Lily Pad Interlude
A mermaid does not announce her passage. If you are not watching the water closely, her quiet song may slip beneath the sound of rustling leaves, behind the slosh of water, between the melodies of birds.
I was watching the water closely, as I always do. Some say that I am the water, and also the muddy silt of the bed, the lily pads drawing sunlight to their roots from the skin of the lake, that I am the morning fog that swirls in breezes, the drop of dew hanging from the tip of a purple water lily. It is not quite so, but I will not argue with their stories. It is not quite not so, either.
On the shore I took nymph form, because sometimes flesh is necessary. Sometimes I need to feel the earth sink beneath my footsteps, feel water trickle down long legs. Sometimes I like to tease young fishermen with coy glances from behind trees. But there were no fishermen there that day.
Before I heard the song, I saw the ripples. Too large to be a fish, too smooth to be a human. I crawled toward them along the shore.
Her tail was longer than my long legs, her hair darker and wilder than my dark wild hair, and it swirled in impossible curls around her cheeks. Eyes closed, she swam with her face to the sky, gentle flicks of a golden-green tail propelling her between lily pads. The water slipped soundlessly over her bare breasts, pooled and drained from her belly button.
What was she doing here? I had visited the ocean once, followed the water through the small stream to the east until it found the shore. The ocean seemed a violent place, turbulent and uncontained. That a creature of that world would venture into mine, I couldn't fathom.
There was no violence in her movements, no turbulence in her expression. She was a silk ribbon sliding across glass. I wanted to get caught in the web of her hair. I wanted to trade her flesh for mine, feel the lake churn with the flicks of my tail. These legs felt clumsy, this body felt split in half. I wanted to be her, feeling the water run down my sides like lover's fingers, but I wanted also to be those lover's fingers, feeling that privileged touch.
My desires overwhelmed me, so I ran along the shore and dove into the water, becoming a lily pad, spreading across the water's surface, roots anchored to the earth beneath the water. Just in time to feel her brush past.
Unencumbered by limbs or eyes or ears or tongue, sensation struck all at once, the vibration shaking my leaves, twisting my stem. One moment was all, as shoulder brushed past the plant, but I stayed, swaying in the ecstasy of the moment. The waters moved, and those were her ripples. A drop rolled along my leaf, choosing return instead of evaporation only because of her. Deep below, the specks of silt stirred and resettled.
Then the lake became motionless and I knew that she was gone, had passed through the channel to swim upstream, out of my domain. I crawled back to shore, wrapped in flesh again, legs clumsily kicking. The breeze scraped harsh on my wet skin.
I wait for her now. My waters seem dull. Mosquitoes land on my flesh and I let them feed, let the red welts stipple my body. Every morning I lurk around the inlet, waiting for her to swim back through. I scoop mud into the stream that leads to the ocean so that she cannot pass through if she returns, then dig it out again in remorse.
I swim on my back through the pond, imagining my legs fused into a perfect golden-green tail. And if, one day, I open my eyes to find that illusion to be manifest, I will dive through the outlet, take my chances with the sea.