Stranger and Stranger

W.T. Fit was walking along the public beach, as he always did on Saturday mornings, about a mile away from his cottage in Sagaponack, NY.

Fit, an account manager for a high profile investment bank in New York City, was one of the better employees in his division and made himself, his clients, and the bank’s executives lots of money. He made so much money that they once presented him with a ceramic mug that said in big orange letters: WORLD’S BEST ACCOUNT MANAGER.

Many of Fit’s coworkers used their money to inflate feelings of self-importance. They bought overpriced goods and food from pretentious brands to impress each other. Gluttonous consumption of “high-end” consumer goods made them feel superior to people who couldn’t afford them, such as teachers, nurses, firefighters and farmers.

The companies they purchased goods from, in turn, made enough money to run international advertisement campaigns that depicted models with symmetrical faces and fit bodies getting the highest levels of satisfaction from the products they featured.

The models acted so happy and smiled so widely that they convinced the people who were already buying the goods that joy and fulfillment could be obtained by continuing to buy the products, which had whimsical names and logos that had become synonymous with elegance.

Elegance was a subjective word, but people thought it was objective.

People were said to be elegant when they succeeded in looking like they knew what they were doing.

W.T. was born in modest circumstances. His parents worked as engineers designing sets for production companies. They lived in Carmel, NY and hiked on the weekends as a family tradition. He was impressed by nature. Thousand year old canyons were exquisite to him. White puffy clouds against the backdrop of a clear blue sky were more valuable than any of the consumables the fellows in the office boasted about. A membership to the National Park Service was more worthwhile than a membership to any of the country clubs in the Long Island suburbs.

He’d woken up earlier in the morning and had coffee out of a mug that said in bold blue letters: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

He did not actually have any children, but his preference for quiet living and plain accommodations earned him the title from people he was cordial with.

He got the mug from the World’s Greatest Outlet Store, which sold shirts that said world’s greatest grandpa, diapers that said world’s greatest baby, aprons that said world’s greatest cook and so on. W.T. found humor in this. How could anybody, definitively, be the world’s greatest anything? Also, what were the odds we’d be living in such a profound time in history that the world’s best kisser, the world’s greatest beer drinker and the world’s best fly fisherman would all be alive simultaneously?

Fit was walking along the beach when a figure appeared in the distance coming toward him.

It was a woman – a beautiful woman who was prettier than most of the models in the advertisements he and the rest of the world were always exposed to.

When they got into speaking distance he nodded and said hello.

She stopped and said hello back. Up close there appeared to be slightly bruised skin on each side of her neck. She continued speaking, apparently wanting to make conversation.

“Lovely day isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yea it sure is,” he responded. “Have any plans for this weekend?” He didn’t want to seem rude.

“Oh, not many. Walking on the beach is plenty for me. I don’t get out very much.”

W.T. nodded. He was half paying attention. He was really drawn to the foam ebbing and flowing from the precise point at which the ocean died out and the sandy beach began.

“How would you like to swim with me?” the woman said spontaneously.

“Well I’m not wearing trunks,” he said.

“Can’t you swim without trunks?”

“I suppose it’s possible.”

Without warning she took his hand and led him past the foam, into the water.

The salty ocean aroma infiltrated his senses. His heart rate increased due to the drastically different temperature between the sand and the sea.

They waded until the water hit their waists. She let go of his hand and started swimming. His skin tightened with goose bumps.

A wave crashed on his head. His whole body was now wet. He began to follow her further out into the water. He noticed her bruises seemed larger than they had on the beach.

Once they were far enough into the water that they had to tread to stay afloat, the woman suggested they break the surface and submerge themselves. W.T. obliged.

Under water the woman swam closer to W.T., hugged him and put her lips on his. The kiss was slow. Their warm lips felt sensitive in the cold water surrounding them.

A few seconds had passed and W.T.’s brain indicated to his body that he needed oxygen. He tried to pull away to come up for air. She resisted. Being held down in the water made him panic. He began to thrash around in an attempt to escape her grasp.

W.T. was bewildered. This strange lady, who seemed so harmless, had lured him into the water to drown him. A walk on the beach turned fatal. This is not how he expected his consciousness to end.

She subdued his jerky movements and pressed her lips back on his, harder this time than before. She began to blow. The air felt cold and filtered, unlike air from the lungs of a person. He breathed it in reflexively. Her calm demeanor quelled his impression that this was an attempt at homicide. Oxygen filled his lungs.

They stayed submerged for a full three minutes, kissing, suspended in the ocean current, weightless.

When they came back above sea level, W.T. noticed the bruises on her neck showed long slits that were not apparent before.

In a half daze, he delicately asked what had just occurred.

She smiled.

“Forgive me if I seem rude,” he proposed. “These bruises on your neck – how did they get there?”

“They’re not bruises!” she balked. She seemed excited to explain. “They’re my gills; I’m a mermaid!”

W.T. stared at her, stupefied. She couldn’t be. Mermaids were folklore, the inventions of homesick mariners from past centuries.

Yet, she had breathed under water, appeared to have some form of gills, and swam effortlessly out into the ocean.

“That’s impossible. Mermaids don’t exist in real-life,” he rebutted.

“Neither do finances,” she said. “It’s a matter of exposure.”

“Why hasn’t anyone ever seen you before?” he asked.

The ocean encroached on to the beach then receded into itself.

“I’m not sure, but it seems like exploration is not much of a priority to humans these days. Folks spend more money on minute-long Super Bowl ads than most scientific endeavors,” she responded. “Funding is readily available for Doritos promotions, but people had to dump thousands of gallons of ice-water on their heads just to raise awareness for ALS research.”

W.T. giggled. Hearing the truth from her perspective was funny. His co-workers often suppressed their senses of imagination so they could compete in various forms of popularity contests. It was strange how originality always seemed to win anyway.

They swam back to the empty beach. Emerging like lungfish out of a primordial ocean, they crawled and stood on the dry sand.

“Will I ever see you again?” Fit asked. He sincerely hoped the answer would be yes.

“I don’t know for certain, but I highly doubt it,” she said.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The sun embraced his wonderful, natural body. It felt enjoyable to be alive.

“Well I’ll keep this experience with me forever,” he said.

She leaned over to kiss him again. They stood up, hugged, looked into each other’s eyes and knew intrinsically that unplanned natural occurrences filled the world with beauty and wonder.

She entered the water, elegantly, truly elegantly, and swam out towards the heart of the ocean.

W.T. Fit felt love: love for himself; love for the earthly being he had just met; love for the world and love for the future.

A seagull overhead squawked as it dove into the ocean for food. Seaweed washed up on the beach two yards away. Everything was alive. The thought sent shivers down his spine. He felt the peace of the earth within him.

Published August 25, 2016