The rocking of the boat was my salt water cradle driving out all troubles, deadlines, and phonecalls, inserting wave laps, susurrating palms, and creaking wooden joists. Moonlight bathed my face through the open port. Were there old tales of bad luck, omens, some strange dreams that came with the blue air of the moon? It didn’t matter. Sleep was untroubled, deep, and languid.
Wind’s rising heralded the dawn, washing the sides of my chamber with the brush of fingertips, carrying the morning cries of gulls fishing off Tortuga. No one else was stirring, so I rose, slipping into yesterday’s swimsuit, not wanting to pause a moment longer. Before I could rationalize my way out of it, I eased into the water, gasping a little from the morning chill. Swiftly moving away from the boat, modifying my stroke to minimize the noise, not wanting to break dawn’s spell, I began to warm, finding my stride, gaining some distance.
The little cove was too small even to map and barely noticeable from my perspective low in the water. Raising my head, I could smell the sweet frangipanis, see butterflies drying their wings in the early light.
It called me, that quiet place, like a lover’s whisper. I turned, unbelieving. No, it had to be the little hummingbirds darting among the flowers. Just the wavelets slapping the sandy spit. Not whispers. Shaking my head to clear my ears, I dove. Kicking hard, I reached for the depths. As I breathed out, rising bubbles tickled my cheek, and caught themselves in my hair.
Paradise! I entered a stream of silversides, all of us swimming together, heading to school I wondered?
Suddenly, with swift precision and unstudied grace, the entire school flashed strobe-like across my path, their scales catching the light in blinding brilliance. I was entranced.
Hanging there, buoyed in the saline rich element, I saw her. There. Gliding past, unhurried. Goddess of light and water and breath. Breath! I had forgotten! Choking, sputtering, dying, I rose to cough and catch the air.
I knew it before I even looked. She was gone as sure as life, sure as truth, whatever you want to swear to. I know I hadn’t dreamed this! My eyes were still full of the sight. Though my brain argued, my heart believed.
I made this mermaid painting from a photograph taken of my friend when she put on performances in an underwater show. The story is fiction, remembering paradise. The photo of the sailboat, “Glory of Christiansted” was taken by my brother, David Stokely. The photo of Cap’n Norman is mine.