The tale of the merboy and the mother

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She came across the merboy on the grey side of a dune 
                                      swamped by corpses of kelp.

The Monday morning dogs had missed its scent,
he lay there, beaten by a full moon’s spring tide,
beached and beyond her belief –
          half fish-scaled,
          half pearlescent,
          roughly the size of a ten-year-old boy,
          he lay there, resigned to the bulging heat, thirst and his dying.

His eyes held her, but it was memory that convinced her,
so she wrapped the merboy in a towel
and cradled him home like a lame dog,
a cool weight close to her breasts,
back to the room she had locked two summers ago.

She laid him on a duvet of superheroes
and drew open the curtains,
the windows protested, startling the merboy, 
yet in his delirium he marvelled at the strange new beauty 
of dust atoms adrift in afternoon sunlight. 

She placed a damp towel over his oil-matted hair, then 
covered his body with a fresh sheet and watched
          his skin dull to the colour of distant sky
          as he finally surrendered to a dreamless sleep.

He awoke to a rain-spat window.
Outside, a sea wind knifed at the eucalyptus trees –
another wintry stab at the stillborn town.
From the beach came the dopplered clack of a train,
so different from the submarine drumming he was used to.

She fed him luke-warm fish fingers,
told him her story: of her son, her husband, a plane that never landed
and a suitcase that arrived months later,
and in her telling the merboy’s eyes discovered tears;
he wept for neither home nor his rescuer’s tale,
but something deeper than sadness – 

By weekend his scales shimmered like silvered silk,
and with it a yearning for the heaving cobalts and emerald tongues
of open ocean.  

So when the wind swung to the south, the small room with
its unfamiliar objects and dry touch turned on him. 
He flapped against the sheet and she wondered if he was in pain. 
Strange that she thought it indecent of herself to lift the sheet,
when it was simply to check whether she had missed a wound.
And it lay there, the merboy’s glistening tail, scaled blue,
dusted with green and flecked with red, perfect in its tapered form.
          Perfect, and miraculously intact.

She explained she would return him that night.
As it was winter, the bay was veiled in shadow by mid-afternoon;
by six the sky was ash – streetlights stumbled to life,
and on the beach, form gave way to sound,
yet here and there fine stitches of light were still woven to glass and leaves,
before unravelling in the homebound traffic.

At nine she laid the merboy in her car and drove to the beach.
She parked in the gravel lot, where the surfers hung out,
separated from the beach by two tracks that arced
towards the throb of the town’s lights –
a place that aspired to something it would never be. 

The merboy seemed heavier, his breathing was slow, steady, 
his wide eyes fixed skywards – snagged by a full moon.
Her arms burned, his locked hands pulled at her neck, yet she carried him until she felt the iron bite of wet sand and frothed tidal wash. 

Overhead a plane’s strobes flashed against the underbellies of rent clouds. 
For a moment, in their aching embrace, they watched it creep across the sky until it climbed beyond sight.

She placed the merboy at the water’s edge; phosphorescence licked at his form.
There was no thank you, no backwards glance of acknowledgement, just intent, as he pulled himself towards the first rank of white water and was gone.
Later, she would convince herself it was the night or the sea that thieved
his farewell.     

*

Every aspect of creation is reflected,
the small bay traps wads of dawn fog – the residue of sea dreams.
To the south, the mouth of a larger bay releases a white sun
in blinding doses of yellow blue light.
Her gaze shifts over the ocean’s skin, she thinks of nothing
and feels a peace that has neither a past nor a future.

Everything is untethered,
          slight as a flock of birds in flight,
                   as she imagines the merboy at sea
                             swimming beneath green sun shafts                                                                   in those places poets imagine.

The sea, like its citizens, knows only the present.

 

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