Moonlight Mermaid, страница 1
by Libby O’Neill
Copyright 2012 Libby O’Neill
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The water made a familiar sound, slapping gently against the sides of the little tin boat. Jim had taken advantage of the fine break in weather and had set the lobster pot earlier in the day. One last prize me lovely… what do you say? Jim said to himself, as if coaxing a catch from the deep blue depths.
He grunted with some effort, hauling the basket up and into the dinghy. Water drained away, dripped and pooled on the floor. The round lobster pot, made of bamboo supports and covered in wire mesh was encrusted with seaweed and the debris of many years of use. Jim squinted hard, checking for any contents. His lips, which had been pursed and set hard in concentration, changed shape dramatically and spread into a wide, delighted grin. He had caught a huge lobster and was well pleased. The dark purplish lobster gleamed in the sun and groggily clawed its way around the bottom of the basket.
‘Well, there you go. You little beauty,’ Jim said out loud, to no-one but himself.
Admiring his catch, he knew the lobster was within the legal limit of measurement. Male or female? He counted the sets of walking legs from front to back, the last set ending in a telltale claw. A female. Better check if she’s in berry. Jim carefully lifted the lobster and inspected beneath the tail. It was illegal to remove a female lobster from the water if she was carrying eggs. No eggs. Good. Where are those scissors? The last task required was to cut, clip or remove the middle tail fan. With that completed, Jim pulled in the drop rope and the red marker buoy and took his seat near the engine. Suppose it was a bit foolish, bringing the boat out – by myself. Ah well, it was successful. Barry and Jean will get a nice surprise for supper. It’s been a perfect day. Wish Miranda had been here to see it. She’d be impressed with this one all-right. She used to love coming out in the boat.
“Oh, Jim, what a stunner! Gorgeous, just gorgeous!” Jim swore he could almost hear Miranda exclaiming in delight.
He sighed deeply and looked back to shore. Unconsciously, he rubbed his chest with the palm of his left hand, as if trying to flatten out an annoying wrinkle and concentrated on steadying his breathing - just like the nurse at the clinic had shown him.
Should have brought the pills with me. Have to be more careful. Getting forgetful. Damn pills; damn doctors; damn dickey -ticker.
Breathing deeper and more slowly, Jim switched his attention to the view that lay in front of him. The huge outcrop of rock forming the cliffs was to his left. At the base of these cliffs, he could see the small dark crevices of the caves he and his brother Barry had played in when they were kids. There was the brilliant white lighthouse above, with its red dome top. All year round, perched defiantly facing the sea was the lighthouse, blinking its reassuring warning.
In his direct line of sight he could see his little cottage - a pale, faded grey. Huh…could do with a fresh coat of paint. A puff of smoke escaped from the chimney. He had fuelled the wood stove before setting off. A nippy wind usually blew up about three o’clock. Place will be nice and warm when Barry and Jean arrive. Far beyond, he could see the reflections from houses on the hinterland. Much closer, and to his right, he saw the little jetty where he moored his boat.
To the left of the jetty lay a large clump of rocks, worn smooth by the constant caress of wave after wave over the years. The restriction in his chest had eased now, and Jim’s eyes lingered for a moment on the rocks. His mind drifted back to another time, many years ago.
He had led the carefree and happy life of a bachelor - or so he thought - until he was forty-five. Then his sister-in-law, Jean, introduced him to Miranda. Miranda was ten years younger than he, and to everyone’s astonishment they clicked right from the very first moment. He had never been good with women. Always felt uncomfortable. Bumbled and fumbled a lot. Never had much luck. After he turned forty he decided not to bother, and stuck with looking for treasures of another kind – from the ocean instead.
He had spent most of his spare time up at the little house. Patching, repairing, painting and puttying. The small plot of land had once belonged to his maternal grandfather. Jim had inherited the secluded strip of beach and the tumbledown house that came with it. In his day, grandfather had been a well-known lobster catcher in the small fishing port.
Most of all Jim loved to fish – from the sandy beach, the base of the cliffs, off the rocks and out in the boat. Over the years he had become a keen lobster fisherman himself. Must be in the blood, he would often tell himself. Many a quiet hour had been happily lulled away out here.
When Miranda came on the scene, well, he could honestly say, life was never the same for him again. Smiling, he let his mind wander once again - to the first time he had brought Miranda here.
They had packed a hamper and intended staying for the day, a Saturday, but they did not return to town until late on the Sunday evening. Looking back now, they had been suspended in time. It was mid-summer and Miranda was of Irish descent, her skin fair, with a sprinkling of light freckles. Always careful in the sun, Miranda wore cotton blouses with long sleeves and a huge straw hat. Her voice was soft and kind and she had a tinkling laugh. She wore her great mass of copper hair in a thick plait draped loosely over one shoulder.
They had talked and talked and walked and walked. In the late afternoon they had given themselves to each other, Miranda showing him things, that up until that time, Jim had only ever surmised. In the evening, Jim laid a fire in a circle of rocks outdoors, and they sat and watched the moon come up. They roasted small fresh fish for their supper over the dying embers. Drizzled in butter and lemon it was deliciously washed down with icy cold ginger beer.
The moon had shone brightly overhead and the water was quiet and calm. Jim suggested a swim and Miranda agreed, boldly stripping off completely, before making her way to the water. It was magical. They swam and splashed in the moonlight, ducking and diving and coming to rest at the clump of rocks. Miranda clambered up on to one large boulder, and poised elegantly, taking on the pose of a make-believe mermaid.
“Look Jim,” she’d said, “I’m a mermaid…a mermaid in the moonlight…your moonlight mermaid!”
Delighting in their newfound love and the freedom of their naked swim, without the need for constricting clothes and coverings, Miranda’s laughter rang out across the water. Jim was struck dumb by the sheer beauty above him. Miranda’s long hair had come loose and trailed down her back in a dark, dripping coil. With her head tilted upwards, her laughter made her glistening breasts tremble in the moonlight. At that moment, Jim did not think he had ever seen, nor would he ever see, a more wondrous sight. Not quite believing this apparition, Jim mutely reached up, in childlike wonder, to cup a cool, milk-white breast in one hand.
Out on the water now, in the little dinghy, Jim shivered slightly and sighed. The memory of that day was still fresh and vivid in his mind, as if it had been yesterday. Of course it wasn’t yesterday, it had been twenty-nine years ago.
They had married within three months and the little dwelling on the beach, previously referred to in Jim’s family as ‘the shack’ was from then on to be known as The Cottage. Their love was new and deep and he felt like a teenager. Miranda brought a new dimension to his life. Not detracting from the life he had known, and not wanting to change him, she enriched and embellished his life.
They re-painted the cottage. Miranda hung strips of muslin
They talked and walked, played and fought and laughed and cried enough to last them a lifetime. They had to. Their world was shattered when Miranda was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Eighteen short months later, Jim’s moonlight mermaid slipped from his fingers forever.
After Miranda died, Jim holed up at the cottage, a grieving recluse. For two months he ate poorly, spent his days wandering aimlessly along the beach and his evenings drinking stinking cheap red wine. He would curse the full moon when it shone in the dark velvet sky. For a time he wished for death himself. With Barry and Jean’s support, he finally turned a corner, and returned to some semblance of ordinary life.
He spent the rest of his days between the small fishing village and the cottage. Barry and Jean encouraged him to meet other people, perhaps other women. But Jim had known the love of his life and was not interested in finding a replacement.
The wind picked up. Better make tracks. Time’s getting away. Want to be ready for the guests. The boat plink plink, plinked along at a steady pace. Jim squinted at the rocks on his left. They seemed to have a strange golden shimmer about them. Was the sunlight casting spells? What’s that noise? He turned his head slightly to the left, straining against the wind to hear. Someone calling? Must be the wind playing tricks.
Suddenly, Jim was gripped by a shocking pain in his chest. Lurching forward, he clutched at his chest with his left hand and gasped for breath. The pain was unbearable, barreling down on him, as if winded from a blow from behind. Even though he knew it to be impossible, he half turned to see if his assailant was somehow perched behind him. Bloody fool, he scolded himself.
His right hand still gripped the throttle and the boat was now headed straight for the rocks. Struggling to breathe, Jim lifted his head with great difficulty to check his course. To his utter amazement, there ahead of him, sat his fair-skinned mermaid, perched on a rock. She glimmered in the sun, her long copper tresses blowing free in the wind.
It’s too early. Why is she out here now? In the daylight? Sure enough, Jim sometimes saw his mermaid, or so he thought, or imagined, sitting combing out her lovely, long hair, but only ever on moonlit nights when the sea was calm. Right now, she had a hand outstretched to him and appeared to be calling his name, imploring him to come to her. The roaring, pulsing sound in Jim’s ears began to float away and he smiled in pleasant recognition. He let go the throttle and willingly held out his hand to his beloved vision now surrounded by a brilliant light.
All was quiet. There had been no raging storm. The little dinghy was wedged tight in between two large rocks and the water made a soft familiar sound, slapping gently against the dented hull. The lobster pot had been thrown from the boat and split in two on impact. Jim’s precious prize had long since returned to the ocean depths.