The end-of-the-pier show
Sarah knew, of course, that seaside piers were an anachronism, the product of a Victorian culture that had few leisure outlets. They were built on the principle of challenge, to encourage people to do the impossible - to walk on water, to sense the sea breeze that would normally never assail the landlubbers’ cheeks, to feel the salty spray thrown up by invisible currents. Of course, there were dockside piers that had a workaday function - to provide safe berths for the big ships, with reassuring stanchions and anchoring-points. But by contrast, the seaside piers were locations of uncertainty, of ambiguity, of doubleness. And Sarah liked that.
She stepped onto the pier, and her eyes swept over the array of deckchairs in serried ranks, each with its elderly inhabitant. She could be one of them, if she didn’t watch out. She paced along the faded boards, trying to look as sprightly as she could, and turned into the amusement hall. Everything was superannuated there: the laughing sailor stuck inside his glass box and gurning at the visitors, the slot machines that never paid up, the tiny swaying cranes that never delivered the desired watch or cuddly toy. This pier was no good. No good at all.
She went outside again. She looked through the cracks of the boards, and saw the sharp rocks below. She could walk back, or she could walk on. So on it was. Further and further she walked, until there were no more people, and a thick sea-mist rolled in. Drops of moisture clung to her hair, and even her eye-lashes were heavy with them. On and on she walked, into the deepening fog.
And then she saw something, dimly at first. She rubbed her eyes. The mist was beginning to clear. At the very end of the pier were some iron bollards, and tied to them was a stout piece of rope descending into the waves. She looked down, and was astonished to see a man, not drowning but waving. He was beautiful, with a beard, a pearl ear-ring and a necklace of shells. He hauled himself up the rope with ease, held out his hand to her and said “Sarah. Sarah.” It was only when she began to slide down the rope that she saw that he had a tail instead of legs. To be sure, it was a nice muscular tail, with shining, interlocking scales: but it was a tail nonetheless.
Now Sarah was an old-fashioned girl and she had thought that like should mate with like. But why should this be so? Surely this man was her kin, whether he was flesh or fin! She began to realise that falling in love meant that difference did not matter. And this was love for sure, no matter who had what. Love would change them both. She descended into the water with him, wrapped her legs round him, felt his strong arms round her as they plumbed the depths. The bright fish swam by them, looking on curiously. This was a mere spectacle for them, but for Sarah and her swain, it was a ritual of the purest kind: salty, sweet and binding.