Mermaid

Inspector John Ruffing, an old man in 1940, speaks to us at night from a place on the south coast of England, near Rye, in Mermaid.  We hear gulls as lights come up on Ruffing telling us that he never liked the ocean and never learned to swim but he has been sent to the coast because of the war to look for “submarines, saboteurs, smugglers, ghosts,” although all he can think of is his dead wife.  He tells us that she loved what terrified her, and that, growing up near Land’s End, she and her two sisters would swim naked in the ocean at night.  When they were first married, she took him to the shore at night, took off all her clothes, and ran into the water, “like a savage.”  He stood knee-deep in the waves calling to her because she always swam out too far.  Restless, she heard voices, but never told him what they said.  He says the only times he was truly happy were when he was holding her, comforting her.  She was, he tells us, a “dancer on the edge of oblivion,” and he desperately wanted to save her but could not.  Walking on the shore at night he thinks he hears her calling to him.  She slipped out of the house one night, took off her clothes, went into the water, and never came back.  He says he does not believe she drowned herself, deliberately abandoning their child.  He asks us if we hear somebody out there in the water.  “Perhaps if I just walk out a little ways.”

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