You are here

The Mermaid's Twin Sister

Mermaid image Copyright © 2002 Chloe Hedden. It may not be reproduced in any way without permission of
Trinidad tale

Every Sunday, after Mama, Daddy, and me come back from church and eat lunch, we pack up the car and go to Maracas Beach. At the beach we find a good spot between two coconut trees and lay out the towels. Then Mama sits and reads a book and daddy and me carry the rubber raft down to the water and pretend we are sailing for a new island.

But one Sunday of the year we never ever go to the beach, and that is Easter Sunday. In fact, nobody I know goes to the beach on that Sunday. We go to church and then come back home and eat a big lunch, but we don’t go anything else for the rest of the day. All we do is sit on the porch and watch the sun set. Every Easter I asked Mama why we can’t go to the beach like other Sundays. But she would only shake her head and say, “Because I say so.”

Then this Easter she told me why. She said, “Amber, if you swim in de sea on Easter, you go turn into a mermaid and you go never come back.” I could see from her face that she wasn’t joking.

When I asked Tantie about it later, she nodded her head. “Your mama didn’t tell you before, cause she ’fraid you go want to try it and see yourself. But is true, and those mermaids never come back from de sea.”

“But Tantie, who all yuh know went swimming and turn into a mermaid?”

Tantie gave me a look that say, “You go doubt me?” I glanced away. But I was feeling doubtful. I mean it wasn’t like I ever hear Tantie or Mama say they saw a mermaid. And I sure never did see one. But I didn’t say another word. And Tantie went on inside the house to talk to Mama, leaving me outside watching the sun go down and wondering what would really happen if I went swimming on Easter Sunday.

A few days later, Tantie came over and brought a friend with her: Her eyes were gray and quiet like the early morning mists that rise off the sea in the rainy season. And her skin was smooth and bright like polished stones. She had long, black hair that wrapped around her shoulders like a pair of arms.

“Amber,” said Tantie, “this is my good friend, Miss Pascal. We known each other since we both younger than you.” I smiled at Miss Pascal and kissed her cheek. But I was wondering if I had heard right. This woman couldn’t have grown up with Tantie. She was much younger than my mama. But when she said hallo, her voice was crackly like dried coconut tree branches.

Tantie and Miss Pascal stayed for the whole afternoon. Mama brought out a tray with tall glasses of mauby and a plate of currant rolls and sipping the spicy coldness. Then the sun starter going down and the crickets began singing. Tantie and Miss Pascal were talking about old times. Mama picked up some sewing from her basket. And I sat there watching as people passed by on the street.

Then I heard Miss Pascal say softly to Tantie, “I don’t know how long Tilly go stay with them mermaids. Been over fifty years now.” Well, I didn’t understand that at all. I kept real quite and wished those crickets would hush up so I could hear.

“You know,” Miss Pascal went on, “I always wonder what she doing with those mermaids all day long. Delphine, you think they having a good time down there?”

Well, I could feel, more than see, Tantie shrug her shoulders. “I don’t know, Jill. But Tilly always loved de sea more than all of us, so she bound to be happy there.”

Well, I couldn’t take it no more. I turned around so that Tantie could see I was listening to Them. I was doping she would tell me who Tilly and the mermaids were before I burst from not knowing. Tantie looked at me real seriously and said, “You want to know what happen?”

I nodded my head and sat down fast between their chairs before she could change her mind. I waited for Tantie to tell the story, but it was Miss Pascal who starter to speck. “I was there,” she said, “when my twin sister Tilly turn into a mermaid.”

“What?” I shouted. “Your sister is a mermaid?”

Tantie put a hand on my shoulder. I sat back and tried to control the trembling that was taking over my body.

Miss Pascal started her story again. “Fifty years ago, me and my twin sister Tilly were twenty years old.” But I gasped out loud. Something terrible was happening here. Miss Pascal was a young woman! “Miss Pascal, you not seventy years old,” I wailed. Tantie patted my arm and kept her hand there. I got quite. “Me and Tilly were exactly alike,” said Miss Pascal. “We looked de same. We walked de same, and we dressed de same. We even liked de same things. More than anything else, we loved de sea. Every day when we were little girls, we would go down to de sea and count shells or make rafts from fallen tree branches and seaweed ropes. When we got older, we would go to the sea after work and swim. We swam like fish far, far out in the sea.”

Miss Pascal stopped and took a deep breath. Tantie handed her the glass of mauby. I was going to ask a question, but Tantie pressed on my arm, so I kept quiet. Then Miss Pascal went on. “I think Tilly began liking de sea even more than me. She never wanted to do anything else but float over the waves or dive deep down and touch de bottom. I started liking other things besides the sea. And sometimes I just wanted to read a book instead of going to de sea. But Tilly went every day.

Then one Easter Sunday, when no one goes swimming ever, Tilly decided she would go. “Tilly” I begged, “don’t go today. You know no one supposed to go swimming on Easter.” But she didn’t listen to me. She went down to San Souci, which right next to where we lived in Toco, and she waded far, far out. I followed Tilly to san Souci and stood on a rock to watch her because I did not know what else to do. De tide was out and for a long way de water only came to Tilly’s knees. Then she was so far out that I could barely see her. I watched her tiny body dancing with de waves. I was hoping she would see she was swimming on Easter.

But Tilly just kept on dancing with de waves, waving her arms in de air like a water fairy. I shaded my eyes from de sun and watched as hard as I could. But then I couldn’t see her anymore. I took off my Sunday dress and waded in.”

“Miss Pascal” I interrupted, “you went swimming on Easter Sunday too? And you not a mermaid!” I gave Tantie a look as if to say, “See?”

“Miss Pascal not finish, Amber,” said Tantie.

Miss Pascal took another sip of mauby. I could see she was having a hard time telling this story, so I reached up and put my hand on her knee. “Is okay. You don’t have to finish de story,” I said. Although I was dying to find out what happen next.

Miss Pascal shook her head. “NO, de rest of de story is de most important.

I swam out to where Tilly had been. But she was gone. I dove beneath de waves and looked for her. I shouted her name. I swam up and down and all around for a long time until I was so tired, I didn’t think I could ever swim back in. I turned on my back to float and rest and think what to do. And that’s when I saw her.

“Tilly?” I called softly. “Is that you, Tilly? I was whispering because my voice was hoarse from shouting. But she didn’t answer. She swam in front of me, pulling my long hair gently so I drifted behind her. She was heading toward the shore. And she swam quick like a fish, slicing through de water even smoother than she ever had before.

And when we got to the shallows, she let go my hair and whispered in a voice that sounded like a cloud floating on the sea. “They don’t know it’s two of us. So go now and be my earth self, and I’ll be your water self.” Before I could answer, she turned fast and swam away. And all I could see was a long, beautiful fish slicing de waves.”

Miss Pascal stopped talking and picked up her mauby glass again. I sat on the floor and not a word could come out my mouth. Tantie and Mama didn’t say anything either.

Then far off in the clear evening air, I heard the happy notes of a steel band playing. We sat and listened until it stopped. The stars had come out bright in the dark sky, and Miss Pascal sat glowing in starlight.

“Till never came back,” she said softly, looking right at me. “And I never grow old.”

Daddy came home soon after that and drove Miss Pascal home. I stayed outside on the Porch with Tantie, feeling the night’s sweet coolness all around me.

“Amber,” Tantie said in a soft voice, “Miss Pascal is de same way for the past fifty years. She look de same now as when she and Tilly went swimming on that Easter Sunday. And she say de only reason she didn’t turn into a mermaid was because de sea was confused. It didn’t know was two of them. So Miss Pascal got away. But she knows the truth of swimming on Easter Sunday, and she wanted to tell you herself.”

“But how she could look the same after all these years, Tantie?” I asked.

Tantie shrugged. “I en know, chile, but it have something to do with her twin sister, Tilly.”

“Maybe she want to stay the same so Tilly would recognize her if she came back from the sea” I suggested

“Maybe,” said Tantie. And both of us got quiet with our own thoughts. I know I go never ask to go swimming on Easter Sunday again.

Joseph L. The Mermaid’s Twin Sister Clarion Books, New York 1994, pp.10-17.

Please send feedback and comments about our folklore initiative to: Thank you!