6 hours ago
Friday, October 5, 2012
(Illustration from the sketchbook of my pal David Small)
Out there in the country where I grew up there was once a pond that was said to be full of wonders. It was a brackish pond, and the country around it was rough country, made difficult by stones, boulders, and prickly scrub brush. There was a lot of what I think you'd call rubble as well, or perhaps detritus. There was also a lot of junk left over from the lives of the people who used to live out there and had long since fled.
Here and there you'd still encounter a weathered hut on stilts, and there were a bunch of ragged sheep wandering around in the rubble, most of them gone feral. I can tell you that a feral sheep is something to be avoided.
There wasn't much else to recommend the community, such as it was, and it was a brutal place to be a child. There were only a handful of kids in those days, every one of us an accident born to people who were old enough to be our grandparents. The men who remained had once been fishermen, before their lake evaporated from all the poisons pumped in there by the old munitions factory. The lake was long gone by the time I was a child, and the old fishermen would occasionally emerge from their homes and wobble along the lousy roads on bicycles. Most of the old men had long, flowing white beards.
I do still remember the pond, though, and as I said, this pond had once allegedly been full of wondrous things; teeming with wonders, was what we were always told: mermaids --a whole extended family or tribe of mermaids-- and some sort of mutant creation that was said to be a cross between a dragon and a sea serpent. Pond dragons, the locals called these creatures.
The fishermen, bored by the loss of their livelihood, jigged every last one of those pond dragons out of the brackish pond and hauled them along the roads to be gutted and strung from clotheslines and rusty flagpoles. I never saw any of the pond dragons alive, but I do still have a vague memory of the mermaids. Old women used to go to the pond to throw stale bread and popcorn to the mermaids, which would flop up onto the ragged shore and fight among themselves for the offerings. Most of them I recall --or perhaps recall hearing-- were horribly obese.
The idle fishermen, having exhausted the pond's supply of dragons and grown desperate and lonely from their spartan and solitary existence, turned their attention to capturing the mermaids, and began to trap, net, and wrestle them from the pond. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that these randy old bachelors made bathtub pets of most of the remaining mermaids.
The pond, like the lake before it, eventually dried up completely, and the government sent in soldiers and heavy equipment one morning to enforce the long-ago-ordered evacuation of the land. Those of us who remained were loaded into trucks with our belongings and carted away to a relocation camp in the desert of Nevada.
I escaped from that camp some years ago, but not before hearing the rumor that one of the last surviving mermaids from that old brackish pond of my youth is now on display in a traveling carnival somewhere down south.