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A True Christmas Mermaid Tale

It had rained nearly four inches in 24 hours as Christmas approached. Portland weathermen had gone deep into their online thesauruses for novel and moronic adjectives (e.g., "wicked") to anthropomorphize a routine coastal storm. Wind had whipped through the neighborhood, toppling trees and lawn gnomes. Everything was puddled and reflecting. Reflections generated from rain are the most beautifully mirrored images in the world, especially when they involve Christmas lights.

Did you know that famous crime novelist Elmore Leonard once cautioned aspiring writers to never use the word "suddenly" in fiction when something dramatic instantly occurs? He said it was pure cliché. Hackneyed.

This is a romance story in the rain, so...

SUDDENLY I felt a call to visit the beach.

Yes, I hear that call four times a day, but this sound was different, new, original, sort of like hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time even though the album is nearing 50 years old.

I loaded Sonny into the truck and we drove to the beach. Rain peppered us like a spread from a shotgun blast. The waves rolled a hearty brown and blue, and sea foam scurried north across the sand, piling up here and there. Bubbles shimmied for seconds and then glancing rain broke them apart in dignified silence. White gulls spun in a gray and black sky. The rain instantly stopped, and a tiny porthole opened to the sun. I didn't see another human for miles and that made me happy. I could feast alone on "the salt air loaded with cream for our breathing," as the poet Richard Hugo wrote. I didn't breathe it; I swallowed.

Sonny and I cruised south, and then I saw her looking out to the ocean. Even from afar she appeared gorgeous, as only antediluvian things washed ashore can appear.Even from afar she appeared gorgeous, as only antediluvian things washed ashore can appear.

I moved toward her, wondering what I might say, wondering if she would deign to converse with me. That is, if she spoke English, which I desperately hoped she did not. I didn't want to hear her speak the debased language of politicians and reality TV stars with their bogus coloring from fake sun.

Sonny didn't follow me. My dog was more interested in canine messages deposited at the wrack line.

I greeted her; she nodded, winked, and tossed back her long hair, which was colored a dark grayish-green. She wore no makeup unless you counted the jagged lines of salt that marked her face. I had difficulty concentrating because of her exquisite beauty, and the fact that she wasn't wearing any clothes and didn't have any legs. She never said a word, but we communicated nonetheless. Rain is like that. As it turns out, her least favorite word is "whatever," she has no need for a smartphone, and she loathes the oil industry for its despoiling ways. She's also bored with overly aggrieved fishermen with their boatloads of Freudian defense mechanisms, compensation being the chief one.

Christmas, though, she totally loved, and she somehow managed to communicate to me that she had once gleefully come across Orson Welles washed up drunk on a beach, in costume, after a performance of The Christmas Carol. He was a perfect gentleman and just wanted another cognac.

At one point, the mermaid smiled and gestured toward my camera stuffed halfway in the pocket of my peacoat.

I caught her drift.

mermaid front

She was an excellent model and taught me a thing or two about the photographic uses of sea foam and the rain.

mermaid back

An hour later, I had a date for a picnic on the rocks at Boiler Bay. I'd bring kelp and vodka. She was bringing fresh rain, shot glasses, mussels, garlands, and a flute crafted from the horn of an ancient narwhal.

Her name? I wish I could pronounce it. It sounded vaguely Nordic and a little bit James Joycean.

÷ ÷ ÷

Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Sometimes a Great Movie Signed Edition
    Used Trade Paper $21.00
  2. Of Walking in Rain
    New Trade Paper $20.00

Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain

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