Walkway to Mermaid Meeting Place (can’t leave the water quite yet)

September 30, 2009

IMGP4172The waves gently licked at the barnacle-caked stairs. They led downward. Heaven wasn’t supposed to go downward. A fat lot the Christians knew.
 
I’d spent day upon night upon week upon month strolling the boardwalk, north to south, carrying supplies back and forth from the hardware store to the shipyard. Even when The Point was packed with tourists, sailors, laborers, and vagrants it still sung with magic. On the loud, people-encrusted days I’d occasionally stop short of the cement stairs, dropping my stack of lumber or whatever thing I happened to be hauling over to the ‘yard to listen to the music of those waves. The din of humanity frequently forced me to descend the steps, to crouch with my ear near the submerged bottom step and bannister, just to hear. The tune always enchanted.
 
I was working late one night last week, schlepping three cans of paint over to Jan Buckley’s houseboat for some much-needed touching up, when I made my detour to the Heaven Downstairs. Not a soul walked along the boardwalk that night. A mustard-and-pumpkin-tinged harvest moon turned the salt water into pineapple-orange slush, and a lone fishing boat travelled the water’s length a good mile away on the horizon. On quiet evenings like this I could sit at the top of the stairs while the gentle sonics of the seawater seduced my eardrum. So that night, I perched against the uppermost step, tracing my finger against the sharp barnacles and the spongy/slimy emerald clumps of seaweed along the side of the walkway. Then I saw the water shift and churn.
 
A form popped up to the surface about twenty yards out. It moved with independent, graceful purpose; definitely not driftwood, definitely alive. It was a woman, and she swam slowly towards the bottom step. As she drew nearer her paddling became louder,  more frantic, as though she’d already been swimming awhile. I could see her features–fair and freckled–more clearly with each stroke.
 
I ran down the stairs and quickly descended into the water myself, swimming rapidly towards her. The water was chilly and I worried that she’d become hyperthermic if she lingered.  She smiled when I reached her. “Are you here to rescue me?” she asked playfully.
 
“Well, yes, actually,” I replied. She was relaxed now, and her amusement rubbed off on me. I found myself grinning ear-to-ear, gulping in and spitting out saltwater.
 
I wrapped my right arm around her, and we swam together to the steps. Her strokes were easy and comfortable. “Thanks,” she said. “The worst is over, but I appreciate you coming out to see me.”  Then she told me about how she’d nodded off at the wheel of her Honda Civic; rolled into the water, then rolled down her front window; allowed the car to flood; swam through the opening; and drifted upward some thirty feet to the surface.
 
“You’re lucky to be alive,” I told her. I squinted and gazed hard at the water, and thought I could kind of see the faint glow of the Honda’s high-beams streaking the seabed.
 
“It happened for a reason. I knew I’d be safe,” she said calmly as she walked up the barnacled steps, white blouse clinging to her frame and dripping furtively as she ascended.
 
God watches out for fools…and mermaids, I thought as my eyes followed her progress.

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