Melanie's Tale

Voice Card  -  Volume 18  -  John Card Number 2  -  Tue, Jan 15, 1991 7:47 PM

This is a response to VC 17 John 22 ("Jena")...

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

For a hundred days and more Dolphin kept his promise. In the world beyond the mountains autumn faded into a winter of little hope, but for Dolphin and Jenna it was as if time stood still. Every day they played together and every day they grew a little closer. But on the subject of her mother and the circling birds, Jenna remained mysterious.

Every now and then she would disappear and then return in a day or so as if she had never left. The first time this happened, Dolphin searched for her frantically and upon her return plied her with questions, all to no avail. Of course he suspected that she was in the tower of the birds, but he was a man of his word and did not try to climb those stairs.

But as the months flew by Dolphin began to regret his promise. He had not forgotten his heart or his vow to return within a year. It chilled him to think of the terrible birds that forever hunted Jenna's mother, and yet, he thought, am I not hunting the very same prey? Surely Jenna's mother was a mermaid; no one who had ever seen her swim could think otherwise. Surely this mermaid was the one he had risked everything to find. And Jenna, for all her gaiety and evanescence, clearly missed her mother and ached for her return. So why was she so desperate to keep him from the tower? There was only one way to find out.

When Jenna disappeared yet again, and after he had searched every other part of the castle, Dolphin came at last to the foot of the forbidden stairs. He called for Jenna and heard nothing but an echo of his own voice. Again he called and again the echo fell back to his ears, daring him to climb. Dolphin sighed and began the ascent.

The passage was dark and very steep. As he neared the top of the tower, he began to hear the screams of the black birds. He knew that the stairs would soon open onto the very roof of the tower, but just below this, it seemed to Dolphin, there should be a room of some kind. And indeed, just before the summit, the stairs paused briefly at the threshold of a strange and colorful room.

It was a library. Dolphin was eager to reach the roof of the tower, yet there was something in this room that called to him. Many books lined the shelves, bound in leather of all colors, with lettering of gold and silver. By this time Dolphin was so used to wonders that he only smiled when he saw pictures of Dorothy and Delores and Grace hanging on the walls. There was a fourth picture as well, a painting of a great sea turtle, and beyond this, framed by the arch of a delicate window, was the sun already falling into the sea. But in the center of the room, on a little pedestal, were two books sitting side by side, and these were wonders enough to take his breath away.

Dolphin opened the first book and read the following sentence: "Once upon a time at the edge of a great ocean there was a village and in that village one day was born a boy." As Dolphin read on his mouth fell open. This was the story of his own life. He raced to the end to see how it would all turn out, but the last sentence was about a man in a library and after that there was nothing but a few blank pages. With trembling hands he opened the second book and this is what he read:

Once upon a time at the bottom of the sea there lived a mermaid. She was as beautiful as any mermaid has ever been, with long brown hair and ocean eyes. Some mortal children have eyes the color of sky, but theirs are never as deep, as pure, as utterly blue as these eyes were. And her tail was a wonder even among mermaids, a tail of all colors, and she moved like a rainbow through the sea.

But even as a child she was drawn to the surface of her world, and this was a great pain and a mystery for her and for those who loved her. Her friends called it the sun-sickness and they pleaded with her to stay in the deeps where all mermaids belong. But the sun and moon brought colors to her tail that could be found nowhere else, and the green shadow of land was ever in her heart. The air-fish, with their pale white wings, called to her, and the smell of trees sent shivers down her spine.

One fateful day she swam within sight of a small village. The fishermen were out with cunning nets of water that no fish could see, but her eyes were not so easily fooled and no net could hold her. On the beach were many boys, splashing and calling out, but one boy was alone and apart from the others, and he was doing something to the sand. She swam closer. This boy had hair like fire and in his hands the sand became a great castle with bold ramparts and soaring towers. Her heart began to flutter, but whether it was because of the boy or his castle she could not say. She sighed aloud, and although no mortal had ever heard her before, this boy looked up.

Just then there was a terrible commotion. A fisherman had caught a great sea turtle. The mermaid turned and sped through the water. In an instant the net was torn and the tortoise free. Her sisters would have pulled the man down for such a crime, and held him till the water made him stiff and sleepy, but she was not so wild. She just flashed her tail at him and followed the tortoise into the deep.

"You have saved my life," said the Tortoise.

"Those men were wicked, to snare such a creature as you."

"As wicked as sharks. They would have sliced me into pieces and put me in a black pot and put a fire to me until even the water cried out. And then they would have fed me to their children. And my own children would have gone hungry."

The mermaid shuddered.

"I will give you a gift, one woman to another. It is the most precious thing I have. You must never lose it or cast it away. Come here."

The mermaid followed the sea turtle down into a cave and there she found a great pile of eggs.

"How strange! I thought turtles made their nest on land."

"These were on land when I first laid them."

The mermaid stared at the turtle but the turtle only smiled.

"You may have one. Choose carefully."

With trembling hands the mermaid reached down into the hundred eggs and pulled out the one egg she could call her own. She never knew if she chose the egg or if the egg chose her.

"That is an interesting choice," said the sea turtle. "Have you a name, child?"

"Mermaids do not need names."

"You have a heart, don't you? Every heart needs a name. I will call you Melanie, for your hair is long and dark and if ever you should lose my gift you will walk long in darkness."

"Mermaids cannot walk." Melanie held the egg up to her eyes and stared inside it. For the egg was clear as crystal. As she held the ball, something grew inside it, a phantom which gradually coalesced into a beautiful face, the face of a little girl. And as Melanie saw the face, the face seemed to see her, and with a voice like the tinkling of chimes the little girl in the egg cried "Mother!"

Melanie was so astonished that she almost dropped the egg. "Who is this child?"

"That is your daughter," said the turtle. "She cannot hear you, but she can feel you. And you can feel her when you hold the egg."

"What is that I see behind her?"

"That is the castle that her father built. And the child lives alone because her father is a foolish man who builds castles and then forgets where they lie."

"How is it that I have never met my daughter's father?"

"You are confused by time but your daughter is not."

Melanie grew thoughtful. "But then I have met him, haven't I?"

"Poor child," said the turtle. "You have been snared by a net even your eyes could not see and you are in his heart already."

With that the turtle rose to the surface, gasping for air. For turtles belong neither to land nor sea, but hover always in between, at the surface of things. And Melanie and the turtle became great friends, for they were very much alike.