A man walked down the dock and stood at the edge, curling his toes around the damp cold wooden slat that marked its end. Then he dove off into the dark sea.
He dove down and down and down, past the shock of the cold crashing waves and the pull of currents, the crush of the deep toward the blackness below. Then he saw a mermaid, coiled on a rock set in the sandy sea bottom. The mermaid had floating black curls twisting through the saltwater, and a gray- green tail, and her eyes lit bright like dying sunlight on the waves when she saw him.
He drifted down toward the mermaid, and she reached up and grasped his hand, outstretched to dive down. She pulled him to her, and he curled beside her. The mermaid spoke, and her voice was muted by the water. She said, “Hello, strange man. If you stay with me, I will tell you a story.”
The man nodded his heavy head, and nestled closer to her, and put his head on the mermaid’s scaly lap.
The mermaid began her story. “Once, there was a girl. This girl could run and dance and swim under the sun like all other. She was carefree, and cared not a whit for anyone. Then a man fell in love with the girl. He was a powerful man, and moved the fire of the sun and the waves locked in the earth with his desires. He wanted the girl, and wanted her, and she wanted nothing but to run and dance and swim under the sun. She wanted none of his desires. The man got angry, and when this man got angry, stones shook and stars trembled. He trapped the girl in another form. He trapped her dancing legs together, bound them in a fish’s wriggling fins forever so she could dance no more, and never again run from him. But still she swam away, with rage and fear now and not just disdain. So it wasn’t enough for this man to change her body. He trapped her too in one place, pinned her down to a story. She became something everlasting and immortal, bound by the laws of the sea to follow the path of legend.”
The man on the mermaid’s lap twisted and pawed at her waist, his eyes half- lidded. He asked stupidly, his voice slurred and dulled, “Do you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or a merfriend?”
She smiled at him sadly. “No, sweet, and I can’t, not ever. I’ll tell you why, for it’s in my story. The legend he bound the mermaid to, it was that of a siren. He bound her to sit on a rock and comb her hair, to watch the waves far above and dream of more monotony. And any man that ventured near would be trapped too. Any human too close met the same fate. The girl had to tell her story of woe and pain and loss to any traveler passing by, and that poor soul would be lost as well.”
The mermaid was quiet now, lips barely moving, her voice muffled by the stir of the saltwater. She threaded her fingers through the man’s hair, but he didn’t look up. So she spoke again, “That’s how the lover I never wanted condemned me to this life, lifetimes ago. How the foolish girl I was became the sad creature I am now. How I came to be here, sitting on the sea floor and telling stories to the dead.”
The edges of the scales rubbing against the man’s face had cut into his skin, but he didn’t notice. His eyes were closed and his breathing shallow, his arms wrapped around the mermaid’s waist and unmoving. She stroked his hair absently. The light from far above shifted and swirled in broken fragments over his still face and the mermaid’s bent head as she waited, silent, for another foolish human to listen to her story.