Trial by Water

Marcie knew her mother was going to die. Sharon was leaning against the side of the boat, her head resting against the edge, her eyes closed. Marcie looked closer to make sure her chest was still moving. The movement was short, shallow. But it was movement. The boat was a small, sporty number. Marcie knew nothing about boats, only participated in a brief training on how to drive the thing before renting it from the booth at the beach. And now here it was, giving “dead in the water” clear meaning.

The ride out into the ocean water had been exciting at first, Marcie at least enjoying the feel of the wind whipping her hair back, the spray cool and refreshing against her face, that same spray dried now to a salty layer on her blistered skin. Within an hour, the boat had coughed to a stop. What followed was a frustrating series of events: no cell signal, a flare gun but no flares, no response when Marcie tried the boat radio, and – after several hours – no sign of anyone, the horizon unbroken all the way around them.

Marcie looked at Sharon, slumped against the bow, knowing she was hoping for a breeze to cool her burning skin. Marcie picked up the last water bottle, frowned at the drops remaining, and carried it to her mother. Sitting next to her, she touched her shoulder. “Mother, here, drink this.”

Sharon slowly opened her eyes, looked at the bottle. “Is that all there is?” Her voice was dry, rasping.

“Yes, but-” Sharon reached for the bottle, Marcie watching the water disappear down her mother’s throat.

Sharon looked up. “What.”

Marcie looked into her mother’s familiar, bitter eyes. Why would things be different now? As if watching a fast-moving slide show, Marcie saw the pictures of her life – the screaming, pain, blinding fear, darkened closets, even restraints. She saw her mother’s grimace, her sneer…never a smile. Even now in the searing heat, her face blistered, Marcie shivered.

Marcie felt her resolve strengthening. “Oh nothing,” she said, “I shouldn’t have expected you to think about me when you drank the last of the water.”

“Always the martyr,” Sharon mumbled, dropping her head back and closing her eyes. “Not enough there to keep either of us alive, much less both of us.” Suddenly, Sharon opened her eyes again, narrowed them at Marcie. “You did this, didn’t you.” It was not a question.

“Did what?” “You brought me out here to kill me. I thought the ‘healing time’ story was nuts.”

Marcie’s eyes widened. “Kill you? Look at me, mother! We could both die!”

Sharon’s narrowed eyes were barely slits. “You still hate me for your father.”

Marcie felt her jaw clench. Her father, a quiet, gentle man, had died suddenly just over a year ago. Marcie loved him, never blamed him for not doing more to protect her. How could he? He was a victim, too. “What I hate is he died instead of you.”

Marcie’s words seemed to buoy her mother. Her eyes widened and she smiled slightly. “Well now. That’s been a long time coming.” She looked around, her eyes squinting against the sun. “Looks like you’ll get your wish. Except,” she said, looking Marcie in the eye, “I’ll be taking you with me.”

“That’s one thing Daddy never had,” Marcie said, ignoring the last statement. “A chance. I’m surprised he didn’t die sooner of a broken heart.”

“Oh please. That codger would have lived forever.”

It took Marcie a moment to fully realize her mother’s words. She stared at her. “‘What do you mean ‘would have’?”

Sharon frowned, perhaps sorry her weakened state had loosened her tongue. “Well, I guess that’s one we’ll both take to the grave.”

A long silence passed between them. “How?” Marcie finally asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“He never paid attention to his medicines. He had no idea what I was giving him.”

Marcie stood slowly, backing away. When she reached the radio, she picked up the mic, holding it to her mouth. Still staring at her mother, she keyed the mic. “Now,” she said into it.

Sharon sat up. She looked behind her, her eyes widening as she saw something fast approaching in the distance. She turned back to Marcie, her eyes murderous, but her body to weak to react.

Fifteen minutes later, Marcie sighed as Reggie gently helped her hold a water bottle. “Did it work?”

“She passed, I failed.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought she’d never change. That she’d be evil to the end. She was, even with what she thought was her final breath. She passed.”

“And you?”

“I come from her. I thought I had enough of her in me to do what I needed to do. I thought I could be a killer too.” She swallowed. “I failed.”

Reggie glanced over his shoulder at Sharon calmly looking out the window of his boat. “I’m glad, really,” he said.

“We’ll let the legal system do what I couldn’t,” Marcie said.

She waited until her mother looked up, then allowed herself to enjoy watching the woman’s face as she reached under her blouse and pulled a small recorder out of the waistband of her shorts.

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