(Part 1 can be found here.)
“Hello,” she said.
“You’ve never come up here before.”
“I was just thinking that.”
“I always wondered if you intentionally didn’t come up here, or if it just never occurred to you.”
“I think habit and repetition are to blame. My routine is always to walk up this branch, climb up the large slabs, then cut across the hill to the other fall.”
“What made you decide to come up here this time?”
“I don’t know. I was curious about what it looked like up here.”
“Are your impressed?” At this she flashed me a very self-satisfied smile.
“Very much so. This little channel you’ve cut is quite spectacular.”
She giggled and looked all the more smug. “I’ll have you know, I managed this in just under eight thousand years.”
I told her that was quite impressive.
“Oh pfft. You’re just saying that.” She flashed me that grin again. “But you’re sweet for saying it.”
We sat in silence for a moment. Her ermine foot sloshed casually in the rushing stream, and where the water touched her skin the two mingled and dissolved into one another. When she noticed I was looking she recreated her toes, pulled them out of the water, and wiggled them at me.
“May I ask your name?”
Apparently she wasn’t prepared for that question. She gazed downstream and ran her fingers through the aqua locks of her hair. “Ondine,” she said after a moment. “Yes, I think I will be Ondine for you.”
“How do you know a word like that?”
“You looked it up before you began writing this story.”
“You have access to my mind beyond this memory?”
Another giggle. “Of course. Your thoughts and I have regular intercourse. And furthermore, I am not confined to this one memory. You’ve been here many times, and this place is very important to you.”
“It is probably the most beautiful part of the farm.”
She leaned in close to me, so that I could feel the spray of her hair on my face. There was pride in her emerald eyes, and moisture on her lips.
“Come, let us climb down. I do not want you falling and getting hurt, especially since this is the first time you have been up here. You will have to circle back around the way you came. I will meet you below.”
I tried to protest, but she laughed and leapt off the cliff. I made my way back down the hill between the falls and into the lower creek bed. Ondine was standing directly under the fall, and the water mingled with her flowing hair and ran in sheets down her body.
“Will you join me?”
“I’m afraid I have to pass. I don’t really want to walk back to the cabin soaking wet.”
She feigned indignance. “If you’re going to spurn me, at least think of a better excuse.” Her voice was louder than before, stronger in tenor.
I tried to think of a more satisfactory reason, but before I could Ondine grabbed my arm and pulled me under the water. My memory had indeed grown sharper, and the water was icy cold. I jerked out almost immediately and shivered.
Ondine laughed. “How silly of me. I forgot that you have grown weak in your old age. Once you swam in my sister’s waters in February.” She wrapped her fingers around my hand and guided it back into the water. It was cool, almost lukewarm. When she drew the rest of me into the fall I did not resist.
“The water has never been this warm,” I said.
“This is your memory. It is as warm or cold as you want it to be.”
“But memories come from real experiences. We cannot change them.”
This time her laugh was full and husky, and echoed off the hollowed cliff face behind us. “And just what is your explanation for me, hmm?”
“Well, either you are a projection of my knowledge of Greek mythology onto my personal recollection of this place, or else the mind’s eye sees more than the waking eye, and you have always been here, and I too blind to see you.”
“My scientist! Such rational thought tempered with whimsy. If only I could keep you here to lecture me all day long. I think we both would learn so very much.”
“I’m afraid to say anything, now, since you imply that I am wide of the mark. Please enlighten me, Professor Ondine.”
“Oh, but I have so little experience in teaching philosophy,” she said. “I would surely make many mistakes, especially if I accidentally tell you the truth.”
I stepped out from under the fall and leaned against the cliff face. Rather than being sheer and flat, it bowled inward, such that above me the shelf of the fall jutted out and obscured the sun. Ondine remained in the cascade, and whereas the water had splashed upon me and scattered everywhere, it streamed down the curves of her body without any displacement, as if she was a part of the fall and not an intruder into it.
“The expression, ‘not seeing the forest for the trees’ comes to mind.”
I furrowed my brow. “What?”
She pressed herself against the rock face next to me. “If you are not going to bother with the obvious, I suppose we can indulge in the obscure.”
“Shameless. You thought of the words.” She slid closer. I worried that she would scrape herself on the rock. “Do you flatter me, or yourself?”
“I do not think that is a fair question. You cannot assert and deny your own agency. But for the record, I was flattering you.”
“Then I am afraid you have made a grave mistake, for you have made a poor showing of it. I will not stand for mediocre flattery.”
“But will you sit for it?”
That at least garnered me a giggle. “I might be inclined to recline for it.” She scrunched up her face. “I’ll thank you not to give me any more lines like that. If you want to turn phrases like that, feel free. But do not saddle me with such syntactical silliness.”
This time I was the one who laughed, at both the laborious alliteration and the fact that I had made her say it. She stuck her tongue out at me and splashed me with her hair. She was probably trying to distract me, so I would not notice that she was afraid.