IN THE MERMAID'S DRESSING ROOM
Dreamed 1993/12/18 by Wayan
A cove where stony hills sink into San Francisco Bay. Bare, steep, strata twisted, they harbor valuable minerals, and gnomes to mine them. Or so it's rumored. They're so secretive it's hard to be sure exactly where they work and live. No wonder they were relegated to myth so long. They were smart enough to hide from us. And they ARE rare... as far as we know.
I'm prospecting for gnomes. Much cheaper to trade with natural miners than dig our own mines. The man I'm with thinks these hills have possibilities. Coasts, hills, minerals... gnomes like these things.
But I suspect a theory I read is right: they like a plain or alluvial slope, not a hard stony cliff dropping right into the water. Miles of easy tunneling between the hill and the water, that's their ideal. Not enough elbow room here. Or some other reason--who knows why? Their communities are far below sea level anyway. Why do they prefer some landforms above them when they never come up to the light?
We cross a long low causeway to the east side of the bay, arguing... It's not wide here, a few miles. The water north of the causeway is much higher. Yet it's all one water system! Weird. Some tidal thing? We reach a spillway with nothing but a railing to hang onto as you wade across the top of the waterfall. Luckily, there's less than an inch of water rushing around my shoes. Slick but no current. Shin-deep, it'd be deadly. Slide forward with my elbow hooked over the rail. I'd fall, but for this elbow grip. The top is too narrow for me to walk quite upright: the rail pushes my center of gravity out over the drop. Precarious but I'm not scared: the pool below is wet but not a fatal drop, and there's an islet a hundred yards off, so I could swim. Might ruin the camera, at worst.
In the lagoon below, I see loops of red-orange swimming. A dragon! Not a large one, twenty feet at most. A beautiful translucent red-orange like a huge carp, with the sun glowing through the fins. It swims round for a good five minutes, and I get the impression it's showing off. Almost a water ballet.
Slowly I sidle across to the islet. The railing and waterfall resume beyond it. The isle is suspended in mid-waterfall like Goat Island at Niagara. There's a bridge, though, across the lower lake, to the visitor center. I walk across the isle and down the steps into the crowd near the water's edge.
Ahead of me is a mother with a couple of small kids. She asks "What's the commotion about, did you see?"
"Yes, a dragon's in the lagoon."
"Uh, huh, a dragon." She doesn't believe me! Why does she think this is Dragon State Marine Reserve?
I say "it was on the surface for a good five minutes, it may come up again". I leave her, annoyed; if she's gonna ignore my answers, why ask? Tourists.
I duck under the yellow warning tape into the STAFF ONLY part of the center. Down the concrete steps into the underwater zone. Head for the dressing rooms. I have this suspicion I'll find... the dragon! Yes! Inside the open door, I see her long scaly elegant body, translucent fins... but... here, backstage, inside her native zone, I see her truly: a mermaid, of course. An actor.
She's sitting at the counter, looking into her costuming mirror framed in light bulbs (massively insulated against shorting out in salt water, I notice) scrubbing off reddish dragon make-up, and unpinning her hair. Her face and breasts are ivory-pale under the oily carotene; her scales have the quiet iridescence of abalone insets, not the gaudy henna look of a dragon's great pebble-scales.
She beams at me, clearly delighted with her performance. Justifiable! "You fooled the tourists!" I say, though she has to know, from that crowd. "But I saw a ranger marking you down as a genuine sighting." That has to be sweet--fooling the rest of her troupe.
I say "Can I see the dragon-mask?" She holds it up proudly. "You convinced even me. You truly became one" I say. Not just polite. I really didn't know, and I've met a lot of both species.
Her eyes get an inward look. "I truly played the part of an Elder?" Mermaids, like the Chinese, think of dragons as wise elders, evolved beings. They hope to become them, in time. She was acting, bluffing; but after imagining transformation and daring to try it, comes the third step--embodying--and she did it, if only for a few minutes.
I say "Oh, yes. You'll be a dragon, if you keep on like this." I mean that literally. Fake it enough, and you grow into it... Wisdom is a role; like height, it's not a quality but a relation between you and those around you. Others see you as wise--you never feel wise. For the growth of insight reveals new ignorances, new shortcomings in yourself to work on, to work round, to forgive. We're all fools inside; what matters is what masks we dare to imagine, and embody; what we value.
This mermaid values wisdom, beauty, and dance.
So that's what she'll become.
When I head back up to the air zone, I bump into the manager of this elemental acting troupe, who appears as an old man, on land. He tells me about a young actor who's been playing the role of a Tragically Doomed Rebel Leader in the troupe's new play, on tour in the Congo. But Mobutu the dictator doesn't like even play revolutionaries who lose; he's been sending guards to every show! The young man considers Mobutu's reaction silly and paranoid, but he's in danger. He doesn't seem to realize how influential this troupe has become. All over the Congo, as I've prospected for gnomes, I've heard talk and jokes and tales of this fictional revolutionary. Since people can't advocate true rebellion without disappearing, the young actor has become a symbol for people's dreams of freedom.
Mobutu is quite right. The young man IS dangerous. If he tried to make his part real, it'd happen. Within a day, he'd have an army. People are that dissatisfied.
No, role-playing is no game. It has a way of becoming real.
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