The Merman in my Bathtub
by Rebecca Fyfe
The day at the beach had been wonderful. My children were all worn out from time spent in the sun and digging in the sand. I packed up our things while the kids put their clothes back on over their swimsuits. The children were still holding the buckets and spades they had used to build sand castles.
The drive home wasn't long, but all three children drifted off to sleep before we arrived home anyway. I carried my two year old son Caleb into the house and put him into bed, and then did the same for my four year old daughter Rose. Six year old Jenny was too heavy for me, so I woke her just enough to steer her up to her bed and then started unpacking the car. Sometimes being a single mother meant I had a lot of work to do all on my own, but, for the love my children gave me, it was all, worth it.
The last things I brought out of the car were the buckets the children had played with. To my surprise, one of them was still full of sea water. The water was muddy-looking and a strand of seaweed was bundled into the water too. I was about to dump the water out when I noticed something moving. I looked closer and realized that a crayfish the size of my hand was hiding behind the seaweed.
Instead of dumping the bucket out on my front lawn, I took the bucket, water, sand, seaweed and all, and brought it inside the house. I didn't own a fish tank, so I put the plug in the bathtub and dumped the bucket out, gently, into the tub.
The crayfish didn't hide once it was out in the open, but just sat staring at me. I felt badly for the poor thing. Had I known my children had scooped him up, I would have freed him back at the beach. I didn't know the first thing about caring for a crayfish, and I hoped he would survive the night so I could take him back in the morning. He didn't seem to have enough water, so I added a bit more cold water from the tap in the bathtub and then added some sea salt form the sink. I assumed he needed salt water since he was found at the shore, but I really had no clue what I was doing.
In the morning, when I went to check on the crayfish, I found a man sleeping in my bathtub, only he wasn't just a man. He was half-man and half-fish. His scaly tail was a shimmery blue and green. I knew I must be seeing things because mermaids didn't exist. And if mermaids didn't exist, then neither did mermen. My gasp upon seeing him was enough to wake him from his sleep.
When he first opened his eyes, he jerked as if startled, and stared at me as if he, too, couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"Who are you? What are you?" I asked, keeping my voice quiet so I wouldn't wake the children. "How did you get in my house?"
"You can see me? I mean, as I am? I'm not a shellfish any more?"
"What? No. I mean, yes. I mean, yes, I can see you and no, you're not a shellfish. You're a - you're a - well, you're a mermaid." Did he just imply that he was the crayfish I had found last night?
"I am no maid." He scowled at me. Then he looked around the small bathroom. "This is amazing. Where am I? How did you break my curse? You must be very magical."
"Um, no." I didn't know what to think of this conversation. "I'm not magical. I found you in my children's things last night. I was going to take you back to the ocean today, but you aren't a crayfish any more. Um, how am I supposed to get you back to the beach now? I mean, it's not like I can drive you around looking like that." I indicated his massive tail.
"Oh, this? I can take care of it." He tail immediately started to glow and his tail changed into legs right before my eyes. That's right about the time I realized that he wasn't wearing anything. I averted my eyes.
"Um, you don't seem to be wearing any clothes. I grabbed a towel from a rack beside me and blindly threw it over my shoulder towards him. "Could you please cover up with this? I'll go get you something you can wear."
I raced down the hall to my bedroom and dug through my closet. I knew I still had some clothing items my ex-husband had left here. I'd been without him for years, but I'd never gotten around to cleaning out my closet. He was smaller than the merman in my bathtub, but my ex usually wore his clothes loose and baggy, so they might be usable.
I hurried back to the bathroom and entered without knocking. The merman was standing just outside the bathtub with a towel wrapped around his hips. He was tan and well-muscled. I remembered seeing him naked just moments before and blushed.
"Here are some clothes." I handed him the sweatpants and t-shirt I managed to scrounge out of my closet. "My name is Lucy, by the way." I turned my back so he could change.
"I'm Nerite," he said, "and however you did it, thank you for breaking the curse."
"What is this curse you keep speaking of? Is that why you were a crayfish when I first saw you?"
"I have been trapped in that from for hundreds of years. Aphrodite wanted me to join her on Mount Olympus and be her lover. When I refused, she cursed me into the form of a shellfish. I did not think I would ever be free, and then you came along. Now, here I am."
I felt my mouth drop open. Aphrodite? The goddess of love? "Why did you turn her down? I thought she was supposed to be very beautiful."
"She was beautiful, but vain. And I did not wish to leave the sea."
"Oh," I said. Before I could ask any more questions, I heard my children waking. "Nerite, it's nice to meet you, but I have to make my children their breakfast and get them ready for school. If you come into the kitchen, I'll make you some breakfast too. After the children have gone to school, I can drive you back to the shore, if you'd like."
He gave me a nod and a smile before following me to the kitchen. I'd always thought my kitchen was a good size, but that was before Nerite entered it. His enormous from seemed to dwarf everything around it. He must have been at least 6 1/2 feet tall, if not closer to 7'. His broad shoulders made him look even bigger. I didn't have time to think about it though, because as soon as my children laid their eyes on him, they were full of questions. They asked him his name, where he was from and how he knew me, to which he answered, "Nerite," "from far across the ocean," and "Your mother once did me a wonderful favor." They asked how long he was going to be staying, but I answered that he would be leaving right after they went to school.
The children loved it when anything new happened, and, as a result, his visit had left them practically bouncing in their seats with excitement. Driving them to school didn't take long, even though I had to keep glancing at each of the kids in my rear-view mirror to make sure they stayed buckled into their car seats. Caleb, being only two, was the only one still in preschool. He only went to preschool two mornings a week, and thankfully, this was one of those mornings.
Once all of the children were dropped off at school, I drove straight to the beach. Nerite stepped out of the car and we walked down to the sand where the water lapped at our feet. He took my hand as we walked. I didn't pull away. Holding hands with him felt natural.
"Thank you for breaking my curse and for bringing me back to the sea," Nerite said, turning to look at me.
I looked up at him. "I don't know what I did to break your curse, but you're welcome. I guess this is goodbye then."
Nerite smiled. "No, not goodbye. You broke a curse that had bound me for centuries. That means we have an unbreakable bond, you and I. We will see each other again." He raised his hands and cupped my face gently in them, leaning forward just enough to brush his lips across mine. Where his lips touched me, my lips tingled in response.
He stepped away and before I could think of anything to say, he ran deeper into the water and dove in. His body disappeared under the water and, after a brief glow, his fish tail followed him, slapping down and splashing little particles of water into the air.
I turned away and went back to my car, ready for the drive home.