With their roots exposed to the air and their delicate fronds spread on the lawn, the three royal palms looked as helpless and naked as beached mermaids.
I’d never pitied trees before, but as I’d torn them from the sandy soil I hung my head in shame. I was doing yard work for my landlord in exchange for rent, and re-potting the three palms was the first task on my list that morning. After begging forgiveness for the way I’d treated them, I stood them one by one in their new, larger pots and leaned my shoulder against their trunks to hold them upright while I shoveled fresh sand around their knobby roots. The tips of their fronds tickled my neck and back as a soft, salty wind moved through the unkempt garden, and as the trees and I held each other upright, I imagined they whispered me this story:
Long ago, they had been mermaids who roamed the seas dancing in the waves, seducing sailors, and playing with dolphins. One day a giant storm roiled the ocean’s waters and pulled from the depths a ravenous, long-toothed monster. The three mermaids fled, hiding themselves among the roots of a mangrove forest. The monster pursued them day and night, shredding the swamp with its massive jaws. The mermaids retreated by burrowing deeper into the coastal mud. The monster pursued them ceaselessly, churning the sea floor with its massive, barnacled appendages and spreading destruction in every direction.
To escape the monster and put an end to its destruction, the mermaids chose to live in the air—to endure the noise and heat of the surface world and bear the full force of gravity. They stood up out of the ocean. Under the glare of the scorching sun their tails became roots, their hair turned to palm fronds, and their silky skin toughened to bark.
Patting the last handfuls of soil into their pots and wheeling them to a sunny corner of the yard, I told them I was sorry for what had befallen them, that I wanted to live underwater, too, that if I discovered a way to flee the noise and weight of the surface world I would come to tell them and we would escape, together, to the sea’s embrace.