Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Desert Bride

for cl

In such hot dry weather, irritable to his skin and impossible to his temper, the merman's thoughts slip into the slow soft tides at night and his land-wife knows it well, his legs scissoring the cool splash of the sheets, he is already gone. Not really a year, but a season: she has grown much older and more serious, if by serious we mean believing less of love and expecting little from each day. All courage and imagination had been consumed in their defiant marriage, which every opinion and authority was universal in condemning as ill considered and proverbially foolish. But she had never met a man like him, so oddly featured from the sea, his nose like a conch and his skin patterned like shells, so smooth with a well-shaped swimming build and seal-like expression. It pleased her greatly just to look at him and when she could not be done looking, she wanted to have him some how and was sure he would make her happy. People thought her perverse and proud, and so she was to realize herself different from the farmer's sons, the dull fishing boys who fancied themselves masters of the sea for merely playing atop it and dampening themselves a little. His people practically only came to the surface in the worst of storms, to surf upon the breaks and play among the thunder.

For his part, he was possessed of an unusual curiosity for his race; the diet of land dwellers is usually enough to repel the children of the sea. His first taste of bread was softened in the water. He was fascinated by the smoke of pipes, and the smell of fruit, the way things on the land went about on wobbly legs. Life on land seemed to be a mighty struggle, people, trees and those buildings called churches, all heavily built to mount up against the sky. The sea too, was very fierce, but the land dwellers had to fight it out among themselves, with so little of anything and nowhere to go, trapped on the surface like crabs in a tide pool. Most alien to him was the virtue of work of any kind, which seemed to go on rather longer than it should, for his tastes, and roughened the hands and hurt the feet. In the sea, all gatherings are social gatherings and little more was asked of his leadership or fealty than a hunting party or sport -and in these everyone shared equally the boon. To labour for a coin seemed foolish and childlike to his mind, like the affection of children for shells. Beyond money and labour, the only thing more foreign and incredulous to him was the idea of God.

He was curious, but in a dull way, inquisitive in a way that penetrated not, that remained on the surface of things. She remembered once he had disappeared; she thought immediately that he had gone back to the sea, thought this was obvious, but upon coming to the shore could not bring herself to look or to ask. But what would she have seen or asked anyway? She cried and was miserable and though she knew it to be certainly futile and more miserable she could not help walking the town to see he were possibly there,perhaps in trouble, or distracted, or otherwise detained. Much to her surprise and relief,she had found him: in a stranger's yard staring at a spider web. His look of fascination was paradoxically equivocal: with his dark seal eyes and pleased distracted expression, it seemed childlike, yet concealing some knowing smirk, yet idiotically invariant: his whole head moving as he followed the object of his attentions. Another time she found him enraptured by a windmill. He had taken hours to approach it. Fortunately, a villager, kinder and more intelligent than most, had seen his approach and hospitably welcomed him inside, which was itself another revelation, to look up and see inside the creaking dark giant.

Perhaps his interests seemed so inscrutable because often she could not find their object. Often they were sounds or smells, though easily these were painful or oppressive to him. He looked to the approach of unseen wagons and heard the clap before the most distant thunder. He liked to listen to her heart and the viscous sounds her innards made. He scented her period days in advance. Mustard had made him ill, but afterward, he developed quite a taste for it. He liked to play at catching food in his mouth, rather more than she thought seemly, for to do so made her feel that the worst critics of her marriage had been right and what if someone were to see? It was only with some pleading that he could be dissuaded from throwing food to her, but this had been established early during their courtship.

He loved rain and snow storms, was fascinated by books, but mainly for the texture of the paper. She once showed him a map of the world and when she explained what it was to represent nothing could stop his uninhibited piping laughter, though later he would point and ask what each land was like and how it was that there were arbitrary lines everywhere. He liked stews and soups and was fascinated by all things sweet; sweets and pickles were all he could be persuaded to take at first. He found cooked fish and shellfish unbearable. If given wine, he tended to take off his clothes.

She was certain that she loved him, but less sure of what that meant, if anything other than tragedy. Complacent and shiftless, prone to wander (though clumsy on land) she knew eventually he should simply slip back into the sea, saying nothing before, nor returning ever. She consoled herself with the thought that he would, however, surely think of her as he dived; dived, dived, dived, well down to where only the foundered ships and unhappy sailors had gone and perhaps not even there, pushing himself downwards with a muscular stroke, out racing sad thoughts of her, alone and lonely on land. His people do not cry, but let out a sad and pathetic plaintful bleat. She had heard it, his head on her breast. He would live a long time, his people did, and never stop talking, pridefully (modesty not being a virtue among them) of his time in shoes and coats, his life in the strange desert.

TURN #78: WEEK 64; WORDS: 68,019