“I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Chapter 1. Real Mermaids Aren’t Like That
Thirty days running the Goldie River on the turtle’s tail of Papua New Guinea chasing rebels left me exhausted and wild-eyed. I was watching out for any man or beast that would try to stop me from my rendezvous with an ice-cold beer. We headed south through the twisting valleys, jungle, and rolling mountains until the canopy parted revealing blue sky and cotton candy clouds running straight for the Coral Sea.
The team passed east of the Owen’s Corner outpost then down to the Soperi track and picked up our ride to Port Moresby. I could almost taste that cold beer through the sour stench of dirt, sweat, and salt ground into my clothes. Somewhere along the way, I must have fallen asleep. Every bump in the road was a bullet tearing up the trees around me. Tires bouncing inside the wheel well from ruts in the road were grenades ripping flesh from bone, and I lay on the jungle floor choking in my spit and blood. I didn’t care. Dreams never killed anyone; it’s the reality that sucks the life out of you.
Life returned to the walking dead when we reached a safe house near the Ela Motors headquarters off Hubert Murray Highway in Port Moresby. After a long soak in the shower and a bar of Ivory soap later, the team and I hit the Big Rooster Koki for a meal. We ate everything they had and drank all their beer then headed to a little hole in the wall bar next to Remembrance Park.
Hell yeah, I thought as soon as I walked in the place. The girls were working the tables where rough men plotted to take each other’s money and maybe a little fighting and knife play. My kind of place. The guys split up and found a place to sit to muscle in on some action and maybe a chance to snuggle with one of the waitresses after her shift ended. I wanted to sit back and watch a little. It was always better to let life take you by surprise and roll with the evening no matter what it brought.
There was one table open where an old man with a scraggly white beard sat with his back in the corner. Nobody else bothered to take a seat at the table with him. That was prime real estate as far as I was concerned. I took the chair against the wall and gave the old dude a passing glance before I hailed the waitress and ordered a beer for my mute table mate and me.
The girl brought us the beers, and the guy held his mug up and mumbled, cheers before his gaze returned to a picture on the wall. I looked up at a topless ginger mermaid and then at the man. He had the look of one who knew how deep sorrow could take root in a wounded soul. I’d seen that look too many times before. Most often, I saw it in the mornings while shaving. He looked over at me and mumbled.
“You know they don’t look like that,” he offered as we stared at the picture.
“No? Well, how do they look, old man?” I replied, my voice echoing back at me from inside my beer mug.
“My name’s Derek,” he whispered in a hoarse cough.
“Derek, don’t fuck with me. Are you going to tell me what mermaids look like or am I going to squeeze it out of your head?”
The old salt laughed then wheezed like it was his last breath. I smiled to let him know I was kidding and more than a little skeptical.
“The name’s Hyperion, but don’t let that stop you,” I said. I wasn’t going anywhere and the entertainment was getting interesting.
After a spell of asthmatic coughing and wheezing, Derek started talking. He never took his eyes off the picture on the wall. “My boat took on water in a storm southeast on the Coral about ten years ago. I made it to a spit of sand on the lee side of a collapsed volcano left over from the creation. The boat beached on the rocks and I managed to get ashore where I waited out the storm under a rock outcrop. The storm raged all night and when it cleared in the morning, the ship’s hull was split. I wasn’t going anywhere soon.
My new summer home wasn’t more than a square mile in size, shaped like a crescent moon with a high peak of lava rock in the center, covered in brush, trees, and birdshit. The inside of the crescent had a few coconut palms lining the high tide mark and thick brush along the raised spine. I decided to set up camp at the foot of the peak and wait for rescue.
I saw her the first day early that morning while hauling stuff off the boat so I could set up a camp. I thought she was a yearling dolphin at first. She kicked by the stern and darted around like a cat chasing a mouse. All I could make out was the flash of dappled skin with zigzag rays of light streaking across her body. It was the auburn hair and sun-bleached strands of blond flowing straight back over her back that made her look like a Dolphin. I remember thinking I could harpoon her later for food. That was before I knew her.”
“What do you mean, before you knew her?” I asked, like a kid listening to a pirate story.
Derek paused for a long time, always staring at the picture on the wall.
“I want to think I fell in love with a woman -a woman of the sea. Thing is, I don’t know if she was human or beast. All I know is we learned to love each other only separated by the boundaries of our estranged worlds.”
Derek, are you telling me you had a relationship with a mermaid? How did you manage that? My skepticism came in a raised voice. A few people looked over with that who farted look. I lowered my voice and told Derek cut to the good parts.
“Not so fast, he replied. “You young bucks need to learn that life is more about foreplay than dry humping a woman with your imagination. Buy me another beer; my memory is starting to fade.”
He stared at me with an impatient glare. I ordered another round. Derek took a few deep breaths after draining half his mug. He looked up at the picture. A tear traced down his cheek and disappeared in his beard. He hacked and wheezed again and wiped his eyes and tobacco-stained mouth with his sleeve.
“It wasn’t what I saw, son. It was what I lived, what I tasted, felt, and drew in with every breath. It was the smell of salt air, the feel of her skin smooth as glass. Her lips tasted like sweet almond oil and her breath was like apples and the scent of trade winds blowing ashore over hot stones and wet sand. She never uttered a word I could make out but her voice was high and melodic, like a song. Yes, like a song; a song no man can turn his back on.”
“You mean the two of you . . .?”
“Aye, we did,” he cut in with a glint in his eye. “Now, order another round like a good lad and listen.”
Author’s note: This short story is dedicated to the two ladies that inspired it. Draculauren from Alien Scribe writes about her observations of people and places. She distills the best parts of living scenes into an entertaining story. We discussed a Mermaid undertaking you can check out -> HERE newyorkunseen or her vampire story at Natashapea. Both ladies are quite talented and they like mermaids which prove great minds think alike.
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