Gasp! I awoke with a gulp of air the size of my lungs. Above me an endless blue sky. Below me, hardness.
I was either safe on land, or else on the bottom of the afterlife.
I looked around – a tiny rock island that sloped gently up towards a ridge. I rolled over onto the green, orange, brown, and yellow lichen-covered surface, exhausted, water-logged, and with a deep throb in my left foot.
Suddenly I remembered being hooked and grabbed my heel–blood oozed from a quarter-sized wound. The water slapped the bottom of the rock with monotonous rhythm. But above that I heard humming.
Getting my bearings, I hobbled my way up the slope and peered over the other side.
And then I saw her. A woman lingered at the base of the rock in the shallow water, soaking in the sun.
Jet black hair hung down to her waist, and glistened in the noon-day sun. Her bottom half, partly submerged, reflected iridescent turquiose, blues, greens, and purples, from tiny overlapping fish scales. She was twisting in the water, seeming to rather enjoy it.
She was dark-skinned and bare from the waist up and held a large spiral shell up to her mouth, the source of the sound that had pulled me to the Edge of the West and had lured me out to sea.
I sat entranced for who knows how long, charmed by her beauty and movement and melody.
Something about her told me I did not need to worry about being lured to my death. I saw, or rather felt, a shining, beyond the brightness of the sun on her skin and scales. I worked up the courage to say something.
“Hi. I don’t mean to startle you.” What do you say to such a creature?
“Hallo two-legged,” she answered, smiling. “You didn’t startle me, I saw you swimming for the past 4 hours.”
Her voice rang like pure water, flowed like liquid sunshine.
“I have been seeking you for many moons. I was beginning to think the HeartSeer was a figment of my imagination. ”
“No, the HeartSeer is not your imagination. But I am not HeartSeer. My name is Miramar, she Who Mirrors the Sea, Ambassador of Oshun and Translator of the Many Songs.”
My heart simultaneously lept and sunk. I finally arrived at the Edge of the West, I finally venture out into the ocean, nearly drowned, met a stunning creature of unparalled beauty and liquid voice–but she’s not the who I’m looking for!
“You almost drowned out there,” she said, stating the obvious. Even though she had put the shell down, it felt like I could still hear its murmur.
“I almost feel like I did drown,” I said, “All this is just too strange to believe. Did you save me?”
“We have a saying in the Great Sea, only he who has hooked himself can unhook himself,” she said.
“I didn’t hook myself. Those sea plants grabbed me and a fisherman’s net…”
“As you say.”
“But, you did. You saved me. You brought me to this rock?”
“I merely guided a floating Two-Legged on the edge of the death to shore. The end of your own struggling saved you.”
“Thank you, thank you!” I came closer. “I am in your debt. I’ve come who knows how far from the Redwood Forest of the East to the Edge of the West to find someone called the HeartSeer. I’m looking for my Rainbow Home. Can you tell me anything about it, or about the Obsidian Key on the Golden Ring at the bottom of the Great Sea?”
“Why you be searching for all these items? We have a saying in the Great Sea, ‘Stop chasing, starting creating.’ I think perhaps you could save yourself a long and difficult trip,” she said with a splash with her tail.”I know only of the Great Sea, which is my home. And have not heard of what you seek. What is a Rainbow Home? Do you live in the sky, with the winged-ones? Is not the whole world your home?” She gestured to the ocean, as if that made any sense.”
She continued, “What is a key?”
“That’s a lot to answer. A key is for the lock that was put on the Rainbow Home,” I answered.
“What is a lock?”
“It’s a…a…thing that…without which, you can’t open a door.”
“What’s a door?”
“It is an…an entrance, umm…a threshold….that can be open or closed,” I could see that this could take a while. “I would be more than happy to explain all of it to you, I just want to know if you can tell me where to find the HeartSeer. from which I am to discover a clue to the whole thing. Some villagers seem to think the HeartSeer is a mermaid. You are a mermaid, aren’t you? You must be the HeartSeer!”
“Why have you misplaced this Rainbow Home? And if it is so important, why put something on it that requires another thing in which to enter or open?”
An interrogation-I didn’t know how to answer. “I lost it long ago. But it is where I want to live now. It is my true abode. My village is suffering from a curse, and I want to make medicine to lift the curse.”
“Aghh! A curse?!! I have heard of such things. The Landed-Ones tell such tales. We have not curses in the Great Sea.”
“Yes, we are afflicted with many things, often of our own devising.”
“I am ignorant of such things, but it sounds serious,” she said.
“And I too am ignorant of the ways of the Great Sea. I live among trees and soil and mountains and…”
“Trees! Such mysterious Earth-Footed Ones. Mountains!” She chimed, splashing as she did a hip roll-up on the rocks. “I have longed to visit mountains of the Waterless Abode, having only seen them from afar. They are like giant waterless islands. They are the end of the known world, the Edge of the East.”
I laughed. And couldn’t help be enamored with her way of seeing as well as her beauty.
“I’m sorry for finding that funny. It is not waterless. We have lakes and rivers and waterfalls and rain and ponds….And the mountains are not the edge of the world. There are whole lands over the hills. In fact, I come from a place that is entirely flat many leagues beyond the mountains, full of fields and wide open skies. Not unlike your sky here,” I said, then added, “But I guess islands are like underwater mountains.”
“What are fields?”
“I guess you would say, fields is earth where we grow our food.”
“But how do you live without the Great Sea?”
“I…umm…don’t know…But I could show you. I will take you to the mountains! I can tell you all about them. And fields. And trees,” I was excited at the prospect. For the moment, I forgot all about the pain in my foot and the hunger in my belly. “I am in your service. I will…”
“Alas, I cannot leave the Great Sea,” she interjected. “But maybe you can bring them here?” Her eyes widened with hope. I could almost fall for her in that moment.
“I see your heart’s desire. I will find a way.”
“Aha!” Miramar lighted up, as if coming into some great idea. “I know where be the HeartSeer. Not very far. Come.”
“You know the HeartSeer? Why didn’t you say so!” I said exasperated only momentarily, being overcome with anticipation.
Then I remembered: The gifts!! My heart sunk. I forgot the gifts I was to bring as an offering to the HeartSeer. I felt as much embarassment as regret.
“I forgot the gifts,” I admitted to her. “The 7th Born, I mean the Bunny..er, I mean somebody I met in the forest, said I would need to bring gifts: a gift unmade, a gift unbought, a gift unplayed, a gift uncaught. But I don’t know what all that means. I didn’t know what to bring. And what I had with me I lost swimming out there….”
She was only smiling. “I must go now. Be here tomorrow at dawn and I will accept your gifts to offer to the HeartSeer.”
“But I told you, I don’t have any gifts. I can’t…”
But just like that, Miramar disappeared beneathe the water.
And there I was, alone on a rock miles out at sea, under a setting sun, without my gear. Without food. Without my Sea Staff. Without gifts. Without a clue.
Only from extreme exhaustion from the day’s events was able to sleep through the night, though it was cold and windy. Dawn on the sea is quite a different experience than dawn anywere else. It comes earlier and comes on slowly, like a creeping consciousness, a progression of slightly larger breaths.
When the orb of the sun was fully above the horizon, Miramar appeared from below.
“Good morning! It’s so refreshing to be able to say good morning to someone, as most of the Great Sea community does not go by night and day in the way of you landed folks.”
“Do you have the gifts? I am eager to show you the one you seek.”
“If you are eager, I am doubly so! But I have been here all night, I have no gifts. How could I possibly get gifts? You just disappeared without…”
“hmmppph…” With that she splashed me with a whip of her fish tail. “You must reach deeper into those pockets of yours, Two-Legged. Meet me at dawn tomorrow.” And disappeared once again.
I was stunned. What am I doing here? How can I possibly please this Ambassador of the Great Sea. Could I trust her?
I spent the day alternating between exploring the perimeter of the little island, sleeping, tending to my foot wound, trying to hunt little crabs and fish, and fighting the urge to swim back to shore. I could see the lighthouse at the village. Warmth, people, food, all of which seemed as strong as the siren song that pulled me out here to begin with.
Once again dawn arrived. My gut hurt from eating only uncooked molluscs and dried seaweed in the last three days. I felt delirious and was worried that I began to not be worried.
Soon Miramar surfaced, eyes wide and full of light in expectation. I could see a brightness shining in her. But I could also see a darkness shining in her. The shape of her wound, behind her ribcage, a shadow shining like a rainbow ray, tender sacred wound. And I could see that it was beautiful and it was painful. It was the source of her shell magic, her song, her melody, her smile, her light.
It didn’t make sense, but that is what I saw.
I loved her–in a way I have never loved a person.
But in that moment, I knew that I could never take her to the mountains. Nor could I bring the trees to her. I knew what I had to do.
I stripped naked, stretched out both my arms with fists faceup, and opened them.
“I bring you my gifts: in this hand is Trust, a gift unplayed and unbought, and this hand an Open Heart, a gift unmade and uncaught.”
Miramar merely smiled and motioned me to come closer, then swam over below the sharp drop-off. Wearily, I inched up the rocks until I was at the very edge, and pulled my body up and looked over. Several feet below she re-appeared.
“They are but one gift called Acceptance. And hey are beyond beautiful. Now, watch where I’m going.”
Her gaze pierced mine, a gaze nearly too much to handle.
“Look closely, for When I disappear, the HeartSeer will appear.”
And with a splash she melted under the water.
When the the ripples settled, the surface became clear as a mirror. Looking over the edge, an image began to form.
A man reflected back at me.
I was looking at an image of myself.