Sea Maidens

“I was in love once,” Murphy said, “when I was too young to know better. I was working in the Sea of Cortez and our ship went aground. We went to land for a time. I wandered around just as you have been and I met one of the local girls. She was beautiful. But it was more than that. Something about her eyes and the way she was in the world. I can’t explain it. I loved her the moment I saw her. How does anyone explain these things? I didn’t see her often. She would come and be with me and then disappear for days at a time. So one day I followed her.”
“Without her knowing?”
“Without her knowing,” he said. “I lost sight of her for a moment and then I saw her swimming away from shore. I stayed there, waiting for her for a long time, but she didn’t come back. I fell to sleep. When I woke up, I saw her and her sisters on the beach up a ways from me. I got closer to them, without them seeing. They were naked, you understand, so it was only natural I’d want to see more of them.”
Sara laughed.
“In the sand I saw their clothes,” he said. “At least that’s what I thought they were. They were shiny and glittery. Like nothing I had seen up to then—and only once since. When the women had their backs to me, I grabbed the cloth that was nearest my lady love. This gave me away. The other women cried out and grabbed their dresses. Only they weren’t dresses. They wrapped them around their waists, and I can’t be certain, luv, but it seemed I saw a flash of tails as they each dove into the water. Every one of them except my love. I knew the stories of the red cap. I knew about the sealskin women. I knew that if I kept a hold of this beautiful thing I held in my hands, my love would be mine forever.”
Sara looked over at him. 
He nodded. “Yes, I knew what would happen. I wanted her so much, Sara. I thought my life depended upon her being a part of my life.”
“What did you do, O’Murphy?”
“She held out her hand to me,” Murphy said. “And I returned to her what was hers. She kissed me. Then she bent over and picked up the most beautiful shell I’ve ever seen—tiny and shaped in a spiral—and she said, ‘You know what this means, don’t you?’ I shook my head. She pressed the seashell into my hand. ‘Whenever you find a seashell it means a mermaid has found her tail and is free again.’ And then she dove back to the sea and swam away. I never saw her again.”

Artwork: "Sea Maidens" by Evelyn de Morgan (1885)

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