This is from my novel The Old Mermaids Sanctuary. Myla has set up her table—the Church of the Old Mermaids—in front of Antigone Books in Tucson on another Saturday. A woman walks over and picks up a clear glass bottle...
“What is this?” the woman asked. Lily leaned against Myla and watched the woman.
“Well, I can’t be sure," Myla said, "but I believe that is the bottle that once contained the Old Mermaids Elixir, only it wasn’t called that at first. A traveling salesman stopped by the Old Mermaids Sanctuary for a time. He had a big old colorful wagon drawn by two old horses. One was black, the other was white. The black one had a white spot on her forehead. The white one had a black spot on his forehead. The Old Mermaids Sanctuary neighbors came from all around to meet the horses and the salesman. His name was Grandy, I believe, and the horses were Black Beauty and White Wonder. You figure out which was which.”
“Anyway, Grandy had all kinds of things to sell,” Myla said. “Grandy was just as you would imagine. He’d stand by his wagon and call out, ‘Hear ye, hear ye! I’ve got what you need! I can heal your wounds, sooth your soul, fill your wallet—all without emptying it first.'
"The Old Mermaids appreciated his showmanship, and they let him stay at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. They liked watching him because it was like going to a show, but they didn’t buy anything from him. He told everyone exactly what was in each of his bottles, so they could decide whether what he was saying was true or not. But Sister Faye Mermaid and Sister Bridget Mermaid knew how to create their own concoctions and weave their own enchantments, and they thought most of what he was selling was sugar water. They kept an eye on him to make certain he wasn’t causing any harm to their neighbors. They liked listening to his stories, and he enjoyed eating their food and watching Sissy Maggie Mermaid walk around half-dressed the way she did.
“Just before he packed up to leave, he told the Old Mermaids he had a present for them. ‘It was given to me by an Old Merman sitting on the edge of the Old Sea,' Grandy said. He held out a clear glass bottle filled with liquid. 'He told me that one day I would know who it was for. He said it would help them find their tails again, so they could come home. I didn’t know what he was talking about then, but I’m thinking maybe he was talking about you all.’
Grand Mother Yemaya Mermaid took the bottle from him. On the label a mermaid swam alongside the words ‘Mermaid Elixir.’ In tiny letters below that it read ‘Put one drop in your bathtub as needed.’
"Grand Mother Yemaya Mermaid said, ‘The Old Merman put this label on here?’
"Grandy smiled. ‘No, Grand Mother,’ he said. ‘I wrote up what he told me. I don’t know what will happen when you use it, but it is yours to try and see.’
“Then Grandy made his farewells. The Old Mermaids hugged and kissed Black Beauty and White Wonder good-bye, and the wagon pulled away and soon disappeared in the dust. The Old Mermaids stood around looking at the bottle. They passed it from hand to hand, from Old Mermaid to Old Mermaid. Finally they opened it and smelled it. They did everything but drink it.
"‘It can’t be real,’ Sister Bea Wilder Mermaid said. ‘Why not?’ Sister Laughs A Lot Mermaid asked. ‘Because an Old Merman isn’t going to give Grandy something like that,’ Sister Ursula Divine Mermaid said. ‘And I never heard of such a thing when we were in the Old Sea,’ Sister Bridget Mermaid said. ‘These are new times,’ Sister Lyra Musica Mermaid said. 'And we didn't need it when we were in the Old Sea.'
“Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid said, ‘Maybe this is providence. Maybe the Invisibles are trying to help us get back home.’ The Old Mermaids looked around at each other. Mother Star Stupendous Mermaid said, ‘We are home, Sister Mermaids. The Old Sea is gone, at least the Old Sea as we knew it. What would we do if we went back to the way we were? There is no place here for us as we were.’
“The Old Mermaids stood quietly under the summer sun and thought about what Mother Star Stupendous Mermaid said. Finally Sister Sophia Mermaid said, ‘What Mother Star Stupendous Mermaid has told us is very wise. We should listen to her.’
"The other Old Mermaids agreed, although Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid hesitated. Even though they had been in the New Desert for some time, Sister DeeDee still felt as though she hadn’t quite gotten her land legs. The other Old Mermaids went about their days, and Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid held onto the Mermaid Elixir for a while. Every once in a while she’d take off the top and dab a drop of it on her wrists. Nothing happened, but she kept doing it anyway. She would close her eyes and remember what it had been like in the Old Sea.
“One hot day when the Old Mermaids sought refuge from the sun and heat in the pool, Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid sat on the edge of the pool with her legs in the water; the open bottle of the Mermaid Elixir was next to her. Most of the other Old Mermaids swam or floated in the water. Sister Bea Wilder Mermaid came up behind Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid and tickled her until she fell into the water. Then Sister Bea Wilder Mermaid slipped into the water. She didn’t see the Mermaid Elixir, and you can guess what happened. The entire bottle fell into the pool when Sister Bea accidentally knocked it over. Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid shrieked. The other Old Mermaids got very quiet. Sister Faye Mermaid said, ‘Don’t worry. The elixirs of a charlatan rarely work.’
“But something happened that day as this bottle you're holding—at least I think it was this bottle—fell into the pool and its contents mixed with the water in the pool. The Old Mermaids felt a kind of moisture in their beings that they had not felt since they left the Old Sea. I can’t be sure, but the story goes that all the tails of the Old Mermaids became visible again, and the Old Mermaids were creatures of the water again for a time. The sun glinted off the blue, green, red, yellow, black, scarlet, orange, indigo scales of the tails of the Old Mermaids. It wasn't that they went back to what they were exactly. It was more like they recognized that they were still themselves whether they were in the water or the desert. The Old Mermaids were able to swim in the knowledge of their true selves in that pool all day long. And it was a long day that lasted a week, a month, a year, a hundred years.
"Before they got out of the pool that long day, Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid swam to the bottom and picked up the Mermaid Elixir bottle which was now filled with pool water or mermaid elixir or both. Some say that the Old Mermaids never had to use the Mermaid Elixir again; whenever they jumped into the pool they became their old selves again. But Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid knew others might need help in recognizing their true selves, in finding their own tails—and tales—so she bottled the Old Mermaids Elixir and gave it out to friends and neighbors. She used the bottle of watered-down elixir as the Mother so she’d put a drop or more of the elixir into a bottle of water, put a label on it, and call it the Old Mermaids Elixir.
"Of course, she tried it out before she gave it to anyone. She was no charlatan. Everyone who used it said they saw themselves as they truly were, for good or ill. This truth never came as a surprise to anyone—or maybe it did. But they shouldn't have been surprised: Sister DeeDee Lightful Mermaid had printed right on the label 'know thyself.'
"Time went on and as you know, the Old Mermaids had to leave the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. The story goes that whoever found the original Old Mermaids Elixir bottle could fill it up with ordinary water and it would become a true Old Mermaids Elixir. If you put a couple drops in your bath or in your pool or in your tea, you grow your own mermaid tails, or maybe you'll just discover your true self. Either way it'll be an adventure. You willing to try it? I can almost see your tail now, if I squint. Yep. You'll be swimming in the deep ocean of your true self any minute now."