The last writephoto of 2021 has to be upbeat, yes?
Sprat Murs indicated off the main road and slowed as the drive to the house narrowed. ‘They’re really looking forward to seeing you, Jess.’
Jessica Skinniebrow wrinkled her forehead and peered through the trees at the welcoming lights, flickering as they passed. ‘You sure it’s okay? You said it was a special weekend and…’
‘Hey, you’re special. You need to get to know the fam better.’
‘Yes, but…’ Jess liked Sprat’s parents, well mostly his father, a big moustachioed walrus of a man whose laughter seemed almost seismic, the way it shook everything but meeting them in London had been fine until…
‘If you’re thinking about the Aquarium, don’t. Mum doesn’t like any sort of zoo, so it was my bad, not thinking she might go off on one when she realised what we were passing.
Off on one? That was one way to describe her berating of the staff and the way she covered her ears like…. ‘Just remind me what’s happening this weekend.’
Sprat pulled over and put the car in park. Beyond the last line of trees, a comfortable cabin shone with amber lighting which reflected on the large pond in front. ‘It’s Morphmas. We celebrate our ancestors’ journey here with a weekend of fun and reflection. We…’
‘And I’ll get to meet your brothers and sisters and…’
He laughed; he had the beginnings of a rumble like his dad. ‘Yes they’re all making the journey.’
‘It’s only… you said they would be 20 and with the best will in the world the house doesn’t look like it can house everyone.’ Jess did not do doubling up.
‘It’ll be fine. There’s lots of space outside.’
‘They’ll be camping?’
He nodded, pulling open the car door. ‘After a fashion. Come on, let’s go and say hi.’
The evening passed easily enough; well most of it. Her parents were more relaxed in their own home, Sprat’s baby sister was willowy and beautiful though she had a real hissy fit when Jess split some water on her and she rushed out to the bathroom followed by her mother. It was almost laughable, like she’d poured boiling liquid on her leg. The one sour note arose as they were readying for bed. Sprat’s mother made a little speech about family and then reminded everyone that the wild swim would begin at 8.30 and no one should be late.
Jess recalled Sprat’s mention of a family swim but he’d made it sound a sort of informal plunge not something so … so scripted. And anyway Jess didn’t like to get her hair wet before breakfast as it took ages to dry. She leant close to her boyfriend. ‘It will be okay if I sit it out, won’t it?’
The hushed silence told her that (a) everyone had heard and (b) no, it would not.
Sprat hugged her and whispered, ‘I told you, love, it’s part of Morphmas. You can sit in the shallows…’
Mrs Murs narrowed her eyes. ‘You told me you’d explained, Sprat. Does Jess not understand?’
Sprat looked very awkward. ‘I thought it easier if she saw for herself.’
The atmosphere began very tense and Jess was delighted when Sprat eased her upstairs.
But he had become pretty moody and monosyllabic. ‘You’ll see.’
Jess didn’t really sleep well but was in the middle of a complicated dream when the alarm on her phone told her it was 8. Rubbing her eyes, she looked for Sprat but he’d already got up. She stood and walked to the window, drawn by the voices outside. As she looked down, she blinked, almost gasped and then laughed. Lined up along the side of the swimming pond the male members of the family stood with their backs to her. Each one, including she noticed Sprat was naked. On the opposite bank and equally starkers lined the women.
Skinny dipping. That’s what he’d not explained. Well, she could do that, if that was what this weird celebration involved. She was no prude.
Slipping out of her pyjamas and pulling on the robe draped over the end of the bed, she hurried downstairs. As she exited the large patio doors, Sprat looked round and grinned. ‘You need to join the maids.’
Another part of the ritual she supposed as the skirted the pond and tried hard not to check the men on the opposite bank. They were, as were all the women – maids? – very fit and, erm, large. Good gene poll, Jess thought and discretely pulled in her stomach as she slipped out of her robe, shivering slightly.
Mrs Murs waved her to a space to her left. ‘He told you, did he?‘
Jess shook her head. ‘I guessed when I saw you.’
Mrs Murs glanced across. ‘Did you? Was it the name?’
Mrs Murs looked at her wrist, checking the time. ‘It should be Mers, of course, but Codling insisted on the corruption, keep a low profile, you know? Felt it might be more discrete.’
Mrs Murs wasn’t listening. ‘Time!’
With that both men and women – maids – dived into the swimming pond. In an instant the pool frothed with exuberant activity. Sprat appeared in front of Jess. ‘Come on, jump in. The maids will give you a ride.’
Jess was about to ask what he meant when his sister leapt in the air exposing a long, sleek salmon pink tail where once her legs were. She looked back to Sprat, who was on his back, slapping the water with his tail, a sort of British Racing green, rippling muscle thingy. ‘You’re a mer… merman?’
‘Tada. For most of us, Morphmas is the only day of the year when we can revert. For the rest they revert whenever they contact water. They stayed in the pool overnight. That’s why my little sis, Dab was so upset last night. She didn’t want to revert until today. I thought it might freak you out if I just told you. This way you see how normal we are.’
Jess stared around at the madcap manoeuvres of these chimera and wondered who was more bonkers. ‘Oh sure, this feels so normal. Why do you not change except today?’
‘We fell for a human. If we kiss it stops us changing back.’
Jess tried to remember their first kiss, wondering if it was memorable at all. ‘Me?’
‘Terry Hottie in year 11, but you’re the main reason I’m happy as I am.’
Jess tried not to look disappointed.
‘Come on, come in. I want to show you something.’
Jess sniffed, remembering the sight of Sprat’s father and how she would never be able to unsee it. ‘I think I’ve seen pretty much everything I want to, thanks.’
Sprat’s eyes sparkled. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve not wondered what it’s like to make love to a merman. Can you imagine what it’s like?’
Jess studied the half fish people, they way they thrashed about and slide easily through the water. ‘Complicated?’ she answered and grinned as she slipped into the water.