The Bargain

Voice Card  -  Volume 21  -  John Card Number 2  -  Fri, Aug 30, 1991 4:35 PM

This is a response to VC 20 John 2 ("Intermission")...

[This is part twelve of "Dolphin & Melanie"]

For the next seven years Dolphin and Melanie shared the same ocean. Melanie fastened herself to his ship like a barnacle and would sometimes wait for weeks just to catch a glimpse of him on deck with the wind in his hair. She swam before the ship in times of storm and did her best to keep it safe. Even a stormy sea will rarely sink a ship under the protection of a mermaid.

The most exciting moments came whenever Dolphin would leap from the prow of his ship and dive for pearls. Although he never knew it, Melanie was at his side each time, running invisible hands through his hair. She found that if she tugged at his hair she could lead him to the brightest pearls. Dolphin never felt the tug and always assumed that he was making his choices all alone. The other sailors said he had "the instinct," that he could smell the pearls, and at last Dolphin came to believe them. He would simply dive into the water and listen to his heart and before long his hands would overflow with pearls.

At first making him happy in this way was enough for Melanie. She would listen, enchanted, as Dolphin sang to the other sailors about his quest and about the heart-breaking beauty of mermaids. The irony of the situation was almost amusing. All he had to do was open his eyes. But he was blind. They all were.

One night when the sea was still Dolphin stood alone on the deck singing softly to himself. Melanie called to him and he stopped, staring hard into the water as if he could see all the way to the bottom. "Where are you?" he said. And then he shouted it. "WHERE ARE YOU?" Some of the other men rushed on deck but he would say nothing to them and stomped angrily into his cabin. Melanie too was angry. Her invisibility, she now saw, was like a cage. Somehow the bars had to be broken.

Shortly after this Dolphin's ship made port near an ugly little town. Most of these towns held a witch or two, and this one was no exception. This town's witch was a wrinkled old man who lived in a ramshackle hut on the very edge of a little piece of land that jutted into the sea like an accusing finger. For the first time in years Melanie left the ship and swam up the coast until she came to this hut.

The old man was sitting on a rock watching the tide come in and he spotted her immediately.

"Come closer. I don't bite." The old man chortled. "In truth I can't. My teeth are all but gone."

"You're eyes at least are still good, old man. You can see what no one else can."

The old man turned and spat. "I can see you, if that's what you mean. Does that please you?"

"It would please me more if someone else could see me," said Melanie cautiously.

"A certain young man, perhaps?"

"You see very well indeed. Can you see the name that is written on my heart?"

"Hearts are my specialty. But I've never had the chance to examine a mermaid's heart."

"What would you give for that chance?" Melanie stared hard at the old man and did not flinch, but inside her mermaid's heart was beating. There was danger here.

The old man met her gaze and for a moment seemed to have some difficulty controlling himself. He licked his lips. "Your eyes are just as sharp as mine. I think we understand each other, do we not? Maybe we can help each other. Let me see your tail."

Melanie chose a rock close to the old man, but not too close. She pulled herself onto it and flashed her tail in the sun. The old man smiled.

"Very pretty. Too pretty for most eyes. That is your problem."

"I don't understand."

"You want to be seen? All you have to do is stand up."

"Do not toy with me, old man. I have no legs as well you know."

"I know no such thing. You have beautiful legs, two of them. You can't see them, but I can. They are hidden. I can show them to you if you like."

"What is your price?"

"I thought you knew already. I want your dearest possession. Give it to me and I will open your legs for all to see."

Melanie turned away. How could this witch man see her egg? How did he know? Melanie felt the egg, riding as always in her hair. The voice inside the egg seemed to say "Swim away, mother! Swim away!" The egg! Surely there must be some other way!

"I can see you are not ready to part with it. I withdraw my offer."

"Wait!" Melanie felt the bars of her cage closing in. "What would you do with it if I gave it to you? It is very precious!"

"I would keep it in a safe place. I would guard it carefully. And when my life was spent you could have it back. I only want to hold it for awhile." The old man stood up and prepared to leave.

"Where are you going?"

"I don't think you really want to be seen. But if you do, come back here tonight when the moon is full. I will be waiting."

And with that the old man did something Melanie could only dream of. He walked away.