Fifteen miles off the New Jersey coastline lives a beautiful mermaid. She has a turquoise tale that shimmers when the light catches it and long red hair that flows serenely through the water. She spends most of her days swimming around her father’s palace collecting treasures. Her name is Ariel and today is Ariel’s fifteenth birthday.
It is tradition for a mermaid on her fifteenth birthday to spend one day on the surface of the water near the shore watching humans and learning about the lives they live. The mermaids are then permitted to do so once a year after that. Ariel has waited a long time for this day to come. Each time one of her five sisters had come back with magical tales of the land, Ariel grew more and more anxious. She longed to see the humans walking dogs. She couldn’t wait to see the tiny castles made of sand but most of all, Ariel wanted to feast her eyes on what her sisters called the lifeguards. She had heard all sorts of things about the lifeguards: their bronze contoured muscles, their boards that allow them to float on top of the ocean, and most importantly, their ability to save human lives. Ariel wanted so badly to fall in love and was certain there was a lifeguard out there for her.
Ariel didn’t sleep all night but instead spent that time organizing her collection of treasures from the land and daydreaming about what it all looked like up there. Her collection has now taken over most of the space in her little cove. After Ursula, the sea witch, had ordered that big hurricane, Ariel had gizmos and gadgets a plenty. The storm happened just before the water started to really cool down. News spread all over the kingdom that Ursula had been so irritated by the way the humans had treated the coast that Summer that she had devised a revenge attack. Knowing only rumors of Ursula’s wickedness, Ariel could only imagine the strength of this storm.
The night it happened, Ariel and her dear friend Flounder were chasing each other around a sunken ship and telling scary shark stories. The waters grew dark quickly and a confused Ariel drifted back to her father’s kingdom. “Oh Ariel! I’m glad I found you. I need to you stay in your cove until morning. It could get dangerous tonight,” her father warned.
“Dangerous? What do you mean?”
“I’m not exactly sure what Ursula has planned, but I’m sure it’s going to be a bigger storm than you’ve ever experienced.”
Ariel had gone to bed that night unsure of what to expect. Just as she began to doze off though, she heard a clunk behind her. Ariel jumped up and saw a relatively large shiny white structure perched on the ocean floor. She looked up, not believing that something so large could fall into the ocean. Up until that point, the objects Ariel collected had been things such as glass bottles, plastic forks and knives, corkscrews, and broken pieces of glass and jewelry. Pieces of wood started to trickle down and Ariel could see another large structure falling a few yards away. It took some help from her sea creature friends, but eventually Ariel cleaned up the kingdom and kept all the treasures in her cove.
Just as the morning of her birthday begins to creep up, Ariel falls into a bit of a slumber, but wakes with a start as soon as the first hint of light shines through. Ariel stretches her arms up high, glances at her reflection in the glass she pieced together, then speeds over to her father. “Okay, father. I’m ready to go up!”
“Happy birthday Ariel!” He says hardly awake, “Be home before the sun sets.”
Ariel swims until the water becomes shallow, then pops her head out and takes a look around. She sees a few men standing on the edge of the shore holding fishing lines. Ariel sinks her head back under the water so the men can’t hear her squeals of excitement, though she quickly jumps back up remembering the lifeguards. Only, she doesn’t see any. Perhaps it’s too early.
As the sun rises higher into the sky, Ariel watches as more and more people camp out on the beach and eventually she sees two men lift up a very high wooden bench facing the ocean. That must be them, the lifeguards, Ariel thinks to herself. She spends the rest of the day watching the men on the high wooden bench. They are everything she hopes they would be and as the day comes to an end, Ariel struggles to peel her eyes away. She loves everything about life on the land. She loves the way the children scream with delight when the water splashes up their legs. She found it terribly amusing when the seagulls would eat the human’s food. She loves the way the mothers nurture their babies in the shade and how the boys and girls would throw different types of balls and saucers back and forth to each other. For the first time in her life, Ariel no longer wants to be a mermaid. She wants two legs. She wants to dance and surf and run and play catch. She wants to talk to a lifeguard and fall madly in love and have a baby that she too can nurture in the shade.
Obeying her father’s orders, Ariel swims back to the kingdom before the sun goes down. All the merfolk in the kingdom wait with great anticipation to hear all about Ariel’s day. Ariel, however, does not feel like talking to anyone. All she can think about is her desire to have legs and live on the land.
So early the next day, Ariel and Flounder go to see Ursula because they had heard of a potion that could turn a mermaid’s tail into two beautiful human legs. When they arrive at Ursula’s murky cave, Ariel wastes no time getting down to business. Sure enough, Ursula knows exactly what Ariel is talking about. She fumbles through her collection of potions. “Ah, here it is,” Ursula says in a most devious tone. “Now, as you may know, nothing in this world comes free.”
“Name your price.” Ariel says inching closer to Ursula. “I’ll do anything.”
“Now, now my dear, don’t go throwing such absurd promises at me. The way the potion works is like this: for every two sips you take, it is one day on land. The bottle holds about four sips, giving you two days. However, in return, you must give me half of your eyesight.”
“You want half of my eyesight?”
“Yes. I need it for a potion I’m working on. It’s a fair trade, my dear. That is my offer. The choice is yours.”
Ariel shoots Flounder an uneasy look but Flounder is of no help. “I’ll do it.”
The next day, without her father’s knowledge, Ariel swims back to the shore and takes two sips of the potion. It’s thick and bitter and makes Ariel gag a bit but she swallows it all and the next thing she knows, she is walking up out of the ocean. Ariel brushes her hair away from her face and rubs her eyes, but when she opens them, everything is a little blurry. She begins walking up the beach making sure not to run into any of the humans. However, the sand burns her feet and Ariel soon finds herself back by the water soaking them. She looks up at the lifeguard stand. All she can see are the figures of one man sitting on top wearing a white shirt and red shorts and another leaning up against the stand. Ariel takes a deep breath. She only has one day. It’s now or never. She sprints up to the stand as fast as she can. When Ariel reaches the lifeguards, her feet burn so badly she jumps up onto one of the laddered steps. The two lifeguards stare at her. Panting, Ariel smiles at them and says, “Hi. My name is Ariel.”
“Hi Ariel. I’m Chris. This is Kevin.”
Ariel rubs her eyes again, but it’s useless. She can barely make out their faces but from what she remembers, all of the lifeguards she had seen the other day practically made her swoon just over their good looks. “I’m new to this beach,” she starts out. “Is it always this crowded?”
“Afraid so,” says the boy who had introduced himself as Chris. “Is there anything we can do for you, Ariel?”
“Oh. I was just hoping one of you could take me out on a date.”
Chris and Kevin look at each other. “Sorry Ariel, but we both have girlfriends.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re already dating other girls.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I mean as hot as you are,” Kevin chimes in, “they are actually sitting right over there.”
Ariel looks over at where Kevin points. Two girls in tiny bikinis lay on their backs with headphones in their ears. “Oh. Well when do the other lifeguards come?”
“Our shift ends in about an hour.”
“Okay,” Ariel says. “I guess I can wait until then.” She sulks all the way back to the water and stands at the edge staring out at the horizon, amazed by the perfection of its straight line. Ariel wonders what the rest of the kingdom is up to today and if they’ve realized yet that she’s missing, or if Flounder told anyone of her whereabouts. A man comes up next to her. “Now what is a pretty girl such as yourself doing here all alone?”
“Excuse me?” Ariel looks over and through her half eyesight, she sees a man in a red bathing suit with tan skin and large contoured muscles.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?”
“Oh, my name isn’t gorgeous. My name is Ariel.”
“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Ariel.”
“Are you a lifeguard?”
“I can if you want me to be.”
“You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“I’m most certain we have never met.”
“No, but I’m pretty well-known around here. I’m Mike. You know, the Situation?”
“What’s the situation?”
“That’s my nickname because well, you know, we’ve got a situation here.” Mike points to his stomach. “Wow, have you been living under a rock or something?”
“Not exactly” Ariel retorts. She looks him over again. “I’m sorry. I’m still a little confused. Are you a lifeguard?”
Mike thinks for a moment. “Yeah sure, I can save lives.”
“Oh wonderful! Will you take me out on a date?”
“Woah girl. You want me to take you on a date?”
“Yes. It’s my dream to marry a lifeguard and then we can have children and play catch and nurture our babies in the shade!”
“Hah…well…I don’t know about marriage but me and the roommates were going to hit the clubs tonight. Why don’t you stop by the house later and we’ll head over there together.”
“Tonight?” Ariel’s stomach drops. She only has until sundown, unless of course she takes the rest of the potion. She quickly decides that she doesn’t want to waste this opportunity and agrees to meet up with him. He gives her the address to where he’s staying and tells her to dress in her cutest outfit.
After finishing the bottle of potion, Ariel spends the rest of the day making a dress. She dries some seaweed and sews it together with cattails. When it comes time to figure out where Mike is staying, Ariel puts her trust in the people around her. Some are helpful and give her simple enough directions but others just look at her and say, “go home benny.” Ariel does not know what that means and tries her best to avoid those people.
At promptly eleven thirty at night as Mike had instructed, Ariel knocks on the front door of his house. Her vision is still bad if not worse but she figures it will be worth it by the end of the night when she and Mike fall madly in love. “Well hello there.”
“Mike? Is that you?”
“You’re here for Mike?”
“Well alrighty then. Come on in, beautiful. Let me go get him.” This man, whom Ariel observes also must be a lifeguard with his golden skin and large muscles, heads over to the stairs but then turns back around and looks at her. “Are you wearing seaweed?”
“Yes! I made it myself!”
“Damn. Mike’s really lowered his standards over the years.” After a few minutes, both men walk down the stairs. “Ariel! In a seaweed dress! Pauly, you weren’t kidding.”
“Oh hi Mike!”
“Okay, look sweetheart, I’m not sure it’s a good idea if you go to the clubs in that.”
“Why not? I’ve never been to a club before.”
“Yeah. Sorry babe. I don’t think this is going to work out.”
“Of course it will because you’re a lifeguard and I’m a mermaid and we’re going to fall in love and live happily ever after.”
“Woah. Woah. Wait. Did you just say you’re a mermaid?”
“Oh…I…Uhh…” Ariel’s cheeks turn redder than her hair.
“Yeah. Okay. You can get out of my house, you psycho.”
Tears well up in Ariel’s eyes making it near impossible for her to see. She runs out of the house and manages to make it all the way back to the shoreline. She sits in the sand soaking her toes in the water. She still has another twenty-four hours on land but at this point, Ariel is exhausted and just wants to go home. A seagull sits down next to her. “Hello Mr. Seagull.”
“Please, that’s my dad’s name. I’m Steve.”
“Steve, I don’t want to be a human anymore.”
“Thought you’d fall in love?”
Steve throws his head back and let’s out a short loud caw. “Such a naive little mermaid. Didn’t anyone tell you? Never fall in love at the Jersey shore.”