A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the pretty girl, the patient man, and the kind mermaid.
After losing the woman he thought he wanted to marry, a man meets a mermaid and finds out he didn’t lose anything after all.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the pretty girl, the patient man, and the kind mermaid.
The Man and the Mermaid
There once was a young man who lived in a small town near the sea. He was kind and hardworking, but there was not a lot in the world he could call his own. His days passed pleasantly and calmly, without much that upset or bewildered him.
The only thing of wonder in his life was the daughter of the apothecary, a girl so breathtakingly beautiful that the young man hardly knew a greater pleasure than to look at her.
Her eyes were so big and the sweetest hazel colour. And her hair was so long and the darkest auburn he had ever seen. She moved so gracefully and smiled so brightly that the young man was sure he loved her.
After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and he could not believe that anyone could be so perfectly beautiful as she was, without being perfectly loved by the one that was looking at her. And since it was him looking at her, it must surely be him that loved her.
He did not speak of his love though, for the apothecary’s daughter was still young and although she gladly danced with all the young men at all the parties in town, he was sure her parents would think her too young for any serious advances.
So he admired her in silence and went about his business as before. It was not until he had been invited to three weddings of town girls about the same age as the apothecary’s daughter that it occurred to him that there might be no sense in waiting any longer. As everyone around them was pairing off, perhaps he should ask her if she would like to marry him.
It was certainly the right thing to do. A young man should confess his love for a young lady if it was possible for them to be married. It was proper. And she was still so very beautiful to him.
So one fine afternoon he offered to walk the apothecary’s daughter home from the summer fair and spoke carefully and very eloquently of her great beauty and his undeniable love.
The apothecary’s daughter listened and smiled and batted her eyes and smiled some more, but finally she replied:
“You are very sweet, but I could not just marry anybody. I will have to think about it.”
The young man was pleased with her answer, for he thought she was quite right. Such things must be thought about, she would give him her answer when she was ready. Besides, he had always been taught that love was patient and he was quite sure he loved her. He would wait for her answer.
Patient the young man truly proved to be, because he let the weeks and months pass by without even a ghost of anxiety. Still, he was rather shocked when he finally received his answer. Because it came not from the lips of his lady, but reached him by way of the apothecary, who proudly announced that his daughter would be married to the new doctor. This puzzled the young man exceedingly, because the new doctor was not only quite a lot older than the apothecary’s daughter, he was also very newly arrived in town and she could hardly have gotten to know him properly.
Still, he went to congratulate the apothecary’s daughter and he found her no less lovely than she had ever been.
“You said you could not marry just anybody,” he said, after she had thanked him for his good wishes. “But why would you marry him and not me?”
“There are many different reasons to marry someone,” the apothecary’s daughter said solemnly. “I could have married you for your love of me, but I chose to marry the doctor, because he can give me the kind of life I want.”
That idea was new to him. “And it is better to marry for comfort?” he asked.
“What is best or better is a changeable thing,” the apothecary’s daughter laughed. “But marrying for love would certainly be my second favourite reason to marry if I could!”
So the young man drew back and decided to be happy for her. And when he saw her again as the doctor’s wife, dressed up in silks and with a wedding band on her hand, he found her even more beautiful than he had before.
Perhaps loving from afar was just as good then, the young man thought and he carried on as he had before. Because nothing for him had truly changed: he lived comfortably and calmly and admired the doctor’s beautiful wife.
Years went by and the young man no longer called himself young. The doctor’s wife was still beautiful, but her husband was now very old and one autumn morning she went out dressed in black and called herself the doctor’s widow.
Now the man got to thinking of old love and enduring beauty and he thought it would be very proper for an older man like himself to propose to a widow. So after waiting the appropriate time, he did, because his admiration of her had not subsided in all these years. But the doctor’s widow told him she did not want to marry him.
“But you once said that marrying for love was your second favourite reason to marry,” the man reminded her. “And you have already married once before.”
Now the beautiful widow looked grave for a second and shook her head. “But you see,” she said. “If I were to marry again I would have choose my own favourite once more.”
And she did, for not long after the doctor’s widow became the notary’s wife.
Only then the man truly understood that she really had never wanted to marry him and never would. Suddenly it seemed rather strange to love her still. But when he saw her in the town, dressed in vibrant colours once again, she was still just as beautiful as ever.
This confused and distressed the man greatly. He did not know himself or his reasons anymore and in his sadness he sought refuge by the sea.
He sat down on the pier and cried. He didn’t cry from loneliness or for the loss of the notary’s wife, but simply because there were tears inside him.
So he cried and since he did not understand why, he did not stop crying.
There he cried for three days and nights, but when the sun rose once again something stirred in the water and a soft voice spoke:
“Your tears are saltier than the sea itself, please tell me why you keep crying so?”
The man looked up and saw a woman in the water. Her eyes were large and violet and her hair, as it floated in the water, was almost as white as the sea foam. Her features were thin, but her face was so kind and human that it took the man a while to see her grey-green tail where legs should have been.
“I do not know why I cry,” the man answered the mermaid. “I cry because I do not know what else to do with myself.”
The mermaid nodded and thoughtfully floated up and down on the waves in silence.
Finally the man began to talk about his life and his doubts and what he had been taught was proper and what not.
The mermaid listened quietly and the man sighed and started talking of the apothecary’s daughter and the doctor’s widow and the notary’s wife.
“If you loved her, what did you love about her?” the mermaid asked.
The man told the mermaid of her extraordinary beauty.
“She does sound like a pleasure to behold,” the mermaid said. “But has she lost this beauty by twice marrying another?”
“She has not,” the man said.
“Then what have you lost?” the mermaid asked. “Not her beauty, for that is for all to see.”
“That is true,” admitted the man.
The mermaid splashed her tail in the water.
“Why did you want to marry her anyway?” she asked.
The man thought about this and did not really know.
“It is what people do,” he said.
“Is it?” laughed the mermaid.
“Yes,” the man said. “You are supposed to fall in love with someone you admire and then you are to marry them.”
He knew this was true, because everybody seemed to do it. Furthermore, he had a notion that his parents had told him as much long ago, although he could never remember when or in what words.
“Then it must be so,” the mermaid said thoughtfully.
“What is one supposed to be like in the sea then?” the man asked.
“I cannot tell you now,” the mermaid said. “For the sun is high above us and it could scorch my skin, but if you like I will return in the evening to talk with you.”
“I would like that,” the man nodded.
So the two bade farewell till nightfall. At sunset the mermaid returned and she talked of life in the sea.
It sounded nothing like life on the land to the man and everything the mermaid told him made him think a little deeper and ask another question. But whenever he had a questions, the mermaid had to ask one in return and so the two of them talked the whole night away.
From that day on the man returned to the pier every day to talk with the mermaid. He talked of the notary’s wife until he had nothing more to say about her and he talked about what was proper until he hardly knew what that meant anymore. And the mermaid listened and asked and talked by turns.
The man spent so much time on the pier that he started to build a little house for himself there. While he built the mermaid splashed around in the water and admired his work and laughed kind-heartedly at his mistakes.
The mermaid made sure the waves never touched the little house on the pier and the man made a sunshade out of reeds so the mermaid could come visit him no matter how harshly the sun was shining.
So he spent his days in the little house on the pier very comfortably. The mermaid came to visit every day and though he was one thing and she was another they understood each other. He could not follow her into the water further than he could stand on the bottom and she could not follow him onto the land further than she could drag herself ashore. But they need not be in the same place to be friends. So they were happy.
The people in the town did not know this, of course, and as the years passed by they shook their heads and called him a strange man.
They knew nothing of the mermaid, who talked of love and engagement and marriage like they were such foreign things that the man finally understood they were foreign to himself as well. They knew nothing of the pleasant mornings spent in talk and the cosy evenings spent in comfortable silence that were had by the pier.
They did not know because they never asked, all they did was shake their heads and call him strange. But there was one person who always defended him, the notary’s wife. She still had eyes of the sweetest hazel and her hair was still beautiful, though some of the auburn had faded to grey, and she never looked more beautiful than when she quietly said:
“He is not so very strange, no stranger than you or I.”
People smiled kindly at her when she did so, because they thought she felt guilty. Guilty for breaking the man’s heart and sending him to be lonely at the sea. But the apothecary’s daughter had truly lived the life she had wanted and she had no regrets and felt no guilt. She merely felt that she, with two husbands she had decided upon rather than fallen for, had no reason to call the young man that seemed to have loved her without being in love with her strange.
But the townsfolk knew nothing about all that. Nor did they know that in telling the story of the odd man who had had such a strange way of being in love and who then went off to the beach and never married, they reached the ears of the young people growing up around them in a most peculiar way. Because those of them that were not too much distracted by the Saturday dances, not so preoccupied with pleating love-knots in their hair and picking the petals of flowers to ask if so-and-so would be more likely to love them than not, began wandering onto the beach out of sheer curiosity. With questions on their lips and frowns on their foreheads.
Frowns that slowly turned to smiles as they sat on the peer and listened to an old man talk of freedom and friendship and mermaid’s secrets.
And the old man himself listened to every word the young ones said, smiling whenever they talked amongst themselves, about happy dances danced alone and pretty daisies with their petals left unplucked. He remembered every expression, and he repeated it all to the mermaid, who smiled her joy for the happy feet running freely across her beach and the relieved laughter she was now growing as used to hearing above her waves as the rushing of the ceaseless wind.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. If you want to listen to more of these, or find out about my other projects, check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy. You should be able to find this podcast on most podcasting apps, but the episodes only stay there for 90 days. The first episode “The Count Who Fell in Love With a Pie” has just been deleted, but you can still find it on my website, where you can also find transcripts for all of the fairy tales.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Wish on wells, carry a handkerchief against werewolves, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.