The Thames runs salt, strong and brown. Faint flavour remains in my fingers, rubbing sore gums. Grey strands trickle past my waist and my sodden hem oozes mud into footprints on the floor. I squint at the other passengers through the bright-lit air. They don’t like my dank person. Why should they? I am repulsive, a shrivelled crone.
Unwanted memories cling like the river in my gullet: sleek skin, sunwarm waves, racing dolphins. I keep coughing.
The tube stops, perhaps the right stop. During the struggle to get upright, one man comes too close. I smile – that scares him off. A small satisfaction to carry me up and out of this manmade cave.
The nightime breeze has the scent I seek, setting a quiver of anticipation over the fear. A lonely direction, a tall shadowed wall. Hunched, lurching, undignified and painful. I totter, grab the brickwork. Must not fall, cannot fall. Gasping spikes of pain, scraping along the cruel ground. A short blaze of moonlight, a scuffle out of garments, and I am over the edge.
The chill soothes me, my tail curves free, gills fill. A stretch, a flip of my fins, my body is my own again.
Floating an arms length beneath the shimmering surface, my hair circles in the calm. The pool tastes of chalky fossils, flat and strange. I remember my mother’s lessons of salt water and sweet, far away in the north Atlantic, before forgotten adventures in the deep ocean. Later came the thrill of chasing ships into the estuary, dodging the bustle of docks. Somehow I stayed, solitary but amused by men’s ceaseless toil. Stayed too long, now old and slow.
The fresh water will kill me within the hour, and eat away my fishy bones.
A good place for a mermaid to die.