His mermaid was aching within. Ngia Gladir A Liliv Ky. On the pavement, outside the Mermaid Inn in Rye, a single iridescent flip-flop minus an owner. Continuing up the cobbled street, the meaning of missing shoes involved him; memories of a single white training shoe, in a police cordoned off area in front of Downing Street during the poll tax riot, had come to symbolise a whole day. Logically someone shedding footwear should be someone above and beyond footwear; perhaps not needing it or wearing it mistakenly. He turned round and returned to the single flip-flop, picked it up and put it in his carrier bag. A bespectacled stooped woman smiled at him. He felt obliged to explain, ‘I think I know who it belongs to.’ She did not feel obliged to continue the conversation and he turned heel and continued up the cobbled street. There was no animosity; equally he did not go into the Mermaid. ‘The erotic imagination, is equivalent to the call of the Siren, a biological and psychic land mass drawing me in.’ Another part of him countered this point. ‘If you were adrift and you saw land, wouldn’t you welcome being drawn in?’ To which he replied to himself with a smile, ‘I wasn’t being negative about the land mass.’
The two dirham coin lay in the mud outside the bookseller’s tent in that Suffolk field. The fatigue of a music festival lay heavy on him; the mud lay heavy and uneasy, honest mud that had once been part of an alluvial plain within great swathes of bog. In between music, he bought a small book on folk tales of Suffolk and instantly found a reference to the fresh water mermaids of Bury St Edmunds. These mermaids had been the warnings to young children not to go too near the long departed monks still extant fishponds or uncovered wells. Allegedly an example resided in his parent in law’s back garden. Picking up the coin, was like picking up pirate’s loot. How many more pieces of eight lay in the mud that day?
He had been the railway station mermaid, a creature stationery amid perpetual movement. Replaying CCTV station security would show the tides of the railway, ebbing and flowing around him. Whilst ensconced on his rock, singing the times of arrivals and departures occasionally a weary sometimes lost traveller would wash up on the shore. Whilst stirring his tea, he would tell the stories of the railway, using up railway minutes until the travellers could leave again.
Railway Story I:
On a warm Summer evening, the 19:16 arrival on the up platform from Peterborough, was 15 minutes late due to picking up a stunned buzzard. The driver, a handsome devil known as ‘Mad Dog’ brought the train to a halt with the surprised bird sat on his lap. He had clipped it somewhere near Chippenham Junction, he intent on his business, the bird intent on it’s. Just one of many historic collisions that have rippled through history. He had picked up the large brown hawk and it obliged by helping to drive the train. The station mermaid arranged that the RSPB would meet the train at Stowmarket, blew his whistle and watched carefully as the train departed.
The Rhiconich Hotel had a stunning range of single malt whiskies, the food was not so good. On the way to Durness, a concrete plan to visit Sandwood Bay had been pondered, however the rain had come in and the wind had come up and the barmaid was lonely and bored. She was from Gdansk and had a large Lemmy spot on her chin, she also had a faint moustache. She reminded him of another Cold War barmaid in the Yorkshire Dales many years ago and he idly wondered if they were related. She also insisted that he drink whisky and he did and the day disappeared. With the aid of whisky, she became the Goddess of Gdansk and between Ardbeg and Laphroaig he was in love, all other considerations vanished, including all the plans that had brought him 500 miles north. He woke up the next day on a leather sofa in the snug bar, in front of a still stuttering fire. His head hurt and his senses ached; he left without a word and didn’t bother with Sandwood Bay. The gloom of the situation was so deep and tangible, he felt like Cape Wrath and headed up the road to join the tourists taking the short boat trip, as part of an organised tour. Typically, upon attempting to pay card transactions weren’t accepted, several people with beards laughed. Several hours later he was going back south. The Goddess of Gdansk brushed her hair in a clichéd fashion. It was momentarily sunny at Sandwood Bay. A man with a dog saw her in the distance, when he looked again she was gone. He thought it strange, but figured that was just the way life was. The Green Dragon Inn, near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, doubles as the entrance to Hardraw Force, a beautiful waterfall. It’s possible the Goddess had worked there once before in an itinerant fashion; the proximity to water attracted her.
Railway Story II:
The snow that January evening fell long and hard and with each passing hour, travel choices became harder; time slowed and sounds became muffled. The 18:55 service to Cambridge left on time, if it had followed the plan, it would have been back by 20:26, instead it got lost in the snow and obscured. In the meantime, the station mermaid salted the platforms, liaised with traffic police, as he dispatched passengers in replacement coaches towards unknown fates and regularly measured the dipping temperature and snow depth. People came and went and the snow fell like a bathysphere. A snow submerged state of mind he admitted later had shut out some train details; he remembered at 21:30 that he had not had the 20:26 yet. Liverpool Street control explained that it was stuck at Dullingham due to the frozen points. Eventually Railtrack engineers freed the points using a blowtorch and a full four hours late the lost train arrived, the passengers disembarked with travel tails of British phlegm. They had had a sing song to keep their spirits up, echoing sailors’ resourcefulness through the centuries, whilst navigating dangerous seas. Before leaving for work that day, the railway mermaid had foretold the bad weather and warned prospective travellers, it was not his fault if people didn’t listen.
Finding himself in Dunwich on the pebbly beach, it’s inevitable that the lost city under the sea should call out, yet it never fully happens the way he imagines. He imagines finding a sign on the beach; a coin or a relic of mans’ fragility, he does find this, but in the now rather than the past. The people he is with are talking about divorce and their dogs, whilst he is thinking of market day 500 years ago. The people then (on land now underwater) talked about each other’s relationships and their dogs as well, as they talked all those years before; a well-dressed woman had passed by thinking of the sea and someone else. She wore a bracelet inscribed with the words ‘Ngia Gladir A Liliv Ky’. She walked towards Greyfriars and on the periphery of the religious site, secretly dug a small hole and deposited the bracelet in it. Many years later it was dug up and put in the local museum. It was her gift to him that day in Dunwich, not what he was expecting or imagining. The inscription has proven to be impenetrable to modern eyes, despite linguistic analysis at all the great universities. Another legend says that on some quiet nights, when the tide is low, the drowned church bells can still be heard. No one normally mentions the voices amidst the waves, calling for Liliv Ky. By the time they came he had returned inland; in his pocket a stone with a hole.
Railway Story III
It was customary to lock the front doors of the station between the departure of the 22:37 to Cambridge and its return at 00:18. This allowed the station mermaid to mop the floors thoroughly without the very early passengers for Ipswich, or the late passengers for Cambridge, walking dirty feet through the newly mopped area. His intent was signalled by a printed instruction with the reopening time pinned to the front doors. Most people understood, a very few didn’t and in foul weather, the doors were kept open, so passengers could huddle, as an offering to the magnanimous travel god who scrutinised such things. On this particular night in July, warm winds had blown and the floor dried fast. Upon reopening the door to enjoy the air slightly early, he was surprised to see a man lying seemingly asleep on his back, directly across the entrance; he appeared to be breathing. This was confirmed, as looking down his eyes were met by the man’s looking up, who explained heavy drinking and liquid inspired exhaustion. He asked for assistance in getting up, by proffering his right arm which ended in a prosthetic hook, the railway mermaid took it and helped him to his feet. The land locked pirate staggered off to get his train, whilst the mermaid made a mental note. For many years after this, the land locked pirate was occasionally spotted in the market town. The last time was a few weeks ago at the discount cheese stall, he didn’t seem very happy.
They stayed at the small hotel opposite and off to one side of the pissing boy statue in Brussels, never before had he even considered staying in a hotel opposite a country’s most famous tourist attraction. On the ground floor, the owner sold cheap pissing boys in every size imaginable. Each morning, they leant out of the sash window and looked to see if he had a new outfit on, that particular morning he looked rather fetching in velvet Spanish matador garb. A ubiquitous huddle of camera clicking tourists recorded the moment and all the time the piss kept coming. After breakfast, they went back upstairs and watched a film on TV, or rather he did while she went to sleep. The 1948 film ‘Miranda’ staring Glynis Johns was on with French subtitles, he watched it blankly with splash sploshing noises in the background.
His cousin, resident at the time in Orkney, had slept in a barrow on the magical isle of Eynhallow (some say the legendary home of the Fin folk). He came back and never mentioned it again beyond a dropped comment on a misty late night walk. The shackles of toil had not been employed by the Fin folk, but the taste of banishment lingered, he had after all not been invited and left soon after. Carved in a red sandstone rock somewhere near that barrow, the words ‘Ngia Gladir A Liliv Ky’. Though hundreds of miles away, Liliv Ky was biologically nearby through the blood tie with his cousin, but remained unaware. Many years later, whilst on a family holiday in Orkney, the road took him past a view of Rousay with Eynhallow flat in between. No one in sight, but full at the same time. In a flash just a glimpse in the mirror and gone. The ache he experienced then was a familiar one, he kicked his shoes off and quickly stretched his suddenly cramped legs. On the island of Westray, a dog bit him, the owner in a less than helpful way suggested that he didn’t like the way he walked. He pondered on this and put it to one side for future reference.
It’s a simple rule of thumb, that getting a good viewpoint often helps with finding direction. With this in mind, he tried to find his way through the Albergheria market towards the accessible heights of the Torre di san Nicolo. He had in enjoyed his time in Palermo, but the hot chaos at the foot of Santa Maria del Carmine amongst the market stalls enveloped in smells of fish, meat and moped was sapping his vitality. Above him, the bright majolica covered dome of the church hovered out of reach like an island in a storm tossed sea; for the time being he remained very much one of the pebbles being swept around it. Though he glimpsed it, the way to the Torre di san Nicolo never materialised and he gave up on it and worked his way through the chaos at street level, scrutinised by the dead eyes of piled up market fish. Someone else watched him from the top of the tower, though she called, he wasn’t aware of her, stuck as he was amidst the grits. Until he found a vantage point, the chances were that he would continue unaware. The stone with the hole in continued his route through the alleys, accompanied by a song from above that he could not yet hear, for her part she could wait a little longer. In the sea, a population of stones continues to be bashed against the shore; holes form and the insides disintegrate. The stones ponder their memories, confident that they were once were whole. A man known to some as Liliv Ky saves some in his pockets as a reminder. Ngia Gladir has a stone in her pocket as well, smaller than the one in his pocket, yet bound to fit in the hole.
It took him a while, but he returned to the Mermaid Inn many years later with the raven haired girl he had lost for a while in a high spirited past. Now his wife, she had shown him a photo of her Grandmother and Great Grandmother on her Mother’s side, descendants of the Carmans of Rye, who had lived on Mermaid Street. Finally he realised, he understood what the bespectacled stooped woman had meant when she smiled at him, picking up that iridescent flip flop all those years before.