The Artist

by Patricia Young

The waters are pleasantly cool this day.
As the beach I comb, the breeze is strong.
My toes disappear in the sand.
I left my easel farther up the beach near the rocks.

Waves continue like clockwork crashing, deafens the ear.
Many rocks there are to look at as I stroll along, no hurry, no rush.
I wonder, how many millenniums has it taken for them to get to shore?

Something glistens, catches my eye.
Must wait till a wave gives pause for me to scoop it up.
When the wave returns, I wash the sand and grit from it.

A beautiful shell – two shells!  A silver dollar attached to
a larger curved shell.  One I’ve never seen before.
Quickly I find my sketch pad, pencil and search
for a place to sit and draw it.

The sun was slipping low in the sky when I first saw her.
Wet red hair with flecks of gold shimmering all around her in the surf.
Tiny red crystal flowers crowned her head.  Her face like porcelain.

She watched me carefully, unafraid but cautious.
I waited for her to stand and walk towards me.
But she did not.
I smiled at her timidness and beckoned her to come closer.  Puzzlement shown on her face, her brow knit together in consideration of the offer.

It was then I noticed the fish.
For a moment I was frightened for her, they swam so close to the surface I could see the glint of scales.  Some were tiny as she’d hold out her hand, they would swim across her palm, or circle her torso.

Others were quite large, larger than a grown man.
They seem to watch me watch her.
Still in the water, except for fins circling to keep their place next to the young woman.  Their large mouths continuously opening and closing, gills processing oxygen for these creatures of the sea.

She noticed I was watching these fish in amazement and smiled ever so briefly.  It was then I saw what I thought was seaweed.  It was green, but not solid, it was translucent and shiny, it caught light and seem to create light all by itself.  The fin was as wide as my arms outstretched as far as I could – from finger tips to finger tips!
I heard myself gasp.

She laughed – it was not a laugh like I ever heard before.  It bubbled up from the depths of the ocean and burst through the surface.
All of a sudden dolphins appeared – the fish sank lower into the waters as these mighty creatures exploded from the depths and leapt into the air.
The girl was startled for a moment, then laughed with them.  They nuzzled her face like a pony nuzzles a child.

My shock could not decide upon itself what was more surprising – the fish who seemed as pets to her, the dolphins which I’d only seen in books, or watching this young woman in the waves!

Once the flurry of movement settled and the sea calmed as much as a sea can calm.  The girl looked at me with a brilliant smile and pointed to my hand.  At first I looked at my pencil and looked up to her eyes offering it to her.  She rolled her eyes upward a moment, shaking her head so fast the water from her tresses flung all around her.

I looked into my left hand, there was the unusual sea shell – long forgotten after this chain of events.  Lifting it up my eyebrows raised, was this what she wanted?  Yes!  Yes that was it.  She smiled, happy that I understood and reached out a hand into the air.

This action cause the water to part, her body’s movement as she stretched up high with her right hand, her left hand modestly covered her right breast.  The silver green scales under her navel flashed for all of a moment in the sun, looking like wet emeralds.  An exact duplicate of the shell rested magically on her chest.  I looked at the shell in my left hand again with great awe and appreciation of its purpose.

Hastily I began to walk towards the water.
The shell outstretched in front of me.
Her eyes grew wide, sheer panic covered her face.
In one magnificent movement she dove beneath the waves!

I stopped.  Did I just have a hallucination?  Perhaps I’ve been drawing in the sun too long this day.  Slowly, softly, I saw the bright red golden hair floating on the water’s surface.  The delicate features of the girl came next, hesitantly watching me.

Without taking another step forward, I raised my arm and threw the shell as high and as far as I could.  The movement behind her, as a mighty beast soared up from the dark waters and caught the article of clothing was truly something wonderful to behold.

With one turn the whale most men would fear – his white and black markings tattooed boldly across his body, put the shell gently into her hand.
Hiding her from me for a moment.  Then putting some distance between her and the sea, seem to wait for her.

I felt the taste of salt air in my mouth and realized my jaw hung open.  That laughter floated on the air again.  A smile of thanks and a wave of her hand as she began to turn away I shouted out,

“Girl, turn your face for me to draw.
Tomorrow, if we should drift apart,
I shall find you by this picture.”

© 2014 Patricia Young  All rights reserved.

This piece originated from a class assignment to create a poem or story of no more than 1000 words, inspired by a picture picked from a variety of photographs, postcards and prints, and finishing with the last three lines from John Balaban’s poem The Painting.

The Mermaid - Artist: Elenore Plaisted Abbott
The Mermaid – Artist: Elenore Plaisted Abbott

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2 thoughts on “The Artist

  1. Fantastic! I love your story! I could hear the surf, and feel the water droplets in the air. I was right there with you.

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