by Linda Mitchelmore
“And you hold your mirror like so.”
I rolled my eyes as Merle took up the affected pose of mirror-holding. But the mermaidens in the class today, Mercia, Melody, Merrila and Merula, flapped their tail fins excitedly, rapt at her words.
“And then you comb your hair, sensuously, right to the tips. It’s a mermaiden’s duty to entice a male mortal. Once you’ve caught one, you’ll become fully-fledged mermaids. But never, ever, fall in love ….” Merle’s words bubbled from her mouth. I knew what was coming next. “…or you’ll be turned to stone and put in some ghastly earthly garden pond.”
I used to run the class that Merle is taking today – that is until the day I came back from a swim up the river without my mirror ….
“Excuse me, but this is a private jetty.” A male mortal’s voice behind me, that sounded as though he was smiling as he spoke. Well, I suppose it’s not every day you find a mermaid at the bottom of your garden, is it?
“I won’t be a moment,” I said, without turning around. “The sun’s just the right temperature to add streaks to my hair.” I carried on combing. Then I angled the mirror so I could see who was behind me. And that was when I fell in love with a mortal.
I swivelled around to face him.
“I’m Meredith,” I said.
“Hi Meredith,” he gulped. “I’m Martin. Don’t go. I’ll be right back …”
“No photographs!” I called after him. I mean, every mermaid knows photographs steal the soul.
“No photographs,” he said. “Promise.”
And then before I’d even finished drying my hair, he was back again.
“Is drawing allowed?” he asked.
He asked all sorts of intelligent questions like did mermaids eat other things besides fish and the fishermen they lured to their deaths? And then he asked if he could touch me. Just so as he’d know I was real and not the result of drinking too much coffee – whatever that was.
I sat quite still while he put a hand on my shoulder, then slid it slowly down my arm to the elbow. I liked the feeling.
“I have to get this down on paper,” Martin said. “Every little bit of you from the top of your very lovely head to the tip of your tail fin.”
“Be my guest,” I said, preening prettily - it’s no myth that mermaids are vain.
We sat there so long the light began to fade.
“Damn,” Martin said. “The shadows have gone….”
“I’ll come back tomorrow,” I said.
I could tell Martin didn’t quite believe that I would – although that he believed in me, in mermaids, was beyond question.
So, I kept my promise. I came back again - and again and again. That Merle guessed what I was up to though.
“Why don’t you just drag him under like you did all the rest?” she asked. “The whole world – above and below the water – knows drowning is as pleasant a death as you can get.”
“Because Martin’s special.”
“You’ve never gone and given him a name?” She flapped her tail fin making far more ripples on the river than was strictly necessary for such a little transgression I thought.
But I transgressed a bit further the day Martin dropped a kiss on the top of my head. I lifted my head to his and I kissed him right back.
“Hmm,” he said, “mermaids’ mouths aren’t only for eating fish, then?”
But I knew then that I was going to have to let Martin go – let him find a female mortal of his own to love in the physical way he’d never be able to love me.
I picked up my mirror with its cockle shell frame and handed it to him.
“Look in there, Martin – what do you see?”
“You,” he said, his voice all husky.
“Then it’s yours. Every time you look in it you’ll remember me.”
“I’ll never forget you,” he said.
“Nor I you.”
In mortal years, Martin’s an old man now – very old. He walks with a stoop, he’s become thin, and his hair is silver. But he still comes regularly to the jetty to look for me, and always he takes my mirror from his pocket and looks in it.
I, being immortal, have never aged.
He came again today. A lot of other mortals came too. They stood about on the jetty, glasses of something with bubbles in it in their hands. They laughed a lot. And some of them hugged Martin, kissed him. There were cries of ‘beautiful’ flying out across the water towards me.
But it’s dusk now. The people have gone. Only Martin is left. I swim over and raise my head above the water. I flick my hair from left to right. And I blow him a kiss on the evening breeze.
“Time to go, Martin?” I say.
“It’s been too long,” he says.
He steps forward and with each step he takes his years roll back until – at the moment he reaches for my hand - he’s the age he was when we first met.
Our hands meet and touch – hold fast, never to let go again. I pull him to me and he slips into the water, without a splash, for all time – an easy transition from his world to mine.
But Merle was wrong about mermaids being turned to stone statues if they fall in love with a mortal – Martin’s statue of me, unveiled today, is in bronze.
So …should you ever be on the river Dart you’ll see me. Give me a wave....
|To return to Linda's home page||click on this photo of Man and Boy, a 2016 statue by Elisabeth Hadley after a sketch by artist Arthur Briscoe. The statue is placed on King's Quay along the waterfront in Brixham, an historic village six miles south of Paington. William of Orange landed there in 1688 on his way to gain the throne of England for himself and his wife. An earlier statue on the Brixham waterfront commemorates that landing.|