Jody Rathgeb grew up in Western Pennsylvania and currently lives in Richmond, Va. She worked in journalism
for 17 years before becoming a freelance writer and editor. She writes for Times of the Islands magazine
(Turks & Caicos Islands) and IslandPeopleUnited.com and does editing and writing for the specialty
publications of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She lived on North Caicos Island for 4Â½ years, where she
wrote her as-yet unpublished novel, â€œFish-Eye Lensâ€�.
The Mermaid of Pelican Point
Grammy says fish have no souls, but Nazhay knows different. As she slips through the blue waters off Pelican Point,
she feels and hears fish of all types going about their daily soul-filled fish lives: nibbling at an encrusted conch shell,
trying to keep up with the rest of the school, worrying about all the spawn that will likely not survive. Nazhay would
never tell Grammy all this, though, because Grammy would reply with a chore – sweeping out the closets or picking
lobster – to “give you some sense, girl.”
Nazhay has escaped today because Grammy is on the phone discussing the lineup of songs for tomorrow’s church
service. She didn’t notice her granddaughter slipping out of the house holding the swimsuit bought at Iona’s with
two months’ worth of uneaten school lunches. Nazhay changes into this swimsuit in the bush and changes into a
fish when she swims.
She is done swimming now and resting on her drying rock when she realizes that she no longer has Pelican Point to
herself. A red-faced white man is yelling at three Haitian men, one of whom is trying to back a truck full of sand
through the sand to the sandy beach. The truck gets stuck in the soft, deep sides of the road, is pushed forward
by the other two Haitians, then gets stuck again. The white man yells, “Cut the wheels! Cut the wheels!” but the
scene just repeats itself. Nazhay can’t help laughing.
The white man notices her and his eyes narrow, reminding Nazhay of her cat, Hanna, when she is ready to pounce
on a lizard. “Why aren’t you in school?” he asks.
“It’s Saturday,” she shrugs, and since he was rude enough to ask questions before introducing himself, she
counters with her own. “Why are you bringing sand to the beach?”
He just waves his arms at the Haitians and yells, “Stop!” Then he looks at her closely again. “Would you happen to
“Yessir,” says Nazhay, thinking of Marguerite, Grammy’s Haitian housegirl who has been singing to her and telling
stories for as long as she can remember.
“Could you explain to them that they have to stay on the hard sand and go straight back?”
Nazhay thinks the Haitian men probably know that, but she talks to them anyway and suggests that they let the
white man drive. Everyone changes position, and after several similar mirings the white man has the truck close to
where he wants it. As the Haitians begin to shovel sand off the truck, Nazhay repeats her question.
“Well, you can see how the last storm took out the beach,” he says. “I’m replenishing it.”
This puzzles Nazhay. “But it comes back,” she explains. “Another storm will fill it up again. Why buy sand?”
“Well, we can’t count on that happening soon, can we? Meanwhile, I want to make sure I have a beach.”
Nazhay looks around. “You bought this land?”
The white man looks pleased. “Yes, I’m Alfred Moore. And don’t worry; I’ll still let you swim here.”
Nazhay doesn’t tell him she knows that no one in this country owns the beach and that she can swim wherever she
pleases. Instead, she puts out her hand and says politely, “I’m Nazhay Taylor. I live with my Grammy – Miss
Henrietta – in the house at the corner of this road.”
Like all things that Grammy scoffs about – girls who swim, animals that think, books about wizards – the white man
who bought the beach lot fascinates Nazhay. During the next week after school, she does her chores, takes a swim,
then watches him from her rock. She overhears his conversations on a cell phone, and he amuses her.
“You said you’d have that ‘dozer here two hours ago! What the hell is going on?” She giggles at the thought of
saying “hell” to Alphonsus, who has the only bulldozer on the island. She can imagine him glowering in Old
Testament fury at such language.
“Well, I’m told there’s an architect here, but he’s probably not very good. So I’ll just send up the land maps and let
you do it.” Nazhay smiles, thinking of Grammy’s house that’s been through four hurricanes without incident.
On Tuesday, he realizes that she’s there and waves her up to his shady spot under a sea-grape tree. He speaks to
her now more nicely than he does on the phone and tells her about the house he’s planning. It will, he says, bring a
new style to the island. He tells her about skylights and Jacuzzi jets and infinity pools and whole-house air
conditioning. She listens, but does not tell him about the driving rains of October; the difficulty of engaging Wilson,
the plumber who comes to the island only once a month; the big seas that flooded other beachfront properties with
salt water last November; or Grammy’s complaints about the power company’s fuel surcharges.
Instead, she sings for him. She starts with the old songs from her aged uncles – “Jamaica Farewell,” “Delia’s Gone”
– which he likes, then moves into Marguerite’s folk tunes in Creole, which he doesn’t understand but nods to. Then
she tries the songs she has heard from the fish, but he becomes impatient and tells her it’s time to go home.
They spend Wednesday after school pleasantly, but on Thursday he tells her that he will build a cabana where they
“But what about the sea-grape tree?” She asks.
He looks at the flat leaves above him as if first noticing the tree. “Oh, this will have to come down.”
Nazhay is sad. “It’s so nice here with the breeze and the sea so close,” is all she can say.
“Trust me, a cabana will be better,” he replies.
So she sings again, but he doesn’t want to hear.
On Friday she decides not to visit him, but when she emerges from the sea Nazhay notices him sprinkling something
around his property. She is too curious, so she approaches him.
“It’s poison,” he says. “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you. It’s for these awful lizards.”
“Lizards are good. They eat bugs,” she protests.
“These don’t. They’re big and ugly, and I know they’ll scare my guests once I get the house built.” He holds his
hands about a foot apart, and Nazhay realizes that he’s been lucky enough to see a rock iguana.
She tells him that they are a special lizard and hard to find, but he shakes his head. Nazhay falls silent and stares at
the sea while he finishes his job.
When he is done he sits beside her. “Are you angry?” He asks. She shakes her head no, then turns to him.
“Do you swim?” She asks.
“Yes, of course.”
“Why don’t you swim with me tomorrow? I’ll show you the fish pools on the other side of that rock.”
He squints at the rock. “Sure, I can make it out there. I’ll be sure to wear my trunks.”
It is hard to get away from Grammy’s attention on Saturdays, but Nazhay is clever and gets to her drying rock first.
She studies the ocean, feels the wind.
Mr. Moore arrives in a jolly mood. “Well, I’ll have to say this is a real island experience,” he says.
They splash their way into the water and bounce around a while. Nazhay can tell that her companion isn’t as good a
swimmer as she is, but he’s not as awkward as she thought he might be. She dives under, greets her fish friends,
“Come on to the rock,” she calls. “Follow me.”
Nazhay takes strong, smooth strokes, counting them. When she is at 40, she frog-legs forward, feeling for the rip
current, then deftly slips through it with a power kick and a small undulation. It is a movement she has done
thousands of times. She strokes forward again. She does not pause, and she does not hear Mr. Moore call to her.
She reaches the rock and scans the water behind her. He is not there.