One day, while Anna Wilkins was working in her New Jersey home office, she experienced something so incredible, she would later question if it ever really happened. While sipping a cup of mint tea, a six-inch porcelain mermaid hopped off a shelf onto the chair, landing on a large pillow. The cream-colored figurine had long hay colored hair, a gold speckled fin, and silver seashells which covered tiny breasts. Delicate fingers held a small shell to her ear, as if she were listening to music.
Within minutes, right before Anna’s eyes, the mermaid grew to a human size of about five feet tall. The scent of ocean and sulfur wafted through the air. Light snapping sounds filled the room. As if in slow motion, she lifted her hand to touch her hair, cleared her throat, and spoke.
“How are you feeling, young lady?”
Anna, a petite, fortyish and easygoing woman looked astonished, and dropped her jaw. Is this a hallucination or am I dreaming?
“What the …?”
“You look good today. I see you doubt my existence, but I’m real. Come see.”
Anna rubbed her eyes and hesitated, feeling both terrified and excited. Maybe I should call the World Wildlife Foundation or the police. Her instinct told her to run, but instead she walked to the chair and touched the shoulder of a real-life mermaid. It felt moist and spongy.
“Are you my muse?”
“Yes. You are a writer, correct?”
I can’t believe this is happening. Maybe I’m having a mental breakdown. I should call Alan, but he’ll think I’ve lost it.
“So, having the fortune of gaining a personal muse would make sense. I’m here to inspire you on this fine summer day,” the mermaid said in a faint Irish accent.
Fat rays of sunlight shone in through the skylight onto the floor. The grandfather clock in the hallway ticked softly.
“Because you really need help. Also, because you love to swim, I thought you’d identify with me more than, say, the squirrel.”
Anna glanced over at the small clay squirrel on top of the file cabinet. She made it in a pottery class years ago when her daughters were small. The porcelain mermaid, on the other hand, was her oldest keepsake which she bought on her trip to Scotland when she was single.
“So, what should I do now?”
“I see you’re struggling with an essay about life after college. Why don’t you take a break and go for a walk? It’s such a beautiful day.”
“You’re just going to sit there and wait for me to return?”
“To be honest, I really need to get into some water. A long bath would do. Then I can give you some fresh ideas.”
“Sure. The bathroom is down the hall. Later, if you want, I can take you to the beach. I can never get enough of the ocean.”
“Thanks so much for your kindness.”
“My pleasure. By the way, do you have a name?”
“Yes. I’m Brooke.”
“Well, then, Brooke, enjoy your bath. Make yourself at home. I’ll take your advice and go for a walk now.”
The mermaid hopped off the chair and crawled slowly down the hall. Silver glitter surrounded her, like a giant halo.
Downstairs, Anna grabbed her key and stepped out into the fresh morning air. I just left a mermaid in my house to take a bath. To put her mind at ease, she ducked behind a parked car on the corner and watched her house to make sure no one entered, or that the mermaid left. Ten minutes passed and all was quiet.
She picked up her pace and continued on, breathing deeply. When a white Mercedes pulled up next to her, she was startled.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the Garden State Parkway?” a woman about her age asked. Cool air blew out of the window from the car’s meticulous leather interior.
“Oh, you’re close – just take this street to the next light and make a left. You should run into it in a few miles.”
“Thanks so much. Do I know you? You look so familiar.”
“I was just thinking the same thing. Are you from this area?”
“No, I grew up in Brooklyn.”
“Bay Ridge! Where’d you go to high school?”
“St. Edmund’s – graduated in ‘96.”
Anna studied the woman’s face. Change the red hair color to brunette and add glasses.
The woman pulled over and parked next to a large Victorian house. She was tall and thin and wore large chunky sunglasses which rested on the brim of a large sunhat. Her royal blue dress and cowboy boots stood in sharp contrast to Anna’s yoga pants and breezy blouse. The women hugged as if they were long lost sisters.
“Oh my God, Kittie! How long has it been, twenty years?”
“Just about. You look great! How long have you been in Jersey?”
“Ten years. My husband’s from here. Where do you live now?”
“Manhattan. My daughter just moved to Allendale. It seems every time I visit, I miss a turn and get lost.”
“I know. It took me a while to get used to the roads on this side of the river. What have you been doing with your life?”
“I ended up teaching history at Columbia.”
“Good for you, Kittie.”
“I read your last anthology; it was great. I knew you’d become a writer. You read and wrote papers all the time in college. Did you end up marrying Alan?”
“I did. You know we could never stay apart. It’s funny how fast we went from cross country road trips to a mortgage and three kids.”
“You’re not kidding. I’m on my second marriage. But thank God, I’m happier now. Listen, I have to meet my son back in the city. We’ll have to get together and catch up,” Kit said.
“Absolutely. So glad to see you again!”
A quick exchange of numbers, another hug, and Kit drove away. The women were good friends and college roommates until they lost touch for reasons they could no longer remember. Having just lost her father and a major book deal fall through, Anna was thrilled to run into an old friend.
Immediately, she thought of the mermaid. She knew that the unfinished essay she left at home about her younger life and running into an old college roommate was no wild coincidence. She jogged toward her house, crossing paths with the neighborhood alley cat. When she returned, the sound of classical music filled the house. On the kitchen table was an opened bottle of chardonnay.
“I’m here in the living room. I hope you don’t mind I poured myself a glass of wine. It’s my weakness when I leave home,” Brooke said, tapping the glass with long, gold fingernails. Where exactly was home? On the shelf? In the ocean? She was sitting on the sofa. New long slim legs, crossed at the ankles, replaced her fin. Anna was astounded.
“No problem. How was your bath?”
“Very refreshing, thanks. In case you’re wondering, when I’m in the water, I gain legs that last about a day. How was your walk?”
“Can you believe I ran into an old college friend? We’re going to get together soon.”
“Fabulous! Aren’t you glad you went for a walk?”
“Yes. I’m very excited.”
“Why don’t you work a while longer and then take me to the beach? I’ll just hang out here and read. I can’t resist your great selection of books.”
Upstairs, the bathroom door was open and towels were draped neatly on the rack. The scent of Jasmine hung in the air. After polishing up her essay, Anna turned off her laptop, washed her face, and went back downstairs. To her surprise, after checking every room, closet, and even the basement, Brooke was nowhere to be found. Anna felt terribly sad.
Brooke must have been a dream. I knew it was too good to be true. Maybe I’m just spending too much time alone. I should still go swimming and clear my head.
She went back upstairs to grab her swimsuit from her bedroom, and then turned to poke her head in her office. To her great shock and surprise, on the shelf next to her family photos, the mermaid was there again in her original porcelain form. Solid and still. She looked exactly the same, except this time she was smiling, unlike the serious expression she wore before she came to life.
Anna’s decision to not share her experience with her family took a few days. She preferred instead to hold Brooke in her heart as a beautiful, mysterious secret and an extraordinary phenomenon, most likely reserved for creative minds.
Within a few months Anna and Kit were speaking daily. Their renewed friendship grew into a strong one. Shortly after a new publishing house accepted Anna’s latest novel, it became a bestseller. On her last book tour, she and Kit met for coffee.
“Congratulations, my friend! I loved the book.” They hugged tightly.
“Thanks, Kittie. By the way, did I ever tell you about my muse? She appeared to me the day we ran into each other last summer.”
Anna trusted that of all the people in her life, her best friend would believe her.
Elizabeth Papazian was raised in New York City, graduated from Fordham University and has worked in a diverse background including real estate, corporate law, travel and non-profit development. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family. Her two rescue dogs and swimming keep her calm and inspired.