3.Fleeting Beauty and a mermaid’s tail
Breath leaves my body in warm, misty tendrils, curling into the cold air. I am alive and within my hollow chest my heart still agonizingly beats. Another night of survival is nailed to the cross of life.
It is an early winter morning and the chill in the air paralyses my innermost being. It lives like a gnawing animal in every muscle and bone, clinging to my thoughts and encapsulating them in a cloak of sparkling ice crystals, forcing them to claw their way to the warmth of consciousness. Thoughts collide in slow motion, shooting away into different directions at the moment of impact. I fail miserably at grabbing hold of them and forcing them to stay in the present. They flash fleetingly like frivolous fireflies in the dense darkness, now here then there in a senseless endeavor at enlightenment.
As children we used to catch fireflies, this I distinctly remember. Those warm, endless summer evenings with the deep drawling of adult voices forming the perfect backdrop to our boisterous, high- pitched childish laughter. We desperately needed to capture their light, to keep it as a secret treasure, hidden away and in limbo where time’s clawed fingers could not snatch at it. We believed in invincibility, shunning decay and death.
Glass bottles would be scavenged from the kitchen and one of the older children could be relied upon to punch a few holes in the lids. This, we were convinced, would ensure their survival. We desperately fought to stay awake for the entire evening, watching them, hoping to catch the exact moment when the fiery green lights were extinguished or the tiny insects fell asleep. Each morning we disappointedly woke from the “all night vigil”, to find that the glass bottoms were strewn with minute dead, black bodies. A weighty sadness would build its ungainly nest in me and even at that age I was conscious of how fleeting a thing beauty was. It was a mere handful of feathers…or dead, black bodies. An ethereal wispy creature that could not be captured or held against her will.
Gingerly I sit up, aware of each cringing muscle and creaking bone, and carefully place my feet on the floor. I sit like this with my knobby arthritic hands on my sagging knees for at least a minute in order to prevent the wooziness of getting up too quickly. The calamities of age were too many to count and they all seemed to rush your body as if winning the race would hold some kind of reward. My hands were once smooth and beautiful, now they belong to a hag, dotted with liver spots, bent and crooked. I shuffle to the bathroom, agility a distant memory. The face in the oval mirror is that of a complete stranger. I expect to see a younger face. The inevitable shock of an ancient crone’s wrinkled visage leaves my knees suddenly weak and my heart racing.
‘But, I dreamed I was young and a mermaid to boot,” I say out loud. My voice sounds childish, petulant and naive, yet it bonds me to the fabric of reality. Reality is essentially this irreconcilable face staring back at me in the silvery surface of the mirror. Reality is this decaying body; this age; this present. I cannot help risking a quick glance behind me, finding the absence of a scaly tail disconcerting. The dream seems more real than the bright morning sunlight streaming through a chink in the pale blue curtains.
I can recall the dream with perfect clarity. I was swimming amongst pale, translucent coral, shoals of fluttering fish and dark green slithering seaweed. The water was warm and caressed each scale on my lower body like a lover’s gentle touch. The feeling of gliding through the water was one of pure exhilaration, pure unpolluted energy. I felt young, vibrant, invincible and free from the ravages of age and gravity. I was once more alive in my own skin; a vibrant being.
I flicked my silvery tail in sheer delight, refracting the ultramarine light into dizzying flashes of blue. My movement seemed effortless, making me wonder whether it was at all possible to laugh under water. I settled for a schoolgirl giggle keeping my lips firmly closed. I swam to a constellation of rocks covered in coral and small plant life, with tiny crayfish peeping out from between the leaves. Brightly colored fish swam lazily in and out of coral arms, nibbling at microscopic food. I was surrounded by vibrancy and elemental life and my senses were overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of it all.
I looked up to find an astonishing expanse of blue water dappled by golden light. Guided by the dark grey rocks I swam to the surface, breaking through into shimmering sunlight, relishing the instant warmth on my upturned face. I gripped the rock with unwrinkled, bronze hands. Strong shoulders and arms hauled me the rest of the way up. The strength and supple ripple of muscles under their covering of youthful, glowing skin sent shivers of delight coursing through my body.
I stretched out on the warm, mellow rock, giving my body up to the sun, feeling like a revered sun-goddess. My scales disappeared as the moisture was stolen by hot sun rays and left two long legs with well formed calf muscles, downy soft skin and firm thighs. Thick auburn hair rippled on the light, salty breeze. This was me, the real me, the image I clung to in my memories.
For a split second the two separate images overlap in the reflective surface, the mermaid fades into oblivion, leaving the crone in her place. I grieve silently for the loss of youth. There is no escape from the claws of age. Age steals, grabs, clutches away frantically and leaves a dried out husk, an empty shell and confused thoughts. I live in this body that is shutting down, waiting for death to weed it out of the garden of life. This is the pain of living.
Living every day, wishing for the prince to kiss your fleeting beauty awake from its slumber, but the prince is horrified to find the ancient decay where youth and beauty once held sway.
Word count 1039