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The Mermaid

The Mermaid

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 by Jennifer Hatfield

 

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The Mermaid

 

He saw her one night, a long time ago. He was small, sitting in the back of his father’s boat, bundled up in an old windbreaker. He stared out at the water, sleepy eyed, his skin still warm from too much sun. She crested in the boat’s wake, swept back her long hair and hovered in the shifting darkness. Her eyes followed them.

He remembered pulling his father’s sleeve, trying to get his attention before she sank beneath the water. When she vanished he thought he caught a glimpse of the tail of a fish, impossibly large and glistening in the moonlight, as it kicked once toward the sky and then sank soundlessly into the sea.

He grew up, but still thought of her often; on moonlit nights he walked the water’s edge, hoping for a glimpse of her. During the day, he worked. He bathed in the dull glow of his computer monitor, and decorated his cubicle with things he bought on vacations to other oceans. He looked for her in all of them.

Once, he’d been to Hawaii and bought a hand carved mermaid. Her wooden tail was painted with something iridescent that shimmered under the fluorescent lights, but it weighed almost nothing and made a hollow sound if he tapped it. He often found himself looking at it, and trying to remember her face. He sometimes thought he had imagined her.

He saw her in women he passed on the street. He dated sometimes, busy women with lives punctuated by pauses for emails to this colleague, text messages to that one. It never lasted. They drifted away from him with a few vague words about how he was never really there. He accepted this wordlessly; it was for the best.

One night, as he walked by the ocean, he thought he heard it call his name. It was in the sound of the waves and the shifting of the sand and the vibration of the starlight. Unthinking, he ran into the surf, ignoring the shock of cold as he struggled forward against the incoming mass. As the waves enveloped him his name became a roar, and he felt himself dancing with the tide to a song composed of water and night. He woke up as the sun was rising, alone on the sand, clothes damp and stinging against his skin, and screamed in outrage.

He accepted, afterward, that he would never see her again. He still visited the water’s edge, sometimes staring out into the surf with a silent intensity that made joggers run a wide curve around him, and children stare. But he took the mermaid from his desk and hid it in his lowest drawer, behind some boxes of tissue. He went on more dates. He kept working. He felt as though he had swallowed his own heart. Everything sweet tasted bitter instead, and his stomach had a spreading cold inside of it that would not go away.

Then he heard a new song. It played softly in the background while he dreamed of expense reports and dancing the mambo with his sixth grade teacher. He heard it when he turned on the radio in his car, and when he brushed his teeth in the morning. He heard it when everyone else heard nothing at all. He couldn’t place it; he didn’t think he had ever listened to it before.

It was lovely, and wordless, and it called him to the water, gently and steadily. He resisted; he feared he was not sane. The longer he resisted, the louder the song became, until it was all that he heard. It kept him awake on long, cool nights. He burned with such desire to heed its call that he kicked off his covers and spent whole nights sweltering, his skin cold to the touch. One night as he lay beneath a stucco constellation, too hot to sleep, he found himself rising and dressing in the dark, unsure of his own intent.

He drove himself to the beach aimlessly, convincing himself that he was going for a late night snack, that he would stop at the next drive-through or the one after that. When he got to the water’s edge, he told himself that he was just going for a walk, to cool off. He found himself pulling his shirt over his head, rolling his jeans down his legs, shedding his clothes like skin until he stood naked and alone under the night sky. He felt as though he were drinking starlight through his pores.

He saw her then, in the waves, placid as they rolled around her. She was singing, but stopped when he saw her. He ran into the water, toward her, and it did not feel cold. The waves surged up to greet him and he did not struggle as he waded, then swam, to meet her.

Her eyes were long and slanted, her lips were like carved ivory and her skin, as she drew him to her, was soft. When she kissed him, she tasted like salt and her tail was smooth against his thigh. For the first time since that night on the boat, everything felt as though it slid seamlessly into place. The center of his chest felt warm and full.

When her lips pulled softly away, she brushed his cheek with her hand. He felt a rush of thankful/tender/sweet that was not his own. She turned, and drifted away from him, swimming toward the sand. When the water was shallow, she rose out of it on long, slender legs, her skin pale in the moonlight. She did not look back as she pulled on his spent clothes and walked away, toward the city. He did not miss her. The stars and the strong, swelling sea were welcoming him home.

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About the Author

Jennifer Hatfield writes and lives in California. You can follow her on her blog at mermaidsnest.squarespace.com.


The Mermaid

  • Author: Jennifer Hatfield
  • Published: 2016-02-07 22:40:07
  • Words: 1051
The Mermaid The Mermaid