Once upon a time, many moons ago, on an island, in the sea, there lived a fisherman.
He loved nothing better than to row out into the bay and fish by the light of the full moon (because all fishermen know the best catch is to be had under moonlight).
He would sit in is boat, light a pipe, and think of his younger days, and all the many adventures he’d had as a sailor on a huge galleon.
He had sailed to the east, the west, the north and the south.
He had seen many wonderful things and heard many languages.
And because all sailors are superstitious,
each time he had set sail, he made a wish, (well, two wishes);
the first, for a long life, and the second, for his true love;
It went something like this;
“May I follow the birds to many fine adventures, and the fish then one day lead me back home to rest.
May I find my true love here or there, and always know her face.”
Then he would reach into his pocket for any item he had to hand, and throw it into the sea as an offering,
And with that he was calm and ready to set sail.
So many comings and goings, setting sails and dockings, he had thrown a multitude of trinkets into the sea, here is a list of a few of them;
a scrap of silk,
a love note,
a variety of sea shells,
a carved walnut shell,
an ear of corn,
a sage leaf,
an iron nail,
a green glass button,
a rose petal,
a wooden cup,
a painted egg,
a pinch of tobacco (and the tobacco tin!)
an interesting pebble,
a cotton reel,
a stone with a hole,
a tea cup,
a lace handkerchief, a blunt penknife,
a butterfly made of porcelain,
a fish made of silver,
and a bottle of fine whiskey…
This served him well for many years, and now he was indeed home and safe, but alas, as for his true love, he had not yet found her.
Now, in his little boat, under the moon, watching the lines and the nets bob to and fro,
he heard a sweet note on the breeze.
At first he thought it was the wind on the water,
or perhaps it was the distance sounds of the bay,
but it grew stronger and sweeter, closer and louder,
until it sounded like it was coming from the belly of his little boat.
He listened closely, and it was surprised to find he knew the words;
“What shall we do with a drunken sailor…
What shall we do with a drunken sailor…
What shall we do with a drunken sailor…..”
He peered over the side in surprise and looked down into the water; all was still except for the shimmer of the tide and the reflection of the big round moon looking back at him.
“How strange”, he said to himself, “how very strange indeed!!”
(As he took an old battered hip flask from his pocket and took a deep swig.)
He settled back down into the boat, and for a moment grasped at the thread of his last daydream,
but then jumped with a start as he heard the voice chiming up again!
“Hey ho and up she rises…
Hey ho and up she rises…
Hey ho and up she rises….”
Well now he was quite sure the song was coming from the very boat itself;
“Boat, be you enchanted or some such magic!!!?
I never heard the like! You never did sing to me before!”
As he stood and looked about, fully sure the boat had come to life and was singing to him,
there came a whistle (whhhhhhhhhhhhoooo) and a bump,
as something landed in the boat with a splash and a clang.
It was a dark chunk like a little house brick;
He picked it up, it was weighty, and something inside clattered with a wet sort of sound, like the tide on small stones.
“What’s this?!” He looked up;
“did you fall from the sky; perhaps a night bird had you in its claw and let you slip…”
He sat back down and took the thing in both his hands,
wiped a sleeve of his jumper across the side and revealed something golden under the sludge; it was a small metal box.
“By heavens, it’s my old tobacco tin!!!” Exclaimed the fisherman.
“I’m glad to see you again old friend, but how did you get to be here…
I full well recall I dropped you off deck somewhere across the Indian Ocean these many years past…”
“That ye did!” said a voice,
at once the fisherman froze with shock (and a little fear).
The voice had spoken right from behind his left shoulder.
First he sat up straight and with an effort (and much courage),
he let his head turn to the side, and after a full count of three ( one-two-three)
he let his eyes travel to the place he’d heard the voice come from.
Well. Sitting there, on the side if his little wooden boat, was a woman!
She had wild hair, and a blue dress.
The fisherman, although in shock, and being well bought up, did not forget his manners;
“Good evening miss, how come you to be here so far off shore,
a-sitting in my little boat like this?!”
No sooner had he said this, as she swung herself over the side,
and was revealed full tailed and shining!
“I see! You are a sea maiden, that is a merrow… that is… a…”
“A mermaid” she said, to help him with his struggle.
“Ay, a mermaid.” He said with a smile and a look of wonder.
“We had all thought you folk to be a magic story, but some young sailors (out in hotter waters) had told us they had spent many a night with your kin.
Am I dreaming or are you real?!”
To prove the point she leaned over and gave him a tender kiss on the forehead.
“Real enough” said the fisherman, a flush of youth about his cheek.
“Sorry I did take my time” said the Mermaid.
“What do you mean?” he asked
“I did follow your journeys over many seas, I heard your wishes, each one.
You were fair to me then as you are now,
though you have more silver in your hair than you did then,
and your skin less brown in the moonlight than it had been under the warm sun.”
He sat speechless, she continued.
“Your treasure I did keep safe for you, here in your box,
though, what with the whales swallowing some of it,
and the tide hiding this-and-that,
and then those thieving crabs!
‘Tis a wonder I found any of it at all!”
He looked in amazement at the mermaid, and then to tarnished thing he held in his hands.
Gently, he opening it…
There was every wish he’d ever made, all the treasure from his youth,
gathered together in his old tobacco tin.
Some things had not faired too well, and perished in the brine,
but others were just as he remembered.
And he gazed down into the tin, the mermaid said;
“See, your wish came true; you are home.”
He looked up, a little sad, and said;
“Yes. But my true love did not come with me.”
“No?” She said with a questioning look;
“I said I did take my time, but here I am lover.”
“You!” He said, surprised and not a little embarrassed, for she was a beauty.
“Yes indeed,” she said.
“You loved the sea so much,
and spoke with such passion,
I loved you these many years, some seven-hundred moons have grown full since I first saw you setting off,
and I’ve travelled with you since,
each and every night I’ve spent under the belly of whichever ship you’ve been dreaming in, and sung you to sleep myself.”
And knew then that his true love had indeed found him at last.
And so they found a way to live together for many happy years; meeting sometimes out in the bay, sometimes on the shore, and always by the light of the full moon.
(“What shall we do with a drunken sailor…
What shall we do with a drunken sailor…
What shall we do with a drunken sailor…..
Early in the morning.”)
So my tale is told, and now it is yours….
Imogen Di Sapia, 2015
(Please reproduce with full credits and a link back to source, thank you.)