Mermaid Weather, by H.L. Ross
Gray water sloshed against the hull of the small fishing boat, rocking it gently from side to side as Sam sent his line zipping through the fog. Pearly drops glistened on his wool coat, clinging to his thick gray beard and fat caterpillar eyebrows. He sat in the bow of the small skiff, fishing pole gripped loosely in his callused hands. Heavy fog surrounded the boat and he could barely see the stern where his friend Michael sat smoking a cigarette. The tiny flame brightened every time the other man took a puff and faded as he released the smoke to mingle with the thick mist.
Sam and Michael became brothers in the Navy, though they talked very little to each other. Once discharged, they went to each others’ weddings and their wives became friends. Now, 40 years later, they fished together every weekend. Even when Sam got a divorce they fished together, but they still didn’t talk much. A thin reed of a man, Michael’s narrow mouth barely ever parted from his precious Marlboro reds. Sam, a man of action rather than speech, didn’t care much for conversation anyway.
Michael dropped the charred butt of his cigarette, the third since they arrived at dawn, into the water and reached into his jacket pocket for the worn Marlboro package, pulling out another before bringing it to his lips and lighting up. Smoke and fog swirled together around his hollow cheeks as his flinty, gray eyes sought some glimpse of the water beneath the fog.
“This is mermaid weather,” Michael said, pulling the cigarette from between his lips only long enough for the words to escape before he took another puff.
“Don’t start with that bullshit. There’s no such thing as mermaids,” Sam spoke gruffly. Michael didn’t answer. He blew out a smoky breath and gazed at the water with wary eyes. The silence between them stretched, broken only by the sound of waves smashing against the hull.
Sam smiled as something tugged at his line. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Another tug. Patiently, he reeled in the line. The fish pulled away hard. Sam pulled back, all of his attention on the battle between him and the fish. Michael ignored him, tossed yet another cigarette butt into the water, and then fished another one from the pack.
A high pitched giggle startled him into dropping the thing before he could light it. It landed with a plop in the water. His eyes flickered through the thinning fog; there was a faint splash off the port side and he glimpsed a large red-gold tail as it disappeared beneath a ripple. Michael’s eyes brightened and he looked over his shoulder at Sam, but the other man reveled in his triumph over the largemouth bass. Looking back, Michael saw her appear. Black hair falling over her pale shoulders, she smiled at him coyly and waved before sinking slowly back beneath the waves with another giggle.
Crowing his success, Sam lifted the fish above his head and presented it blindly to the fog choked world around them. Michael kept his eyes on the water, silently watching as the mermaid broke the surface again. This time she saluted him with the cigarette he’d dropped. Her eyes, black like he imagined the sea bottom would be, filled with laughter and she tossed it at him before sinking back down. The soggy tobacco landed at his feet. He swallowed.
“This is one big son of a bitch.” Sam said as he turned around, dropped the large fish into the ice chest, and clapped Michael on the shoulder. Michael looked from his friend to the water and back again, pictured what he might say if the mermaid appeared again.
But she never did.
This is H L Ross’s first publication in what will hopefully be a long career. Currently, she is a student of Anthropology in FL, USA.