Fabian Sindelar

Short Story: Kissing Strangers

I was born and raised in a little village just outside Venice under the sea. My name is Pruea and I am a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea. My fin is of a deep green and resembles the tail of a fish. In the sunlight my scales shine lighter, some of them even turn golden when the sun touches them. My wine-red hair glows like the sun when she is about to disappear on the horizon. My eyes are green like my fin and has splinters of gold. My grandmother told me that my grandfather had the very same eyes. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him. He was killed by creatures of the deep sea.

 

But this story is not about the secrets and the dark places of the ocean but about something that happened above the surface. I am still young for a mermaid. I am 97 years of age and for my kind I am only nearly grown up. In the past century I was not supposed to be concerned about the events in the ocean and the seven kingdoms of the merpeople, let alone what was happening above the surface. But I’ve always been curious and observed what was happening around me. Especially above me. My parents and my grandmother both told me about the humans or how we call them ‘the unknowing’ as they do not know about merpeople and magic. They are quite funny creatures I have heard of in stories. Instead of one tail they have two which enables them to walk on hard surfaces like on that little bit of land that is above the surface. What a strange way to live, restricted to move on that tiny little bit of land when you can choose the ocean and freedom. The most peculiar thing about them is that they die underwater. As if the ocean was their enemy. This is why they move in big machines on the surface. I have watched them change over the past century. I remember when I was very young they were all made of wood. Later they were made out of something harder than stone, making a lot of noise and leaving a filthy smell in the water behind them. My parents told me not to swim near them for, when they are around, fish and other sea animals are captured and never return. So I kept my distance, learning how to control my magical powers, chanting, singing to corals so they would grow big and strong. Swimming with dolphins like a mermaid was supposed to do.

 

Then a couple of years ago strange things happened on the surface. Many more boats were travelling on the open sea which did not happen that often. Also, the boats were so much smaller than usual. I was having a stroll with my grandmother when I saw the first boat sink. It was not bigger than a half-grown whale, not made out of wood or anything else I have ever encountered. The substance of the boat looked weak and the ocean was far more stronger. Within minutes it had sunk to the bottom of the ocean and about hundred unknowings were reaching for the surface. But the sea took all of them. It was the first time I was angry at my home, at my ocean. I could see the pain in their fearful faces, the despair in their eyes.

 

From then on at least once every month, sometimes even more often, one of those weak boats would sink and with it hundreds of those helpless humans. The matter became so important that the king of the Mediterranean Sea explained that there were wars happening above the surface. The unknowing. These humans were fighting and some of them were trying to reach safer shores across the Mediterranean Sea. The king stated we should ignore all of this. It is not our war. We are a different people. We do not belong to their world.

 

My parents and my friends listened and obeyed the words of the king. After all, he was our king. But I would not forget their fearful faces, how their mouths filled up with sea water and how I would see their helpless but hopeful movements towards the surface cease, and finally glide to the ground of the sea where they would disappear within days. As if they had never been. As if a raindrop falls on the surface of the sea and becomes one with the ocean.

 

One morning my grandmother, two dolphin friends and I were just resting in a clearing of an algae forest when right above us one of those little boats sank again. It took the bodies of the unknowings a couple of minutes to sink to the ground but finally they all did. Like rain in slow movement one by one dropped down. Right in front of my grandmother and I a little boy sunk into the sand. His expression was without feeling. Nearly peaceful if his mouth wouldn’t have been wide open as if he were screaming in silence.

 

‘You know your grandfather would have disagreed with the king’, my grandmother said to me. ‘He always said: ‘You know, Eleyla, the world is round. You can swim from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic, into the Magical Sea, to the Purple Sea into the South Sea, back into the Atlantic and right into the Mediterranean Sea again. Without meeting any borders. The world is round and we all share, must share together”.

 

I looked into her light-green eyes and wondered. ‘But there are borders. Between land and sea. Rivers, lakes and the ocean. Between all the different kingdoms…’

 

‘Only if you want to see them’.

 

I looked down into the sand. Again I wondered.

 

‘Have you ever heard the story about your grandfather saving a human’s life?’

 

‘Yes, it was in the Great Wars of the humans… The unknowing…’

 

‘But you have never heard how’.

 

I looked at my grandmother again in wonder.

 

‘Let me tell you’. She took one of my hands into hers and spoke. ‘This human, a human soldier was drowning. Have you ever heard about the myth that a merman’s or a mermaid’s kiss can save a human from drowning? Well, it is true. So he simply kissed him and brought him to the beach’.

 

‘Why are you telling me this?’ I whispered, surprised that I was talking so quietly as if we were talking about a great secret. But this idea about a kiss is common knowledge among the merpeople. Only no-one ever made real use of it.

 

My grandmother wished me goodbye as she was very tired and wanted to lie down. I on the other hand could not find sleep tonight. I swam through the dark sea encountering glowing and illuminating fish. Like starlight and fire they surrounded me in the cool water. I swam for so long that finally the sun rose again and red light glowed above the surface and into the water like warm blood. Then the sunrays cleared all the darkness of the sea and the ocean glittered once more. But today I would not feel or admire its beauty.

 

I looked up and could see another one of those tiny weak boats sinking into the unforgivable sea. I looked at it for a moment. So helpless yet so full of hope to reach a distant shore. But hope does not save lives. Only actions would. I swam towards the surface and I could see and hear the unknowings drowning again. There was a young girl right next to me. Her eyes were full of despair. But then she saw me and her look turned into wonder. Big brown eyes and a dark face looked at me. She looked a lot like my friend Leyla from the South Sea. I swam towards her. She was not afraid. Why would she be? She had nothing to lose anymore. I took her face into my hands and kissed her. It was not romantic, not bitter nor sweet. Just a kiss. But I could feel the magic work. I let go and she looked at me again. Full of wonder, she realised she would be saved. I took her by the hand and brought her to a nearby island. Startled and shocked she walked up the beach. Looking back at me every minute of the way. I knew there were other unknowings on that island. She would find help. I returned to the sinking boat and could save four more. Every one of them as confused and struck by wonder as the little girl. I genuinely hoped that she would have a chance to grow up. I pictured a story for her. I wondered, will she believe in mermaids now? Or will she forget about me like a drop in the ocean simply disappears?

 

When I returned to my grandmother she looked at me questioningly. ‘Where have you been for so long?’ I looked into her light-green eyes, smiled and said, ‘I’ve done nothing special. Just kissing strangers’.

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Fabian Sindelar

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