Thursday, 26 June 2014

Man of the Sea

There was once a merman who came on solid land; became stranded on the sand until his tail turned into two strong legs. Then he rose unsteadily like a newborn calf or foal and hesitantly took his first human steps. The tide tickled his toes and the sun shone on his pearly-white skin as he weaved a trail of silver scales along the shore, pausing occasionally to gaze out to sea instead of gazing in.
Nobody knows how this merman got from a stretch of sand to a house in South-West London, but once there he learned to breathe the smoggy air; he filled his lungs shallowly with its tarry blackness and forced his eyes, although still full of sea, to adjust to study people. He copied their pattern of speech, good and bad habits and table manners until the shadow of his former self merged with his new form.
He lost his blushes and unobtrusiveness and became John F. Peters: a gregarious laid back youth whose only goal was to live as fully as possibly. He studied the Bible and went to church, he discovered the theatre, opera, classical music and comedy, and befriended everybody. He read the daily papers, joined social clubs, and drank in pubs. He flirted with girls and talked with women. His rich resonant voice attracting many, including his future wife.
Before long, he had engaged himself to a girl two years older. A girl who was defiantly high-spirited having been brought up by her elder sisters. A girl who knew loss and so loved voraciously. A girl who made him want to inhale London's smog and forget the briny sea. Where would he be if he hadn't met Francesca? Oh, he would have sacrificed his life like a dying fish for men of the sea need an human anchor.
Francesca steadied him when the storm clouds he held inside threatened to break and rock his calm surface. Like a boat, she kept him afloat; helped him to ignore the call of his kin and prevented him from being dragged back under. Yet even a merman who has chosen land cannot silence the shush-shush of the sea entirely.
An ever-present tide tormented John. He heard its sure rhythm inside his head and felt its waves vibrate within his body. Francesca claimed that if she laid with an ear to his chest she could hear the whoosh of the sea, feel the spray on her face and almost taste the salty air. John, like a shell, transported her right there. It was this strangeness that set him apart that captured her heart, that held her like an oyster holds a pearl.
In all their years as man and wife she never demanded to know his story. She gave herself up to her John, fastened herself to him like a barnacle. They supported each other when the tides came crashing, during times of war, grieving for a child and in sickness. The sea was never far away, placid or enraged. You could hear the storms brewing in John's chest and make haste to brace yourself against the ferocious winds, or hear the sea grow suddenly still and listless. The turmoil died, the danger passed.
And so time was spent with all the usual cares of wife and young family until they came a stage when John, in his old age, felt compelled to leave the streets of London to live beside the tide and walk on water. Wise now to the ways of the human world, he didn't hope to regain his merman's tail nor his capacity to breathe underwater, but knew he had to join his two separate lives together. John would end his days as a man of land and sea.

*For my late grandfather