In the quiet hours on a moonless night, a desperate man carries a limp form gently to the water’s edge. Cradled in his arms, he places her hand in the water and sings softly to her as he waits. It does not take long for a blue-tinged hand to take hers, and a head lifts out from the gentle waves. The mermaid regards him with dull curiosity. It is not common to be called on by men. She waits for him to speak.
She is dying, he explains. Slowly and painfully, and he cannot bear to watch her suffer.
“Do you understand the price?” she asks him.
“Yes” he replies.
“She will forget you. Forget her love for you and her life above the water.”
He knows. He is willing.
“But is she?” The mermaid places a kiss on the woman’s cheek, and she wakes.
The woman barely regards the mermaid, turning instead to the man who brought her here. “You have lost hope” she accuses him softly.
“Not yet,” he says, holding tightly to her. “Not unless you deny this freedom.”
“I cannot bear to forget you.”
“I cannot bear to watch you die.”
The woman in the water watches patiently, emotionless. “He called me to spare your suffering. I promise, there is no pain in forgetting.”
“Not for me. But he will remember, and he will spend his life wondering if he made the right choice.”
I will not.” he insists. “This is the only way to keep you alive, to spare you the pain.”
“And when I am gone, what will you do?” she asks, “will you move inland and spend your days trying to forget me? Or will you stay here, coming to the water to catch a glimpse of a woman who no longer exists?” She takes a ragged breath. “I will not trade my pain for yours.”
“I am already in pain, my love. And if I watch you waste away knowing I could have spared you the pain, I would not forgive myself.”
She lifts her hand out of the water to press it to his cheek. “Promise me you will go on without me.”
He kisses her, and swears. She turns back to the water and lets him pass her to the mermaid, who cradles her just as gently. Silent tears fall as they share a final moment of love, and when at last he releases her, she is gone.
The mermaid descends with her new sister, sparing him the sight of her transformation. It was true that forgetting did not hurt, but letting go and being born anew was a pain incomparable to anything else. The woman thrashed as the color drained from her skin and her legs fused together, growing slick, black scales. The gown she had worn slid off her as the currents bore it away. When she was human no longer, the older mermaid welcomed her, and pulled her away from the man she no longer knew.