The Landscape of Lacrimation
“But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”
– The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen
You’ve been searching your whole life, it seems, walking the beaches and cliffs on distant shores, exploring the desert wilds and deep forests, in a quest to find the place where you belong. The genealogy records have gaps, places where rotten teeth have been pulled, leaving empty sockets behind. It gnaws at you. Each time you are interrogated about your origins, you wonder: Where do you belong? How do you fit in? When you look in the mirror, the reflection is blank and you are left with questions—nothing else.
You sign up to a registry and attempt to track your roots, but the evidence has been buried. Trace the genealogy backwards, and there it is; a thick line of ink scratched through the name of a lavender child who suddenly appeared in the family tree. No leaves. No branches. No roots. Just a handwritten denial of association written in the margins. Your family looks the other way when you ask too many questions. Your great-grandmother smiles and pats your hand. She tells you merfolk cannot cry, as if that makes the sorrow easier to bear. Finally, desperate to know the truth, you send a DNA kit to the lab.
The results only complicate things.
It begins like this:
Your skin is a different shade than anyone else in your family. When you ask about it, your parents tell you stories. Your relatives snigger as you walk into the room. Even though they speak in whispers, you can hear their comments, dark words spoken in dark corners. You don’t belong and you know it. You are other. And, despite all of your many attempts to hide your otherness, everyone can see it.
Perhaps this is not your family, you think. Perhaps you are a changeling. When those explanations fail, you search deeper, always deeper. A close look at your skin under a lamp, under the sun, reveals the shimmer swimming in your veins. You’ve heard the whispers. Eager to claim your rights, you slice the skin and let your blood run free. It’s only then you finally accept the truth. You are not the same as everyone else. You are alone.
And then it happens. You set out on a journey of self-discovery.
You’ve heard rumors of lost people who have searched for connections to the realms of faerie in wild woods. And then there are stories about others who wait, motionless in sand-swept deserts, hoping for truth to appear on the edge of an exhalation. You try the easiest ways first, the ones that leave your feet rooted to the ground. The deep green of ancient forests throbs with desire; the shifting deserts sing of solitude. Even so, those choices are no choices at all.
In your heart, you know you belong to the sea and it belongs to you.
You continue your search on new shores. A jungle, thick and dark, tumbles down the slope. Made up of crushed bone and shell, the white sand powders your feet. The sea, a clear turquoise, beckons. You squint out over the water, but the only thing you see is a solitary seagull kiting on the breeze. You stand still, hoping to capture a fragment of harp song, but your kin remain silent, withdrawn.
Green children ghost into the shadows of the forest fringe. You stopped hiding behind hats and long sleeves years ago, and now the sun has deepened the lavender tint of your skin to the Tyrian purple extracted from crushed shells. The green children whisper back and forth in a language you cannot decipher. Their bare legs are covered with yellow mud. Spiked crowns of holly and black orchids rest on their small heads. High in the canopy a monkey howls. The green children retreat, disappearing back into the sheltering canopy, leaving you alone and unwanted on a foreign shore.
You head north, following the coast until the freezing seas deny further passage. At night, the northern lights dance in ribbons of red and green and blue. Sometime, a thread of lavender shines through in a beacon of hope before disappearing once more. The stars hum in a cloudless sky and moonlight skates across the fog, ice crystals suspended in the frigid air.
One arctic morning, you wake to find two crow girls watching you from their perch on the skeletal remains of a tree. Their eyes glitter like jet. In their hooded cloaks of black feathers, they are indistinguishable from one another. They point and chatter, a peppered exchange of gossip. Although you are certain you are a creature of the surf, you wonder what it would be like to belong to their flock. You take a step forward, arms outstretched, but the crow girls spook and take flight in a raucous spin of displaced snow.
You wish you could take solace in tears shed, but once again you are left to suffer without sound. Desperate, you search for threads of hope in your journal, but they crumble in colored bits of fragrance as you turn the page. When you head south for warmer climes, you leave your diaries and genealogy charts behind. And, after a while, you find contentment in the quiet of your solitude.
By this time, you’ve been travelling so long it’s become a way of life—an ebb and flood of new scents and sounds. You’ve watched the intricate courtship dances of the nāga, their serpent tails coiling together in a rasping susurration. You’ve seen the silhouettes of the deer people swaying under the full moon in southwestern deserts. You’ve followed the immortals’ rainbow dreams through the dry season.
When at last you land on the salty shore of a dead sea, the memories of unshed tears are truly lost. Even so, that nameless suffering lightens as you wander this desert on the far side of the world. No creature can survive in this scarred landscape, no fish or frog or fruit, yet you feel more alive than ever.
As you approach the vast stretch of the inland sea, plants laden with green globes dissolve in puffs of ash, leaving a trail of smoke in your wake. You seek access to the place where the water kisses the shore, a dead region littered with petrified driftwood and mineral deposits, but the path in uneven and broken. As you walk, the white sheets covering the earth crack and crumble under your feet like brittle bones returning to dust. You press on. And when you finally kneel to touch this dead sea, you are filled with the sense that you have finally come home.
From the point of contact where your fingers touch water, a kaleidoscope of concentric circles spreads out in rippled waves as far as you can see. The figure of a woman rises from the depths and glides towards you. She matches the landscape, an eerie combination of stark extremes. Her skin is the deep black of impenetrable shadow curled in the scattered remains of desiccated wood. Her hair billows behind her in a cloud of ash and smoke, and her eyes shine like black diamonds.
You stay on your knees and wait. As she edges closer, you can see the crystal deposits clinging to her skin, delicately arranged patterns that serve to magnify their nacreous brilliance. And in those arrangements, you finally find all of the tears you’ve never shed. The sharp angles and panes of exquisite emotion revealed in tragic tears. The snowflake stars of gratitude fed by tributaries of hope. The city streets and dead ends contained in sorrow married to the cobbled asphalt of change. And the elegant reservoirs expressed in reunion.
In the woman’s glittering eyes, you see the truth of your great-grandmother’s words. The people of the sea have no tears, a price paid in pain. But now that you have found all of those lost tears, generation upon generation of suffering deposited in a salty sea, you finally realize the truth; lavender children are never truly alone.
Just one step away, the keeper of the merfolk’s tears reaches out to you. Worlds of weeping form, break apart, and reform in the cup of her outstretched palm. Sorrow, joy, hope, change, tragedy.
You take her hand in yours.
Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and interstitial art. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies including the Hath No Fury, Journal of Mythic Arts, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, and The Horror ‘Zine. She teaches online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium and she is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at Stonecoast. Her work has been nominated for several awards and she was the recipient of the 2016 HWA Scholarship.