I slip out the back even as Marie treads the gravel path to the front door.
I cannot stay; I must braid my long hair and clad myself in sapphire and ice, and talk to my sister, whose mercurial nature echos my own. Only she can understand, not Marie, whose hard little words knot me into a cold ball – housing, job, employment, goals – what do I know about these? Your whole world leaves me drowning; I am never at home here, shifting from place to place with no holdfast; but from my earliest days I have stolen down shore to seek refuge in the stormy sea, whose waves lift me up to the sky like the loving father I never had.
My skin prickles with cool drizzle which leaves the grey beach deserted. I like it. I take off my dress and weigh it down with four good, smooth stones. I have never needed a wetsuit; no one knows why. Mermaid genes, I suppose. My father was a fisherman, and my mother’s father was a Captain. I’ve got a degree in Oceanography, and salty blood.
Picking down through the pebbles I reassure myself that Marie does not need me there; the contents of her letters carefully documenting our encounters never seem to reflect my experience; in fact, I’m not sure if it’s me she’s been meeting. As the first dancing wave hits my ankle I feel briefly bad for giving her the slip, but this isn’t running away. I am still moving towards discharge like effluent waste. A failed recovery, nothing left to be salvaged; a broken mind that sinks gracefully to the bottom of the ocean to be lulled by the ebb and flow of the tide.
I walk bravely past waist depth. It’s easy for me, I don’t know why. The cold crystallises my focus and every cell sings out its aliveness. The stones turn to flat smooth rock beneath my feet and I push down and twist though the breakwater like a knife with a rush of a thousand bubbles and a shriek of a gull that splits the sky with its freedom.
Twelve strong strokes take me out to a good depth; then I travel parallel to the shore. There’s no need to go out further, the sea is no place for egos, like the jocks that thrash through the pool water always trying to conquer and subdue; to be in the sea is to be a part of the sea; fight it and you fight yourself; you will tire, my love, and you will sink. It’s a letting go more that a grasping hold, and egos can be such heavy things, best left behind with your shoes and car keys.
I move through the water with a kindness to where the seafloor falls away and I am left suspended in such blueness, as if mid air, a wondrous world opening up beneath me, a bird surveying her forests of kelp. A flash of silver, a shrimp picking his treasured rocks, the gentle clasp of seaweed fronds about my ankles as they tangle and untangle with the pulse of the waves: things other people do not know about. Like Marie, they are afraid of the water, so this world is mine, and mine alone. It is my secret superpower, my ability to fly, my home.
On land, I am very stupid. I can hardly cope with life there at all, and I am assigned Marie, who makes me feel worse. In the sea, I know some things. I can’t tell you what I know, it’s a different way of knowing than words describe. The way I slip through the water is a way of understanding, but with the body. I don’t know how it knows – perhaps it needs no explanation. I might instead smile glibly and tell you to try harder; I can see you have the same number of arms and legs as me so it really is your own fault if you can’t swim like me, you just have to put your mind to it. You can’t expect me to keep supporting you in the water just because you can’t be bothered to learn to swim properly. I can swim and I’ve never had any of the specialist lessons that you’ve had – what’s WRONG with you? Swimming is easy! I do it every day. Everyone else here can swim and I don’t see them making a fuss. I don’t feel the cold so it can’t be real. Try harder.
I roll onto my back where the grey sky bleeds into the grey sea and I am a pinprick in the oneness of it all, a fractured grey soul worn smooth as a pebble, finally supported, rocked, finally alive – because to be so fully in love is to be fully alive. Knowing my place, which is small, but important. It’s important to be a part of this, this life, the complex nature of things, any way you know how; to be able to shed earthly cares and let the waves pick you up and lift you into the sky like the loving father you never had.
About the author:
Deborah Champion is an artist and part-time mermaid. http://www.deborahchampion.co.uk