for Janice & Siren
Sea felt especially enamored with her own beauty today.
How fine her frothy locks! How translucent her endless skin! She was smooth, calm, and see-through as a young, polished emerald.
Oh! How she wished to be seen and preened over! She might never be so beautiful again; surely someone would come to witness her beauty so it could be verified and preserved by more than just her own feeling.
She yearned to see the awe she felt at herself reflected in the eyes of an admirer.
The tip of her right pinky finger drew her attention. She looked closer, and behold! Was this not a boy coming to do exactly what she wanted? And not just a boy, but look, a girl with him! Two admirers to sway and to sigh, to find themselves unable to move, paralyzed by the stunning panorama of a Good Sea Day.
She squinted at her pinky. She watched, waiting for wonder to fill these humans’ faces and reverence to still their legs.
The boy and the girl were laughing and joking with each other as they picked their way along the rocks to her edge; they hadn’t seen her yet. Sea grew still more excited, for this meant she could watch the first moment they witnessed her beauty. She held her salty breath in anticipation, further stilling and smoothing herself like a freshly pressed dress, laid out, unwrinkled, generously ready to be admired, perhaps even slipped into.
At last the boy reached the fringe of her magnificent bodice. He stepped out onto a high overhanging rock ledge and right into the vista of her. Sea gasped at how close he stood to the edge. He might be so awed by her perfection, swooning, that he would fall in!
Just in case, she prepared to catch him in a bed of soft, foamy waves. Below where he stood, she fluffed and puffed herself. If her beauty swept him off his feet, he would fall into a mattress of bubbly down rather than crashing into the jagged rocks lurking everywhere beneath her smooth surface.
It seemed he was looking directly out at her, but with no reaction. Suddenly, he spun around. Sea felt very confused and zoomed her vision out to see if the girl was alright; perhaps the boy was turning around to check her progress. But the girl was fine, taking her time; she squatted a ways back, examining some tiny tide pools.
Sea sped her gaze back to the boy she’d expected to fall to his knees and instead found him rummaging in his backpack, his back still to her.
Ah, of course! figured Sea: He couldn’t bear to take in such beauty without making some sort of offering!
She felt her northern cheeks blush despite the cold air they occupied; what sort of gift might this southern admirer procure? Perhaps a ring for her little Pacific finger? Would he make a wish as he tossed it to her before (finally) falling down to his knees to thank the Cosmos for making such a Sea? Oh she hoped he would! There was no wish she wouldn’t grant to one who allowed her to see herself through their eyes.
For a second Sea closed her eyes, savoring the delicious, anticipatory warmth of mutual recognition.
When she opened them, she could not, at first, believe what she saw.
It was no ring, no offering the boy had brought forth from his bag. No it was … what was it? A tiny mirror that he was using to … to look at himself in, while she, Sea, was a mere backdrop! He turned himself this way and that, tapping his thumb endlessly upon a button on the little mirror. He captured close-up frames of his face with Sea nothing more than a stage set to enhance the green of his eyes.
He did not even see her! He had only come here to admire himself, to use her to make himself look better, without so much as a true, singular glance at her majesty, her presence.
In an instant, the tranquil, transparent green of Sea churned and spumed into a black, roiling mass of vengeful, tormented fury. Sea hissed and spat and careened, drawing herself higher and higher with each leaping, spiraling scream.
The clouds, respectful of their sister, Sea’s, righteous anger, rushed into the sky above her, removing any light that might have cut through the obsidian of Sea’s clenched and convulsing fist, ready to strike.
Meanwhile, the boy continued fawning over himself in his little picture-snapping mirror, not even noticing how darkened now the day, how violent the water whipping closer and closer at his heels …
For a moment, he stopped. He drew the little mirror very close to his face, head bowed as he stared, smiling, at a still picture that filled the screen. He turned around slowly to face her, looking from screen to Sea and back again. His eyes lit up as he stared out at Sea's now black body. He went very still for an instant. Sea stilled herself too. Wait, she thought, I think he sees … he sees me ...
The boy again turned his back to Sea and held the little mirror up to reflect his face in the foreground and Sea in the back. Sea thought the boy seemed, this time, to be looking more closely at her in the reflection, not just himself.
Perhaps this will do, Sea sighed, her volatile roiling slowing to a low boil; perhaps this is the process leading to his recognition of my beauty... to his eyes reflecting me ...
“WHOA!" burst the boy, tapping his thumb away madly again, capturing still frame after still frame. “Just LOOK at that!” he yelled, and Sea smiled. Yes, yes, look, and see, me ...
“Just look at that HAIR!” he cried, and Sea was incredibly flattered he would notice the fine, sheeny white down that covered her dark hands …
The boy lifted his free hand to his own mass of shining golden locks and began to glide fingers through the soft tangle, enamored with himself.
“The ocean being all dark just makes my hair look even better!" He shouted. "The contrast is amazing! Amy! Come here! Seriously! You've gotta get over here, this lighting is ON POINT …”
Amy rose from her rock pool examinations, smiling at the boy as she skipped toward where he stood admiring and commemorating himself on the rock ledge.
Like lightning, rage flashed, and Sea lashed.
A wave tall as a skyscraper and sharp as a saber shot up and out, erasing the boy from the land as though he'd never been upon it. Sea heard the girl, Amy, scream: “Michael!!!! MICHAAAAAEEEEEELLLL” as she sprinted to the cliff's rocky ledge.
Inside Sea’s black fist, she crushed Michael and prepared to smash him onto the most razor-edged rock she could find. Just when she'd nearly squeezed the last breath from his lungs, just as she raised him up to slice and cobble him among the rocks, she felt a soft, persistent tickle.
Sea loosened her grip and concentration on Michael just enough to see what the tickling trickle was. There on the edge of the rock stood Amy, and from her eyes a torrent of tiny salt tears streamed, two-pronged, into Sea’s salty body below.
Amy fell down to her knees and keened, “Please! Please! Sea! Powerful, beautiful Sea! Please! Have mercy, Sea, please, bring him back to me!”
Something about the desperation of Amy’s plea, of her acknowledgement of Sea’s power and beauty, made Sea let go her grip, holding the barely-alive boy in her open palm.
She remembered her promise to grant any wish to one who truly saw her. Well, sighed Sea, as you wish …
... though, I warn you, my dear: Wishes never come true quite as we'd like them to.
As Amy sobbed on the rock ledge, the clouds parted and began to dissolve. Sea calmed and smoothed herself back out, summoning composure as the sun again cut through her to reflect new turquoise clarity.
Feeling the sun on her face, Amy opened bleary eyes. She looked out at Sea, breathless with hope, her eyes scanning the emerald expanse below her. She saw nothing through the clear, still water, except, except …
There, not far out, was a small whirlpool. But it wasn’t on the surface of the water, it was below, and it wasn't vertical, it was horizontal, spinning faster and faster, faster and faster … when, without warning, it turned, and a massive geyser gushed up, rising high enough to meet the rock where Amy sat on her heels.
Michael’s white white face stared at her, emerging from the top of the jet like a serpent's head. He writhed, struggling to lift himself up out of the liquid tornado. His shoulders emerged, then his torso. His arms came free, and he pushed on the top of the water with his hands to wriggle free. With one final wild-wide-and-white-eyed groan, he flung himself from the towering spout and onto the rock outcropping next to Amy.
He lay next to her, gasping for air as a fish out of water. Amy slid limply off her heels and onto her tailbone, her legs shaking and curling beside her, reaching weakly for Michael as her eyes swept from his blanched face to his wheezing chest to his --- here her arm dropped dead --- to his … tail.
For beneath his waist where legs ought to have splayed lay instead a slimy, sinewy blue-green tail ending in two great gossamer fins. A fish tail.
Michael, fighting to breathe, followed the terrible path of Amy’s mortified gaze and saw what he had become. He tried to scream, but no sound came out. He raised a shaking hand to reach for Amy, but before she could make her own dead hand move to meet his, before she could utter a single whimper, a huge wave of warm, salty water poured over them both like a baptism.
When Amy opened her eyes, Michael was gone.
Amy sat motionless for a long time, staring at the empty space where Michael and his fishtail had been. Finally (it might have been minutes; it might have been hours), she stood, scanned, one last time. The ocean was calm and tranquil, fresh as a just-washed child.
She turned around and walked home on fast and shaking legs.
Amy never told anyone what happened. She just told everyone she and Michael had seen each other for the last time.
But some say it was not the last time Michael was seen. Some whisper of strange, strange sightings off the coast of Mazunte, swearing they knew the face that disappeared with the loud smack of cerulean tail ...
Yes, now and then, after clear and stormy days, came murmurings ... murmurings of a mermaid. No, no, they said, a merman. A beautiful, yellow haired, green eyed merman who would emerge just long enough to shout:
"See her while you can! See her beauty from where you stand! Don’t be a fool, man!
Lest she sink you so deep you never see the Sea again ... I tell you, you cannot see that which you are within!”