Thursday, June 23, 2011
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I told them I didn't want to go. The air is too cold. The wind hurts my cheeks. I'm safe here at home. Besides, I have nothing to wear.
They didn't budge, just swayed a little bit when the octopus waved over to us. He's been our neighbor since as long as I can remember. Mr. Brasfort used to carry all of us mer-children to the great big school shell before we were big enough to swim on our own. Sometimes on our way home, he'd give us a ride by spiraling us around and up and down until the other schools of fish let out. We would all then swim back to our coral, do our experiments, eat seaweed and fall asleep.
I was so happy then.
I am happy now, too, that I no longer have to go to Primary Shell. But, now, my parents want me to go to High Shell... that is not even a shell!
“It's right above us on shore, Meredith,” they tell me. “It's only an extra 10 minute swim.”
And then another 15 minutes by foot. I do not even know how to walk!
“You'll have all summer to practice.” Mother says.
I don't see how. The beaches are packed during school holidays. Everyone will see me stumbling onto the beach.
“But no one gets up early in the hot months,” Father tells me. “You'll have several hours by yourself.”
They say I won't be the only one. My classmate, Nelson, will also go to Beach School.
Mother swims me up in the morning. The sun catches our eyes at the first breaking wave. I snap my fingers to Nelson who is back-flipping while his mother files her nails against the break wall.
The lighthouse stands like a red and white arrow, its flesh aiming for another blue world opposite of mine.
The four of us join arms halfway between the lighthouse and the beach. Our mothers give us a few tips.
“Be on the rocks as soon as the sun is up. You must sit out until your scales are completely dry.”
“As you pull yourself up, the scales will flake away.”
“Swiftly tie your wrap-around skirt. Your cousin, who has already gone off to college, has left clothes deep in the cave. You'll dress there every morning. There are also shorts and trousers for Nelson.”
“You must moisten your legs to get your fins back.”
“We'll wait for you behind the lighthouse.”
Off they go. We can still hear our mothers chit chat until their hair sinks like golden seaweed below the surface.
But how do we walk? Nelson and I look at each other. A gray-haired man bops down the beach. We flutter our tails quickly behind some rocks at the entrance of the cave.
Nelson offers me a seaweed bar. I hand him a coconut shell.
“Wow! Where did you find this?” he asks.
I tell him about the boat that was rocking around during last moon's storm. A big crate fell into the sea and floated down not far from my grandfather's coral.
“How did you know you could drink from them?”
I explain how my grandfather used to be a Walker. Then, he saw my grandmother swimming and fell in love.
“Was it love at first sight?”
So they say. He was a sailor who had gone all around the world. From Cardiff to Brisbane I was told.
“That's a straight line.”
I remind him it's not for people with land in their way.
Our fins dry as we finish our breakfast snack. Still not knowing how to walk, we pull ourselves along the rocks with our arms until we get into the cave. The walls almost smell like home. I find an orange skirt and tie it loosely around my waist – just like dressing my dolls Grandfather had carved for me.
“These have a tail too,” Nelson says as he stands up. I tell him he has two legs in one pant leg. Leaning himself along the wall of the cave, he slips down and out of the trousers for one more try. I tell him that the vacation crowd would be awake soon, so we better get practicing.
“I remember how that man was doing it.”
Nelson bounces from one leg to another without going very far. His arms flap up and down like a sick seagull. I tell him to slow down his movements but he loses his balance before hearing me.
I stand up in the narrowest part of the cave where I can put each hand against a wall. I pick up one foot, then put it back down. I pick up the other foot, then put it down.
“You're not going anywhere either, Meredith!”
I tell him I have to get the feel of these legs. Grandfather had said something about heels then toes. But, what's a heel and what's a toe, I hadn't figured it out yet.
Nelson sits in the sand. “Look how the little bits on my feet wiggle. Isn't it funny?”
I tell him to stand back up and put his arm around my shoulder. With four supporting legs, we are balanced. Then, I tell him at the count of three, we will step out with our outer leg – my left, his right.
One. Two. Three. Our legs swing forward then back around us.
“Ouch!” Nelson's elbow hits a rock. I tell him to get back up. We try stepping with our inner leg – my right, his left.
We bend our knees this time, swing our feet forward and let them fall onto the ground. We are still standing but have no idea what to do with the leg positioned behind.
“When I say three, drag your leg forward. One. Two. Three.”
We slide our outer legs – my left, hist right – up to meet their partners. We stand. We continue this motion until out of the cave. The sun has already heated the rocks under our feet. Blue and red parasols stripe the scenery, one by one. Our legs shake. Our frowns quiver. We fall off the rocks.
Our legs, useless in the water, quickly scale back into shape. We aim for the lighthouse and jump out to startle our mothers.
“Oh, there you are.”
“How did it go?”
“We could use more practice.”
I agree with Nelson.
“Of course. As your grandfather always says, 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' I have always wondered who Rome was.”
A wave reaches over me like a giant glove just as I dive down to find grandfather.
“What do you mean, 'How many days did it take Rome to walk?'?”
I told Grandfather what Mother had said. I tell him about Nelson and I needing more practice, but want to know how much more.
“You can't just dry out your tail and expect to walk. I keep telling your parents that.”
I ask Grandfather if he would come up to the beach and show us how he used to walk.
“I'm sorry. I can't,” he says and swims off.
Right before shutting my shell and falling asleep, I ask Mother why Grandfather can't teach Nelson and I to walk.
“He never taught me either, but I want you to have this opportunity that I didn't.”
I ask her why it was so important for me to walk if she had never walked on shore herself. She has a good life here in the sea. She doesn't need to walk.
“But if I had learned to walk, I would have discovered so much more.”
I tell her that I already have enough to learn down here. What's the point of going up there?
“You don't have to stay on shore forever. But what you do learn can help you understand what is down here. Besides, your grandfather used to be a Walker. That world is a part of who you are.”
What do you think?
* What sounds odd about the title?
* What has a parent or a teacher ever encouraged you to do that you really did not want to do?
* What were some of your feelings when you got started?
(The Walk of the Mermaids: part 2)