Story I 'Sea tea' by Raelinda Woad

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One day a fisherman was pulling in his nets when up came a mermaid. Her hair was tangled in the twine and she was just finishing off the last of his catch.

He hauled her aboard, no easy task. Like all true mermaids she was as healthy and plump as any deep sea creature with a long split tail heavily encrusted with corals, barnacles, and rough gold coins from ancient shipwrecks stamped with the proud profiles of kings and princes and even one of a young boy, an orphan king, but with that same fierce proud look. And on the oldest coins all, stamped by some lost art onto lumps of star metal that had fallen to earth, the images of queens and priestesses, wolves and snakes.

She lay on his deck in a terrible seaweed tangle, picking her pointy teeth with a moon white fish bone.

The fisherman beheld his ruined net and his scale covered guest. Then he set to work untangling her. It was a long afternoon's work because his fisherman's life had taken the cleverness from his hands. But he possessed a fisherman's patience and he simply kept to his task. By sunset the mermaid was free.

She stretched on his deck. Her scales were like a thousand tiny mirrors. Each one held a setting sun, burning colors, melting clouds, and the sea. She looked at him, listening.

What to say.

Other's had told him, "Your voice is so rough. Your words sound like things scraped off the bottom of a boat. Like barnacles."

The fisherman rarely spoke and he did not want to now.

But there is nothing quite like a mermaid for listening. They cast their attention at you and speaking becomes as irresistible as a siren song.

"Hope you enjoyed my dinner," the fisherman rasped.

The mermaid replied in the exact same rough voice. The sea was her home but on his tiny boat she was a guest.

"Yes, I did enjoy your dinner. And now you may enjoy my tea."

She formed a cup with her two scaly hands and reached over the side and scooped up some sea water. She held it out to him, placing her hands on his hands.

"Drink up, air swimmer."

He shook his head. "Can't drink sea water."

She pulled back her hands and the water remained perched on his own hands, still cup shaped.

"Drink up," she said. "I made it just for you." Then the roughness slid out of her voice and her voice became as water.

"Brewed in the brine, steeped in the deep, it is the tea of the sea."

The liquid sound of her voice compelled a thirst in the fisherman. He raised the cup shaped measure of sea water to his lips. He could almost hear his unborn grandchildren asking, "What did it taste like?" Then he drank the water right out of the air.

What did it taste like? A mouthful of sea water. A mouthful of sea words. He blinked in surprise and rolled them out, amazed to hear such beautiful, liquid words in his own voice.

"Allura llueema huamma nawawa."

He became enchanted by his own voice. He never wanted to stop speaking.

"Allura llueema huamma nawawa."

A splash broke him free of his own trance. The mermaid was gone. And his voice was a rough scrape struggling to sound like water. Silent again, he returned to shore.

The fisherman grew old working the sea. He did no better than other fishermen. He did no worse. He had many grandchildren and he told them many stories, although never about the mermaid and the cup of tea. Eventually he passed on to them his boat and his nets.

He took to sitting on the beach, an old man watching the sea. He would think, "Growing old is not what I thought it would be."

He had imagined himself slowly fading out of the world. But it seemed as if the world was fading away from him.

The fisherman grew older still, sitting on the beach. His memories began to drift away from him on the night tide. He became lonely for his past.

The loneliness compelled a thought in him. It was time to speak the words.

He began to speak them quietly to himself at every sunset.

"Allura llueema huamma nawawa."

He had little breath left for speaking, and the words came out as a watery whisper. Yet each time he spoke them he could feel the cup of tea in his mouth. Brewed in the brine, steeped in the deep. Each time he could taste it. What did it taste like? A salty, evening breeze of a taste.

And each time he would enter the mermaid's trance.

She would grin at him as she picked her teeth from the tangle of his nets, as the waves rocked his boat and the sun set and the clouds melted and the sky turned burning colors. He would be freeing her. He would be young again.

Then she would put her scaled covered hands together and begin to work her old sea magic. Sometimes she was as a fisherman, catching up that moment of time in a net of words for him to hold. Sometimes she was as an artisan, beading that moment onto string of words for him to wear.

But the very last time she was his mermaid again, offering him a cup of the tea of the sea.