The Mermen

by J. Jameson


I dreamed, and in my dreams I could see mermen,I could smell the salt air. The azure sea, churning, thrashing with some unseen restlessness, followed the plot of my nightmares like a sneaking night stalker, mouth frothing in expectation of a grisly outcome. The mermen were in the water, waiting, watching, for a chance to lure me into the salty depths.

A blue bird cawed, once, twice, seeming to be sympathetic with the fish people down below. One of them turned in my direction, swimming eyes that reflected the grey sea toothless, slack mouth in a sad, sloppy smile. He looked like a lost soul, without purpose, and I cowed on the rounded pebbles and waited for salvation.

I had had imaginings of merpeople before, but never had they appeared like this in my mind. Desperate, lost, ugly, not graceful, liquid beauties as I had thought. The one who was looking at my hunched form approached me in slow, jerky movements.

You are of the sea, it said.

Come to see us die.

Come to us soon, little one.

The voices echoed, undulating in my head, sounding like children chanting. A silver wave came close to my sodden feet, sucking, pulling,the tide ferocious in its eagerness.

See us die.

Farewell.

In my dreamer’s state, I could not run, but only slide slowly across the beach.

I realized as soon as I opened my eyes it was just another mermen dream. Forever vivid in my memory, I had had this nightmare often in my childhood. I rose to make good strong tea in the early light.

Strange, though, I reflected as I sipped my tea, that I should dream of the merpeople again, even though I was living inland. It had been years since I had felt the soft dunes beneath my feet and the salt air on my lips. I had been born in Blackpool and had spent all summer on the beach — my parents, too busy to supervise, packed me off with lunch and left me to wander the expanse of coastline that is the Fylde Coast.

I was not worried about strangers; my dreams were far more frightening than anything reality could produce.

I enjoyed the summers but far more, the winters — when the tourists had gone home, leaving the year round residents to cope with the prevailing winds, floods and storms that are an integral part of costal living — when the sea is at its most powerful.

The Victorians, with their prowess, had built the sea wall, but churned up something much more powerful from a sea angry at being contained. Fifteen-foot waves broke over the stone buttresses, hurling icy water over the promenade to invade the basements of hotels and restaurants cowering on the exposed front.

I missed the violence of the sea when I moved inland. The mermen dreams I had had so frequently as a child — terrifying repetitions of the same theme, lost souls of the sea, angry at the landlivers for the abuse of its clear waters — began to fade with the my exodus to landlocked counties, I almost forgot them for a time, and only occasionally was I troubled by the visions. I was caught up with work but I would sometimes hear the voices (see us die) like a pale, fading memory.

On this reflective morning, a Saturday, I was considering how to spend my day. The weekend post came .

Sighing, I picked up the letters from the mat.

A few bills, an appeal for money. I considered leaving them until Monday. Something caught my eye — a postcard, silver edged, the picture of a merman, half submerged in a frothy sea. Its face was tormented and dark, its eyes smokey pits filled with cloud fragments. It was reaching out to me... then the vision passed, and I was looking at a nondescript vista of Blackpool, touched up in that garish way. Turning it over, I read the message ‘ediseuse met oco’.

I thought of friends who might enjoy baffling me in this way. I turned back to look at the address. It was for me.

A friend of mine visited me. We decided to shop in the town. We wandered, window shopping, and came upon an emporium selling all manner of things. My work did not allow me to be a spendthrift — but there was something I coveted there; a gilded mirror, which flashed in the light as I picked it up and turned it in my hands.

Have you seen one of these before, I asked my friend.

She shook her head, and raised her eyebrows at me in a question.

I have to buy this, I said, not really aware that I was speaking.

Even as I paid and left the shop, I realized that I had not looked properly at the object which I had spent half a week’s wages on.

My friend told me I might be losing my grip on sanity.

I pulled the mirror out of the bag. It glinted and colours were reflected from somewhere deep within the glass. Like underwater blues and greens. I had a feeling it was worth just as much as I had paid.

We then decided to have lunch — in a pub not far from the High Street, where we knew the food was good. On a thick beam near the bar were displayed odd pictures, postcards, from customers away on holiday, and advertisements. I was considering taking up another, part time job, and scanned the ads for something suitable. Oddly, there was a postcard from someone I knew, which bore the legend ‘wish you were here,’ and beside it, another which read ‘ediseuse met oco’.

I had the absurd feeling that I was an actor in a cheap horror B movie. It could not be right.I looked again: ‘Edisuese met oco’.

This was someone, then, who knew my address, and also which pub I ate at. I felt faint.

As we left the pub, it was raining, the fine rain which soaks without you really being aware of it (like the sea).

I reached the quiet haven of my flat and realised I had left the mirror in the pub.

* * *

For the first time I was not afraid. As the sea swirled with a malevolent frothing crest,the mermen actually drowning in the thunderous waves, their voices almost lost forever below the churning surface.

Come to see us die.

I was on the beach again, swooning, crouching, the joints of my bones made stiff by the damp sea spray, the sky a sulphurous yellow, and I called to the mermen, I will save you.

See us die, the sea said.

I was not afraid and one of them, the youngest, escaped from the tide and lay, gasping on the slick wet sand. He said my name.

Rachel, I love you, it said and reached out, reached nearer to my clenched body, shivering, the stink of the sea surrounding its pearly scales. Its tail, which I had never seen, seemed to be peeling, the fin disintegrating and washing back to become iridescent slime.

Underneath the tail... in all my imaginings I had never...

Underneath the rotting tail were legs.

My mother phoned on the Sunday morning after the legs dream. (fragmented seashell bones). She battles her way through life with resigned martyrdom, rude, thick skinned and determined. She is the epitome of the seaside landlady. Her gratingly inquisitorial questions give no leeway for others’ points of view, and therefore, I tended to go along with whatever she was saying to keep the peace.

After the initial conversation, consisting of observations about the weather and her arthritis, she remembered why she had phoned.

I met an old friend of yours in town last week, she said. He’s keen to see you. I’ve given him your address.

My heart sank like a shot bird.

What was his name?

Oh, Edward I think.

She was gone.

And so, that Sunday passed with a lovely lazy dream like quality while I recharged my energy after an anxious week.

* * *

The man stood by the ocean, musing. He was tall and graceful, but looked somehow lost and sad. He was thinking of his ancestry, his relatives, who now were mostly dead or dying. He wondered what he could do to continue the bloodline. He loved the sea. It was his home. He could not bear to think of his clan, created over hundreds of years, dying out. He must find a way to continue the line. He turned and walked in to town.

* * *

Later, I thought about what my mother had said. Who was this mystery man she had mentioned in our phone call?

A feeling of loneliness came over me as I thought about relationships and love I had never had.

What if this Eddy came to see me and he was nice, attractive?

What would I do? It might be quite exciting to have a fling with a complete stranger — I had always erred on the side of caution when it came to love.

Just fantasy. I chided myself for such thoughts. Outside, the rain beat down on my window as I went to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

I was ready for bed that night when it came. A soft knock on the door. Could it be the sender of the postcard? The knock was too late for my liking.

Who is it?

Rachel? It’s Eddy.

I experienced a moment of uncertainty,shrugged it off and opened the door. I was confronted by a rather handsome young man. I studied him for a few seconds, thinking that I did indeed know him from somewhere (the grey eyes, the sea reflecting there).

Come in, it’s a bit late though.

He smiled, a sad, disarming grin, and flowed in through my door.

He looked around the room. Something so familiar about him.. Where do I know you from,Eddy? Is it Blackpool?

He turned and looked at me with his sad eyes.

From the past, the future and the present, he said.

I considered that he might be a little mad.

No, seriously, he said, I’m a friend of your brothers. Don’t you remember me?

He did look very familiar.

So why have you decided to visit me? I waited for an answer, pulled in by the dreamy quality of his expression.

I’m looking for a job here — there’s no one else I can stay with. I don’t have much money.

I made him tea and we talked for an hour or so.

You can stay for a couple of nights, I said.

He smiled a languid, lazy smile and I was smitten.

My friend did not believe I had let a perfect stranger camp in my living room.

You can’t be serious, my dear, she said.

He went round to the pub and picked up my mirror.

Our relationship, tentatively bonded, ran on from weeks to months. His grey eyes were smokey pits filled with cloud fragments. He was strange . Quiet. Passionate. Good for me.

A few months after (later, it seemed like this day was the pivotal one,) I scratched my leg. A large piece of skin came away. I visited the doctors. I listened. I went home with antibiotics.

A week later, a second, larger piece of skin fell from my leg like a dead leaf. Then another. The wounds left by the shedding looked yellow and sickly. They itched incessantly, like an old sore just beginning to heal.

Eddy shrugged off my fears by saying that it must be a deficiency of some sort. I was a little put out by his nonchalance, but because I did not feel ill, I continued to work, bandaging my legs as more sores appeared.

At the same time, the junk shop mirror that I had so rashly bought came into its own. I could use it to see round the backs of my legs and examine the sores there more easily. This became an evening pastime, and one night, I noticed that one of the sores had begun to look a little better. I leaned over to get a better view, and there, reflected in the mirror, was what can only be described as fish scales. I put down the mirror in alarm and looked at my leg, but it appeared pink and healthy.

Eddy commented on how good my legs were looking before serving me a seafood salad. It was wonderfully salty.

He suggested we go to the seaside for a holiday.

Plan ahead, he said. If we go in June, you’ll have plenty of time to arrange everything.

The night before we left for the holiday, we talked excitedly about the sea. I suppose I should have guessed then, and left him, to become normal and whole again, but I was caught in the spall, and had been since I was very young. What was going to happen would happen — I felt timeless, unstoppable, fatalistic. Eddy talked about the mighty seas, describing those deep-sea fishes, those black, blind creatures, un-acknowledged, but living all the same.

Through time and space, creatures exist that no one ever sees, he said.

When we went to bed, I dreamed, not of mermen, but of a long and happy life, of peace — the seemingly unattainable things that life dangles before you and then snatches away.

The dream seemed to last a lifetime, with timescales and dimensions perfectly formed, like a writer’s idyllic story of love everlasting, paradise, purity.

The next day, we set off on our journey, not looking back.

From the window of the guesthouse you could see the beach. We made love and ate fish and chips.

I followed Eddy lamblike into the murky waters. It was cold, I did not care.

I had brought the mirror with me to examine my legs — the sea water seemed to be making them worse by the day — where there had been pink healing flesh there was now crusted greenish scabs — and although this should have struck me as odd, and dangerous, I was too far gone that it did not register to my fishy brain. Normality was fading fast, and what was replacing was becoming my new normality. The mermen dreams came back with a vengeance.

On one of the last days, we took a picnic down to the beach, planning to swim all moring and then laze on the beach after..The promenade was thick with people, the smell of sun tan lotion and ice cream. We sat under the pier, in the cool shade. In the water, my legs felt good, and I paddled around waiting for Eddy, who was stacking our bags up in a space between two rocks, so we could keep an eye on them while we swam. I caught the expression on his face then — an excited, gleaming smile, as he came wading in.

Let’s go out a bit,he breathed,and before I had time to answer, he began to swim out.

We reached a part of the pier where not many would venture to, under the rotting supports where slime and seaweed floated, stinking.

Eddy turned and pushed my head under the water.I did not struggle, because I trusted him. He pulled me up again and said, next time, breath.

I felt him digging his nails in to my arms as he pushed me down, I could feel him kicking me, his hands came around my throat, and he squeezed, lightly, as if teasing me before the final act. I heard him say, breathe or I’ll kill you, and I opened my mouth to let water in, to give myself up, to succumb to death, and I wanted it. I began to feel faint, the water pouring into my lungs. Eddy got closer, pulling me to him, and entered me, and I was drowning, drowning, as he raped me, deeper into the blackness that was enveloping me. Oh god, I’m dying, I thought, and his cries as he came echoed my words.

When I awoke, Eddy had gone. He had dissolved back into the sea, where I knew he had been born a merman. Someone had rescued me, a young lifeguard on patrol, only spotting me because of my long hair floating on the surface of the sea.

I was in hospital, of course, with damaged lungs and hypothermia.

Life was a dream, is a dream, as I sit in a hospital bed, from which I have a good view of the sea, and it’s now three weeks since I arrived here. The doctor has just told me I am pregnant.

I worked it all out, in my head, the fate I was so ignorant of, the mermen’s dying wish, to make sure a new race could be born. That is why they sent Eddy, that is why they chose me.

The postcards worked out as ‘come to see us die’.

I do not know if they were a warning or an invitation.

My legs are still rotting away — the scales I saw in the mirror now cover a large part of them. The hospital is baffled, but they are doing all they can. I may not have any legs after my little one is born. They tried to persuade me to have an abortion, but they do not know — they do not realize, it does not matter what happens to me, the mermen do not care. I must visit the sea soon after the baby is born. The only thing that is important now is to make absolutely sure I have a water birth.


Copyright © 2005 by J. Jameson

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