It is Miss Mori who deserves the credit for determining the taxonomy of the mermaids’ love songs.
“Have you noticed,” she asked, holding a glass ornament up to the light, “that while each song is unique, there are only three stories told?”
I looked up from the journal in which I was recording the findings from our second voyage. The light from the mermaid glass played over Miss Mori’s face, catching in her eyes. For a moment she almost resembled a mermaid, and I fought the urge to reach out my hand and touch her bare wrist, to ensure that it was still human-warm and not mermaid-chill. It was not possible, of course, for one to transform into a mermaid simply by looking at an ornament holding one of their songs. Were it otherwise, there would likely not be a human left in the world.
“I have noticed a difference in the colors,” I replied. “I had not noticed that there were so few stories, however.” Miss Mori turned her face to look at me, her dark eyes large and liquid.
“There is no need for more stories, when the ones they tell encapsulate so much.” She held out the ornament, turning it slightly. “This one here tells the story of love pursued, through peril and dangerous waters.” Her eyes flicked up from the ornament to meet mine. “Love pursued, and love won.”
My stomach twisted, although I could not say why. Perhaps it was the intensity of her gaze, or the wistfulness I heard in her last word.
“And that is one story?” I asked.
“It is.” Once more she turned the ornament, allowing the light to catch its colors in a different fashion. “It is many stories, but they are all the same, in the end. The colors are always so pretty for these songs. Look.”
I did, and indeed, the ocean greens and blues captured in the glass were charming.
“What is the second type of song?” I asked. Miss Mori sighed and sat back in her seat. Her hair was coming loose, I noticed, and would need to be repinned soon. I wondered if she would allow me to help her.
“You recall those ornaments that often end up in cupboards, collecting dust? Do you remember the very last piece of glass we made on our first voyage, and you were so cross that it was so unlovely?”
I remembered. We had not adequately prepared for such an endeavor, and Miss Mori would have thrown herself overboard had I not tied her in the nets at the bottom of the boat. We should have turned back for home at that point, but it was our first voyage and I wanted at least one more souvenir to show for it. The resulting glass orb had been murky and dark, and I had nearly thrown it into the sea in my frustration.
“I remember,” I said. She smiled, a little sadly.
“That is from the second type of love song. They are tragic; tales of love lost or unspoken or cut short. I believe that is why their colors are so dark. Perhaps they reflect the emotions of the song the mermaid is singing.” A notion that was fanciful and plausible at once. Fitting for a collector of mermaid love songs.
“That seems likely,” I admitted. “Understanding that may help to avoid such ugly songs in future endeavors.”
“Ugly?” Miss Mori seemed surprised. “I do not think I would call them ugly. Perhaps we perceive them to be so, because we do not like to dwell on such emotions. There is a certain haunting quality to them, do you not think?”
Miss Mori had always been a romantic, and so perhaps I should not have been surprised at such a statement, but I was taken aback nevertheless.
“Haunting?” I asked, and to my ears my voice sounded high and unsettled. “Surely all mermaid songs are haunting?” Once more Miss Mori met my gaze, and my breath caught in my throat to see the emotions in those lovely dark eyes. What emotions they were, I could not precisely say, but they seemed to touch something in my soul.
“To love another and yet know that you cannot be together, does that not speak to you in some fashion?” she asked. “Have you never had such thoughts, and wished that you did not?” I felt cold under her stare.
“What of the third kind?” I changed the subject briskly. Disappointment flit across her round face, but she composed herself quickly.
“The third kind, ah. I think those are my favorite. Certainly, they are the rarest.”
“What is the story behind them?” I asked.
“I do not know,” she admitted, and smiled. Once more my dear companion had managed to surprise me.
“You don’t know?” She shook her head.
“No. I have seen the glasses though, and they are different from the first two. A third type of glass for a third type of song—it makes sense, doesn’t it? You have seen them as well, although perhaps you confused them with the first kind, for the third story is lovely as well. Perhaps the loveliest of all.” She paused for a moment in reflection. I leaned toward her, waiting for her to continue. “The ornaments that change color often are the ones that house the third kind of song.”
“And how do you know the song is lovely?” It struck me as important to know. The scientist in me, of course, craved knowledge, but there was something more, something in her tone that made me lean even closer to Miss Mori, as close as I possibly could without falling off my seat.
“All mermaid songs are lovely,” she answered simply. I frowned at the inadequacy of this answer, and she laughed. “Careful, my dear, or your lovely face will stay that way.” She reached out and placed a gentle finger on the furrow between my eyes. Her touch was cool, or was it only that my face suddenly felt hot? She traced her finger over my right eyebrow down to my jaw. She was smiling still, and I thought desperately for something to say.
“How do you know that this type of song is the loveliest?” The question came out in a whisper. She drew her hand back and sighed.
“It is the colors, Miss Holst. The way they change, and glow. The way the rose or the gold swirls through the sea colors. How can the songs that produce such colors and variations be anything other than the loveliest?” A dreamy look overtook her face. “I sometimes wonder if they are asking us to join them in the water.”
I shivered at the thought. I did not want Miss Mori to follow the mermaids down into the deeps, and was reminded once more of our first voyage. Eager to put such thoughts out of my mind, I focused on the theory Miss Mori had so kindly postulated.
“We should create a taxonomy,” I said, picking up my journal and pen once more and beginning to write. “Type 1: love pursued and won.”
“Scales of Romance,” Miss Mori interjected. “’Type 1’ is too dull for such songs.” I wrote down her suggestion next to my definition—the whole system would have to be expanded, later, but this was a good enough start.
“I shall write both ‘Type 1’ and ‘Scales of Romance’,” I compromised. “It would be helpful to have a descriptor as well as numerical shorthand. Now, Type 2: love ended in tragedy.”
“Tails Torn Asunder.” I glanced at her. “I heard the phrase in the mermaid’s song. It seems appropriate.”
“Very well, then.” I scribbled it down. “As for Type 3…” I trailed off, unwilling to commit to a definition or name for a song I had yet to hear.
“We shall have to go on another voyage, in the hopes of hearing it,” Miss Mori said, her eyes shining. “It would not be scientifically sound, elsewise.” I froze for just a moment as a trickle of some unnamed dread wound its way down my spine at her words. She was right, though, further research was required, and I did so enjoy our expeditions.
“I shall begin planning at once,” I told her, and the smile she gave me was more lovely than any mermaid’s song.