Out on the ocean the tradewinds cross over a deep-water trench of no particular name. A crossroad of sorts between a wind and a waterway, that for a long time was the location of a public house. The outlines can still be seen as the square coral reef on the bank of the trench. The walls were once lined with barrels and the floor was made of bottles turned back to sand. This is where the husbands of mermaids met.
They tried to recall the songs that had lured them so deep. At first they still remembered how they arrived by merchant or privateer and for a time they held on to their imaginations of the beautiful women who had sung their siren’s song. However, as time passed they forgot how to sing and remembered only to drink.
Slowly they turned into creatures adept to the pressures of the ocean floor. They no longer looked like men and they wondered if their mermaid wives had ever looked like women; doubted whether they had ever touched them.
When the last square riggers raced over their heads there were only three patrons left in the place. One was sprawled on the floor like a flatfish, one had stretched into a long eel, and a third had grown a mouthful of teeth and a long whisker on his back that he used to fondle the casks and bottles.
The flatfish lay there with one eye looking up at the surface, while the eel undid the stoppers from the spirits that had rolled into their watering hole. The angler fish was the one who oured the drink into the mouths of his company, until one day the eel slithered away into the trench, and the flatfish turned its mouth to sifting sand.
Then he was alone. No other men came, because, unbeknownst to him, transport by sail had been replaced, drink no longer fell overboard and the siren’s songs had been drowned out by new sounds.
One day he was woken from a thought that he had been on for decades by a thud. A heavy bottle of golden rum had landed on his head. He looked intently at the liquid and the wax seal, but his arms had shrunk into feeble fins and his coarse teeth could not hold the round glass. The neck of the bottle did have a small ring and all he could do was to thread it with the end of his whisker.
The bottle now hung right before his eyes and he tipped it over his mouth. The seal did not yield and his tongue only tasted saltwater. It was too much to bear. He resolved to surface, see the sun in the golden rum, and shrivel.
Quite thirsty she was. Her water had turned sour and flaky and despite a wide spread of st’ncils the gps told her she was being surpassed right and left.
She had scratched the railings twice over and taken the last toothbrush to the blocks. She had been down to oats and pumpkin for the past six days. All she could do was play her lute and make up stories while she looked for ripples of wind.
On the last of the pumpkin she thought she saw a quiver of wind run across the water. She fingered the lute as she slowly bobbed towards it. When she honed in she saw it was the glimmer of a bottle, afloat, filled with golden rum.
– What a find!, she sang, this bright speck in the blue
She could almost touch it now. Half over the side with the fingers of her left hand outstretched a drift brought them together and she grabbed the bottle, firmly. Just then the bottle jilted. She went over the bulwarks only to land on the strangest of cushions.
– Perhaps a whale, she thought,
but when she looked about her she realised her throne was surrounded by yellow teeth. She sat upon a tongue clutching her lute in one hand and the rum in the other. Perplexed, she watched her ship leave her while she was stranded on a man. She didn’t know he was a man, but he knew she was a woman.
They floated like this a moment, though no sooner she undid the cork and, right before his eyes, drank the bottle down. He was aghast. He let out a roar that bellowed through her hair and her seat was upended, though he would not let her fall.
Slowly, he developed a thought: he decided to have her, rum and all. Perchance this was his justice or revenge, for he was reminded of something. There was a song.
She was singing, quite slurred and incomprehensible, but the lute produced clear notes that kept them both enthralled. As her calloused hands grew stiff and the drunkenness wore off, her voice became ever clearer. He forgot his revenge and listened.
His hold slackened when both fell asleep. She dreamt that she was in the jaws of a monster and every time he threatened to gulp her up she played a song to distract him. When she woke it was just so.