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To the Rocks by K.G. Delmare

I first realized that I was a siren in preschool. We sat in a circle, singing some nursery rhyme that I've long since forgotten the name of. A boy in my class, dizzied by the sound of my voice, ran into a wall and concussed himself. My mother was promptly called, and she sat me down that evening for a stern conversation.

"Jolene," she had said, in a tone so hardened it was abrasive to my young ears, "you need to learn to keep your voice to yourself. It'll cause you a lot of trouble if you're not careful."

The ability to sing a siren song had a way of skipping generations. My mother didn't have it, but her grandmother before her had. In this sense, she had more experience with its difficulties than I could hope to have at such a tender age. She was the one who had to witness the tumult of her relationship with my grandfather, the one who had to watch their brutal divorce when he finally got wind of her deceptive song.

I had done a good job of adhering to her words for the earliest part of my life. I kept my voice in check and made sure to not cause anymore of the boys in my class to run into walls. As I got older, however, and puberty reared its ugly head, I became rebellious. I auditioned for the school musical, belting notes without any care for my mother's warning. This came to its logical conclusion when a boy working behind the scenes fell into a large light fixture. Once again, word found its way back to my mother.

At this particular display of recklessness, she chose a different approach. Every night, as I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, she read to me from The Odysse, a stark warning of what I could do to men if I wasn't careful. She recited the words with such severity that I found them indelibly etched in my mind. After many nights hearing the plight of Odysseus and the terrible call of the siren song, I decided that I would quiet myself for good for the chance to be normal.

Rather than have my heart broken by my own doing, I chose a life of isolation and solitude, telling myself that all I needed was my own company and that I could be content with it. It was a lie, and a bitter one, but I deemed living that way less painful than whatever woes surely awaited me if I dared to expose myself to the world.

By the time I got to college, I had worked diligently at making sure I lived a life where I was always quieted. I never did anything remotely showy, never participated in class even when it cost me good grades. My highest priority was making a life for myself where I, and more importantly, my family, would never have to suffer the pains of my voice. Most of my university career went on without incident, and I was happy to be silent. Or so I told myself.

The first time I met Caroline, it was at our university's annual club showcase. In my three and a half years at school, I had come to see the yearly event as nothing more than an obstacle between me and my next class. At this particular showcase, however, Caroline was running the booth for the choir club, and she just happened to flag me down as I attempted to rush from classic literature to psychology.

All I heard from her was a quick "Hey!" and she got my attention. Once I got a look at her, I never stood a chance. I'd never seen a girl so beautiful in my entire life. She was perfect. Brown freckles cascaded down the expanse of her face, and a halo of thick, dark hair framed her high cheekbones. Her black eyes looked into mine and I was gripped. She could have sold me a bridge.

"Hey," I said, stopping in front of the booth. Me. At the choir club booth.

"I've seen you before," she said, and I thought she was wrong, because I surely would have remembered a face as beautiful as hers. But still, if it gave us reason to keep talking, I'd let it work for me.

"Oh yeah?" I said. "Maybe we've had a class together."

"Maybe," she said. "Listen, I'm sorry to bug you, but I'm supposed to be pulling people over getting them to join the club. Do you like singing?"

Here's what I wanted to say: Nope. Never. Absolutely not.

Here's what I did say: "Sometimes."

She smiled, wide and dazzling, and I felt my heart pulse feverishly in my chest. "Then you should totally join our club." She paused to chew on the inside of her cheek. "I know I'm coming on kind of strong, but they really want us to drive up membership. You know how club leaders are."

She rolled her eyes at this. I had never been a part of any club, so I had no clue how these aforementioned leaders were, but right then I would have said nearly anything to maintain the conversation.

"Yeah, I get what you mean," I said. "What's your name, by the way?"

She laughed, and the sound was so sweet. "Oh, I'm so sorry," she said. "I went ahead on the sales pitch and completely forgot to introduce myself. I'm Caroline."

She held out her hand for me to shake, and I did. Even her grip seemed graceful. I found it in me to smile back at her.

"Jolene," I said. "It's nice to meet you."

"Well, Jolene," said Caroline with a wry, victorious sort of grin, "welcome to the choir club."

And so I had gone against every harsh lesson I'd internalized, joining the one club I would never want any part of, all because a pretty face had asked it of me. I'd always been a sucker for beautiful women, pining over them in my own privacy, but this had been a new low.

I decided to keep this foolish decision a secret from my mother, who would undoubtedly show no mercy in declaring me to be reckless and ignorant. Something told me that I'd made a serious mistake, but something of even more fortitude told me not to let Caroline down. Ultimately, I decided that I would go to just one meeting and lip sync my way through. Easy.

It seemed obstacles were set to be thrown my way from the very beginning. At the first meeting, as everyone around me brought out prepared sheet music, I realized that I had likely missed some crucial orientation process. The end result was me sitting foolishly in the choir room with no necessary materials to speak of. I remained in my seat, frozen in an anxious body, and tried to melt into the scenery.

But then, there was Caroline. She entered the room like a wind sweeping through and sat right beside me. She took one quick glance at me and noticed what was missing right away. And so she smiled that same sweet grin, so full of promise and perfection, and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

"Hey," she whispered, leaning in so close that I could smell the sugary, delicate scent of her perfume, "you can look on with me."

This proposition terrified me for a number of reasons. For one, I was setting myself up to be right up against Caroline. But beyond that, I couldn't just mouth along the words with her beside me. I stood with her, shoulder to shoulder over the sheet music and close enough to hear her breathe, and sang in public for the first time since I was a child.

Years of warnings from my mother, years of listening to the story of Odysseus tied to the mast, crying out for the rocks went into oblivion as I dared to use my voice, all because Caroline had wanted me there. Together, we created a harmony that seemed to strike me at my core. For the first time in my life, I was happy to hear my own voice, just as long as it was intertwined with hers.

Of course, I was more than conscious of the punishment I’d now surely receive, having been audacious enough to sing in front of men. I sat watching the room disperse after practice had ended, glued to my seat for fear of witnessing what disaster would surely transpire next. As I sat in that same seat, one of the boys who had been singing in the front row approached me. His fingers fumbled awkwardly on the strap of his backpack, seemingly unable to meet my eyes.

"Can I help you?" I asked, mouth dry.

"Do you want to go out sometime?" he blurted out. This was it. I caught the dazed look in his eyes, and I instantly felt shame washing hard and cold over me. All of my mother's warnings flew to the forefront of my mind then, chastising me for daring to rebel once again, after I'd worked so hard to achieve something like normalcy.

But then, once the shock had worn away and I was left standing in that same spot, I couldn't help but find myself wondering: was that it this time? Just a dizzied freshman asking for a date? I felt as if, for once, I could handle the situation.

"Sorry," I said with an air of something I certainly hoped looked like poise, "but I'm not interested."

"What?" he asked, sounding completely distraught. Rejected and stirred up by a siren song, he walked away from me dejected. I felt pity, but not nearly enough to indulge his most delirious of requests.

I felt something warm and hopeful glowing deep within me then. If something as simple as that was all I had to worry about, surely I could handle all the burden of being a part of the choir club. Surely I could do anything. And I had learned that I could all because of Caroline.

I left the choir room that day with a new sort of vivacity in me, something altogether strong and bold, for once feeling free of the many romantic calamities that had befallen my ancestors. For the first time, Odysseus at the mast didn't matter. I felt like I was being given a chance to finally, truly live, and I had Caroline to thank for it.

A strong, new, and completely lovesick friendship developed between Caroline and I after that first meeting. We sat next to each other at every meeting, texted each other regularly, met between classes and talked of graduation soon on the horizon. I had been more than pleased to have her attention, with a deep, secret affection buried in the depths of my heart. I felt better than I perhaps ever had, enjoying something that had long since been forbidden: living. The boys kept approaching me after every practice, but I didn't care, because I was able to sing, and I was able to be close to Caroline.

The joy could only last so long, of course. I still lived at home, and that meant living with a mother who was determined to reign in any bit of joy I felt. With that maternal sort of instinct, she seemed to notice straight away that something about my demeanor had changed. I'd only gotten away with it for a couple of weeks before she started asking what I had been up to, how school was going. I had gotten bold in my newfound joy, had come out and told her the truth: "I'm in the choir club, and I love it."

The look she gave me then was one of utmost disappointment, so filled with discontent with me that I could hardly bear to look at her. Even now, I could remember her in that moment perfectly, preserved in the depths of my memory with just how disconcerted she appeared. She stared at me from across the short space of our kitchen, a dishrag in one hand as it rested firmly on her hip. I sat at the dining table, feeling quite small.

"You're being reckless," she said finally, looking deep into me, permeating my defenses and wearing me out with a stare. "I didn't raise you this way. You know what your voice does to men."

"I don't even like boys, Mom," I snapped in a tizzy of frustration. "You know I'm gay."

"That doesn't make a difference," she said. "You don't get it. A siren's voice will always get her into trouble. How many times do I have to tell you?"

"Mom," I said, trying to meet her gaze without fear, "You're the one who doesn't get it. I sing, and none of that old weird stuff happens anymore. Some guys ask me out after the meeting and that's it. I really think I can do this."

She kept right on looking at me, and let out a heavy sigh. "Jolene, you're being stubborn. I've warned you about your voice. It's a dangerous thing, and you can't run around just using it whenever you want, especially when it comes to singing."

For a moment, as she eyed me over the brief distance, I felt my fear suddenly melt away, and in its place grew something rebellious and loud. My longstanding propensity to be silent and submissive was fading, and my mother couldn't just put it back where it came from.

"I'm not quitting," I said, firm and defiant. "I like being in the club. It makes me happy. I won't quit."

My mother grimaced, her eyes narrowing as I sat up straight and solid in my chair. "I'm just trying to warn you, Jolene," she said. I was prepared to fight her on this. I didn't want to give up the one thing that had made me feel truly alive now that I had it grasped tight in my hands. I wouldn't let her take it from me.

"I won't quit," I repeated. "You can't make me."

Perhaps I was being childish. Perhaps my mother was right all along, and I was just being pigheaded and self-centered. Still, as I sat before her on that quiet afternoon, I for the first time refused to stand down and do as I was told. In my mind, there was far too much at stake to just let it go. Giving up on choir meant giving up on Caroline. And that was completely out of the question.

"Fine," said my mother, turning her back to me and returning to the kitchen. "Do what you want. You're an adult now. But know that your voice will only ever cause you trouble. Remember that I told you that."

The very next day, after practice was done and the usual small crowd of boys came and went asking for my affections, a freshman who performed in the front row of the class approached me. She smiled up at me timidly, one hand rubbing her opposite arm in what looked to be an attempt at calming her nerves.

"Jolene," she said, "I just wanted to tell you that I think your voice is beautiful."

From that moment on, I knew my mother was truly wrong. Maybe her voice had gotten her into trouble, but I had faith that I could be better than all the sirens who had come before me, that I could transcend the limits of our voices and let myself sing freely. I would do it, with Caroline beside me, harmonizing all the way.

By the time that spring arrived, warm and kind in its ways, Caroline and I were the best of friends, with me still deeply enamored with her and everything she did. It seemed each day gave me a new reason to love her, one more day to be by her side and enjoy her company. In it all, one thing was clear: I was in deep, and as far as I could tell she still had no idea.

But our situation wasn't without its problems. Graduation was fast coming. Caroline and I would soon be moving on from college, and I had come to learn that she lived all the way across the border up in the far-off land of Canada, where she intended to return once she graduated. Our weeks together had suddenly become precious and few.

After practice, once the boys who had been caught up in my voice cleared away, Caroline and I were left in the choir room putting our things away together, as we so often did.

"Listen," she said abruptly, "do you wanna go do something sometime this Saturday?"

I wrinkled my nose, looking up at her. "You mean like we always do?"

She smiled, but avoided my eyes. "Well, no, not quite," she said. "I mean… more like a date."

I could have burst into stardust itself right there. Caroline—perfect, beautiful Caroline—was asking me on a date, for real and officially. I couldn't have possibly answered fast enough, the words bungling themselves behind my lips and managing to come out in a messy, but still legible: "Of course!"

It had all been wrong. All of the distress my mother had heaped upon me, all of the worries and woes of being a siren had melted away with this little bit of good fortune. I had been allowed to sing, and now something a little bit like love was finally mine. For the first time in my entire life, I felt as if I could be just like everyone else on campus, I felt as if I could live life as it had always been meant to be, full and rich and composed of beautiful things that I finally had access to.

Our first date had been nothing more than a walk in the park, striding slowly past the trees and making our way through the depths of the greenery as we talked over our plans for the future and the way that choir club was going. It was so simple, but so very perfect. For me, who had spent a life avoiding birthday parties and get-togethers, to finally be able to indulge in the simple pleasure of a first date had been nothing short of miraculous in my eyes. Our hands fumbled and found each other, and I thought I might cry.

Just as the day was drawing to a close, and we stood in front of Caroline's house, she looked at me in the darkness and smiled. "Can I kiss you?" she asked, and I had to pause to remember to breathe before I promptly nodded. Her lips met mine, and the world finally felt complete.

Caroline and I quietly became an official couple not long after that, and I entered what I readily considered to be the happiest time of my life. In truth, things didn't change that much. It wasn't a far leap from best friend to lover, just a matter of additions. For instance, I could count on her to kiss me on the cheek when she entered the choir room every week, and she would expect me to wait for her outside the room of her day's final class. We were in a constant state of eagerly anticipating each other, looking for the warmth of the other's arms and luxuriating in the glow of our newfound romance. With each other, we were complete.

Not long after our union, however, I began to notice something strange. The boys kept approaching me after practice as usual, and now I had a girlfriend to prop up as evidence that I was indeed not interested. That wasn't the strange part, though. After practice, along with the usual gaggle of guys who were certain that I was seeking their love, girls began to show up.

At first, I chalked this up to mere displays of burgeoning friendship. But soon enough, one of them had The Conversation with me. A young girl approached me after practice, awkwardly playing with a thick braid that sat over her shoulder. She struggled to meet my eyes, and finally made her intentions plain: "Jolene, do you want to go out sometime?"

It felt as if a rock had settled in the pit of my stomach. My voice was attracting girls just as much as it was boys. I thought back to that day after the fight with my mother, when that girl had approached me to compliment my voice. How long had this been going on?

Through it all, I came to one abrupt realization that made me feel quite ill: Caroline. She had asked me out right around the time that first girl approached me. Our entire relationship had been built on deception, built on a foundation that would ultimately cause its destruction, just like my grandmother before me. I began to question every moment we'd spent together as a couple, wondering in horror whether Caroline truly knew me at all.

"I'm sorry," I said in a parched voice, "I have to go."

I hurried past the girl and out of the room, away from Caroline, away from everything. I felt compelled to run, but I had no clue where to go. I walked through the winding halls of school, past the concrete and grass that made up the campus, and felt all the while as if I was drowning on dry land. I finally laid down at the base of a tree on the quad, staring up at the sunspots and blue abyss that made up the sky ahead of me.

I closed my eyes and behind my lids I saw all the stories I had been told over the course of my young life. I saw Odysseus tied to his mast, crying to his crew to break their ship upon the rocks. And there I was, singing the song that created his delirium. There was Caroline, following the sound of my voice to sure destruction.

My mother had been right, of course. All along, I followed my own siren song down a path of selfishness and pain, and I had unwittingly put Caroline right into the crosshairs, gotten her into a relationship by manipulation and trickery. As I lay there, dizzied and worn, one thing became abundantly clear: I had done this. My next task was to undo it.

Graduation arrived rather quickly, but my mind was wracked with the struggle of trying to figure out how to break things off with Caroline. It seemed simple: tell her how I had deceived her, go through our inevitable breakup, and we would split up off to our respective homes, forever separate with this whole debacle behind us. The thought of going through with the breakup itself put dread deep inside of me, but I couldn't bear to deceive Caroline anymore. She deserved better than that.

I decided to tell her at graduation. At first, it seemed like a reckless sort of plan, to dampen our big day. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I didn't have a choice. It would be our last day together before we went our separate ways, and it would give us the freedom to deal with the pain apart, without the burden of having to see each other around campus or in the halls.

On graduation day, the choir club had its traditional yearly performance. I had graciously been given a solo, and I took the opportunity to sing as loud as I could, as freely as I wanted, all without the pain that I had been made to carry. I knew that it would likely be the last time I ever sang. I knew now what trouble it would cause.

My mother, of course, had been right all along. A siren's voice was nothing but a problem, and I had been more than reckless with mine. As I stood with the choir, my mother watching on in the audience, I decided to give it my all. I wanted to sing with all the passion I could muster, to breathe in and exhale every emotion I'd felt over the past few weeks and expel them into the air, where they could be free. I wanted to do it there, at the ceremony, with every eye on the university's lawn poised in my direction.

I heard the sound of my own voice echo through the microphone and across the lawn, and I thought of Odysseus. I could see him in my mind's eye, so clear and so real that he might have stood right before me. I defied the story. I didn't sing to usher him and his men onto the rocks. I sang to bring myself home. I sang to rid myself of all the pain I'd been holding onto since I was a child, warned against loving myself. As I performed, I realized that it would likely be the last time I ever sang anywhere, for anyone, and tears that could be disguised as graduation sentimentality slipped down my face.

When the songs were over, and the choir broke apart, I expected what came next. An awkward group of boys came to my side, sure that I had been singing to them. I paid them no mind. My eyes were firmly set on Caroline. I had to find her, to let her know the truth before we went our separate ways forever. My heart threatened to burst under the cumbersome weight of my own sorrow, and I combed through the crowd to make my way to her. She wasn't far, standing off beside the rows of chairs now that we had descended from the stage.

"Jolene," she said, cupping my face in her hands, "you were perfect. I've never heard you sound so good before."

I tried to get the words out, but instead I began to cry. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks, wet and pathetic, and I sobbed against the sweet touch of her fingers. A warm, understanding look crossed her face, because of course it did. She was always so kind, always so giving, and I had been cruel enough to take her to the rocks.

"Don't cry, Jolene," she said softly. "It's okay."

"You don't understand," I said. "Caroline, I'm a siren. It's all a lie, everything we've been through. You don't really love me. It's just my voice."

Her eyes went wide, and her mouth slightly agape. Her hands stayed at my face, and they bore down and held onto me tighter. I continued to cry, tears slipping out hot as shame from my eyes.

"Jolene," she said, "can I kiss you? Please?"

In spite of myself, I nodded. She leaned forward and pressed our lips together, and it was so tame and so sincere that I began to cry harder. When she pulled away, her eyes looked deep into mine, and they sparkled with something I couldn't name.

"You're so silly," she said.


"Jolene, I loved you before a word even came out of your mouth," she said with a hint of a well-meaning laugh on her lips. "Remember the day we met? Why do you think I pulled you over out of everyone in the room that day?"


She laughed. "Do you really believe that I thought we had a class together?"

"Caroline," I breathed, "are you serious?"

"I would never lie to you," she said.

She kissed me again, there in the field behind the school. In front of the whole student body, in front of my mother, we stood together and shared something beautiful and real. Like Odysseus, I had braved the storm and was unleashed from the mast. Now, I could be filled up with love until I burst into song, free for the first time.


K.G. Delmare is a Brooklyn-born writer who loves the ocean, music videos and game show bloopers. They've always had a strong affinity for Greek mythology, and love to put it into their stories. Their work has previously been featured in Flash Fiction Magazine and Queerly Reads. You can find them on Twitter @KGDelmare.

Author's note

"To the Rocks" is just one of several stories that I've written related to Greek myths and legends. While many of my other works have focused on the pantheon of gods, I was struck with an idea to delve into the mysterious sirens who are so central to the narrative of The Odyssey. I wanted to write a story that made them human, and one that implemented my passion for writing about the LGBTQ+ community. I surveyed quite a few literary magazines when looking for places to submit to, and Carmina stuck out because of its focus on mythology. I thought my little story would find a good home here, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to share my work with you all here.