June 9th 2023
The sea has not swept away my little house just yet. I still have my good china and my Sunday shoes and even my late husband Peter’s old watch, God love him. But I keep none of those things so carefully as my secrets. I have few interesting ones of my own, but I like to collect other people’s, polishing and admiring and aligning them as others might their stamps or cards. This is the jewel of my collection, so it seems only fitting to write it down, in the hopes that someone will find it.
As I said, I usually keep secrets; but immortalisation is what a proper romance deserves. This story is known to no-one but myself and the moon – who, of course, is an excellent confidant. Her light has held lovers and their trust for centuries. It was perhaps five years ago, now, that our town was taken beneath her star-studded wings, and I am not sure that I will last five years longer. I do not wish for Marissa and her mermaid to die with me.
Marissa’s mother knew that she was in love. It was the shine to her eyes; I could see it even from my window. But nobody could uncover the object of her infatuation, although her poor mother was eventually pushed to trying. It’s a small town; she asked at every door, even mine.
I will confess, I nearly told her the truth, if only from surprise. It has been years since Peter was alive to scare them away, but visitors remain very infrequent – I’d heard that she was making the rounds, of course, but I hadn’t imagined that she’d be desperate enough to visit the mad old lady that lives by the sea. Certainly, not with baked goods in hand. But not even hot scones with honey could persuade me to betray the best and brightest of all my secrets. So I said that I had never seen Marissa meeting anyone out on the beach, although it was true enough that my eyes were going.
She didn’t stay long, after that. But sometimes I saw her out of my window, trying to follow her daughter, but the mermaid rarely rose above the surface in the daylight. So all she could see was Marissa, staring love-sick out at the waves. She’d call at her snappishly to come in.
She has hands rough and red with work; everyone here is so, chastened into bluntness by the relentless roaring of the wind. But Marissa was the sort of girl that yearns for tenderness. I used to see her come here to cry – until, one day the mermaid rose to console her. I had never imagined that such a thing existed.
You’ll think me, no doubt, a selfish old woman, when you are reading this. But I have no doubt that the girl was happy; sometimes, she and the mermaid seemed to be nothing but foam and froth, everything made of rushed laughter. If they were ever to be caught by anyone, it would be on a day like that, sweet with the sugar-spun deliriousness of the ocean’s white horses. But no-one did. No-one saw anything – besides me, of course, doing my sewing.
I never took a picture – it would be in equal parts intrusive and silly – but sometimes I wish that I had. The mermaid was wonderful to look at, skin soft and dark and sliding like spilt oil, and she had silver scales which caught the light like mirrors. Her hair was strange – long, and flowing, and mottled like the tentacles of some great dark creature, and it used to make me worry; in fact, I still do. I always include Marissa in my evening prayers. Don’t misunderstand me – I never doubted that her affections were returned – but the mermaid was part animal and part angel, and Marissa just a girl. Dreamier than most, as I’ve said, but just a girl all the same.
I knew, watching them, that something would have to give. And so it did, although how anything happened only the moon could tell you. All I can say for sure is that love gave Marissa gills.
They had search parties, naturally. For days on end, I had fleets of men striding up and down the beach, calling and shouting; I made them hot tea and sandwiches, and sympathised as an old lady should, and by proper dark they’d all be home. It was Marissa’s mother that stayed the longest, often with some other women by her side – she’d call until her voice was hoarse, and my sympathy was genuine then. I advised her often to go to bed, get some rest; in turn, she’d insist that her daughter was out there, somewhere, and she wouldn’t stop until she came home. And she was right, in a way, although I could never say so, and in truth I highly doubted that Marissa would ever come back.
I was wrong.
They waited months and months, of course. Waited until the service was over and done, until the town had nearly forgotten her; even her mother had stopped wearing mourning colours. There was no need to, really – it was etched all over her face. I wonder – hope – that one day, that they will be reunited.
Maybe, in some bizarre turn of events, her mother will come one night to look outside my window. Because I see them often, now.
The mermaid moves through the water with the slow, steady grace of a whale; and Marissa, with her chestnut hair plastered to her freckled back, bounds like a dolphin. She laughs like only a myth can laugh; pure freedom, inhuman joy.
And, like all legends, her story has begun to spread – transformation must have made her bold, bold enough to show herself to others. I think this only because, sometimes, when I hear the younger ladies talking, they might refer quietly to a peer as “away with the mermaids.”
Megan Baffoe is a freelance writer currently studying English Language and Literature at Oxford University. She likes fashion, feminism and in-depth media analysis. She does not like Twitter, but can be found @meginageorge. Her published work is all available at https://meganspublished.tumblr.com
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