Lighting for a Mermaid: A Short Story

This is my short story Lighting for a Mermaid which was recently shortlisted for the Artificium ‘In Brief’ Winter competition.

Think of it as one last look back at Winter before the Spring begins.

Lighting for a Mermaid

It starts snowing as I cross the bridge. In a matter of minutes, the hard, uneven ground is concealed beneath banks of white. Damn. I don’t need this, not now. Some people find the snow beautiful. I don’t. I still miss the beach. The longs days of sunlight glinting on the surface of the water above me. I wasn’t made for the winter. I pull my heavy blue coat tighter around me. I bought it second hand months ago on a whim, from the market that used to set up on Sunday mornings. It was on the same day that I bought the lightsphere and, at the time, I was much more excited about that than I was the coat. It’s been sitting in the back of my wardrobe for months. Like the inevitable end of summer, I pushed it to the back of my mind. I’m grateful for it now. I’ve nothing else suitable for this weather. My shoes are on the verge of falling to bits. Every treacherous step I take could end in a fall.

There’s no-one else around. The few people who haven’t already left the town will all be indoors, waiting in the dark for their evening programmes to begin. The indistinct shapes all around me must be buildings. Perhaps they are houses with people inside. Some places still manage to maintain their electric lights but my home town long ago resigned itself to the pitch black nights. There’s just about enough power for the televisions. They at least help make the nights seem less brutal.

My sister, the big success of the family, lives in a district where they can even have lights on during the day. ‘It’s such a blessing Fi’ she said to me, on one of her occasional visits. ‘I give thanks to the universe for it every day’

She never asked me how I felt about the dark and the cold.

On and on. One foot in front of the other. I hope I’m still on the right road. I’m so scared of falling that I keep holding my breath until my chest aches. Part of me wants to get out the lightsphere but it’s too soon. I have to keep going.

The savage, biting wind seems to want to punish me just for being alive. I’m worried about the damage that it might do to my face. Will it ruin my scales? It took over a week for the surgeon to implant them all. Turquoise and topaz gleaming on my skin. Jewels for a girl who just wanted to live underwater. They’re my big hope now. The thing that might give me an advantage at the studio. I’ve heard that they are looking for someone a little bit different. Even in these times, people still want stars. And I can sing. Sort of. I used to write poetry as well but they’ll not be interested in that.

My sister is a star. She has her own show, every Tuesday night, where she tells people to trust in the universe and to greet everything with love. She’s even popular in the regions where they’ve pretty much run out of food. Love, she says, will change the world. No-one ever asks her why we need love to change the world when the weather has already done it for us.

I never wanted to be famous. I was happy to stay at home and try to turn myself into a mermaid simply for the pleasure of it. But the sea has turned too cold for me to swim in and I need to survive. The auditions at the studio are my big chance to live through the winter.

I can’t see further than my arm’s length now. My aching legs seem to be moving independently of me and each other. I’m going to have to stop. Just for a few minutes.

I reach into the deep pockets of my coat, loving the tiny, precious patches of warmth they contain, until the fingers of my right hand find the lightsphere. I draw it out and hold the small golden globe close to my face.

The woman who sold it to me had also sold pills and herbs that could alter the way the world looked. I’d never had much need of those, but something about the lightsphere had caught my attention. She let me have it for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

I remember the words she told me to use. I also remember her warning but then I make myself forget it.

‘Let me in to the light’ I whisper, hardly recognising my own wheezing voice.

And then the darkness and the cold are gone. I am held, cradled by colour. There are pinks and greens and aquamarines flowing all around me. I hear pulsing, soaring music played without instruments and see all the gorgeous shapes of the sea. I am in so many happy places at once: In the depths of the ocean; holding a shell to my ear on a beach at dawn; dancing the night away in a club. And there is light. So much light. It caresses my skin, filling my eyes and mind with its dazzling brightness.

In the heart of the lightsphere, my poor, tired body is stripped away and given back to me re-made. The colours and music that surround me find a new harmony. At last, I am truly a mermaid swimming through light and sound. I could burst with the joy of it all and yet, in my mind, there is a wonderful calm. It seems like an eternity. It might only be a moment.

And then I am outside again. Cold and shivering, on a journey that, I know in my heart, I will never complete. The lightsphere is still held in my numb fingers. I return it to my pocket.

I must set out again.

It starts snowing as I cross the bridge.

Damian Mark Whittle



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