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The Sea Nymph

January 07, 2004 6:38 a.m.

The Sea Nymph

As a boy Michael spent hours alone wandering amongst the rocks and pools by the sea off the coast of Northumberland. When the tide was at its lowest he would explore the deepest pools to find squat-Lobsters, spider crabs, lumpsucker fish and octopus. He knew the rhythm of the sea, felt the approaching Spring tides that sucked the water another twenty yards down the shore. Michael waited for these days; he listened for their approach as he lay in bed, in a fisherman’s cottage yards from the shingle beach on the approach road from Seahouses. He listened with his head slightly raised from the pillow, his mouth a little open, his eyes closed against the beating light that flashed against his window from the Longstone Lighthouse on the Farnes. It was the same sound you got after a snowfall, a numbness in the air, a slight humming. Michael heard whispering voices too, giggles and squeaks. When there was a mist the lighthouse honked tirelessly every 37 seconds; between the horns Michael heard echoes, as if a child was making an echo.

In the morning Michael would set off for the rocks between his home and the Point, a finger of volcanic rock whose jagged edge stabs the North Sea. He knew which pools to investigate and set off in sandals and shorts with a bucket and fishing rod. The most mysterious pools were deep and dark, like wells flanged with ribbons of kelp. They were exposed only for an hour either side of low tide. It was here, where the sea swell made the stone feel like a boat at anchor that Michael came across a pool he’d not explored before. To see into its oily darkness he lay down by the jagged lip of the pool, leant over and peered in. He took his fishing rod and used it like a probe; something moved then tugged at his rod; he wouldn’t let go and fell head first into the water. The water in the pool span, the kelp folded in over him and for one terrifying moment Michael felt as if he were inside a giant waste-disposal unit. He clung to his fishing rod as if this piece of his life would save him, then a hand touched his and he looked around to see a girl, his age. She implored him to let go, so he did. She wasn’t a mermaid, Michael could see that – she had legs. She wasn’t a fish either, she had dark mottled skin like a sea lion. Her hair was tied in a ponytail and looked like a piece of rope and she wore what Michael would have described as an orange party dress made of a material that felt like fine netting. She took Michael’s hand in hers, swam to the surface and clasped his fingers against a crevice so that he could pull himself out. The girl pulled herself up to, but never high enough to be seen over the lip of the pool. The children were ravenous in their curiosity and excitement - neither had seen anything like each other before. When the girl saw the contents of Michael’s bucket, a small spider crab and lobster she sank into her pool to return minutes later with a bundle of edible sea goodies wrapped up in her skirts. Michael filled his bucket with lobsters and eating crabs as the tide heaved itself over the rocks and began to tip into the pool. He’d have to go, but he would return when he could.

The Neap Tide two weeks later left the pool covered, but with the following Spring Tide and a lower sea Michael returned to the pool. No sooner had he put his hand in the water when the sea nymph, touching her fingers to his, would pull herself from the water. They became friends. At night she’d sing to him. When Michael was a little older he got up if her heard her call, went down to the sea and sat with her on the rocks. One summer, one night, Michael slipped into the water with her and they swam naked amongst the kelp. Michael became aroused, the sea nymph giggled and touched him ‘there’ – they kissed. That summer they became lovers. They’d swim out to a rock at low tide, pull themselves in amongst the kelp and make love. Michael had never felt happier, never felt more at odds with his own world.

But it came to an end. Michael went to Oxford University, as far from the sea as you can be in England; he forgot about his sea nymph. Then he moved to London, fell in love. Married and had children. Ten years later they moved ‘out of town’, away from the city, towards the coast, down to Sussex, the sea and the English Channel. Once more Michael fell in love with the sea. In the summer, at dawn, if the tide was out he’d take the car and head for the white cliffs of the South Downs, head for Hope Gap, and make his way down onto the rocks to lie in the early morning sun, his feet resting in the water.

On a day that hinted at being hot the sea like paint that had dried in a tin, bothered and busied by a light breeze, he dosed, lying across a towel over a rug. The family were away, it was half term, he had plans to decorate the children’s bedroom, but it was too hot, too pleasant, too good down by the sea, alone. Then he heard a voice, giggles, the once familiar singsong of a sea nymph. He looked over his sunglasses and he saw her again; she hadn’t aged at all. He felt as randy as hell to see her; it was such a turn on to be reminded of his first love, his first love. She teased him, caught his eye and was gone.

He made up his mind. He’s go in. He’d take the windsurfer though, just the board, to give him some buoyancy. It was cold out there. He wasn’t stupid. And his wet suit, his second skin. And short flippers. She might take umbrage. Not be there on his return. Michael hoped she would be. She knew he loved her. He pulled on his things in a hurry. She emerged from the water. Naked. Wow! Michael was frightened for her. Was anyone watching? It didn’t look like it. He approached the shore. She implored him to come in. Not later, but now. It had to be now. Michael tries to tell her he’d be back. She doesn’t believe him; it had been so long, she said, she’d be searching for him all this time. Michael tried to reassure her. He thinks. What could he leave? What could he place on the rocks of such value that he would be guaranteed to return – he took a picture from his wallet of two children, his children. He swore on their lives that he would come straight back, place the picture on a rock and left. As he turned his back on the sea nymph a thought dripped onto the surface of his mind like a spot of washing up liquid on a film of grease in a sink of warm water; something frightened him. He turned and see a naked sea nymph, chilly pale, pert, cheeky, long legged and slender her hair like braded kelp, her nipples like beads from a necklace, her sex, a little mouth that wanted him … and that he desired.

She slipped back into the water. He was beguiled, transfixed. Just beneath surface. No one else had seen her, he checked, he looked around. And then he watched as she puts her hands over her head and did a backward roll, her legs completing the circle, her thighs slightly parted, her sex tugging at his most base desires. She completed the tumble and grinned at him, like a mischievous imp; she was pleased by the effect she was having on him, she could see his erection stiffening in his swimming trunks.

Michael headed home with a sense of purpose. He dumped his things. The sun was falling over the South Downs to the West; it looked like a pine kitchen table resting on its side. The mist gave an edge to its slowing decaying brightness. Michael thought about Freya, his first lover, the sea nymph.

Home. Michael was so worked up, so on edge that he felt he could give himself a quick jerk. Relieve some of the pressure. Give him more of a chance, because when he is inside her, she will work him up and work him out quickly. She would never stop or slow down however much he implored her to do so.

Michael was zipping his limp todger into a wet suit when the phone rang. It was a family friend; they were with the family. His youngest, Ted, had been hit by a car.

Michael sat. His knees buckled. He sat as tears welled up around his eyes. He didn't want to ask how he was. He only wanted to know that he was okay. But he knew, deep in his head, at a point that is in the centre of his brain, that three year olds come of worse when a car hits them. Not a chance. Silence. His mother came on the phone; his mother, not his mother-in-law. That was bad. That was awful. That was very, very bad indeed. Michael’s mother lived nearly a hundred miles from Michael’s wife’s family. She last paid a visit on ... their wedding day ... ten years previously. This was so bad he didn’t know who to turn to or who to go to. No one would tell him that his boy was dead.

He sit alone, on the floor, by the front door, tears sobbing freely down his face. It became dark. He sat there as it got cold. He sat there with the lights out.

He thought he should drive over. Four hours. He should have set off immediately. Then again no, at best he’d end up asleep in a lay-by, at worst he'd end up smashed into the back of a car or lorry.

But Ted, gone: his darling, dearest little boy; his morning friend, his morning torment. He missed him. Michael had missed him all week. All this week they'd been away, giving him space to do some bloody D.I.Y. And if he had been there, to keep an eye on him, as he did. To supervise his mischief, this would never, never, never have happened. Salt dry tears clutched his face. Michael sniffed back the dribbles of a dribbling nose. He felt gutted. He stumbled upstairs and climbed onto a bed,. His wet suit ripped open, like a gutted fish. Just Chloe now. How would they cope?. Every moment of every day of their existence for ever, forever and ever, and ever … they would think of him. Michael pulled his legs into a foetal position and slept. And wept. And had nightmares of suffocation and drowning.

Later, unable to drag himself from a dream in which he hoped to find escape he felt hands, wet hands. He sensed bodies, forms, grabbing at him. And then for real he felt the chill cold of the sea. He had no chance to call out as he was pulled beneath the water, down and away on an ebbing tide. He heard, Freya, his sea nymph. Michael heard her voice, cursing him, damming him, saying how he had cheated her; that he had promised himself to her; that she had risked death to find him. No explanation was possible. No words could be spoken in his cocooned panic as he was pulled out to sea. She wouldn’t listen. All she could do was watch with evil eyes as Michael struggled to hold onto life, peering into the dark salty sea, wishing for his family, and hurting to realised that his daughter would lose a father, his wife a husband and they’d saw he’d taken his own life.

by Henry


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