The Fisherman and His Soul

The first time he laid eyes on her, he didn’t believe it. Mixed up with all the fish and the seaweed she thrashed and struggled. He stood there shocked and confused. Her desperate fingers poked through the holes in the net and the sight of them jolted him out of his daze. The fisherman jumped forward to help her.

He loosened the opening and sought to bring her out. She fought against him, but he gripped her under the arms, hauled her out, and set her down atop a short crate. Her hair hung down, long, untamed, red, and beautiful. It obscured her face and covered her otherwise bare chest. Just below her abdomen, her body became that of a great fish. Her scales were a deep sea-green and glistened luminescent blue in the fading sunlight. She took deep, fast breaths. The fisherman was shocked again when she spoke.

“Release me!”

Her voice was like a song, for she sung her words. His heart lurched at the beauty of its sound and he gasped. When he did not reply, she slowly pulled the hair away from her face and looked up at him. In that moment with her gaze upon him, the fisherman lost his heart to her. Her eyes questioned him and he found that he could speak to her at last.

“Only if you will promise to come back if I call to you.” A confusion came over her face. Her bright, gray eyes searched his own.

“Thou wouldst see me anon?”

Once again, her voice lulled him to silence. The fisherman could only nod.

“I promise.”

She paused and he waited, thirsty for her to speak, to sing, again. Presently, he realized that she had given her promise and wanted him to do as he said he would.

“Then I release you.”

He made as to step forward and take hold of her again, but she flicked and flowed and slipped over the deck rail without effort. She disappeared into the waves. The fisherman stood at the rail looking down into the water for some time. He didn’t want to believe that a lie could come from those eyes and those lips, but he was afraid she had deceived him. Suddenly, her head and shoulders appeared above the water near to where he looked for her. Her fire-red hair and pearl-white arms floated upon the sea like they were part of it.

“If thou callest to me under the ocean, I shall come to thee.”

She sank beneath the water with a smile on her lips and the fisherman sailed home with the rest of his catch. The following morning, the fisherman brought his boat back to the same waters. He considered sticking his face under the water, but chose instead to dive in. His clothes drug heavily through the water as he kicked his legs and stirred his arms. His voice came out in bubbles as he called out to the mermaid. He waited underwater as long as possible, then swam back to the surface for air. He dove again, and suddenly she was there with him.

Her hair flew out loosely around her face like the sea plants that swayed with the current. She took him by the hand and swam down deeper. They spun and swirled through the ocean. The water got dark and cold. The fisherman’s ears began to hurt. She led him back up to the surface where he gasped hungrily at the air.

She pulled herself easily onto his boat and sat at the prow while he fished. And so they did every day. Each day his lungs grew stronger and she took him deeper and farther as they danced under the waves. She sang for him as he worked and her voice brought great numbers of fish to his nets. The fisherman grew rich and evermore in love with the mermaid.

She was innocent of any sense of shame or modesty. No part of her was distrustful, malicious, jealous, or selfish. She seemed completely unconscious of her beauty or her effect on the fisherman. One day, he paused from his work to sit enraptured before her song. She sang of her life underwater, the freedom she enjoyed, and the beauty of the sea creatures on the ocean floor. At the end, she fell quiet and the fisherman spoke.

“Marry me, for I love you. I will leave my boat and my life behind. Let me join you in the sea.” But she slipped away again down into the water. She floated on her back and laughed gaily. Her great fin splashed water on the fisherman standing at the rail.

“I canst love thee, fisherman, for thou hast a soul. Be rid of it, and I shall love thee as thy wife.” For the people of the water have no souls, and cannot love those that do. The mermaid rolled in the waves and disappeared beneath them. The fisherman called after her.

“I will! I will be rid of it! And then I will join thee in the ocean!” He sailed home with a heavy heart and took counsel in his own mind.

“What is my soul anyway? Some say it is the most important part of a man. But what has it ever done for me? What is my soul to me if it denies me love? I will be rid of it at once! But how? How will I be rid of my soul?” He thought over his problem while he sailed the distance back to port. By the time he tied off at the moorings, he had an answer. The fisherman left his boat still swollen with fish and walked along the cliffs over the sea until he came to a lonely, weathered house.

The witch received him as she received all those who came to her for the help that they should not ask for. A comfortless fire burned upon her hearth. She flashed a hungry and malicious smile when she heard his request. They bartered and fought. In the end, the fisherman left the witch’s house with a curiously curved dagger in exchange for his boat, all his worldly goods, and a single, loveless kiss.

The fisherman followed a steep and twisted path down the cliffs to a short stretch of beach. The night had fallen completely by the time he reached the bottom. His shadow stood out strong in the light of a full moon, just as the witch said it would. She also told him that his soul took on substance and inhabited his shadow under a full moon. He stooped down with the curiously curved dagger in his hand.

“I have no need of thee soul. Get thee away from me.” With these words, he swept the dagger around his feet and separated his soul from his body. The shadow suddenly took on a liquid quality and seeped down into the sand. It left behind an oily black shape on the beach. The waves quickly washed it away.

The fisherman felt no different. He stood up and looked out to the sea. There, his mermaid waited for him with her arms outstretched. The fisherman waded out into the water, stripping off his clothes as he went. He no longer understood the need for covering, and felt no shame about his nakedness. They met in the midst of the waves.

She kissed him and took his hand, as she had done so many times before. Under the bright moon, they dove down into the water. Through all the depths they swirled and danced. The great fish of the sea suffered their approach without fear. The fisherman put out his hand in wonder and ran it along their soft scales. At last, his lungs would hold out no longer. He motioned with his hand that he must return to the surface. His new wife looked perplexed and amused.

“Why wouldst thou return so soon? Thou hast only just arrived,” Her voice carried underwater just as it had through the air, musical and intoxicating. The fisherman noticed for the first time that gills flashed easily at her neck. His cheeks bulged, he gripped his neck, and pointed again in desperation. He could not reach the surface from these depths on his own. She only laughed and kissed his pressed lips.

“Tell me mine husband, for what didst thou rid thyself of thine soul?” It was too late. The fisherman knew that even with her help, he would never get to the air in time. He expelled his last breath in answer to her innocent question.

“For thine love!”

Her eyes went wide at the far away sound of his voice and the bubbles that flew up from his mouth. Her hand felt the side of his neck in confusion and panic. The fisherman went limp even as she took him in her arms and swam fast and late for the night air. The fisherman died in the arms of his love and she wept over him. The mermaid buried him after the manner of her people, in a cave on the bottom of the ocean. Whereas the soul of a man will live on after his death, the fisherman had killed his. His body dissipated and left him without a single remnant of life or love.

Inspired by:

The Fisherman and His Soul

I don’t know if I can really call it inspiration. I pretty much just re-wrote this short story by Oscar Wilde.

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