Often I walk my German shepherd Harold on the beach. And like any day of the week, we set out towards the cliffs and down the steep trail to the surf with Harold tugging at his lead. We stumbled across a body of a bikini-clad woman lying repose on the sand. The woman no younger than twenty-one years of age and no older than thirty-five breathed slowly in one nostril and exhaled out the other, reminding me that I had skipped my yoga class that day. If she had noticed Harold sniffing at her bare arms, she gave no sign of it.
Tugging on Harold’s lead, I tried to steer the dog away from the woman basking in the sand. After all, it was none of our business why she was lying there on a rainy day on an isolated beach. However, just as we pulled away from the woman’s body, her eyes blinked and then opened as if she was taken in the marvels of the planet for the first time, like a newborn. She stared at Harold dumbfounded and then her eyes roamed over my face.
“I fell asleep after waiting for him for so long. Where is he?”
Harold looked at me with a baffled dog grin. I could understand his puzzlement and I wondered if we were going to experience some kind of psychotic episode with the woman. Instead, she appeared calm enough as she blinked sand from her eyes. She gazed into the distance at an outcrop halfway out to sea.
I straightened out my raincoat and brushed sand off my running shoes. “You mentioned that you were waiting for someone and I’m wondering if it’s someone I might know. Perhaps I can help you. I know just about everyone around here.”
I referred to a beach community on the Oregon Coast tucked away from the tourist traps and near Haystack Rock. The community of stone cottages where mostly people fifty-five and older resided was not the sort of thing to interest a vibrant twenty-something woman.
The woman shook her golden curls, highlighted by the dim sunlight piercing through a bank of clouds. Her aquamarine eyes penetrated mine, something unnatural about her gaze. “I don’t think you know him. He’s not from here and neither am I.”
I sat down on a log and Harold rested in the sand near my feet. I watched the woman open an aquamarine lunch box shaped like a fish. She pulled out a seaweed sandwich, which I found rather odd.
“What are you eating there? Is that some kind of sushi?”
She blushed. “Yes, it’s a sandwich entirely made of seaweed.”
“I’m not fond of seaweed. Is it any good?”
She took a huge bite of it and pleasure lit up her face. “Oh, yes, there’s nothing like a seaweed sandwich.”
At the time, I just wrote the woman off as some raw food type that I read about in alternative nutrition magazines. Sure, I read those magazines, but never tried any of the recipes, not because I lacked a sense of adventure, but after you have eaten the same foods for over thirty years, why try anything new?
The woman pulled out a tin container and unscrewed the lid then she popped some kind of miniature sea creature into her mouth.
“May I ask what those are?”
“These are sun-baked periwinkles.”
“Did I hear you right?”
“They’re a Portuguese delicacy and quite delicious. Here try one.”
She poured a few of the snails into my palm. I felt like feeding them to Harold instead of consuming them myself, but I tried not to appear rude. I reluctantly popped one into my mouth and felt surprised by the explosion of tastes. I crunched on it and swallowed before my body protested the strange food. The woman laughed as she watched me struggle with the shells.
“You get used to them then they become an addiction.”
“I can’t imagine. Now, back to this man you mentioned earlier, are you sure that he hasn’t lost his way trying to find this beach? It’s not on the map.”
Her eyes searched the ocean and the horizon. “He’s not coming here by road, but by the sea.”
“You mean in a boat?”
“Not exactly, but he’s coming from the direction of the sea.”
“I don’t understand. Is he going to swim here? Is he coming by seaplane?”
“Yes, he’s swimming here.”
“Who is he, an Olympic athlete? Besides, I haven’t seen any swimmers out there this time of year. It’s rather cold and drizzly.” Just staring at the woman in her bikini caused me to shiver.
The woman stretched out her legs and gazed at them for a long time, waiting for something, I did not know what, to happen. “He said he’d come here on this day to take me to his home.”
“My dear, do you know this man well? You should be more careful a young woman such as you hanging out on an isolated beach waiting for a strange swimmer-man.”
“He’s not quite human.”
Alarmed by the woman’s declaration I wondered again if I would experience a psychotic episode. I had not heard of anyone escaping any mental institutions. The woman seemed clear-eyed on the surface, even gregarious. Perhaps, she had tripped on some bad mushrooms found in the nearby woods. It could happen, especially with all the youth that wandered through in their vans and whatnot. The tent and van crowd, we called them.
“I once said that about my former husband. He didn’t seem quite human at times.”
The woman shook her head in frustration. “You don’t understand. He’s a merman and he’s coming to transform me into a mermaid. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life, ever since I swam with the dolphins in Florida as a toddler.”
“And did you meet this merman at SeaWorld? I’m sorry, but your story sounds ridiculous.”
I wondered if she had been reading too many supernatural young adult novels. Her generation grabbed onto some far-out ideas, not that my generation never experienced the unusual.
“That’s what everyone says, that my story is ridiculous and that mermen only exists in fairy tales and fantasies. But I tell you, I met this man at a kite festival near here a few months ago. He looked like a human, spoke like a human, but then when he swam out with the tide, he disappeared beneath the waves.”
“Did you call the lifeguards? Perhaps, he drowned.”
“No, no trace of the man was found. He told me to meet him here today and so here I wait.”
The woman gulped down a quart of water. Her eyes roamed the distant horizon.
Who was she kidding? I scribbled down my phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to the woman. “Look, if he doesn’t show up and you need somewhere to stay, I rent rooms nearby. Phone me.”
I rose from the log brushing sand off my jeans and raincoat. Harold leaped up rearing to take his walk. As we strode off down the beach, I looked over my shoulder one last time and noticed that the woman had disappeared from where she was sitting. I glanced at the shoreline and witnessed to dark figures swimming towards the outcrop, and then they dove under the waves and disappeared.
Moments later, I pulled out binoculars from my pack and aimed them at the outcrop. And what I saw nearly caused me to faint. Human figures with fishtails reclined on the outcrop.
Harold had taken the opportunity to explore the area where the woman was reclining earlier. He sniffed, barked, and whirled around a few times puppy-like. So I returned to the scene to see if the woman left any traces behind. All I found was her lunchbox and the tin she abandoned on the beach. I watched Harold crunch on the remaining mollusks. Who would have thought the dog would go for Portuguese delicacies. I would have to remember that when his birthday rolled around. So easy to please, that dog.
After I returned to my cottage, I checked the internet for stories about mermaids and mermen. Just as I had thought, they only existed in fantasies. So then what had I witnessed earlier that day? I vowed to myself never to tell anyone my story. Then later, I came across a National Geographic article about the emergence of strange human-fishlike creatures so I thought I had my answer.
I returned to the beach at noon every day and waited. I did this for several months hoping the woman would return, but I never set eyes on her or her partner again. Still, I wait, sitting in the sand, eating Portuguese delicacies with Harold patiently by my side. She will come up for air eventually, and she’ll find me here to comfort her.
By Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved