Lionel found it difficult to settle at work.
Something had prevented him from going into the bathroom the previous night and he had gone to bed unwashed. Mercifully he had a separate toilet where he had sat for longer than necessary staring at the back of the door and thinking about nothing in particular.
If the thought came to ring the authorities he dismissed it as pointless. There seemed to be no official mechanism for dealing with mermaids. He supposed that at the time when mermaids were a common problem on the high seas there would have been little incentive to draft legislation about them, as most of those who tangled with them were probably buccaneers whose own position in the eyes of the law was at best ambiguous.
When he had awoken he had crept to the bathroom door and listened intently. There was no longer any splashing, and at first he thought the mermaid was asleep, or even that she had slipped away by whatever means it was that she had first arrived. This latter thought gave him a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach that he could not quite identify. Then he had heard singing, almost inaudible but very beautiful, with no words, or none that he could pick out.
He had tried to look through a thin crack in the door. It was an old cottage and the doors were original, with the consequence that there was a very narrow gap between the boards in one place. By moving his head from side to side slightly a reasonable image could be formed of what was on the other side. The mermaid was now sitting on the ledge of the square window with only the end of her tail still dipped in the bathwater. The bath itself now seemed to have acquired a lot more fauna and flora than he remembered from the previous night.
He had dressed and gone to work unshowered.
At his desk he found the long columns of figures on the screen staring at him meaninglessly. The 9s reminded him of seahorses and the 6s of hermit crabs sticking one claw out of their shells. The zeros reminded him of the mermaid's eyes and the 3s he tried not to think about at all. By a supreme effort of will he made himself concentrate on the task in hand, which was to offset the cost of barnacle removal from a fishing boat hull against profits but taking into account the European subsidy for not fishing on prescribed days. This was for Captain Kipper of the Saucy Jellyfish.
Owing to an oversight in Brussels in failing to remind the French government to repeal the legislation of 1793 and also owing to the mandate of pan-European harmonisation this had to be calculated according to the calendrier révolutionnaire français.
This of course meant creating a new cell in the spreadsheet and applying the formula creator, which regrettably did not have a built-in function for translating dates in the French revolutionary calendar into a form compatible with a UK 5th of April year end. After three failed attempts Lionel felt he needed to clear his head.
He wandered over to the water cooler but a glass of cold water did nothing to settle his thoughts, which were of tiny crabs being washed out of long hair in rivulets, and thighs covered with iridescent scales. Most of all, that moment repeated itself when he had handed the mermaid fish tea and she had looked at him with those big round eyes, and the cup had rattled because it had not been set squarely on the saucer.
"Mavis, I'm going outside for a smoke," he announced to his secretary.
"But you don't smoke!" she replied, wide-eyed.
"No, but I'm entitled to a smoking break just the same as the smokers. If it isn't in the European Working Time Directive then it should be!" he said defiantly. This was a side of Lionel that Mavis had not seen before. She had never known he could be so masterful.
He walked distractedly down to the promenade and then down to the beach, and since it was low tide he walked for some distance away from the town, inhaling the clean sea air with its tang of salt and hint of decaying seaweed. A flock of small cumulus clouds drifted slowly across the sea horizon like sheep in no particular hurry.
Lionel felt that he had a problem but he could not say what the problem was in precise terms, or perhaps he was avoiding saying what it was since to do so would have required him to do something, and he was far from convinced that he would want to do whatever it was that saying what it was would imply he should do. Once you formulate a problem in precise terms the answer nearly always pops up with surprising inevitability, like a bar of wet soap when squeezed, Lionel thought, so if you don't want to do anything it's best not to think too carefully.
As he was thinking these things, or to be more precise, avoiding thinking these things, the solution to his accounting problem came to him with the suddenness of a seagull's message landing on the head of an unsuspecting tourist drinking a pint of cider in the forecourt of a harbourside pub. It was both simple and exhilaratingly bold. He would claim on behalf of his client on the basis that in order to have a subsidy for not doing something you had to have the means of doing it all the time otherwise no-one would pay you for not doing what you weren't going to do anyway. Therefore barnacles were claimable not just in proportion to days spent at sea but in toto. Captain Kipper of the Saucy Jellyfish would be pleased.
With that revelation he turned and walked back along the beach, a new firmness in his step. Something, at least, had been resolved.
A note from the author
Dear Mermaid-loving Chums,
Another correspondent writes:
"Has it crossed your mind that the sudden and unexpected appearance of this mermaid might have been due to quantum intertwingling? Thus, there will be no need to squeeze her voluptuousness through the plug-hole."
As to that, you should understand that mermaids are not to be tampered with lightly, irrespective of any quantum indeterminacy. We all know that we don't know what happened to Schrödinger's cat, and I think we should leave it there.
A note from Myfanwy
Dear Ubiquitous Urchins,
"She had never known he could be so masterful."
I like a man who is masterful, don't you?
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A mermaid in the bathHumor
A mermaid, the transformation of a boring accountant, an atomic submarine and a lot of jokes. Now available as a paperback, with mermaid illustrations. See the last section for a special offer! www.miltonmarmalade.uk The first several updated chap...