Basking under the rays of the hot Mediterranean sun, Marina stretched out her browning arm and sighed in contentment. She couldn’t stop herself from admiring the new, diamond-encrusted band on her finger joining the much bigger glittering rock. If only her mother could see her now, toned and taut in a bikini on the pristine pink sand, a glamorous married woman. How her mother would seethe and rage with jealousy.
But Marina’s mother wouldn’t ever see her daughter living it up with her new husband at the swanky all-inclusive resort. Marina had seen to that.
Frank returned a few minutes later, tropical drinks sweating in his hands. “There was a line at the bar. Some entitled prick insisted on Grey Goose, and the bartender had to run inside for it.” His handsome brow furrowed at the retelling.
Marina thought that Frank himself could act pretty entitled, insisting on changing rooms when they arrived due to the whine of the air conditioner when that’s just what air conditioners sounded like, but she nodded in sympathy. “Thanks for this,” she said, taking a dainty sip and closing her eyes at the rush of sweetness. It was a slippery slope between acting fun and drinking cocktails while maintaining her hard-won figure. She estimated that she could consume this one indulgence and maybe a vodka tonic during the day and remain within her calorie limit as long as she stuck to a dry salad for dinner. Frank said he liked seeing her eat heartily, but he also hadn’t known her as a teenager, back when her mother disciplined her if ever she strayed from a restrictive diet. Back when her thighs chafed together on a hot day and her belly strained against her jeans, threatening to burst them open.
“You’ll never be beautiful, Marina, and you’re far from clever. The best you can hope for to get a man is to be thin,” her mother always said, as if getting a man was the only goal for which Marina should strive. In spite of her mother’s dictum, Marina gorged herself whenever she could, stealing money from her mother’s purse and running down the street to the bodega, where she’d load up on pints of Ben & Jerry’s and potato chips to binge secretly in her room.
How she had hated her mother’s punishments after being caught. Her mother installed a lock on the outside door of her room in their small apartment, and Marina would survive for days on nothing but tepid diet ginger ale and saltine crackers, forced to use a cut-open gallon jug as a toilet.
When she disobeyed, her mother wouldn’t even allow her to go to school, so Marina fell further and further behind in her studies. She barely graduated from high school for all the days she missed, but her mother had won: Marina was thin.
As they lay listening to the crash of waves, Frank stroked Marina’s arm. “I was thinking you could wear that red dress to dinner tonight.”
Marina knew he wanted to strut her around, a piece of arm candy, letting all the other men in the resort ogle her and envy him. She suspected Frank married her for what he believed she represented: youth, beauty, and privilege. He didn’t know how hard she worked to project these qualities, from lying about her age and background to how much time she spent on her beauty routine. He was pushing forty, and she was only twenty-eight, but her forged driver’s license claimed twenty-three. The story that her parents died in a car accident after she graduated high school was far more palatable than the truth, that she left her mother in a bathtub in rural Pennsylvania, half a bottle of prescription pills crushed into her wine glass, before fleeing to California.
Her mother got it wrong—Marina was clever, after all.
Later, long after they’d lain down in the mahogany four-poster bed for the night, Marina awoke in darkness. They’d left a window open rather than use the AC, and the cool breeze fluttered the gossamer curtains. Frank, glutted with Ouzo and rich food, snored away, but Marina ate little that night, her tight dress allowing only bird-like portions. But Frank had dug in heavily, sweating away, tearing into the souvlaki and moussaka with a vigor that matched the way he ripped off her dress. He’d torn the fabric in his frenzy, but he said he’d buy her another. That’s what men like Frank did: destroyed what they believed belonged to them without any thought to their carelessness.
Marina briefly entertained the idea of leaving Frank in a bathtub, all that booze and a handful of Oxys in his system. Frank knew he shouldn’t mix, but he complained often about his old football injury and wasn’t always careful when self-medicating. If she just helped nature take its course… but he didn’t deserve that, not like her mother had.
She pressed her eyelids shut, willing sleep to return, to wake up to another relaxing day on the beach with little to do other than look good for her husband. This is what she wanted, wasn’t it? She had triumphed; she had reeled in her big fish, and now she could reap the fruits of her labor.
But she couldn’t shut her mother’s voice out of her head, the years of criticisms.
She sat up, her eyes popping open. That voice wasn’t in her head; it seemed to be coming from outside.
But it couldn’t be. She was on her honeymoon, and her mother’s voice had been stilled long, long ago.
Louder now, more insistent. Marina knew what happened when she kept her mother waiting.
Silently, she crept to the bathroom, pulled on the lush hotel robe over her silk nightgown, and opened the sliding glass door.
Marina, I’m warning you. Come now.
She stepped onto the sand, cool now under her bare feet, and looked around for the source of the noise. Maybe it was a prank somehow. But who would prank her? Who even knew her former life? All that remained were awful memories and her first name. She liked her name, the one blessing her mother had bestowed amongst everything else.
The stars glittered in the blackened sky, crisper and brighter than they did back home. Marina glanced behind and saw she had traversed the sand maybe thirty yards from her hotel room, yet she had hardly noticed that she kept walking, searching for the source of that beckoning call.
Come to me.
How many times she had heard her mother’s demands over the years, and how many times she had been forced to answer, until that one final night. Her mother enjoyed a relaxing bath, and Marina had made it an eternal one, no longer able to cope.
She’d never looked back—never googled the aftermath, just paid the man she met through a coworker for her new identity and moved on. In the years since she’d left, she worked every job she could find and squirreled away the money she made, living in cramped apartments with several roommates, saving up to afford the breast implants, hair extensions, lip fillers, skin treatments, and designer clothing, transitioning to the glossy version who could catch a rich husband.
A jot of ice hit her as a wave lapped her ankles; lost in thought, Marina had wandered to the coastline. She walked a step closer, up to her toned calf muscles, to see what she could stand, to feel the power and wrath of the sea, and that’s when frigid fingers clasped onto her ankles, pulling her farther from shore.
Come back to me. Her mother’s voice permeated the air around her, seeming to come from all sides, as water filled her mouth. She kicked her legs, trying to right herself, only to be slammed back down by another crushing wave before she could raise her head to gasp for air.
No longer turquoise and charming, the inky sea closed over her. She couldn’t scream, cry for help, or breathe; Marina inhaled salt water through her mouth and nose every time she tried. Despite her rigid exercise regime, her muscles couldn’t overpower the fury of the churning waves.
Her face smashing repeatedly into rocks and shards of shells on the seabed, her skin scraped and chafed. Marina tasted blood in her mouth along with other sour, familiar flavors, ones she hadn’t tasted since Pennsylvania: diet ginger ale and saltines.
Her dead mother was here somehow, exacting her revenge. Marina inhaled more and more saltwater, her lungs burning and her stomach filling as she prayed for a savior that would never arrive. When she killed her mother, she sealed her own fate.
Marina’s heart slowed and stopped, and the blackness of the water enveloped her last shreds of consciousness. Her final thoughts were of her mother and the mistakes they both made.
One night long ago, satiated on wine and flush with money after a successful insurance scam, her mother had stroked Marina’s hair tenderly, the only time Marina remembered a soft touch. “Your name means ‘from the sea,’” she told her.
And to the sea Marina returned, her bloated, decomposing body washed up and discovered weeks later by local children under the blazing sun.
Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is a writer and associate English professor in Pennsylvania. Her horror writing has appeared in publications including Ink Stains: A Dark Fiction Literary Anthology, The Horror Zine, The Stygian Lepus, Wyldblood Magazine, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. Read her work at https://cassandraosullivansachar.com/.