the wall and through the hole.
They clamber onto a platform in a room with three walls. Where there is no wall there is a platform above the river and another ladder that seems to lead from the platform down into the river. The footprints are more confusing here. Either there was one person who came out of the river and walked in many circles and then out the side door that seemed to lead to a parking area, or there was more than one person.
Cooper: Now what?
Phoebe looks around intently. Lucy does the same and wanders over to the edge of the platform.
Lucy: Hey, look! A bucket of fish. Do you suppose they rewarded the mermaids with little treats?
Phoebe: There’s so much wrong with this whole thing, I can’t make a list long enough.
Cooper: What kind of fish?
Lucy (looks at Cooper): Does it matter?
Cooper: I was just curious what the average mermaid eats.
Cooper peeks into bucket.
Cooper: One thing we know is…mermaids have expensive taste.
Phoebe: How do you mean?
Cooper holds up first one fish and then the other.
Cooper: Well, if they’re eating local, you’d see shiners or shad or topminnows. But these are an assortment of fish like Congo Tetra and African Butterfly and others I don’t know the names of.
Lucy: Hey, guys? Look at the fish eyes.
Phoebe and Cooper look at the exotic fish that Lucy holds up by the tail. It’s eyes are glowing.
Cooper: Mermaid poisoning. That’s a first.
Phoebe (looks around nervously): Let’s get out of here. I think we’ve got enough for now. (Phoebe pulls out her phone and makes a call)
Cooper: Police? That’s a good idea.
Phoebe: Ernesto. I want to make sure they got home okay.
Ernesto (answers phone): Hello, Miss Phoebe.
Phoebe: Phoebe. It’s just, “Phoebe.”
Ernesto: Yes, Miss Phoebe.
Phoebe: Where are you? It sounds noisy.
Ernesto (holding a finger in other ear): Pearl wanted to look at surf boards, so we stopped at the…
Phoebe: I thought I told you to take her home?
Ernesto: I thought this would take her mind off of the, you know, dead fish-woman.
Phoebe: I understand. It’s just… hey, are you at Thor’s shop?
Ernesto: I no like him either, Miss Phoebe, but Pearl, she seems to like him.
Phoebe (sighs): I’ll talk to her about this later. Once you leave Thor’s, go straight home….and order some pizza. We’ll meet you there.
Ernesto: Miss Phoebe, is everything okay?
Phoebe: Tell me, Ernesto. Since you arrived in Cape Fear, is anything ever really “okay?”
Phoebe (puts phone away): Let’s stop at Lucy’s bookstore on the way home and pick up the books on magic and witchcraft and anything other topic we think we need, rare fish or whatever.
[Lucy’s Bookstore: Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper arrive to pick up books before going to Phoebe’s house to meet Pearl and Ernesto. They walk in to find Phoebe’s guardian angels sitting in wingback chairs with their feet up and reading books.]
Phoebe: Well, hello. Nice to know you visit my friends even if you don’t bother to visit me.
Maude: Oh we come here all the time, don’t we, Lucy?
Phoebe (to Lucy): They do? You’ve never mentioned it.
Lucy shrugs feebly.
Irving: Best bookstore in town (Irving says from behind his book)
Phoebe: Don’t let us keep you from your, uh, reading.
Irving (from behind the book): Not to worry.
Phoebe: I guess that settles that. So…where is this book on magic?
Cooper: The best question to ask (says Cooper who has been scanning the shelves) is where isn’t a book on magic. Say, Lucy, when were you going to tell us your bookstore is mystic central?
Phoebe: What do you mean?
Cooper (pulls out several books and sorts through them): So, we got The Secret Grimoire of Turiel, The Key of Solomon, The Hermetic Kabbalah, The Christian Cabala, The Tree of Life, The Book of Enoch, The Book of the Watchers and The True Wicca Handbook of Herbal Farming.
Phoebe and Cooper turn to look at Lucy who looks uncomfortable.
Lucy: If you’d shopped in my store more often, or…ever, then you might have figured it our for yourself.
Phoebe (stares at all the books, rows and rows of them, with mystical symbols and titles): So, I guess you’re the expert, Lucy. What should we take with us?
Lucy (perks up and even smiles): Oh! Well, I think these two grimoires over here are the most comprehensive and maybe this book on mystical sea creatures. I think I saw some chapters on mermaids one time.
Lucy holds a stack of books and grins, clearly in her element.
Phoebe (to Maude and Irving): Want to come with us? There’s a slice of pizza in it for you.
Irving yawns and stretches.
Maude: You go on without us and we’ll be over in a little while.
Maude and Irving stay seated with their feet up and look nowhere close to moving.
Lucy (to Maude and Irving): Just lock up when you leave(?)
Irving (from behind his book): Save a slice of pepperoni for me!
[Phoebe’s house: Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper enter the house carry books. Ernesto greets them wearing an cooking apron and holding a whisk. He is beaming]
Phoebe: Where’s Pearl?
Ernesto: You will be so proud when you see her surprise….
Ernesto narrows his eyes as Cooper walks by.
Cooper: Nice to see you, too.
Ernesto looks lovesick when Lucy nods and smiles at him.
Phoebe: So…what’s the surprise?
Ernesto: Come, come. We must go to the screen porch.
They follow Ernesto through the house and through the French doors that lead to the screen porch, where there are comfortable rattan couches and an outdoor fireplace, which is lit. Phoebe has strung little white lights around the porch, which twinkle in the fading light.
Phoebe (looks around): Is this hide and go seek?
Ernesto (beckons them to look into the backyard): Come, come!
Phoebe, Lucy, Ernesto and Cooper stare into the backyard, which is almost completely dark until their eyes adjust.
Cooper: Oh, look! Fireflies.
Phoebe (looks around): What? Where? (Then she follows their gaze)
In between the branches of the huge live oak, the evil live oak that had attacked them in their house just months before, are many little twinkly lights and a small figure floating around…no, flying among the lights. They hear laughing.
Phoebe: Is that?
Lucy: It is.
Cooper: Hey, you never told us Pearl was a fairy.
Phoebe sits down on the arm of chair and looks pale.
Phoebe: That’s because I didn’t know.