Raymond Silowitz was the only one that twenty-seven-year-old Paul Rose had told the secret to about the mermaid. Paul had been home a few days for the holidays. Raymond drove Paul to the Pittsburgh International Airport. Paul was going to spend a little bit of time down in Charleston, SC, before he was off to Brazil for business.
“You know, Paul,” Raymond. “I had this dream the other night. Well, maybe it wasn’t a dream—I don’t know. But whatever it was, it seemed so real.
“I was just lying down on the bed, thinking about Pam, thinking about all the good times we had, thinking I could do it all over again.
“Then this man shows up—out of nowhere—dressed like some mafia godfather—fine suit and all—and sits down on the bed beside.
“‘Who, who are you?’ I ask him.
“‘Just call me Gypsum,’ he says.
“He rolls his wrist, and a cigarette magically appears in his hand. He snaps his fingers, and flame comes out of his thumb. He lights the cigarette with it and crosses his legs.
“‘This man has to be Satan, I thought. Anyone who just pops up like that—out of nowhere—has a name like Gypsum and lights a cigarette with his thumb has to be the one and only.’
“‘Where’s Pam?’ he asks.
“I tried to smile. ‘She died,’ I said.
“‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘I have something that just might interest you—a proposition.’
“He proceeds to tell me that he has everything—everything—that Pam and I had ever done, you know, everything, and that I could have it all—on tape—for my soul in the end.
“I remembered that weekend Pam and I had spent together, a weekend when all it did was rain. All we did was, well, you know. Boy, were we bad.
“‘Nothing is like reality, though, but I do have this,’ Gypsum adds
“He snaps his fingers, and before me appears this big plasma TV. There Pam and I were, squirming under the sheets.
“Gypsum is watching, too, like it’s porn.
“‘Do you mind?’ I ask him.
“‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Sorry.’ He snaps his fingers again, and the TV disappears.
“‘Well, just think about it,’ he says. ‘You and Pam—everything—on tape.’
“I thought hard about it for a moment then I looked up at him, snickered and replied, ‘Nice try, Satan.’
“See, Paul, Pam was my first and only love, and I haven’t loved a woman since then, so even though the love I shared with Pam was good, how do I know if she was the one, if I will love someone else—more?
“‘Very well,’ he says. He puts the cigarette out—which never got smaller, by the way—and as quickly as he came, he went, leaving only the smoke of his cigarette behind.
“Pretty weird, huh?”
“Pretty weird, Paul, weird, but wise” Raymond said, “but tell me the one again about Angie.”
“You look like a child.”
“My parents took Jamie and me down to Charleston for my last spring break. We were staying at a Holiday Inn on Folly Beach on James Island.
“The first night we were all walking down the beach. The sun was setting.
“Then we see this hump in the sand just up ahead, and when we get up to it, everybody just stop—I mean we freeze like we had run into a thick, glass wall.
“We all try to retreat slowly.
“At our feet lay this sea serpent.
“My father wants to be the first to say it was nothing, but it’s green! It looks so real!
“Jamie squats down to try and touch it.”
“‘Jamie, no!’ mom cries.’
“Jamie rolls her eyes then steps away.
“‘Okay, okay,’ dad says, trying not to panic, ‘Now, let me see.’
“He reaches down to touch it—
“‘Please be careful, honey,’ mom says—
“‘Sh!’ dad says, glancing back.
“Just as he is about to touch it, we hear the voice of a girl in distress.
“Our eyes zero in up on the deck of a beach house, where a man is standing with a beach
towel around his waist.
“‘Awe, come on, Angie! Wait! What’s the matter with a little tequila in the hot tub?’ the man shouts out to her.
“‘No, no, I can’t!’ the girl cries, covering herself with a beach towel as she streaks across the beach to the water.
“‘Fuck!’ the man said. He comes down from the deck and runs after her.
“Angie is headed right for the sea serpent, kicking up so much sand with her feet that it looks as if she is being shot at.
“My dad tries to stop her before she stumbles right over the sea serpent.
“The sand it was made out of went everywhere.
“Angie gets up, looks back, sees what she has done, cries even harder, but she couldn’t stop. She just gets up, and without the towel keeps running for the water, where she takes a big leap and dives in.
“By the time the man gets to the water, Angie is gone, lost in the tide.
“‘Fuck,’ the man says and dives in the water after her.
“After a while, the young man returns the water, exhausted, gasping, barely able to stand up.
“The paramedics are waiting with the police.
“There is no girl, no Angie in the man’s arms.
“My mom and dad are questioned, not believing that Bobby, the young man who had run after Angie, had drowned her.
“Moments later, the coast guard shows up in a helicopter. They scan the waters with a spotlight.
“While my father gives the CPD a statement, I look out onto the water when suddenly, I do a double take, smiling.
“After the spotlight passes, I see something in the water, a silhouette in front of a full moon—the head and shoulders of a girl.
“For a moment she doesn’t move. It looks as if she had turned her head, looking right at me, then she dives under the water.
“Up out of the water a moment later—where Angie had just been—I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—a tail of a fish, a big fish.
“I want to yell out, ‘Look! Angie! Out there!’ but I don’t. I just smile and whisper, ‘Angie.’”
“I know. I know, Paul Rose,” Raymond said. “From that day on, you were never really the same. You never grew up. Angie inspired you to write children’s books.”
“You crack me up.”
Paul just smiled for a moment. He didn’t regret it any of it. He was happy. He spoke, “I just hope I can find a steel magnolia woman who’ll put up with child in me—”
“A woman with punch.”
“You’re a true traveler, man,” Raymond said. “You follow your heart.”
Before Paul boarded his plane, Raymond embraced him. “Good luck, man—with everything. Your star is waiting.”
The next day in the afternoon Paul Melrose was in Charleston, SC, on the golf course of the Seabrook Island Country Club. He had on a Hawaiian shirt, a T-shirt, khaki shorts, his lucky, worn out, dark blue baseball cap and old white leather tennis shoes.
He looked down the narrow fairway. Palm trees stood closer together than
telephone poles on each side.
He had an aluminum bat. With his legs crossed he leaned on the bat as if it were a cane like the leprechaun of the Boston Celtics logo. With his left hand, he tossed a softball up and down. The softball was also pretty worn out with skid marks from grass.
Then he put the ball and bat down. He took out a piece of paper from the
backpack on the ground and began folding the paper, carefully.
Although Paul Melrose belonged to the SICC, he was seldom there. Hitting softballs helped him when he suffered from writer’s block. It wasn’t the fresh golf course air. It couldn’t have been that fresh with all the chemicals they probably sprayed on it. He just liked annoying the hell out of golfers.
Today was different.
Paul owned a region of rain forests in South America. To ensure greedy
lumber lords weren’t touching them, he had to go into the jungle alone. No one else wanted to venture into the juggle of the rainforest and he understood.
So, today he just wanted to spend some time in wide-open space before he left
for the dense forest.
A group of older gray-haired men dressed like professional golfers came motoring down in their little white golf cart.
Paul always got a chuckle over them. They always looked so clean with
faces that looked as if they were wearing makeup.
While they waited for him, Paul could hear them whispering among themselves, “There he is again with that bat. Is he a member here, Bob?”
“Looks like a nut. Look. What the hell’s he doing? Rolling a joint?”
“Son? Hey, son—”
“—Oh, I’m sorry,” Paul said.
“Son, do you belong to the club?”
“Ah, I have a membership card around here somewhere,” Paul said. “Let me look.”
He rummaged through the backpack. “Ugh, can’t seem to find it, but I do have a copy of this.
“Here you go,” he said.
He walked over to the golfers, handing the book to the driver.
Then golfers were quite surprised. “Well, all be damn. The kid’s a million-dollar author.”
Across the top of the front cover of the book it read: The #1 New York Times Bestseller.
“Now,” Paul said, “if you would please excuse me.”
Paul walked back over to his spot.
He had made a paper airplane with the piece of paper and threw it to get a reading on the
wind, indicating a slight breeze to the right.
Paul picked up the bat and ball. He rested the bat on his right shoulder. With the ball in his left hand, he just stood there, looking down the fairway for a moment. Then he tossed the softball up as if he were about to serve a tennis ball.
The softball came back down to the outside. Paul waited until it nearly hit the ground, then he swung.
The softball soured and hooked like a golf ball down the fairway and disappeared into the trees.
“Darn it!” he said.
Using the bat as a walking stick, he started down the fairway.
It was Kate Thorn’s last day on spring break from her students. As she sipped on a margarita under a tiki, she watched Paul.
Paul was now down the fairway, searching for the softball behind the tall palm trees, wondering, by the look on his face, where the hell it at had disappeared to. He thought he looked in the right place.
“Looking for this?” Kate asked him.
He looked up, and there she was. She had the softball in her hand, holding it up, smiling.
“Yes,” he said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, still smiling.
“Hi, I’m Kate, Kate Thorn.”
“Paul, Paul Melrose,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” she said.
“Mind if I join you—I mean watch?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” he said.
“Where do you want me to drop it?” she asked him.
“I guess you should right there, right?” he asked.
“I guess,” she said.
She dropped the ball.
“Paul,” Kate said, “you have quite an interesting game of golf.”
“It helps me work through writer’s block,” he said.
“An aluminum bat—better than an iron, huh?” she said.
“The only thing an iron’s good for is scooping up shit,” he said.
“Mind if I ask what you do?” she asked him.
“No, not at all,” he said. “A writer—mostly children’s books.”
“Really?” she said.
“Really,” he said, smiling. “And if I hadn’t been such a show off back there, I could have given you a copy of the latest book.
“You know what amazes me the most about the rich?”
Looking up at him, Kate shook her head no.
“The more money they make, the more space they take up. If it were up to me, I’d put picnic tables up all over this course. Do you know how many little leagues fields you can fit on this course?”
She smiled. “A lot.”
He managed to get the softball on the green after a couple of light whacks with the bat. It now was only a couple of feet from the hole.
“So, why don’t you—turn this place into a park?” Kate asked him.
“I wish I could but there are more important things to worry about like protecting the rain forests. That’s where all my money’s tied up. No rain forests, no fresh air—or any air, for that matte and no air, no children, no need for little leagues.”
“Well, I think that’s really nice. You have a nice cause,” she said.
“So,” Paul said, “you mind if I ask you what you do?”
“No, not at all—and thanks for asking.
“Astrophysics,” Kate said.
“Let me guess,” he said. “NASA.”
“NASA? Nope. No way. I wouldn’t work for them if they let me fly the company shuttle. I don’t want any part of the space program. The way I look at it, if we land on Mars, we’ll just screw it up, too.
“No, if I’m going to be an astrophysicist, I’m going to have some fun with it.”
“So, what do you do? Walk around a lab all day, bouncing a rubber ball off your clipboard?”
“Actually,” Kate said, “I make paper airplanes.”
“You mean you have a shop?” he asked.
“A restaurant,” she replied.
“Hungry?” she asked him.
“I could eat,” he said.
“Good, then follow me,” she said.
“So, what do you do?” he asked, following Kate. “Make airplanes out of paper plates?—Or are they more like paper Frisbees?”
“Just follow me,” she said, smiling.
Paul walked with Kate to the parking lot, where her car was, a blue slightly beat up pickup truck
The pickup truck was her father’s. He had given it to her when she had left for college.
This was different, Paul thought, a young incredibly bright and beautiful woman with a beat up pickup truck. He liked the combination—beauty with low maintenance—practical.
Kate drove Paul to downtown Charleston and parked the pickup. They got out and walked. They had been walking awhile when Kate stopped.
“Well,” Kate said proudly, “here we are.”
Paul looked up.
Kate had brought him to a place called The Paper Airplane Café. The roof of the café
looked like a giant paper airplane made out of aluminum sheets.
“Is this your restaurant?” Paul asked.
“Yep,” she answered, smiling.
She took him inside, where a hostess stood with her hands folded across her waist in the foyer greeted them, with a smile, “Hello, Ms. Thorn. Good afternoon.”
“Karen,” Kate said, closing her eyes, trying to say it as nicely as she could, “I told you, it’s Kate, just Kate.”
Karen smiled, got a couple of menus, and said, “Follow me, Kate.”
The hostess led Kate and Paul into the dining area.
Paul could not help but look up, noticing a confetti of paper airplanes. The airplanes waltzed from a balcony; the balcony, its railing finished in cherry wood and its ballisters made of polished copper pipe, surrounded the dining area.
Paul noticed people behind the balcony railing. They sat behind old wooden drafting
tables that looked as if they had come right out of the Renaissance.
The people behind the drafting tables continued to take clean sheets of paper and fold them
carefully into paper airplanes of all shapes.
Paul sat down after Kate in a booth, whose tabletop was the dorsal fin of a small airplane.
Paul, unable to stop looking up, asked Kate, “Who are those people—behind the
drawing? Are they customers?”
“Mostly college students,” Kate replied. She looked up and smiled.
“Like I once had,” she told him, “they’re studying physics, and when they’re not in class—and I hope some of them are not cutting it—they come here to make a little bit of cash, entertaining—and they have fun doing it.”
Rebecca, one of her waitresses wearing a long white smock, came up to them, “Hi, Ms. Thorn.”
“Rebecca—I’m always correcting them—I told you. It’s Kate, just Kate.”
“I know, I know,” Rebecca said. “It’s just that…”
“—I know, Rebecca,” Kate said. “I’m the boss, but it’s still okay. I insist.”
Rebecca set down place mats which were decorated with a pictorial history of aviation, then napkins which were folded into paper airplanes and then the handles of the silverware little red propeller blades.
Rebecca wrote down their order on a miniature clipboard—a sixteen-inch pizza blanketed with extra cheese and sprinkled with pepperoni.
While they waited for the food, Kate ordered a pitcher of Miller Genuine Draft.
The pizza arrived, steam rising from it soft melted cheese.
Rebecca set down decorative plates from what appeared, to Paul to be, plates from the
Franklin Mint; on the plates were scenes from Kittyhawk.
Paul and Kate ate heartily, the cheese from the pizza stretching like hot bubble gum.
After lunch, Kate thought she’d ask Paul if he wanted to walk more through the streets of Charleston and The Market. Paul took her up on that offer, so they walked, periodically turning to each other with a bashful smile, and smile that said they were falling in love.
It got gusty. Paul had to keep reaching up to hold down his cap.
“Don’t you have to be getting back to the café?” Paul asked.
“No, not really. I have an excellent staff.”
“Do you like festivals?” Paul asked. He quickly reached up again before the wind took his hat.
“I do,” Kate answered.
“Well,” Paul said, fighting the wind, “there’s a festival on Folly Beach—”
“The Folly Beach Festival,” she answered.
“Yes,” he said, turning sharply to her.
“Yes,” Kate answered, “but there’s also a storm coming…. Don’t you think?—”
“Hey, you know what we can do!” he said, excitedly.
“No, what?” she answered.
“Fly a kite—box kite!”
“If only I had one,” she said.
“Well, then we’ll buy one—and I know just the place to go!”
Paul took Kate by the hand, leading her back to The Market, where Paul looked around, getting more discouraged by the moment.
“What’s wrong?” Kate asked.
“I don’t get it,” Paul said. “The kite man—he’s not here.”
“You know what?” she said. “I bet he’s at the festival.”
“You know what, Kate,” he said. “I bet you’re right.”
“Well, then,” she said, “let’s catch him before the rain gets us.”
They made it to Folly Beach. The storm had not come yet, but it had gotten gustier with hurricane-like gusts—too gusty, maybe, for even a box kite.
People on the beach scurried, like they were running from a giant sea serpent. People with canopies were taking them down.
“We’d better hurry,” Paul said.
He took Kate’s hand.
They spotted the kite man. His canopy had been dismantled and tucked away in the back of the man’s pickup truck, and his box kites, all in plastic crates, were ready to go into the back of the pickup, too.
Paul, having to shout through the wind, asked the kite man, “Excuse me! Can we still buy a kite?”
“Well,” the kite man said, “you’d better hurry and pick one, because I’m about to head out!”
Paul handed the man a one hundred-dollar bill. “Don’t worry about the change!”
Then he and Kate helped the kite man pick up the rest of the plastic containers and put them in the truck. the man saluted them as he got into his truck the drove off.
By the time Paul and Kate got the box kite together the beach was deserted.
Paul asked, “Do you think we should still fly it—or do you think it’ll fly us?”
“Don’t worry. It won’t. The wind’ll rip it apart before it does that,” Kate said.
As he wrestled the wind, Paul assembled the kite, if it weren’t for the wind, the kite would have been as easy to open as an umbrella.
The kite came with two strings, the kind of kite one steered like a puppet.
Kate looked up nervously toward the dark approaching sky.
“Ah, mind if I fly it first?” Kate asked.
“No, not at all,” Paul said. “Ladies before gentlemen.”
“Ready?” he asked.
“Ready,” she answered.
“Steering that thing will be like trying to tame a wild horse,” Paul said.
“I know,” Kate said. “But I’m a big girl. I think I can handle it.”
He handed her the strings. The kite wanted to go!
Holding up the kite with firm grips, Paul started to go back as Kate let the strings unravel
from the reels, then Paul, about twenty-five yards away from Kate, shouted, “Are you ready?”
Holding onto the reels like a water skier, the muscles in her outstretched arms as tight and
as twisted as nautical rope, Kate gave him a quickly thumbs up.
Paul let go of the kite, and it took off like a model rocket right into the dark sky.
Kate pulled back on the string. It was like a tug of war with the kite. The wind died for a moment. She took a few steps back, re-gripping the reels. The kite soared, circling and diving.
Steering the box kite remained a tug of war for Kate, giving her less and less opportunity to re-grip the reels, and the soft, loose sand was hard to find firm footing in.
Holding onto the kite, Kate had backed onto a pier, hoping to find firmer footing across the
swollen, warped grain of its wooden planks.
Although gusts pounded the kite, so far, it appeared to Paul that the kite was holding up.
Finally, it seemed that the gusts had broken up momentarily. It was a quick opportunity for Kate to really re-grip the reels. She looked up toward Paul. He gave her a thumbs up; she responded with a quick thumbs up back.
The gusts kicked in again, and the kite tugged hard at Kate. She took a couple of steps down the pier, trying to re-position her feet firmly.
As the kite continued to tug at her, she continued to step back farther down the pier,
noticing that soon she would run out of pier, looking down toward the water with fear. The blisters that had formed on her fingers had broken open and bled.
Suddenly, Paul saw a seagull flying out of control, struggling for control in flight, on a heading toward the kite. If the seagull had gotten too close to the kite, it could possibly rip the fabric of the kite with its razor-sharp beak.
Another gust came roaring by. Trying to hold a firm footing across the pier with the front of her feet, Kate tugged really hard on the kite strings, blood seeped from her open blisters.
Soon, the seagull lost the battle over the gusts, tumbling out of control in a jet wash and crashed head first into the kite.
With her arms stretched out as far as they could in front of her, their muscles tense, Kate fell back.
Just as she was about to fall from the pier and into the surge, her eyes looking toward it in pure terror, Paul grabbed her hands and pulled her back as she fell into his arms.
“Are, are you alright?” Paul asked her.
“I, I’m alright,” Kate answered, “but please…get me off this pier.”
Holding Kate in his arms, Paul helped her off the pier. The box kite fell out of the dark sky and hit the beach like a torn and mangled satellite, some of its pieces strewn across the beach.
Paul, who had never once let go of Kate, took her up the beach.
“Where, where are you taking me?” she asked him.
“Up to my beach house,” he answered. “I have a beach house on Folly Beach.”
They got to the beach house where Paul helped Kate up the deck steps. Kate’s clothes were smeared with blood that had gotten on Paul’s clothes.
“Let’s get you inside.”
“No,” Kate said. “I’d really rather just stay out here. The wind really won’t bother me.”
There was a hammock on the deck, tied to two posts that came right up through the floor of the deck. He helped her into it.
Kate had fallen asleep in the hammock. Before the storm had power washed the beach, Paul carefully picked her up in his arms and carried her inside.
Kate woke up early the next morning, discovering that she was in Paul’s bed. She had been tucked in, clothes on.
There was no reply.
“Paul?” Kate said again, a little louder—
There Paul was, sitting in a rocking chair near the bed.
“What happened?” she asked him.
“You fell asleep on the hammock. I brought you in here before the rain came.”
“You didn’t wake me?” she asked.
“Sorry. I had to make an executive decision—you were sleeping so peacefully. I didn’t want to wake you, so I brought you in here.”
“Well, thanks,” she replied.
“Kate,” he went on, “May I ask you a question?”
He sounded serious. Kate thought about it for a moment then she answered, “Sure.”
“Remember what you said about the café, that you didn’t really need to be there, because you had an excellent staff?”
Kate turned over on her side and propped herself up with an elbow. “Yes. Why?”
“Well,” Paul said, “In a couple of weeks, I have to go to Brazil, and I was just wondering—”
“And you want me to go with you, don’t you?” she asked.
“Well…yes,” he answered.
“Well,” Kate answered, before I give you and answer…” She took a deep breath.
“What is it? Are you sick?” he asked caringly.
“No, it's nothing like that,” she replied, “but I do have tell you the truth—I mean, after all, you did save my life.”
“It’s the juggle, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s the water,” Kate said.
“The alligators,” he said.
“No, it’s not the alligators—or the snakes,” she replied.
“I don’t understand,” Paul said.
“It’s the water, Paul, I need salt water to survive; I’m her, Angie, the mermaid you saw years ago.”
“Really, you’re Angie?” he asked.
Completely but happily surrendering to him, she replied, “I’m Angie.
“Are you happy?” she asked.
“Am I happy?” he said. “I-I could be happier. It’s the happiest day of my life!
“Oh, my goodness, you’re the mermaid—you’re the mermaid!”
She laughed. “Okay, okay, and now, that we’ve gotten past that, would you like to kiss me?”
“Would I like to kiss you?” he said to himself.
“Well….” She asked.
He turned toward her. “Yes.”
They leaned in toward each other, and their lips embraced.
~ The End ~