by Roger Nelson(this takes place on the Erie Canal bicycle tour that Sandy, Sheryl, and Linc were riding)
The day was hot and sunny and they stopped at a rest stop in a park alongside the canal. Under a white gazebo friendly people were passing out granola bars, bananas, grapes, and filling water bottles. Bikers were milling around in the shade, cooling off and enjoying the day.
Sandy said, “Hey, you two. Go stand over by the canal. I want to get a picture of you.”
Linc and Sheryl left their bikes on the grass and stood next to the path by the canal.
Sandy took a picture and said, “Good, now get closer to the canal. Stand next to it so I can get a good shot of the water behind you.”
Linc and Sheryl got right on the edge of the canal and Sandy got another shot.
“Great,” Sandy said, “Now show me how long the canal is.”
Linc was confused by this request. What did that mean? 363 miles is a long way, he thought. Should he sign “3,6,3” to make 363? He could make a 3 with one hand, but he needed two more hands to make the other 6 and 3. Maybe there was another way to make 363.
While Linc was trying to work this out, Sheryl spread her arms apart as far as they would go and said, “It's this long, and further.” As she did it, she bumped Linc with her arm and Sandy clicked the camera as Linc lost his balance and splashed into the canal.
Sheryl was shocked. “Oh. I, I, I'm sorry,” she said turning around to look at the hapless swimmer. “I didn't mean to do that. It was an accident.” But Sandy was laughing had a certain glint in her eyes that seemed to say she'd planned it that way. “I got a great picture,” she said.
Linc stood up and then climbed up the bank and out of the water. “That was refreshing,” he said. “It felt good. I wonder why more people don't do that.”
“I hear the locals call it 'scumming'”, Sheryl said. “You're not supposed to swim in the canal, but some do anyway. The water, apparently, isn't very clean.”
“At least the water is warm. When I swam the English Channel I nearly froze. The water at its warmest is only about 65 degrees, and that's at the end of summer when it's the warmest. Most of the year it's too cold to swim.”
Sandy said in a tone of disgust, “You didn't swim the English Channel.”
Linc went over to a bench near the pavilion and sat in the warm sun. Sandy and Sheryl sat with him. Linc looked thoughtful and sarcastically said, “You're right, Sandy, I stood on the bank, waved my hand over the water, and a path opened up so I walked the 21 miles across.”
“You didn't do that either.”
“OK, you got me. I didn't exactly walk across. But I did fall in.”
Sheryl laughed. “That's a long way from swimming the English Channel.”
Sandy asked, “How did you fall in?”
I was taking a ferry across from Calais to Dover. It was a beautiful fall day and I was on deck enjoying the sunshine and sea air, but the air was a little brisk, maybe I should say cold, and I was the only one outside. I was leaning on the railing when a big wave hit the boat and part of the railing gave way and in I went. The shock of hitting the cold water knocked the breath right out of me. No one saw me go in, and the boat went right on by me. I was lucky not to get chewed up by the propellers. The weight of my shoes and clothes, as they soaked up the water started to pull me under. I took my coat off and trapped a bubble in it so I could use it as a float, but I was a long way from shore. I tried yelling, but no one heard me. Other ships passing by didn't see me either. I thought I was a goner. As I got colder and colder, it was harder and harder to hang on to my float. My hands went numb and I couldn't think clearly. It didn't take long, only five or ten minutes, and I lost my grip on my coat and slipped under the water.”
Sheryl asked, “It sounds like you were a dead man. Who rescued you?”
“I should've been a dead man. I went unconscious, but when I came to, I was still under the water, just drifting face up, and breathing water, just like it was air. It was so weird. I wasn't even cold anymore. I thought I must be dreaming or maybe I was just to numb to feel it. I thought maybe I was under water in the next life or something. I could hear the motors of the boats in the water above me, and see their outlines on the surface against the sky. And then I heard a voice.
“Good, you're awake,” it said.
I tried to answer back. “What's going on? Why am I still alive?” I asked. But it sounded like I was gargling, all bubbly, because even though I was breathing water, when I spoke, it came out as air. Now I was really confused.
“Don't try to speak,” the voice said. “Just think what you want to say. I can hear you that way.”
OK, so there was a mind reader involved. “Where are you,” I thought. Then I realized that the voice in my mind was not coming through my ears. If it was something I was actually hearing, I would have known what direction it was coming from. But there is no direction to something spoken directly in one's mind. Then I realized that whoever owned the voice had also somehow given me the ability to breath water and stay warm even though it was cold.
“Underneath you,” the voice answered.
I turned over in the water and looked down. I was about 10 feet above the bottom and there laying on the sand was a mermaid looking up at me. Merianne (for that was her name) was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen. Well, uh, the second most beautiful person. She had thick long brown hair and dark blue eyes that glowed in the dark, like a cats. She had a cute little nose, and, well, I'll just stop there. No need to give you too much information. I felt helpless before her beauty. She was a siren of the sea, and she didn't even have to sing. Her voice in my head enthralled me. Suddenly, nothing else mattered in my miserable little life. I just wanted to be with her. Men are like that you know. We can become captives to beauty.”
Sandy asked, “Merianne was the second most beautiful person? Who was the first?”
“Uh, that would be Sheryl.”
Sheryl said, “Now I know he's lying.” But secretly she was pleased.
Sandy asked, “If she was so pretty, why didn't you just stay with her. Why did you leave the water?”
“I did stay with her for weeks. We swam together, back and forth from Calais to Dover, and not only that, but we swam the length of the channel, too. But she was a much better swimmer than I, and so most of the time I would just put my arm around her shoulders and let her carry me. She was not only pretty, but also quite intelligent and charming. We had some really good times together. We explored shipwrecks and underwater caves, and even found lots of gold, but we left it all there, since we had no use for it under the water.”
“But as to why I left, well she just wasn't right for me, nor I for her. For one thing, she was a salad eater, and that meant seaweed, kelp, and other plant life. I could just never get used to it. I might have liked some haddock or tuna, but she wouldn't let me eat fish or other animals. And even if she would have let me eat fish, I would have had to eat it raw. I mean, how could I cook it under water? Oh how I longed for a thick beef steak, or even a hamburger. There was no meat and potatoes and I lost a lot of weight. I was skinny as an eel.”
Linc continued, “As for her part, I think she got bored with me. She was so much better than me at just about everything, whether it was a game of checkers or chess, or anything that involved swimming, and that covered almost everything. I was like a fish with legs. And yes, we found some games on some of the shipwrecks and after I showed her how to play them in just a few games she could beat me. I think she wanted a friend with fins. Of course, I'm sort of a leg man, so even though she was so pretty, in a way I felt a little cheated, too. While her upper body was wonderful, her lower body was scales, and that just didn't work for me. One day we just decided it was over, and she took me to the shore with the clothes I had on when I first fell in, and as a going away present she gave me a seashell. As I climbed out of the water, suddenly I was wet and cold and coughing up the water I'd been breathing. When I turned to wave bye to her, she was swimming away with what looked like a large fish. I'd been dumped.”
Sheryl asked, “Wouldn't that have been a merman?”
“Perhaps, but she never spoke of her family or others of her kind, nor did I ever see any. She seemed to be an anomaly.”
Sandy asked, “After being away from civilization for weeks, did you have trouble returning?”
“I was fortunate to meet an old couple beach combing near Dover. They helped me get back to civilization. The only thing I have left is her memory and a seashell she gave me. Most people hear the ocean when they put it up to their ear. When I put it up to my ear, I hear her voice in my head.”
“She talks to you through the seashell?” Sheryl asked.
“Not exactly. She sings to me, but it's in a language I don't understand. I keep the seashell on a coffee table in my living room. You can see it when we get back if you want. I've never told this story to anyone before. I mean, who'd believe me?”
Sandy said, “What makes you think we believe you? I don't.”
“No matter, I just had to share it with someone, even if I'm not believed. You are my friends. Who else would I share it with?”
By now Linc was mostly dried off by the warm sun. “Let's get some watermelon,” he said. And as they got up to get something to eat, he added, “Even though I fell in the drink, I'm still thirsty. And after thinking about all that seaweed I ate, I sure hope they have steak at dinner tonight.”