The Woman By The Well

Voice Card  -  Volume 12  -  John Card Number 5  -  Wed, Feb 7, 1990 07:09 PM

This is a response to Vol 11 John 5 ("Sand Castles")...

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

When Dolphin became a man he set out to fulfill his destiny and find a mermaid and fall in love with her. His hair was now the color of smoldering embers and he had become a skillful sailor. When he left the village his parents wished him well, but his father's face was grim and his mother said "I think you will learn that mermaids are hard to find. But nothing is so hard to find as a great love." And with that they hugged him and he leapt into his ship and was soon lost on the horizon.

Ten years passed and ten years is a long time. Dolphin sailed from one end of the ocean to the other and found many strange islands that no one had ever seen before. And every day he dove into the water and swam through great clouds of fish. He explored a thousand coves and sometimes brought huge pearls to the surface. And on ships at night he sang about mermaids, and his songs were so beautiful and so compelling that the other sailors did not make fun of him, and some even helped him look for mermaids. But in all that time he found not one.

When he returned to his village the sea had changed him and his face was no longer young. His hair was now the color of fallen leaves and his parents had grown old waiting for his return. But he was as sad and restless as the sea itself and would not stay for long. The three witches would say little to him, and Grace told him only that the best way to find something was not to look for it.

And so he headed inland. The deeper he went the higher he climbed, and he climbed until his heart was filled with awe at the sight of blue mountains. The mountains, he reflected, had the same power as the ocean: they were so big that they took him out of himself, and so cured the sickness that comes from forever turning inward. It would be hard to find a mermaid here, he sighed, but just as hard to drown.

Eventually he came to a village with the intriguing name of Love's End, nestled against mountains so high they were called the Last Mountains. He came at twilight, and just beyond the village, by a house hidden in a clump of black trees, he halted, for he found something strange.

A woman with long brown hair was standing by a circular stone well and it was not the woman herself who was strange, it was what she was doing. She had an intensely serious look on her face, and she was looking down into the well, and talking, as if there was someone down there to hear her words. Dolphin could not hear those words, but he marveled at how sadly they were spoken.

"Who are you?" he asked, and she ran from him, but he followed her to the threshold of her cottage, begging her please not to be afraid. She stood still just inside the house, and then she turned to him, and suddenly he was swimming for his life in the bluest eyes he had ever seen.

"How long were you standing there?"

"Long enough to see a woman talking to a well," said Dolphin.

"I tell my secrets to the well because I have no one else to tell them to."

Her face might have been pretty except that it was covered with small black scars, and her hands were scarred with the same inky kisses. "The villagers stay away from me because they think my scars may be catching. You'd best be careful."

"Are you contagious?"

"I think loneliness is very contagious."

"In that case I am safe, for I caught that disease long ago. May I stay?"

She looked at him with such fierceness, almost anger, that he started to turn away. But she said "Come in. I'll fix you something to eat."

She gave him a stew worth climbing a mountain for, and golden ale, and the coziest of fires. He told her stories of sailboats and faraway places, and gradually she warmed to him, but her face in the firelight was black and red, and her eyes were cold and deep, and she looked at him as if she was searching for something lost and long forgotten. When the night was old he got up to leave, and he felt her eyes on his back as he moved to the door. She said nothing as he threw the latch, but when he let the darkness in and turned to say goodbye she closed her ocean eyes and said in so small a voice he could hardly hear it "Please don't go."