Sister Faye Mermaid & the Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties.jpg

One night after the Old Mermaids washed ashore in the New Desert, Sister Faye Mermaid could not sleep. She wandered the half-finished house, gliding from room to room, like a ghost, a gentle breeze, or an Old Mermaid swimming in the Old Sea: She was quieter than a cactus mouse. Certainly quieter than the javelinas she smelled and heard snuffling around outside the house. Quieter than the coyotes yipping in the near distance. Maybe not as quiet as the jackrabbit she had seen under the saguaro up the ridge near the Hunter’s place earlier in the day. Although maybe he wasn’t so much quiet as absolutely still. Sister Faye Mermaid was not still. She was, however, quiet. She did not wish to disturb any of the sleeping Old Mermaids.

After a time, Sister Faye Mermaid lay on the bench that curved out from the half-finished wall. She gazed up at the sky. Stars, stars, everywhere; all without a care. She shrugged. It wasn’t much of a chant, certainly not a song. She sighed. She would miss being able to look up at the stars like this once the house was finished. Maybe she would talk to the others about putting in star windows. Sky windows. She liked that idea.

She watched the twinkling lights and listened to the sounds of the night desert. The house and the Old Mermaids breathed all around her, along with the trees, cacti, javelinas, coyotes, owls, and stars. She listened for an indication that the Invisibles were near. She watched the stars for some sign. Any kind of sign. She waited for a touch that would tell her the Invisibles were listening, that the Old Mermaids were not alone.

Sister Faye Mermaid got up again and stared into the milky darkness. She knew she and the Old Mermaids were not alone. My word! They were surrounded by the most interesting varieties of life—different from what they had known in the Old Sea, of course. But here Sister Faye Mermaid could not find any indication of Spirit, or the Invisibles, the Faeries. Perhaps she didn’t know their language here—or the songs, the ceremonies. She did not know what she didn’t know, but it was something. It was something that she had always known at any other place.

In the Old Sea, Sister Faye Mermaid had understood that the sigh of the East Wind meant cold and sometimes enlightenment was on the way. The West Wind most often brought storms and sometimes a sense of calamity. Or an upset stomach. She knew if an eel in the south canyon was wiggling out of its hole happily that either something good to eat was swimming by or it was time to celebrate. If she couldn't see even the tinniest glimmer of an eel’s eye because it was so far back into its hole, she knew hard times were coming. (She hadn’t seen an eel in an eon before the Old Sea dried up.) She knew by the way the sea fronds brushed up against her if the tide was coming in or out, and she understood all the implications of both. And always, always, she knew the great Old Sea listened to her chants and understood her questions.

Here. Here she didn’t know which or what Invisibles she was talking to. If any. Maybe she was talking to Air. Which wasn’t bad. Air gave her life. Gave them all life. Yet her conversations felt one-side. What songs did the New Desert Air want to hear? What did this place want from them?

Sister Faye Mermaid felt closed up and closed off and generally useless here. All the Old Mermaids had a purpose, they all had concrete skills—except her. Sister Ruby Rosarita was the best cook of them all. Sissy Maggie Mermaid made friends and made art. Sister Sheila Na Giggles could build or fix just about anything, all while she told a joke or a story. Sister Ursula Divine Mermaid understood the fauna; Sister Bea Wilder Mermaid understand the land. Sister Laughs A Lot and Sister Bridget Mermaid knew all the plants. Sister Sophia Mermaid had the wisdom of the ages in her brain and all through her body. They all had something. And before Sister Faye Mermaid had always been able to synthesize their collective wisdom and act as a kind of negotiator and go-between for the Old Mermaids and the geni loci of a place.

A while back, Sister Faye Mermaid had decided she needed to do something physical to get herself back into the shape she had been before. She went up to Annie’s house and asked to take a bath in her big old tub. She figured once her body was immersed in water, she’d fill up with herself again and all would be well. She wouldn’t let Annie heat up the water—she thought that was just strange—so it came as a shock to her that the water was a shock to her. She ended up sitting in the tub shivering. When she finally got out of the tub, she looked down at her body and was startled to see herself—truly—for the first time since she had left the Old Sea.

She said, “I ain’t what I used to be.”

Maybe that meant she couldn’t do what she had been able to do before. She felt anchored. Trapped. She remembered feeling adrift. Ahhhh. Freedom.

Sister Faye Mermaid had talked to the others about how she felt. Sister Sophia Mermaid said, “Many religious and spiritual traditions suggest a time of solitude or fasting might be in order. Or you might try a hallucinogenic. The desert is full of them.”

Mother Star Stupendous Mermaid said, “Perhaps we were meant for the desert all along. Maybe the Old Sea was just a preparation for this.”

“Who meant us for this then?” Sister Faye Mermaid asked.

“Maybe we did.”

“We aren’t who we were,” Sister Faye Mermaid said.

“I know,” Mother Star Stupendous Mermaid said. “Isn’t that grand?”

Now Sister Faye Mermaid wandered into the front room. She gazed at the wall where Sissy Maggie Mermaid had painted a mountain scene. Even in the darkness, Sister Faye Mermaid could see and feel the presence of the mountain. It was as if she could walk right into it. On the opposite wall was a scene from the Old Sea. She didn’t want to get too close to it right now. She was afraid she might hear the ocean, might walk into the painting and never come back.

She turned away from the mountain scene. The night was beginning to gray into dawn. She had spent another night sleepless. And she had learned nothing. No secrets. No geni loci had made themselves known to her. She began walking from room to room again. Grand Mother Yemaya Mermaid snored softly in her room. Next door Mother Star Stupendous lay on her side with her hands together under her face. She looked peaceful, beautiful.

In the next room, Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid and Sister Bea Wilder Mermaid curled up around one another. Nearby Sissy Maggie Mermaid and Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid had fallen asleep next to one another. Earlier the four of them had been planning Sissy Maggie Mermaid’s next art project. Sissy Maggie Mermaid had snuggled up to Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid, just like they used to when they were young, sunning themselves with a group of walruses near the shore. A lock of Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid’s hair had fallen down near her eyes, in a curl that looked like a seahorse’s tail. Something about that made Sister Faye Mermaid’s breath catch in her throat. Her chest ached. She smiled and kept herself from brushing the hair off of Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid’s face. She suddenly felt adrift. Ahhhh.

It had been a long while since she had realized how beautiful they all were—even though they weren’t what they used to be. It had been a long time since she acknowledged how glad she was that she had washed up onto this desert with these Old Mermaids.

Just then Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid opened her eyes sleepily. “Oh, it’s you. I thought I heard you singing.”

“I wasn’t singing, sweetheart,” Sister Faye Mermaid whispered. “I was just breathing.”

“Same thing.” Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid closed her eyes and was asleep again.

Sister Faye Mermaid turned and stepped over the wall and walked into the morning desert. A beam of sunlight illuminated a spot under the palo verde tree near the house. Sister Faye Mermaid stared at it. The spot was gold and green and comforting and wild, and she kept still, so still, so she could breathe in the mystery of it all. The desert breathed with her. The spot breathed with her. Then the spot turned its head. Sister Faye Mermaid was looking directly into two eyes filled with sunlight.

She blinked, not understanding what she was seeing. Two tufted ears. This was how the desert faeries looked, according to Annie, The Woman Who Loves Birds. Sister Faye Mermaid heard herself singing. Had she been singing all along? The spot got up and moved out of the light. Something or someone shifted. The desert faery was really a bobcat—or the other way around—and it was looking directly at her as if to say, “You called me. Now what?” The bobcat slowly walked away. It stopped and looked back at Sister Faye Mermaid. She grinned. She couldn’t wait to tell the others. Later. She’d let sleeping beauties sleep for now. The bobcat desert faery disappeared; Sister Faye Mermaid followed.

(Thank you to Terri Windling, for generously allowing me to use her "Sleeping Beauties." Mario and I have this hanging in our bedroom, and it inspired this particular Old Mermaid tale.)

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