Mermaids Are Sly

by Ronelle van Niekerk © 2002

When I was younger I used to love swimming. In the summer holidays I would get into the pool in the mornings and only come out for long enough to eat lunch and let it settle a little before I was back in the pool again for another few hours. I would spend those hours diving under the water and pretending I was a mermaid with my long brown hair making dark streaks in the cool blue of the water, playing with my mermaid friends at the bottom of the pool.

Grandpa and I would tell tall tales of the mermaids that lived at the bottom of the sea. We laughed together at the foolishness of it all. But it was our little secret. I held it close to my heart. I loved my grandpa and his old and foolish stories.

At least that was what my mother said, old and foolish! But Grampa just smiled and puffed on his pipe. Pipin, he would say, lets go for a swim! And down to the seawall we would go. Laughing and mocking Mum! We laughed and dived into the tidal pool always looking for mermaids! My skin would go all wrinkly and my hands would look like those of my grandfather, before he got ill, when he used to pretend to be a monster creeping up towards me and making those silly smacking sounds with his lips. I was never scared but I used to pretend because he got such a kick out of it.

My grandfather and I used to have long conversations at the tidal pool. About all sorts of things; the wars he fought in, the women he'd loved and the places he'd been. He was there for me when my parents got divorced. He used to take me on long walks along the tidal pool when they were fighting and teach me all about the different plants and birds we would come across.

He was also there for me when my father died. I was angry with God and with the world for taking him away and my grandfather was the only person who understood exactly how I felt and never tried to diminish it by telling me that things would be ok, the pain would heal in time. He used to just sit and hold me and I would cry long tears into the night, weeping in his old, comfortable lap.

When I was seventeen I woke up one morning and realised that he hadn't been around for some time. I asked my mother where he was and she exclaimed, with some astonishment, that he had been dead for 11 years. My grandfather died a year before my parents' divorce and four years before my father passed away. I guess I wasn't too shocked, I always knew in the back of my mind that he had been different somehow, special.

It was two weeks later that I recalled the day I had found him floating, face down, in the pool. I remembered thinking that he had probably spent too much time under the water with the mermaids. I had felt anger at the mermaids for tricking him into staying so long and I guess that's why I don't swim anymore, in case they take me too.

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