“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
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.”
♦ ♦ ♦
The buzz of alcohol hummed in my head behind the cacophony of drunks hustling each other and the girls that served them. The dim light in the bar and Derek’s distant tone lulled me into a half dream as his story took shape in my mind.
The colorful tale of his mermaid unfolded as Derek spoke. The picture on the wall called to me, entranced me, and filled me with desire. The dream of leaving my rough and lonely life for the arms of a woman that could love the monster I’d become held me captive. I’d change for her. I would let her change me to a kinder form. I dreamed of a mermaid of my own as Derek continued speaking of his encounter with a sea-maiden as if he were in a cathedral in love with the Virgin Mary. I listened as he continued.
“Days turned into weeks as I worked every day to dismantle the ship’s deck and other useful items to build a secure shelter in the rock overhang. It was dangerous. I knew it. However, I wanted to face the sea so I could see any ship or plane that came close enough for me to signal. I ate the last of the rations and began to fish and gather coconuts and clams for food.
I took my goggles, swim fins, and harpoon spear fishing near the rocks where the water was deep and clear. Beams of sunlight cut through the water like a thousand searchlights. I saw fish in the light and then they were gone in the shadows cast by the sheer cliff as it dove straight down to the bottom too deep for me to see. I decided I needed to risk moving further out to get a better look at my quarry when there came a splash near the rocks.
I saw her in the light beams and then she was gone only to reappear like a ghost. She swam like a seal or a river otter, darting in all directions. I surfaced to fill my lungs and then prepared to dive again thinking I’d only seen a marine mammal when we came face to face under the water. She floated like an angel, her legs together and her arms out by her side like offering a hug to welcome me. Her hair floated and opened up like tendrils of vines reaching for the light.
We stared in disbelief at each other. In front of me was a woman like any women, yet naked as the day she was born. Her hands had long fingers with webs like an otter, and her feet were shaped like an ordinary woman’s except the toes were almost a foot long with short claw-like toenails and great billowing webs of skin between the toes.
Her face held me captive. My lungs burned for air, but I couldn’t move. Those large round eyes were black as midnight on a moonless night, and they were looking straight at me wide with wonder and curiosity. My lungs won. I broke the surface and gulped for air like a drowning man.
Before I could gather my wits, her angelic face was just inches from me. She spoke in a voice as if she was singing a lullaby to a child. The next thing I knew, she pulled me to her breasts without shame and began to swim toward the rocks carrying me in a firm embrace. Those toes spread like fingers turning her feet into fins that surged with power as she kicked and undulated in a slow but powerful rhythm.
She swam on her back and held my willing head to her neck. The slow arch of her hips pressing, receding, then pressing to me again was like making love. I felt the warmth of her through the currents of water washing over us and her heart, my God, how her heart beat strong against my chest.
I was beside myself, possessed by her apparent attempt to help me ashore. I believe she thought I was distressed or drowning and only wanted to help. I grabbed the edge of the rocks and looked back. She was gone. A glance underwater revealed the sunlight flashing across her back, the mound of her buttocks, and legs as she corkscrewed away into the shadows out of view.
For days, I looked for her between gathering food and firewood. I still had water left in the tank on board what was left of the ship. It was only a matter of time before the sea claimed the rest of the boat and I would be on my own to survive. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the shore to look for fresh water.”
“Damn, Derek. The mermaid sure had an affect on you. Aside from being a bizarre erotic moment, why did you fall in love with her like that?” I asked not knowing what to make of his description of the mermaid or his strange attachment.
“It was her shameless beauty and acceptance of me. She had no fear of me. That profound display of innocence and caring gripped my heart and wouldn’t let me be,” Derek replied as he sipped his beer and again looked up at the picture.
“Did you ever see her again?” I asked, urging him to continue.
“Aye, I did and under the strangest of circumstance. I was standing on the rock where she left me before when a shark began circling. It was hunting its next meal. I saw the shark dive down and disappear into the depths, and as I peered over the edge, my mermaid shot out of the water and hit me square in the chest. I fell over on the rocks under her as the shark followed her half on the rock and thrashing the water with his tail to get at her. She screamed bloody hell, wrapped herself around me like rigging, and wouldn’t let go.
I managed to kick back enough to avoid the shark as it slipped back into the water. We made our way back over the rocks to the shore with her in my arms. I could see she was bleeding from lacerations and took her to the shelter in the cliff and lay her down to tend to her wounds. She was terrified and in shock. I gave her a shot of morphine from the ship’s medical kit not knowing if she could tolerate it or not. In no time, she was cooing and looking around the shelter with a glassy stare.
The shark had missed her, and probably a couple of teeth on the outer row of its jaw caught her right thigh. I sewed her up and wrapped her leg. She kept touching the bandage and looking at me chattering in that soft voice. That’s when she tapped her chest and said something that sounded like Meera. I figured it was her name, so I told her mine. She kept touching me and saying Dreek, Dreek, repeatedly. The morphine had her head in a place she’d never been before.”
“I think you have my head in a place It’s never been before too, old man,” I murmured then hailed the waitress to get Derek another beer, so he didn’t have to keep asking. I ordered a coffee for myself. I wanted to stay awake for the ending.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Fever, like deadly sin, took her from me. I hear that mournful voice and see once black pearls alive under long lashes turn dull and dry. Selfish fear of loss grips my soul. A dagger pushes into my heart and tears fall on her inflamed skin while I try to tend to her.”
Derek’s dark tale grips me. His blue-green eyes are bright and moist like a young man. Those eyes don’t see the bawdy crowd in front of him submerged in the art of sin and degradation. He only sees into the past and feels the sharp pains of his lost love. My chest tightens and strangles my breath. For a moment, I consider that I’m looking directly at my future in the old man’s face. I hear the stuttered breath as Derek continued his far-fetched tale.
“Meera lies on her back, turns her head, and looks away to some place only she knows. I wonder what I have done, and guilt weighs on me with the knowledge, I’ve brought harm to this beautiful and pure creature of my dreams.
It’s at this point, I see her skin bright and pink where my selfish tears have soiled her. Then it comes to me as if a thought put in my head by Meera’s distant stare. Saltwater. She needs the essence of her life from which I’ve removed her. I hauled water from the sea. I removed my tattered shirt and began a nightlong ritual of keeping her skin moist with seawater.
I soaked her bandage, her hair, and skin until a light sheen rose from her in the starlight. Her pale white skin with the dappled gray tones glitter in the light from a million tiny crystals of salt and bioluminescent plankton in the water. I watch as the tags of skin on her nose that close off the water while she swims flare and collapse with her quickening breath.
My hands move from the pail of water to fevered skin caressing every tortured inch of her body. She is soothed and I find pleasure in her gaze at my face as wet hands glide over her. The fever burned her then chilled her, and in the heat of the morning, it released her as she slept in peace glistening like the first time I saw her.
In three days, she was able to clench her long toes like a fist and walk on tiptoes in the sand in a swaying motion first leading with a slight toss of the head, lean of the shoulder followed by her hips. Meera rocked in a gentle motion like the long grasses in the ocean current until she made her way to the rocks. She rested in the sun under blue skies and wisps of smoky clouds. I watched as she scooped water with her webbed feet and flung it over her body like buckets of rain.
The desire to love her burned in my mind as she sat on the rocks. The scene captivated me and my thoughts drifted across my mermaid’s slender features. She rose and stretched out her arms then arched into the air and disappeared into the water. I screamed without thinking and ran to the widening circle of ripples. God Damn my soul, she was gone again. I dove into the water to catch a glimpse that would never come. Destroyed again, I returned to the sand and worried for her, worried for myself, worried for us.”
“Shit, dude. How do you hold on to a wild creature like that? It’s one thing to love them. It’s quite another thing to keep them.” I’m almost hurt by the old man’s confession of his weakness for his mermaid.
“The answer, young man, is you don’t hold on to them. They come and go as they please, and if you are lucky enough to taste their love, it suspends your life forever. You never move forward even as your life fades in age and sickness. Life remains locked in the memory of her sweet and succulent love,” the old sailor whispered as his mug moved toward his thirsty lips.
“Tell me about it, old man. I have to know.”
“One evening, I sat next to fire on the beach. I don’t know what I wanted more, to see Meera or see my rescue from this island that tempted me to stay to the end of my days with my mermaid.
Splashing in the surf broke my spell, and I looked up at the shadow rocking toward me from the surf in that long sensuous sway. My mermaid sat next to me. Meera’s eyes reflecting the dancing flames and the yellow-orange reflection on her face and golden breasts took my breath as my need for her rose like mercury in the glass.
She held up a fish and offered it to me. Excited, I jumped up chattering and laughing with a renewed joy. I ran to the shelter and brought a pan, knife, and a few spices rescued from the ship’s galley with a small amount of pressed coconut oil. Meera enjoyed her first cooked meal as a child with her face buried in a bucket of ice cream. Oh, the sounds we made as we shared this meal.
That night, we swam in the water to freshen up and returned to the shelter together. She sat with her legs folded and those fanlike feet covering her naked bottom. Leaning on her left arm with her right folded across her lap, she stared out to the Milky Way as it slashed across the sky and dove into the wet horizon beyond us. The inky night flickered from our fire and shadows stretched across the sand.
Meera looked back at me with a distant dream in her eyes as my hand found her back and played a soft melody of sensation on welcoming skin. In her eyes, I saw questions under the currents of desire. Her lips intimated a smile. Whispers like song drifted from her lips to mine, and I felt drawn to her. I’ll never forget how her lips tasted and the sweetness of her breath. I go to sleep each night in the firm mattress of her embrace. Her hands cloak me in that first gentle love. We share the heat of our bodies as the sound of surf and wind play over us like an approving audience to our love scene on the screen of some classic movie.
She was elegant in my arms and true to her wild nature with her lust. No man has loved until he has loved a mermaid. The best we can pray for is to love a woman with the wild and free spirit of a mermaid. To love a woman one can never possess is an aching and hypnotic love. That’s what we had. That’s what I wish to hold onto.”
“What happened to the two of you? Why did you leave her for this shit hole of a bar and these bastards for friends?” I had to know. I couldn’t rest until I heard what happened.
“It was a cruel fate that separated us, my friend. We spent our days together. I helped her master the earth, and she helped me learn the sea. Together, we mastered each other in new and free ways of pleasure and love. Like wicked sin, we could not break away from our addiction to each other.
One day, Meera grew anxious and tearful. She tried to voice her concern and in time, I understood she sensed something I couldn’t see. Her stress came from her unwillingness to leave me knowing our survival was the sea, which in any duration was forbidden to me. She opted to stay on land with me and in a few days, I understood what troubled her.
A violent storm began to brew, and by the time I realized what Meera had known for days, it was too late to do anything but try to wait it out. The storm raged and water beat against the shelter as the tide surged and the wind carried it to us in an angry fist that battered our shelter. A great wave burst through, and the riptide that returned to the sea twisted us like rags. I lost my grip on Meera and was struck by rock or debris, I don’t know which.
I awoke on a freighter in calm seas, delirious and crying for my Meera. In time, they ignored my pleas to go back to the island. The captain refused. They told me they found me floating with the wreckage of my ship, alone. They think my Meera was a dream while I was unconscious from trauma, hunger, and dehydration.
“What do you say, old man?” I asked incredulous that such a tale could end in the sweep of a wave on a stormy night.
“I don’t think anymore, Hyperion. I dream and soak my sorrow in the beer good Samaritans like you provide. Nevertheless, since you ask, I think Meera took me to the wreckage and left me there. She may even have steered the loose tangle of wood and fiberglass to the shipping lanes. I’ll never know for sure.
“What do you say we go get something to eat and discuss finding your island and your mermaid? Maybe she has a friend,” I insist on helping the old man. We ate at a noodle stand then I took Derek back to the hotel so he could clean up and have a safe place to sleep. I planned to rent a boat after a quick recon of satellite images of the area he described. With any luck, no one would ever see Derek and me again.
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.
Image source: Pinterest.com