Beneath the sky, the ocean rises and falls with its own heartbeat.
Ripples and waves scatter over the surface, fish leap for the sunlight. Go deeper, and whales sing.
Deeper still, and the light fades into cool shadow like the forest on a rainy day. Everything is thick and wet but bright with color to those with eyes to see it. Salt-water flowers hold close to coral, and pink and red anemones grasp and wave.
The mermaid reclines upon her favorite rock, running sharp fingernails through her thick hair. She closes her eyes and leans back, spreads her arms out wide and lets the ocean shift against her, pulling and pushing, holding her down and dragging her up. It is her favorite game, to surrender to the tide.
Drifting, the mermaid listens to the chatter of fish and flowers, hears the whispering sand sharks and the distant cry of a dolphin family. To her right the laughter of a silver-back fish.
The mermaid loves silver-back fish.
With a flick of her tail she spins out of her shadow and snatches the slick creature. She cracks its bones between her hands and eats, sinking down against a jutting rock, surrounded by vivid purple urchins.
Still hungry, she pushes against the ocean and swims toward the sky.
The mermaid slides past open fields of sand and rock, through a sea-weed jungle where she ducks and weaves among green and brown leaves. Up she goes, emerging into shadowed water.
The sun hides behind tall, cragged cliffs. The water is cold and the pulse of waves on the rough rocks beats against her scales. One unexpected current might smash her onto the cliffs or fling her into a tide pool where she’ll be trapped and dry out like a beached whale.
But the crabs are best here.
The mermaid’s eyes break the surface. Foam and surf tug at her hair. Peering through sea-spray, she hunts the blood-red crab.
But a cry from above catches her attention. Clutching a slippery stone, she turns her gaze up. A boy, a human boy, stands high on the cliff, laughing and calling to his friends. His hair is shot through with gold and pink from the setting sun – he raises his arms and leaps into the air.
He flies. He falls.
The mermaid stares as the boy crashes into her ocean. She dives for him, grasping his arm. He struggles and kicks to the surface, dragging her with him.
The boy yells for air and clings to the rock. His eyes are as muddy and vast as the ocean floor. His lips makes sounds and the mermaid listens, smiling. A wave knocks her into him and he holds her close, licks salt water from her cold cheeks.
But she needs water against her eyes, against her gills and lips, so she shoves away from him, diving down.
Her fin skims his reaching fingers.
Every sunset she returns to watch him leap – to see in his long fall a promise she’s never known before. But the mermaid stays back from him, watching the boy dart through the deadly rocks and struggle against the vicious current. He calls for her and licks salt water from his cold hands. His friends bring tiny boats and drag him back to the island.
Then one evening, he holds out his arms and closes his eyes. He is alone and the sun casts rays of violent pink and silver like a halo around him.
The mermaid clutches at her heart as he flies – eyes closed – and dives deep into her sea.
He does not reappear.
The mermaid fights the ocean to find him, tearing at the sea and ripping it with her fingers. The boy floats upright between three rocks. His head twists as she hunts, reaching out for her with his eyes tightly closed.
She presses her lips to his and he opens his eyes. He smiles. The mermaid kisses him and swallows his final gasp of air. Then, taking his hand, she dives.
They swim over empty plains and through the brackish jungle of seaweed, past scarlet anemones and schools of rainbow fish. Her powerful fins carry them both to her home. Coral and stone and ancient bones rise in pillars and arches. Pale sunlight makes the water glow gentle and green.
The mermaid places her boy against a glistening column and leans into him, wrapping his arm about her shoulders. She smiles and sleeps.
When she wakes, the mermaid tries to feed him, but her boy will not eat what she brings, not fish and not flower. He will not move on his own and when she opens his eyes he only stares achingly at the sun. She kisses his cold skin, but he does not kiss back. His hair and skin shine grey and green in the shadow. The mermaid puts her head against his chest and hears the pounding of his heart. Perhaps he will eat if she brings food from the land.
The mermaid returns to the cliffs where his friends are in their tiny boats, yelling and casting nets into the sea.
The mermaid watches until the sky is black and the men light torches. She swims to one boat and tips it over. The men flail and flip and she claws at them until she tastes blood in the water. Their eyes stare at the stars and the black night sky.
When she returns to her boy he is surrounded by fish – kissing him and biting him. She flies at them and tears them away. He is mine!
She holds him and glares. One brave fish remains, watching her with a single eye as large as the moon.
He is not yours. He belongs to the ocean.
The mermaid presses her ear to the boy’s chest. It is only the heart of the ocean.
She holds him and kisses him and shakes with her sorrow, for a mermaid cannot weep.
Gathering him close, she rises through the water. She swims with him past flowers like scattered jewels, through the seaweed jungle, and over the empty plain and around the deadly cliffs.
She finds a quiet cove where the dawn brushes the beach with loving fingers. There she drags him to shore. She stretches beside him and stares up at the sky. Waves spread over them, pulling and pushing.
The mermaid watches until the sun burns her eyes and her body aches for water. She kisses her boy’s cold, dry lips, raises her arms into the air, and returns to the sea.
photoby tricky, via flickr creative commons