The first time the Misna tried to drown Admos was after his wife miscarried.
“You smell of grief,” the Misna said. “And you look lost.”
Admos paused at the lake’s edge, watching her through red-rimmed eyes. “You could say that.”
There were no insects humming around them. The silence crouched and waited.
“You must be tired.” The Misna pushed her shoulders back, stretching in the water. “Come and relax.”
Magic stung Admos’ lips. Something inside him longed to step into the water. The Misna inched forward, rising so that the lake lapped around her ribs, and held out her arms to him. “Just take a few minutes.” Her gaze gleamed with promise. “I can take the pain away.”
Admos strained for any sound, but the world held its breath. He looked closer at the Misna. She held unnaturally still, her mouth parted just enough that the tips of her incisors were visible. The water made her look ethereal, a thing of soft skin and full lips. Yet she lacked the quiet beauty of his Janie, who handled grief with dark circles and unbending strength.
In the end, Admos refused her. “I have someone waiting for me.”
The Misna watched him go with an unblinking stare. The mosquitos renewed their whining.
The second time was after Admos lost his job.
It was the tense light in Janie’s eyes that sent him walking. Guilt made him restless. They wanted to try for another child, but how could they with money so tight? He rose in the night and walked, and kept walking, until he ended up at the lake before realizing where his legs had carried him.
The Misna was waiting for him. “You were here before.” She inched forward. A line of pale gold scales marched down her spine. “Won’t you come for swim? Exercise will relieve the stress.”
“Can’t do that. Janie’s got enough to deal with.”
“Janie,” the Misna echoed, her lips pouting. “So this is the woman that makes my job so difficult.”
Admos chuckled. “She’s a lot to compete with.”
“The best ones are,” the Misna said, her voice humorous. She paused. “Why did you come back?”
“I don’t know,” Admos admitted, feeling a little foolish. “I don’t have it in me to be at home or alone right now.”
The Misna paused. “You can stay.” She pulled a snail from her shoulder. “And I won’t even try to drown you—this time.”
He smiled despite himself, settling in the grass. Silence stretched between them for the better part of an hour, but it was a comfortable quiet, the sinking kind. Their only interruption was a bullfrog, croaking tentatively from the reeds.
When Admos finally rose to leave, the Misna inclined her head to the side and asked, “Will you visit me again?”
“Will you try to kill me?”
She grinned. “Perhaps.”
The third time, the Misna tried only out of politeness.
“You’re tired,” she said, a coy smirk on her lips.
“I am. But I’m retiring early,” Admos said, watching the mayflies dance over the water. “I want to spend more time with Janie.”
The Misna twisted a piece of hyacinth around her finger. “You know what helps with weariness?”
Admos rolled his eyes. He remembered being young, how the Misna’s beauty had awed him. Now she just reminded him of how Janie looked when she was younger, rosy-cheeked and bright eyed. “Do those lines actually work?”
The Misna’s laughed, a clear peal of noise that rang through the air. “They do work, yes. It’s almost disappointing.” The Misna rolled onto her back, bobbing in the still water. “You smell of sadness, too, under the exhaustion—why have you come back?”
Admos shrugged, a slow, heavy gesture. “Janie’s in the hospital again,” he said, the words stinging his throat. “Guess I didn’t want to be alone.”
The Misna went still. “Will she be healed?”
Admos spun his wedding band around his finger, his thumb catching on a scuffed patch on the gold. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “These days I just don’t know.”
It wasn’t until a year after Janie died that Admos returned to the lake. The sky was drenched in a garish, cotton candy sunset, the kind Janie had always loved because it was almost too colorful to be believable.
When the world slipped into night Misna surfaced. Her eyes widened at the sight of Admos. A stream of bubbles escaped her lips as a smile cracked her face. “You came back.”
“You look smaller.”
“Old people shrink.”
“I’m older than you,” the Misna sniffed. A few damp seconds stretched between them as she inhaled, and alarmed flared in her face. “You’re ill.”
Admos snorted. “You should work for my oncologist. Would have saved me a lot of money and time.”
The Misna’s face fell. “Can you be healed?”
Admos sucked on a tooth. “They’ve already tried.” He took a slow, careful step into the water. He wiggled his toes in the muck, relishing the chill against his burning joints. “Where do they go, when you take them?”
“Your tongue doesn’t have the words for it.”
Admos hesitated, and looked at her squarely. “Does it hurt?”
The Misna stiffened. “I won’t let it. Not for you.” The lake wrapped around her calves as she stood. She looked sidelong at him. “You were always my favorite, you know.”
He smiled. “Is that why you never drowned me?”
The Misna snorted. “Oh, I wanted to. But you’re stubborn.” She paused, her eyes falling to where the lake wrapped around Admos’ legs. “Are you certain?”
Admos reached forward and took the Misna’s hand. Her skin was cool and smooth, she squeezed his fingers as if working up enough courage for both of them.
A loon called from the edge of the lake. Admos drew in a long breath. “I’m ready to see Janie again.”
Together they walked forward, and the water closed over their heads.
Rebecca Mix is a fantasy writer, book lover, and hoarder of houseplants. Her fiction has appeared in Aphelion, 101words, Story Seed Vault, and is forthcoming in Asymmetry, Alternative Truths 2, and elsewhere. For more of her work, you find her at rebeccamix.com or catch the occasional pun at @rebeccarmix on twitter.