The man was old and wizened, stiff of joint and knobly of limb. His this body was overwhelmed by his black suit and black rain coat. Tufts or wire white hair sprung out from beneath his knitted black tagagon. He walked with a simple, laquered walking stick over the uneven rocks and pebbles of the New England shoreline.
The day itself was grey as wet stone and cold and bitter as the darkness of the grave. The sun was dim and distorted behind the grey clouds that covered this barren island. I drew my own coat tighter to me, and bowed my head against the salty breeze that blew off the choppy, dark sea and stung my blushing cheeks.
The old man, whose name was Abraham, stoppeed once we were within sight of the statue. His breath was ragged and he was tired, but there was a smile, warm and pleased on his thin, colorless lips, and a bright gleam in his eye.
“What was it, your friend had said…….uh…..”
“Jacob! What was it your friend had said, back in town, about the mermaid statue.”
“‘He didn’t get what all the fuzz was about.”‘
“He didn’t understand why it’s such a big deal. It’s so small and out of the way. He doesn’t think it’s worth it to come all this way.”
“Yes.” Abraham said, sighing and looking away at the endless cold waters, sad for a reason I couldn’t understand. It didn’t seem like he was angry at what my friend had said, or that he thought he was a punk; he was just disappointed by it, hurt.
Abraham caught his breath and we started walking again. The mermaid statue on the big, craggy boulder that lay out about 10 feet from the show, was a dim and dark metal, worn by the constant sea salt and wind. I was struck by how beautiful I found it. She was sitting, with her tail drawn under her, with long hair that framed a waifish face. She looked out into the endless and empty sea.
We sat down on a somewhat smooth rock. I wasn’t sure why Abraham had brought me out here, but I wasn’t bored, or antsy to get back to town. I feeling something, some….energy…..or…..I’m not sure, something that drew me here, to this old man, to this statue, to this island. I didn’t know why I was here, but I felt whatever the reason was, it was something momentous.
“I was a boy here, in this place. I’ve lived here all my life. The only time I’ve been more than a hundred miles away was back in ’44, when I was shipped to the Phillipines, during the war. I feel connected to this place, to these people. I’ve always been content with my lot her. I had a good childhood, was able to support and raise a family, and have seen my children and grandchildren go on and make their own way in a way that makes me very proud.
“Yet, we all, I think, have things that haunt us, even if they were beautiful. Especially, if they were beautiful.”
I was looking at the old man, trying to read his face, what he was feeling. He wasn’t looking at me at all, and his eyes were distant in some far away place, as looked out across the waters. There was some strange sentimental spell on him, of memory and joy and sorrow.
“When I was 16, I came here once on my own. It was warm and bright, at the edge of summer, before chill and change comes down. I came here just to be alone for awhile. I had 8 brothers and sisters back in our small, one story house, and sometimes quiet was something you needed.
“So I came here in our little boat my father sometimes used for fishing, and I came here. Why here, particularlly, I couldn’t say. I wasn’t really thinking of where I was going, just to be somewhere no one esle was at. But I could have easily have followed a trail in the wood or gone to the meadow in the stream a little ways behind our house. But, I came here.
“I tied up the boat on the little dock that was here, and got out, and stood here on this shore, looking into the blue, spotless sky and all the calm, shimmering waters. I sat down and just took it all in, just let the beauty of it and the light and the warmth of the day wash over me. It was like a spell, an enchantment.
“And then, somehow, I felt her eyes upon me, out in the waters. She was there in the shallows just off of the shore. Her hair dark and inky as the depths, her eyes as blue as the waters in which she swam, her skin bright and aquamarine.”
“I stripped out of my clothes, down to my drawers, and walked into the waters towards her. I felt such heat and desire blooming inside my heart, like a flush spring rose. She smiled and swam towards me. I reached out to her and she took my hands in hers. It was the first time I’d ever touched a girl in such away, with intesnsity, with tenderness.
“I fell to my knees, there in the water and looked into those blue eyes. I saw such wonders there.
“She pulled me close, and wrapped her tail around me, like she was taking poessesion of me, like I was already hers. Then she splashed back into the sea, taking me by the hand. We went down into the waters, into such a kingdom as men rarely ever know. A kingdom with ebony spires and strange treasures and secrets never told.
“And we sat there, at the bottom of the sea, in a seaweed forest, in the spikes and dancing sunlight, dreamlike under the water and the waves. She held my hands in hers, and she looked deep into my eyes, and I saw such things, such miracles, as she pressed her lips to mine and we kissed.
“As the sun faded and the moon came out, she brought me back to shore, and I stood in the golden light of day fading as I watched her dive beneath the waters, and disappear.”
The old man paused then, obviously overwhelmed with his memories, and wiped a tear from his eye. His breath was harsh, almost a bark. And, in that moment, I was enraptured by his tale, having no doubt of it, having no dounbt of him.
“After I was discharged from the Army in ’46, along with making my trade as a worker in a machine shop, I also became somewhat famous locally as a sculptor. I was always trying to capture something ineffable in crude matter, and to hear what I was told then, maybe I did.”
Abraham turns then, to the statue of the mermaid, the weight of years and of bittersweet memory on his thin shoulders.
“I made that statue for her, Jacob. I made it for her. Of course I never told anyone, just said stuff about a dream and sharing beauty and a testament to the sea. But i made if for her. I made it for her.”
“Why?” I ask.
“To show her I remember. I remember.”