“Mermaid by the New Moon” by Rick White



The operation went well. No reason why it shouldn’t have, it was all routine stuff. But the sight of you in your hospital bed still freaks me out.

The morphine has hit you pretty hard and when you come round you say some weird stuff about a nurse with no teeth – I haven’t seen her anywhere.

In the bed, wearing your hospital gown, you look tiny. Except for your long blonde hair which is wild like always, spread right across the pillow and cascading down over your shoulders.

For some reason I think you look like a mermaid who’s been brought to shore but cannot possibly survive.

‘Take her back, she needs to go back to the sea!’ I want to shout at the non-existent, toothless nurse.

I’m used to you communicating without words. So I know that the little point you’re doing means you want a sip of your ice-water. I hold the straw to your lips while you take a drink, then you whisper, ‘thank you’ before slipping back down into the warm, gooey morphine.

It’s almost time for me to leave. Visiting hours are over and it’s dark outside, you need to sleep.

I start to think about my Granny – Granny Eileen. She had a million different superstitions that she always swore by and I always think of them whenever I’m praying for someone to be safe.

‘If you’re ever bitten by a dog – you need to put the dog’s hair on the bite or it won’t heal.’ That’s the one that always comes to mind because it took me years to realise that is actually where the expression, ‘Hair of the dog that bit you.’ comes from. Or maybe it isn’t, maybe that one really is just a metaphor for drinking alcohol and Granny made the mistake of taking it literally.

Why, having been bitten by a dog, would anyone then want to chase the dog and attempt to shave it?

Nevertheless my Uncle swears blind that this actually did happen. As a child he was bitten by the neighbour’s dog and sure enough, Granny Eileen went round, shaved some of the dog’s hair and sellotaped it on to my Uncle’s wound.

If that was true I’m sure he would’ve ended up with tetanus or something but I can picture my Granny in the hospital assuring the doctors that this was absolutely the right course of action to take.

A nurse comes in to your room and dims the light, that is my cue to leave.

‘I’ll be back tomorrow to pick you up.’ I say. But I’m not sure if you hear me, you’re fast asleep, mermaid hair overflowing. Condensation trickles down the glass of ice-water on your bedside table. I hope that you can reach it if you need it.

When I step outside the hospital the cold air takes my breath away.

Suddenly I’m on a motorway bridge, the one we had to cross if we ever wanted to go to the shops when we were kids. Granny Eileen took us one night, a night just like this one and she stopped dead in her tracks as though something had startled her. Then she took out her purse.

‘If it’s a new moon, you must always turn your money over.’

She took some silver coins from her purse and handed them to me, told me to put them in my pocket and then turn them over. I think that one’s supposed to make your money grow, although it never did.

I think of it now though, standing in the freezing cold hospital night, beneath the starlight and the pale glow of the new moon. I thumb a couple of twenty pence pieces in the pocket of my jeans, turn them over once or twice.

As my breath plumes like ghosts in the air, I hope I’ve made just a little bit of luck.

And if my mermaid needs to find her way back to the sea tonight, I hope it’ll carry her safely there.



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