Her and him
The instant I saw him I fell in love with him. He was so finely dressed, so handsome. He stood on the deck of the ship as everyone paid homage to his royal position and beauty, and I knew I would never love another.
I followed the ship, hoping to catch another glimpse of my dearest love, and that night a terrible storm arose. The ship was wrecked, and my beloved was nearly drowned, but I rescued him. All through the night I swam with him in my arms, leaving him on the beach near a large temple in the dawn light.
I watched as a girl came from the temple and found him, and how he awoke and believed her his rescuer. I watched and wept as he fell in love with his supposed saviour.
I went back to my home beneath the sea. But I could not forget the handsome Prince nor my love for him, and all my favourite songs became sad and wistful. Surely if we were together he would love me as I loved him?
I asked my grandmother if mortals could live in the kingdom of the sea. But she said it was impossible.
Eventually, in desperation, I visited the Witch of the Sea, and she gave me a potion that would allow me to live on land, although I would never be able to return to the sea. I would have legs, and be able to dance better than any other mortal, but only in exchange for my voice. I would never sing – nor even speak – again. And every step I took would feel like sharp knives beneath my feet. Finally, the Witch warned me, if my Prince married another woman I would die at dawn the next day. But I made the bargain willingly for the chance to be with my beloved.
I swam to the surface, near where my love had his home, and drank the potion. It was agony. I thought I was dying. But my Prince found me at the water’s edge, and my joy was overwhelming when I saw his handsome face looking at me tenderly as he carried me to his palace.
Then I was truly happy. Although I could not speak, I demonstrated my ardour in my willingness to dance for him. He loved to see me whirl and leap, and I loved to perform for him, even though at every step I felt like my feet were being cut to ribbons.
I became his favourite and went with him everywhere. Then one day the blow fell. His father wanted him to marry; to marry a princess he had never met but to whom he had been promised all his life. But he declared to me that he would not marry someone he did not love, and that he had only ever loved one woman. I hoped he meant me, but he said that he loved the girl from the temple, the one who – as he thought – had rescued him from the shipwreck.
I comforted myself with the fact that he would never see that woman again. Dedicated to the temple as she was, she would never marry. And so he would always be mine, and surely he would come to love me eventually?
But fate is cruel. The princess arrived for a betrothal feast – and she was the girl from the temple. She had been sent there only to complete her education. I watched him recognise her, and I saw that she returned his love.
Tonight they will be married on a fine ship out at sea, and in the morning I will be nothing but sea foam.
The instant I saw her I fell in love with her. She was so simply dressed, yet so beautiful and graceful. She pulled me from the ravening waves, saving my life yet stealing my heart. Then before I could thank her she was gone, back to the forbidding temple while my father’s servants bustled around me, and I had not even been able to thank her.
I tried to discover her name, but the priestesses would give me no information. I spent many days and nights waiting on the beach in case she should come there again, but she did not.
But I did not entirely waste my time – one morning I found a strange girl, dumb and innocent, who had been thrown ashore there as I had been. I carried her back to my home and had her nursed until she recovered. She kept me a kind of company, dancing for me often and preventing my heart from entirely breaking. But I could not forget the exquisite grace of my love; the shape of her cheek, the curve of her arm.
Not long afterwards, my father reminded me of my impending marriage, to the daughter of one of his friends, a woman who I had never met despite having been promised to her all my life. I swore that I would never marry a woman I did not love, but he would not listen, and soon the bride arrived for the start of the celebrations.
Imagine my joy when I beheld my beloved – the girl from the temple! She had been sent there only to complete her education. As I recognised her, I could see from the light in her eyes that she returned my love.
Tonight we will be married on a fine ship out at sea, and in the morning our happiness will be complete.
The instant I saw the title I knew which fairy tale I wanted to use. The Little Mermaid has haunted me ever since I saw a particularly sad version of the story on TV as a child. I’ve always felt really sorry for the mermaid, and angry about the prince and his coldness and cruelty. So I first wrote a story from that perspective.
Then I thought about the situation again, this time from a more objective viewpoint, and this is the result. Because actually, who is the little mermaid to say that the prince should return her love? She falls for him, she gives up everything – to a ridiculous degree – for him. He doesn’t know what she’s given up, or how much pain she feels; how can he?
So all these years I’ve been feeling sorry for a self-made victim and hating some bloke who just happened to be the focus of what these days we’d probably call a stalker. Guess who feels stupid now?