By Laura Vallor
This story is the second place winner in the 2018 Mermaid Fiction Contest
With tail swishing through the water, propelling her at great speed, the mermaid hurried to get closer to the voices on the beach. She had an important job to do today. Normally she would not have risked being even a minute late. But when she saw the Phoenician purple sea glass peering out from under a lightning whelk shell on the ocean bed, she knew it was the precise one she needed for today. It had a plum-like hue, deep and rich in color, more purple than red and slightly frosted. It was magnificent, the length of a fifty cent piece, and a half inch thick, well worth the delay. The voices were growing louder now and that meant she was almost there. Through watery lenses she could make out the figures on the beach, a mother and a daughter, looking for shells and sea glass and laughing as the waves rolled in and drenched their legs. The mother had been sick for awhile, almost a year and a half. Her treatment had finally ended, and this trip to the ocean was the reward that the mother and her little girl had focused on during the dark days. The mermaid knew that the ocean was a magical curative for stress and worry. Today it was living up to expectations, washing cares and troubles out to sea and restoring laughter and smiles to those who needed them most.
The plum piece of sea glass was for the little girl to find. Her exuberance at discovering the magical piece would light up the entire beach. Then she would proudly offer her treasure to her mother because that is what the best of humans do when they love someone more than anything. The mother would try to talk the little girl into keeping the beautiful sea glass and putting it in her own treasure box at home. But the earnest look in her daughter’s eyes would win out. In a few weeks time, the mother would take the little girl with her to visit an artisan and have the sea glass set as a pendant in silver. The mother would wear that pendant every day for the rest of her life. Not until she was old and grey would she at last enclose the pendant in the hand of her daughter, who by that time would have a daughter of her own.
With the aim of one who has long practiced skimming stones across the water, the mermaid skipped the piece of sea glass into the shallows just as an obliging wave appeared to carry it to its destination. After a loud giggle at the water spraying her face, the little girl spied the glass and squealed with glee. “Mama, mama, look what I found! Look at this! It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen!” The mermaid sighed contentedly. Anyone nearby would have sworn that they heard the sea breeze smile. She lingered only long enough to glimpse the delight on the mother and daughter’s faces as they marveled at the sea glass. The mother lifted her daughter high in her arms with the sea glass held for the world to see. The mermaid swished silently away through the waves to deliver one more important piece for the day. This time it must be blue.
The mermaid chose pieces of sea glass from the ocean floor specifically for each recipient. The most magical pieces, however, were attached to her. The mermaid smiled to herself as she imagined humans drawing pictures of her with fish scales on her tail. Instead, brilliant sea glass of all colors, shapes, and sizes protected it. Her two sisters also had tails adorned with sea glass. If anyone ever saw the three of them together, flicking their luminous tails above the surface, they would describe witnessing a triple rainbow.
The boy on a nearby beach was 16 years old with brown hair and a sturdy baseball player’s build. He was lightning on the base paths. Most coaches expected the smaller kids to be faster, but he could outsprint them all. Sadly, he had come to an age where who you knew mattered more than what you could do, and baseball ceased being as much fun. The boy on the beach was disheartened. Baseball was not the only reason he was a bit down, however. School was somewhat difficult. It was easier for the kids who could sit still easily and listen and memorize everything. The boy learned things more quickly when he used his hands, but high school classes were not designed for students like him. What was most troubling to him on this day, though, was his mother being sick. He knew that he could not fix it, and that is what he wanted more than anything. He wanted her to smile again, a full smile, the kind that fills you up inside. He also wanted the worry to vanish from her eyes. She tried so hard to hide it, but he could see it haunted her. He knew she was worried about him and his little sister and their future.
The boy came out to the beach sometimes to look for shells and sea glass. He loved both, but somehow the sea glass made him happier. Maybe it was because when he was 8 years old, he stood at the edge of the surf and ran his little blue net in the water. As he pulled it out, he was amazed to find a small fish in it. He called to his mother to look quickly, saw the proud smile on her face when she realized what it was, and quickly released the little fish back into the water. That fish was the most marvelous creature he had ever seen. It was a vibrant blue that seemed to absorb all of the natural light around it. Its tiny scales appeared iridescent as the fish moved quickly back and forth, seeking freedom. The boy always insisted that as the little fish was released back into the vast ocean, it paused in a show of gratitude at being freed.
The mermaid thought of the fish as she lovingly selected a special piece of sea glass and gave it a tug. It was absolutely beautiful, royal blue and thick in the center, with facets that the ocean had worn down and then polished. The mermaid held onto it tightly as she neared the beach. This time she heard no voices, only the sniff of a boy, trying to be a man, holding back the tears that life had thrust upon him. With a gesture of homage to baseball players everywhere, she hurled the piece of sea glass into the surf and watched a wave carry it the final yards. For a half second she feared that he would not see it, yet magic happens for a reason. When the boy discovered it rolling amongst the bits of broken shell, he let out a great whoop of delight. Barely containing her glee the mermaid headed back under the waves. She knew she would learn the end of the story in a dream one night.
Many years later, the mother called her son and her daughter to her bedside. “My beautiful children,” said the mother, “we made it, didn’t we? Darling daughter, I need you to wear this beautiful purple pendant now and remember that I always love you. And my brave son,” said the mother, motioning for him to come closer. “I know life has not always been easy for you, but you have been so strong and you persevered. I know you already have a plan for this. I love you.” Accepting the blue treasure, the son smiled, remembering that magical day on the beach when life seemed so full of despair until he found the blue sea glass.
The man made his way through the sand down to the edge of the surf, a much-valued treasure in his hand. He loved the feel of it, smooth and weathered. He loved the color of it, a deep lapis lazuli blue. The sun shone brightly on the water. The ocean waves thundered to the shore with a crashing chorus. As he held his gaze on the sea glass one last time, he raised his arm and, like an outfielder throwing to get the out at home plate, he returned the sea glass to the ocean.
The mermaid had never had a piece of sea glass restored to her tail before. It normally remained forever bare where she had plucked a treasure to give to someone special. Today the man, once a young boy on the beach, gave the mermaid a gift, and she was filled with wonderment. The man glanced back at the ocean one last time before heading back to the dunes, and as he did so, a triple rainbow seemed to dance along the top of the waves.