THE MERMAID TOW
Dreamed 1994/2/17 by Chris Wayan; painting, June 2008
I'm in San Francisco, down by the docks, walking toward an airshow. The end of one long pier's been converted into an airstrip. I'm still a block away from the stands, so I can't see a thing yet. But I hear fireworks.
And then a huge explosion! The sidewalk shakes, followed by the unmistakable sound of the starter's gun being fired over and over. I know this means a major accident; the starter is trying to summon help, afraid that everyone will think the crash was just a big firework going off.
I run toward the pier, but pass a kids' playground at the edge of the water--a place to play for the kids uninterested in planes. The shock that shook the pier has toppled several swing sets into the water. Kids are flailing in the muddy cold Bay.
I hesitate, looking off at the smoke from the crash site--but thousands of people over there can help with those victims; few adults are over here and there's nothing to tell anyone to come help, no smoke, no noise.
Just kids drowning.
I hesitate again before diving in; I'm so thin, I'm as vulnerable to the cold Bay water as those kids are. Isn't there a way I can protect myself? Yes. I dive, hit the water... and change into a mermaid! Hesitate a third time, thinking "I'm not a real woman, I don't deserve..."
Strange, I have no doubt at all about growing a tail, fins, scales--I need them now! It's only the sex-change I feel I have no right to. But I do it... for the children.
Well, for me too: run an appreciative hand through my hair and down my body--sleek skin, crisp scales. Feel wonderful as a mermaid, the chill Bay water suddenly comfortable and right.
I'm an odd mermaid: my tail has four flukes not two, arranged in a cross, like a Phillips screwdriver. Stabilizers! Hmm. A Phillips mermaid. Professional-grade!
I'm not sure how these kids will react if they see I'm not human. After all, my people have a reputation for luring landsmen in to drown. I'm a radical pacifist queermaid, not into drowning OR men--why'd you think I live here in the City? But ethnic stereotypes die hard, and these could be Bible Belt tourists--what do I know?
So I keep my head up and my fins well under the surface. I'm just a helpful girl, not a weird creature of the deep.
I swim out past the kids clinging to the wreckage of the swings, figuring they're in no immediate danger, and torpedo out to the furthest one, a hundred feet or more into the Bay.
I roll onto my back and tell her "Here, lie on top of me, head up; I'll tow you in." She calms and clings to me. She's a lanky girl in her early teens, and beautiful once she catches her breath; my heart starts pounding from more than exertion as she clings tight to me, her head on my bare breasts, her legs locked around me...
If I weren't so damn noble I'd be tempted to take my time! But there are still kids splashing and calling "Help!"
And besides, even if she's dating at all yet, the odds are she's straight. "Oh well" I sigh silently, and tow her in to the pier, and regretfully let go, and swim back out to tow in the rest.
Only later, after I wake, does it occur to me that after I rescued them all, I could've turned human and male again, and told her the truth. Showed her my double life, and found out what she thinks of me...
All of me.
NOTES IN THE MORNING
And as the Christians don't say:
I never quite let this dream go. Two years later, I dreamed again of being a mermaid--but this time I went for the girl I liked, and married her (gay marriages were controversial but legal in our county).
A few years later, I painted that dream, with myself as a mermaid. But I was slow to paint this dream, though the idea of a Phillips-tailed mermaid fascinated me.
At last I tried a small portrait (vertical, central panel)
Then a larger, Phillips-shaped panel showing the rescue (four-finned panel).
Finally, a big calligraphic panel telling the dream (disk around the others).
It was June of 2008, over fourteen years after I first dreamed it, that I assembled all three panels into one finished piece (left).
Yep. I work wondrous, wondrous slow. And not just in seeking or admitting love. Painting too.
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