Some Enchanted Evening
It’s twenty years since I first came to Dancing Ledge for the major event in our calendar; the quadrennial festival ball held each leap year at the time of the full moon in June, the strawberry moon. Dancing Ledge for us could be likened to Glastonbury for you, though we come and go without causing traffic chaos and we don’t leave piles of rubbish and plastic tents behind when we leave.
Every four years, for just a few hours, the sea at Dancing Ledge becomes enchanted. Being our first festival of the new millennium, the year two thousand was a real highlight and we assembled at this special place from oceans far and wide. We don’t need gadgets to tell us when to come, our messages come directly across the waves, but I don’t mean airwaves, for we are mermaids.
If you are now laughing to yourself that we don’t exist, I suggest you check out a bit of our history. It’s no coincidence that there’s a name for mermaids in most languages. Our presence has been documented over the centuries from the Far East to the Caribbean and there’s a record of Christopher Columbus spotting three of us off the coast of Hispaniola. Bluebeard logged sightings of mermaids on his voyages and instructed his crew to steer clear of the danger we posed. What a nerve! He was a pirate! Our existence remains shrouded in mystery and we have been consigned to myth and folklore, nevertheless we are depicted in works of art, music and literature in a number of cultures and even feature on the logo of a chain of coffee shops.
Anyway, believe in us or not, I can tell you that on the misty evening of the sixteenth of June we gathered in some caves near Swanage and chatted while we combed our long blonde hair and fastened our pearly necklaces ready to party nearby at Dancing Ledge. The mist cleared just before midnight, as we knew it would. Our formal dancing began as the strawberry moon gleamed above. The music was natural: just the sounds of the sea, the whistles, trills and clicks of the dolphins who came to join us and our own lovely voices. Unless you have seen it, you would never be able to imagine the grace of our opening mermaid minuet and waltz of the waves. As the night progressed, the tempo picked up and we danced our quadrennial quadrille, the strawberry samba and the unforgettable Tilly Whim tango. All these dances were performed in the water, our scales shimmering, almost indiscernible from the gentle ripples on the sea glimmering in the clear moonlight. It was very exciting and I could feel magic in the mild breeze.
In the early hours of the morning we sat on the ledge to rest for a while. I took out my mirror and began to brush my hair, happily chatting to my friends as we anticipated the remaining dance line-up. That’s when I saw him. He was on his own, watching from behind a rock when I caught a glimpse of him in my mirror. I didn’t turn round but he saw me smile at him in the mirror and realised that he’d been discovered. Despite all the myths, we don’t mean any harm to humans and the sight of us is not an omen of bad luck. He was young, in his early twenties, and incredibly strong and handsome. I instinctively decided to keep his presence secret. I could see him gazing at my reflection in the mirror so I winked at him and gently put my finger to my lips, signalling him to remain silent.
We all slithered back into the sea and enjoyed a sort of aqua disco accompanied by dolphins enthusiastically leaping from the water and diving back in their inimitable way.
I knew he was there watching the whole time, and although I was loving every minute of the dancing, I was aware of his eyes on me alone among the swirling throng in the sea.
When the ball came to an end, I managed to linger by a shady corner below the ledge while my friends noiselessly dispersed. I waited in the shadow and saw him walk across the ledge towards the sea, rubbing his eyes in disbelief. I began to sing and he came towards me. The attraction was mutual, a sort of inescapable magnetism. I did not lure him or set out to entice him, but I knew we were destined to be together. I pulled myself out of the water and sat on the ledge. I heard him gasp, looking at my tail. I looked down. Instead of my shiny tail, I had legs like a human. Miraculously I was now clad in a loose, silky dress which glistened in shades of silvery blue-green exactly matching the colours of my former scaly tail. I tentatively stood up. Woohoo! I could balance perfectly. It was indeed an enchanted night.
He took my hand and gently led me up the steep path and took me to a tiny cottage on a ridge. I could see the sea from the windows but it was once again shrouded in a fine mist through which the moon glimmered mysteriously. It was love from that very first glimpse of one another in my mirror and we have lived happily together for nearly twenty years. I have adapted to my new life as a human. He is a fisherman and I have been able to help him by diving for the best scallops to be found off Purbeck’s rocky coast and, thanks to me, he is the first to know when the mackerel arrive in Swanage Bay and where to find a ready supply of seabass. More importantly, I can warn him of coming storms which might put his life in danger.
To assist with our income, I make curios from shells and jewellery from little polished pebbles. In the summer I sit in our front garden and sing as I work. Tourists seem to be drawn to the cottage garden by the sound of my voice and we do a very good trade.
We swim together most days off Dancing Ledge. People love to watch me diving and swimming underwater as, with my ankles close together, I can flip my legs with the smooth graceful movements I used to do with my tail.
There is just one problem with our idyllic relationship. Although I appear to all intents and purposes human, I’m pretty sure that I’m still immortal. I even have a name which means “youthful”. He’s now over forty, and though still strong and athletic, his dark hair is going silvery at the temples. I have absolutely no idea how many centuries old I might be, but people mistake me for his daughter as I still look eighteen with my lithe figure and long blonde hair. Those of you who have resorted to botox might envy me this, but I would like us to grow old together naturally. There are various anecdotes about mermaids gaining a mortal soul through marriage to a human, or a human openly confessing his love for her. Marriage is impossible without any paperwork so I need to consider the alternative version.
We’ve contented ourselves with watching the festival secretly together from the coast path above Dancing Ledge on four occasions. However, this time I’m thinking of harnessing the mystical energy there on the fifth of June, the night of the strawberry moon. Twenty twenty marks a new decade, so the special ball could provide an ideal opportunity to test the legendary power of love. I know without the need for an almanac that the full moon will fall into the shadow of the earth that night during what is called a penumbral lunar eclipse. Taking advantage of the short period of darkness I could slip into the enchanted sea to explain everything to my mermaid friends and return to him on the ledge once the moon emerges from the shadow. I could ask him to declare his love for me with the silvery mass of mermaids assembled as witnesses.
However, there is a potential flaw in my scheme and I need advice before the fifth of June. If my plan works and I lose my immortality, will the aging process begin that day or will I immediately become several hundred years old? Perhaps I would be better to leave things as they are? What a conundrum. If anyone can help, please get in touch by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(In Memory of Julia Courtney)