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The Mangrove and the Manatee
By Christine Stoddard
Welcome to Re-launch 2013
Many suns ago in a crystalline grove swam Miriam the manatee, a creature often mistaken for a mermaid by sailors. It was not that she was beautiful or had a scaled fin; only that the lovelorn sailors were taken hostage by their own imaginations at the mere sight of Miriam bobbing in the distance. Her eyes became glorious moons and her bald head suddenly grew a long mane. Her whiskered lips blossomed into luscious roses. And so Miriam was transformed in the men's minds.
Miriam, meanwhile, suffered her own case of lovelornness, for she loved a mangrove tree. But the mangrove tree mistook Miriam the manatee for nothing.
Everyday Miriam's fin brushed against the same mangrove root beneath the brackish waves. The sensation of the bark's ridges touching her skin made her blush. Miriam had never been touched by anything before, except the water. She had never even seen another manatee, other than her mother, who was now dead.
Sometimes when Miriam's fin brushed against the mangrove root, she imagined that the root returned her touch. When she pictured the root curling around her fin, she suddenly felt warm. One day, she thought, the tiny strands on the root might transform into fins and fins could touch much better than roots. Once Miriam even dreamt that the mangrove might bend down, lift her up in its branches, and cradle her until she turned to wood and the two became one.
Other days, Miriam felt too shy to pass the mangrove. She found any excuse to swim off in another part of the bay. She'd then convince herself that she was following the sunshine because it was too cold in the shade. But she made her detour in tears. Miriam knew the mangrove did not love her.
When the mangrove died, the bay uprooted the tree and began to carry it toward the sea. Though Miriam had avoided the mangrove for days after its death, she could not help but trail it. Each day, the distance between Miriam and the mangrove shrank, until one day she could nuzzle its roots. So she did.
This Miriam had expected. She had wanted to touch the mangrove again. What she did not expect was that, upon discovering the tree was now hollow, she would squeeze inside of it. But she did. For the first time, the mangrove finally touched Miriam back.
Miriam remained in the tree through wind and rain, until it reached the sea. Miriam had never seen the sea before. She knew only her little bay. But before Miriam could think much about this new sight, the mangrove's trunk cracked and split. Miriam popped out of the tree carcass and into the sea, startled like a fish thrown onto a dock. She had forgotten how cold the water outside of the mangrove's womb was. The sea tasted saltier than her bay and the sun even seemed to shine brighter there.
Jostled by waves, Miriam found herself farther and farther from the splintered mangrove until she could not see a single piece of it. Her tears disappeared into the sea until she had no more tears to cry. Miriam closed her eyes and thought of one of the lonely sailors waving to her from his lost ship. He called her worthy of all the riches in the world.
When Miriam opened her eyes minutes or hours later, she found herself nose-to-nose with another manatee. He was round and whiskered like her. When he spoke, a bubble emerged from his great mouth, but Miriam could not decipher his words. She touched her fin to his fin and smiled. He lifted up his other fin to touch her other fin. Suddenly, Miriam felt the flush of love and knew he felt it, too.
Christine Stoddard is the founder and Executive Editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Most recently she read the book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, and watched the movie, "Stoker." This past weekend, one of her girlfriends and she spent two hours driving around western Fairfax County, Virginia and into Loudon in search of a Waffle House. Their phones had died and they knew not where they were going. Needless to say, they failed to find the diner of their dreams.