the city of
, on the
, there lived a poor fisherman.
was so poor, he didn’t even own a boat. Every day he carried his net
down to the sea, tossed it into the water and pulled it up at the end of
day when he pulled in the net he saw something sparkling. At first he
thought it was a doll. But he looked closer, he saw that it was a little
mermaid, only two or three feet long.
At first he was frightened and wanted to throw her back in the water. He
was a superstitious man, like many of the poor people of
. But as he was trying to decide what to do,
he heard a little voice.
please don’t throw me back.”’
voice was coming from the mermaid.
was so small and sad that he looked closer. She was a pretty little
creature with long blond hair and the bluest eyes he had ever seen. Just
like the color of the ocean.
he said, very surprised, “But you live in the sea.”
please” she said again, “I’m lost. I’ll never find my way back
home. Please take me home with you.”
the fisherman was confused. “How can a mermaid get lost in the sea?
the little mermaid replied, “I was playing
hide and seek with my mother and my friends. I counted too long and when
I tried to find them I couldn’t. I swam and swam for two whole days
and never found them again. Please take me home with you.”
fisherman shook his head. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m
very poor. My house is very small. I have five huge sons who eat me out
of house and home. My wife already says I’m no good at making
be good, I promise, “ the little mermaid said. “And I hardly eat
anything at all.”
voice was so pleading and her eyes so sad that he agreed. “Well, okay,
I’ll take you home and talk to my wife. But no promises. If she says
you have to go back to the sea, I’ll have to bring you back here.”
thank you,” said the little mermaid.
get your hopes up,” the fisherman replied, and added, “But now
I’ve got to cover you up with my sweater.”
I so ugly? “ she asked.
no, you’re very beautiful. But you know how people talk. If they see
me carrying a mermaid they’ll ask all kinds of questions. It’s
better this way.”
the fisherman covered the little mermaid with his sweater and carried
her home in one arm while he dragged his net with the other arm. Soon he
stood there in the kitchen before his wife, holding the little mermaid
in his arms.
wife protested. “What, we hardly have enough to eat as it is. Those
sons of yours are eating us out of house and home. The house is already
crowded and you’re a terrible provider.”
But after she got it all out of her system, and while she looked at this
beautiful little creature with the sad eyes, her heart melted. Maybe it
was because she’d always wanted a daughter and got only those five
we’ll try it for just a while. But if there’s any trouble, out she
thank you, thank you,” the little mermaid said.
won’t be sorry, ” the fisherman said.
their sons came home, they were delighted. “Hooray, at last you’ve
given us a sister,” they said all together. They immediately dashed
out into the streets to find colorful trinkets for the little
mermaid’s hair. They found ribbons and beads and pieces of brightly
colored glass, all kinds of things, brought them home, and wound them
around their new sister’s hair.
so the little mermaid stayed with the fisherman and his family. But
there was one problem. In
, people lived in small houses on tiny narrow
streets. They just used their houses for sleeping. Otherwise, everyone
lived in the streets. They played cards in the streets. They sang in the
streets. They gossiped in the streets and argued and danced. What would
they say about
--which was what they named the little
mermaid because she came from il mare, the sea. You can’t just bring a
mermaid out into the streets and say, “Meet the new member of the
fisherman thought and thought. Finally, he said, “I know. We’ll put
her in a little cart and cover her tail with a blanket and say she’s
the poor crippled daughter of some cousins from Messina,” which is
another city in Sicily.
that’s what they did.
was fascinated. She sat in her wagon all day
watching the strange and wonderful sights. And everybody fussed over
and felt sorry for her. The old ladies would
come by and pinch her cheeks and, thinking about her poor crippled legs,
tears would come to their eyes. The young men would all pretend to fight
over who would marry her. Her five brothers were so proud. And she was
so happy to sit outside in her wagon her beautiful blue eyes sparkled
like the crests of waves.
day, her brothers came running, full of excitement. The carnival was in
town. The whole neighborhood went to see it, and her brothers took
in her cart. There were games. And rides.
And wonderful things to eat.
of all, there was the puppet show, the famous puppets of
. The puppets were gigantic. They were
dressed in such wonderful costumes. The puppeteers told a story from
many, many years ago, about Brave Knights and Lovely Princesses. The
knights dressed in suits of shining armor and fought great battles. And
the princesses didn’t just hang around the castle pining for their
knights to come home. They also put on armor and fought as bravely as
the men. They had wonderful names like Orlando and Martellone,
Biancafiore and Gelsomina.
was enchanted. And when they all came home
after this long, exciting day,
remembered other stories too and began to
tell them. Stories she had heard when she lived in the sea. Ancient
stories of sea monsters and terrible shipwrecks and giant waves and
told stories about all the people who had come to
to conquer it, the Greeks and Phoenicians,
the Arabs and Spaniards, the French and Romans. Her eyes blazed with
wonder and her family sat and listened long into the night.
had never been happier in her entire life,
not even when she lived in the sea with her mother.
next day, when her brothers took her out in the street, she kept on
telling stories. The neighbors gathered about to listen. She told the
most famous story of all, about the great hero Ulysses who was sailing
victoriously home to
after many years of battle. Ulysses’ ship
was approaching the
of the Sirens, those strange sea creatures
who took the form of beautiful women. But more beautiful still were
their voices, and they sang the most exquisite songs, irresistible
songs, to lure sailors near their island where their ships would crash
on the rocks and they would drown.
knew what had happened to so many sailors. And he told his men, “I
want you to lash me to the mast with our strongest ropes. And no matter
what I say, no matter how much I shout or yell or bellow, do not cut me
down from the mast. Whoever tries will be put to death. As for you, stop
your ears with this wax so you won’t hear anything.”
so the ship of Ulysses and his men drew near the
of the Sirens, and the Sirens knew that it
was the great hero Ulysses who was approaching, and so they sang every
more sweetly and more seductively. What a trophy he would make! Tied to
the mast Ulysses thrashed and bellowed and ordered his men to cut him
down. But since their ears were stopped with wax they heard nothing and
the ship sailed safely passed the
of the Sirens and home to
the people gathered round to listen, and they were captivated. An old
sailor warned the fisherman, “Watch out, she’s enchanted you all.”
And indeed she had. For
was a siren too. But now that she had lived
among humans her heart had become human.
then on, every day the people gathered round to hear
’s stories. And every day
told stories and more stories.
little old ladies still came round to pinch her cheeks and the young men
still pretended to fight over who was going to marry her. But no one
ever again felt sorry for the poor little crippled girl from
. Her voice was clear and bright, and in her
eyes shone such merriment, such joy…a carnival.
copyright 2001 by Bernie Libster