GEN Z MERMAIDS
Since ‘Gen Z Mermaids’ won Grammy’s Song of the Year, we’ve hit choppy waters. Our eco protest anthem with profits donated to Marine Conservation struck a chord worldwide and my award-winning lyrics had inspired a global ocean clean up. Of course, we were ecstatic - except for one thing. He couldn’t understand why, when it came to interviews, I clammed up like a monosyllabic mollusc.
I resented prying press fishing for information. How did we meet? Did he really save me from drowning? I could hardly admit to bantering with sea horses before being captivated by a voice, gentle as waves kissing shingle then fierce as a gathering storm, soaring across salt seas. I remember thrusting aside a plastic bag impersonating a jelly fish before popping my head above the surface to discover the melodious singer.
Bent over the prow of a small wooden boat, he was scooping detritus into a fishing net and singing about shipwrecks, winds, whales – and me!
Cause her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Hardly an accurate description but before you could say octopus, I was singing along. United in harmony, our voices twined like plaited eels. Then without warning, my heart flew to his and, just like in the fairy story, my tail disappeared.
How’s a Gen Z mermaid to know falling in love made your tail dissolve? I thought that stuff was fake news. If you believe ancient hype, all we do is lounge on rocks luring sailors to watery graves with angelic songs when actually, we’re saviours of the seas.
I should have believed legends senior mermaids told us Gen Z’ers. Like back in the fifteenth century when a mermaid fell in love with a Cornish chorister and lured him to her watery home. At least that way, she kept her tail. Without mine, I’d never again navigate stag coral and sea grass, race dolphins or fun fluke slap whales. With mine replaced by unreliable human legs, I was sinking like an anchor amid flighty sardines and smirking mackerel.
Peering up, I saw a bubbling whirlpool framing a face of infinite beauty. Sturdy hands gripped my waist and, legs kicking, feet flicking, he propelled us towards the surface. Treading water, he held my face in his hands and spluttered, ‘Was that you singing? I never heard nothing more beautiful.’ Thanks to well-developed sonar, mermaids are versed in many languages from halibut to human but while we’re used to singing out of water, talking is hard work. So, I just nodded, impressed that despite my being naked, his eyes remained glued to mine.
‘Come on, let’s get you on my boat.’ Muscled, tattooed arms helped me on board where my unfamiliar toes sifted through rubbish we’ve been swimming through for decades. Plastic water bottles, nappies, wet wipes and discarded packaging.
‘Disgusting ain’t it,’ he said. ‘You wild swimmers take your life in your hands, especially without a wet suit.’ Handing me a towel to cover my modesty, he added, ‘I pick up what rubbish I can but I’m fighting a losing battle.’ Tell me about it, I thought, casting aside a desire to lick salt from his skin.
Heading for a harbour I’d viewed from the sea, he was inquisitive. Where did I live? Did I work? I couldn’t confess me and my ocean custodian sisters slept on the move like dolphins and enjoyed krill takeaways. So I stayed silent. He suggested hospital but fearing medical attention might reveal piscine qualities, I grasped his hand and shook my head vigorously.
‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘A&E’ll be a nightmare on a Saturday evening. Best come home with me.’
On newborn legs, walking was torture. I leaned on his arm while he guided me to a cottage overlooking the beach. Dressed in his old clothes, he sat me in a rocking chair beside a window overlooking the flat grey ocean. I wept for what I’d lost - my tail, my sisters and my cousin sea creatures. Poignant words came to me and I sang of my emotions. Comforting hands stroked my long aquamarine locks and his mellifluous voice complemented mine. That’s how Gen Z Mermaids started.
You’ve only to check out our website and social media to hear how it went after he’d ‘saved my life.’ A lobster fisherman, he was with others of his kind, in a Sea Shanty band. Assuming I was a refugee (true in a way) they, like him, excused my reticence. I felt safe in their company and their harmonies spoke to me. Often, I joined in and having mastered rudimentary speech and movement, they welcomed me as a vocalist. Our popularity grew and people came from far and wide to hear us perform in their local, The Five Pilchards.
Back in his cottage, he’d warm my permanently clammy body and joke that I’d scoffed half his daily catch. But we were bound by a love of the sea, a desire to save it from desecration - and singing.
Before fame found us, we were happy as clams. As a distraction from homesickness, I wrote songs about my oceanic home and the perils confronting it. Composing accompanying music on his guitar, he began filming our duets and posting them online. One song called Gen Z Mermaids, inspired by my South Atlantic sisters’ reporting plastics infiltrating our once pristine Antarctic Sea, went viral. Calling ourselves after my song, Gen Z Mermaids turned professional.
I loved singing and performing but talking remained challenging. After our success at the Grammy’s, I felt marooned in a demanding, turbulent world. He thrived. I withered. My hair, usually glossy as seaweed, became brittle. My skin felt rough as an oyster shell and my appetite dwindled until I could stomach nothing but samphire foraged from the foreshore.
‘What’s got into you?’ he complained after I’d refused to do the One Show. ‘I know you’re shy, but we need publicity to protect our oceans.’ His disappointment exacerbated my queasy unease. Feeling a strange tingling on my thigh, I went to the bathroom and saw a circle of iridescent green scales. Was my tail returning in exchange for love?
Leaving him striking strident chords on his guitar, I headed for the beach. Swimming was my solace. Behind me, harbour lights glimmered like starfish while friendly waves caressed my body. Suddenly, a familiar face circled by kelp coloured hair floating like a lily pad, reared up before me.
Hugging my old shoal nanny, she said in our language, ‘Nice job with the songs. Made a whale of a difference down here, I can tell you. The sisters are well pleased.’
‘But I’m so unhappy Nanny. He’s a good man but I’m out of my depth.’
‘We understand but you need to know Gen Z Mermaids has made more difference to our oceans’ survival than we’ve managed for centuries. It’s crucial you continue this important work.’
‘But I want to come home,’ I begged.
‘You can’t. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. Anyway, you’ve the best reason for staying.’ Sniffing the briny air around me, she explained. ‘Don’t you remember mermaid midwives detected expectant mothers by their scent. You, my dear, are going to spawn.’ Tenderly, she stroked my stomach before giving a cheery wave and diving into the deep. Her fluke appeared for a moment, poised in salute above the waves, then she was gone.
I went home accepting my life was with him, our music, our message and our child. My past was a future to share with others. The tingling on my thigh ceased. That was the end of my tail.
© Beverley Byrne