By Mel Goldberg
As an ex-pat retired teacher vacationing near the ocean in Barra de Navidad, I enjoyed walking on the shore under a full moon. The calm water had a silvery sheen and I liked being alone. On rare occasions, dead seals washed up on the shore, so I was not surprised to see a large shape in shallow water. The waves moved in, surrounded the body, and then receded. When I walked closer, I had the surprise of my life. It looked like the nude upper body of a young woman with her legs buried in the watery sand. But I was wrong. As the waves receded, I saw the bottom half of her body had scales and tail fins.
I never really believed old seafarer’s tales, but there she lay, as beautiful a woman as I had ever seen, tangled in a fishing net wrapped around her face and body, pinning her arms to her sides. I thought she was dead until she moved and looked at me with large soulful eyes.
She barely moved as I bent over her and cut away the netting with my pocket knife. I thought about releasing her back into the sea, but she was too weak. I picked her up and carried her back to my house. I put her in the bed in my second bedroom. I had no idea what she ate but I made her a quesadilla in my microwave and added some small pieces of chicken. She smiled when I came into the room with the food. She wolfed down the quesadilla in a few bites. After she ate, I gave her a hair brush and she untangled her reddish- brown hair, which hung down over her shoulders in soft waves and covered her white breasts.
Each time I spoke to her, she smiled. I didn’t think she understood, but I told her how beautiful I thought she was. When she made responding noises, her voice sounded like the splash of small waves embracing the shore.
The next morning I gave her boiled eggs and cereal and she fell asleep again. Little by little she was gaining strength, the color returning to her cheeks.
I couldn’t help myself and started to fall in love with her. It wasn’t the kind of love you feel for a helpless animal. It was the love one human being feels for another, even though she was not completely human. Of course, sex was unthinkable. I didn’t know where to start. So I sat on the edge of the bed as she slept and stroked her hair. She woke, took my hand, and kissed the palm. As she held my hand, looking up at me with inquisitive eyes, I leaned down and kissed her full on the lips.
She dropped my hand and started to shudder. When she cried as if in pain, I jumped away from the bed. Her entire body shook for several minutes. I thought she was having a seizure. When her convulsions stopped, she lay quietly for several minutes. Then she threw the covers back and stunned me. She had taken complete human form. Lying before me was probably the most beautiful woman I had even seen in my life. She stood up, threw her arms around my neck, hugged me and cried. Then she jumped up and wrapped her new legs around my body. I was a man beside myself, laughing and crying at the same time. Then I undressed and we made love, the most passionate yet softest most fulfilling love I had ever felt.
There was no way I would ever learn her language, but in a short time she learned to speak Spanish with a beautiful musical cadence. She told me she knew about others of her kind who had fallen in love with men and assumed human form. The metamorphosis was permanent and they could never go back to the sea.
I needed groceries and other supplies and she said she wanted to go with me and explore her new world. I gave her a shirt and some old jeans that were too small for me but hugged her body. She would have gone barefoot, but I gave her a pair of flip-flops and we drove to Soriana. She said the cars and the traffic reminded her of the schools of fish that flowed in the ocean. At Soriana, she was amazed at the immense selection of items. Row after row of things to eat and things she did not understand. When she reached for an apple, I explained that I had to pay for any items we selected. Then I had to explain the concept of paying.
As we walked aisle after aisle, I noticed several men watching at her and smiling. I cautioned her not to tease by smiling back at them. After we had filled our cart with groceries, we stood in line at the check-out. She emitted a sound in her musical language. The young woman sliding our purchases past the bar code reader smiled and sang back.
In the car I asked her, “What did you say to her?”
“I said I recognized her. Like all of us, we can tell which women who are now human had once been sea creatures. You call us mermaids.”
We held hands and went for walks on the beach but being near the sea made her quiet and sadly nostalgic, like someone who had come from a foreign country but could never return. A few months later we moved to Chapala and were married in a quiet ceremony. I got work at a private school teaching English.
We have been happily married now for ten years. I couldn’t ask for a more satisfying life. But I’m always surprised by the slightly fishy smell in the bathroom after she has showered and washed her hair.