Ann tried to relax in her aeroplane seat and looked out the window, wishing that the soothing sound of the captain’s voice could lull her into a sense of peace. One finger gently strayed to the area just below her collarbone where the beautiful seahorse pendant she had worn since she was seven years old had once settled, and she felt its absence more acutely than she ever had before.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now above Rocky Bay and if you look out your windows, you should be able to get quite a good view of some of the region’s mer-folk out sunning themselves on the rocks below. New Zealand’s merpeople tend to be friendlier than some you’ll find in other countries’ waters, so they’ll often be seen lounging about close to coastal towns. That gorgeous, regal lady with the bright blue hair is the matriarch – the locals have nicknamed her “Big Lily” as her real name is rather hard for human tongues to pronounce…”
Although the plane was still high in the air, Ann’s keen eyes could easily make out the vivid shapes and colours below. She tuned out the rest of the captain’s words as she focused on the adults sprawled upon the flatter platforms of stone, and then on the golden-tailed children splashing in the rock-pools nearby.
All of a sudden Ann’s memory was flooded with lights and music, and she had to blink back tears and force her gaze away from the frolicking mer-babies.
She saw herself as a child, seated on the rocks near an Irish beach, sounds of music and revelry echoing from her grandmother’s home not so far away; she and her dearest friend had walked to the edge of the water as two little girls, but upon reaching the sea Mila had resumed her true form, swimming gracefully amongst the waves, cascading locks of emerald green replacing the dark curls that had been on her head before, and her two legs smoothly merging into the graceful tail of a fish.
Slender webbed hands now wet with flecks of salty sea-foam placed a cord around Ann’s neck. The last glow of the sunset caught the shimmering brightness of Mila’s tail, still the pure gold of childhood but already lightly tinted at the flukes with the rainbow shades it would display as she grew up.
Ann had told Mila of her visions and dreams of horses in the sky – horses with wings that could fly as well as run over the vast plains of the skies, amongst the clouds. The stories made Mila laugh – not in the mean way Ann’s schoolmates did when they called her a dreamer, but with the pure innocent delight of a new discovery.
“Horses in the sea don’t fly or run, they have coiled tails and all they do is swim,” Mila told Ann, and with a smile Ann had looked down at the pendant of smooth dark stone that now hung around her neck. The little seahorse looked so real, almost as if it was about to swim back into the great wide ocean it had come from.
Ann had thrown her arms around Mila’s waist, not caring that her ruffled party dress was now soaked through and smelled of the briny sea. And in her dreams she spoke to Mila all night about sky horses and seahorses, singing sweet songs in her sleep about how the two of them would someday ride across both heavens and oceans, never to be parted.
Delightful reveries of golden scales gave way to dourer visions; the remembrance of a brown wool skirt and navy jumper, and her own frail hands clutching a suitcase for dear life as she stood outside the massive iron gates of what seemed like a prison in her childish eyes.
It was time, Ann’s parents said, to put away her silly dreams and face reality. Mer-folk were not fit companions for a human child – the old ways of coexistence were slowly disappearing, and in the sea, only danger was to be found – the jaws of vicious beasts, or drowning in the cold and vast wastes of water.
The new school had not been all bad, even though Ann had wept bitterly every night for the first two weeks, calling out to Mila with her mind as soon as her head hit the pillow. With its lessons and vast library and clubs, school soon opened up a world of fascinating books, of arts and crafts, of new skills to learn. At this school, Ann discovered friends who, like her, preferred to dream of beauty and then create it instead of focusing on the dull or ugly parts of life.
At this school, Ann met Robyn, and as years passed, friendship slowly deepened into love. On the night of their first kiss, Ann slept dreamlessly for the first time since meeting Mila on the coast of Clare.
Twenty years after Ann had last said goodbye to Mila, and six weeks after Robyn said yes to Ann’s proposal, the dreams of Mila and the songs she and Ann sang together began again. Minds touched in musical ecstasy, and the seahorses and sky-horses were riding through the night once more.
“She’s jealous of you and me, I know it,” Robyn said with a scowl when Ann told her of the dreams. “She’ll try to kill you – they all hate humans now, ever since they started noticing the dwindling amounts of fish in their oceans. I wouldn’t be surprised if their queen has declared war on us, just like the werewolf king did. You’ll wake from one of your dreams to find yourself bleeding to death on the beach with a stone knife in your back!”
“Mila was never like that,” Ann had argued back, and the fight had escalated as they walked along by the edge of a gentler sea, a placid and mer-free space that despite its tranquil atmosphere seemed dulled by distant hints of sadness.
“They’re all like that!” Robyn screamed, and tore the seahorse pendant from around Ann’s neck, snapping the cord with one rough jerk and casting the trinket into the gently lapping waters that seemed to mock Ann with their tantalising scent and sound, so similar to, and yet so different from, the wild seas of her childhood memories.
Robyn’s world was not hers; it was time to trace back her steps and chase those misty dreams again.
Ann’s oldest friend from boarding school, Karen, met her at the airport, and helped her unpack her things and set up a tiny room in the attic as her studio.
Days passed, and then weeks; random heads, torsos and limbs began to join together under Ann’s careful hands, transforming the little loft into a fantastic land of baby dolls, none of them human. Ann sat back with a smile of pride and blew a kiss to her newest creation, a lifelike child with glittering scales of gold and a tiny crown of pearls in her soft green hair.
“I think I’ll keep this one,” she said to Karen, who nodded with a knowing smile.
“That’s what you’ve said about all the mers so far,” Karen said, laughing. “Are you ever going to sell any of these dolls?”
“Mers aren’t the most popular kind of reborns at the moment, at least not locally,” Ann replied. “Big Lily’s kids are all grown up, and there's no signs of any royal grandchildren yet. Anyway, everyone all over the world wants Bigfoot babies since they signed the treaty with the US government. If the new royal baby’s a girl and an albino like her mother, I’ll order loads of ape kits, blue eyes and white fur and make tons of little Bigfoot kiddies. Sales will go through the roof.”
She stroked the doll’s hair absentmindedly and Karen watched her, uttering a tiny sigh.
“Mila told you she’s coming, didn’t she?”
Ann nodded slowly.
“I dreamed of her last night… she was holding my seahorse pendant, the one I used to wear all the time, in her hand, and was carrying it back to me. She’s coming to stay, Karen. And I mean forever.”
“I wonder if she really has found your pendant… they’ve always been spookily accurate, your dreams,” Karen said. “Although it’s weird that Big Lily would allow a lone mermaid to just join her tribe like that.”
“She’s not alone.”
Ann stroked the doll’s hair again, with a tender smile for the image of the daughter her deathless love had called forth from the body of her childhood sweetheart.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Ann pictured her loved ones making their way towards her across the pounding sea.