The waves gently rolled the hull, like a mother softly rocking a cradle. She smiled, tiredly, and closed her eyes.
She was woken just minutes later by loud knocking and shouting from the starboard side of the yacht. She leapt from her bunk, banging her head against the ceiling and her shin against her locker because, as she reflected grimly, unlike the Tardis a yacht’s cabin is not certainly not bigger on the inside.
She climbed up onto the deck and looked over the side. A man was at the wheel of a small motor-boat, looking up at her.
“Hello,” he said cheerfully.
“Hello back,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”
“Good question,” he said. “I was about two miles away, heading east, when my boat suddenly changed direction, ignored all my wheel-turning and swearing, sped over here and parallel-parked beside your yacht far better than I could ever have done.”
“I see,” she said. “Well, go away again.”
“I can’t,” he said. “My engine’s completely dead. It’s really odd. Do you have a giant magnet on board or something?”
“Of course not,” she said, “why would ….”
Her voice tailed off as she thought back over the last half-hour. She’d been pondering her perfect life – no people, no stress. She’d been lulled by the swell of the sea. She’d been warm, and tired. She’d been happy.
“And so,” she muttered bitterly, “I started to hum.”
“I’m sorry?” said the man in the boat.
“Er,” she said. She looked down at him, then sighed. “You’d better come aboard,” she said.
He climbed the ladder and stood up onto the deck, holding out his hand. “I’m James,” he said.
She shook his hand. “Sharlana,” she answered. She saw his eyes widen. “Yeah,” she said, “well, women in my family don’t tend to get names like Jane or Mary.”
“Because….” she said, and took a breath, “because I’m a siren.” James’s eyes widened further, though she hadn’t thought that possible. “Yes, yes, my ancestors used to lure sailors onto the rocks.”
“With the beauty of their singing,” nodded James.
“Exactly,” she said. “Of course, the fact that they were naked also helped. Anyway, I’m a descendant. The last of the line.”
“From men and women sirens?”
“You haven’t been listening. The female side of my family have an ability to attract sailors. There’s so much sailor in my genes it’s a wonder I wasn’t born with a parrot on my shoulder and a wooden leg.”
“So that’s why you were on about humming,” said James. “You lured me here.”
“Yes, well I didn’t mean to,” said Sharlana. “I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m not,” said James, and to Sharlana’s surprise she felt her sun-tanned face blush. “And the big yacht?”
“Sunken treasure, pieces-of-eight, blah, blah, blah,” said Sharlana. “My family’s been very rich for a very long time.”
“I see,” said James. “And you’re telling me all this why?”
“Because no one will believe you,” said Sharlana sweetly. “You might as well go back home and say you were abducted by aliens.” She looked at him quizzically. “You seem to be taking it all very calmly,” she said.
James shrugged, “I’m a marine biologist,” he said. “I’ve seen fish that look like shuttle-cocks, turtles that look like coffee-tables, jellyfish that look like, well, jellyfish. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing that the sea can’t throw up, or make you want to.”
They talked, then, as the sun slowly set, a huge red ball sinking beneath the waves. He told her about his life and his studies, and she saw the light blaze in his eyes as he talked passionately about his work and his love of the sea. She told him of storms she had fought, and dawns she had watched, and of the simple joy of a life spent swimming, and sunbathing, and watching box sets of Game of Thrones on the yacht’s computer.
At dusk James got back onto his boat, and Sharlana towed him back to the mainland. “The engine will work again once I’m gone,” she said.
“Great,” said James. “I don’t fancy rowing around the sea for the rest of my career, I’d end up with biceps the size of that thing on a spit you see in kebab shops.” He looked up at the lights of the town behind the pier. “While you’re here,” he said, “will you have dinner with me?”
She shook her head. Don’t get involved, she told herself. You have a perfect life.
“Please?” he said. “I know a place that does seafood.”
She suddenly felt a pang, and thought about the small doubts she’d been having lately, about the increasing number of nights when she’d felt unexpectedly empty, like an emotional Marie Celeste. She thought about how she’d been trying to ignore the small clouds that had been gathering on the horizon of her soul, like a warning of an impending storm, or of a deep depression.
And she wondered why indeed she had told him her secret, so readily, instead of fobbing him off with some explanation about local currents, or faulty navigation systems, or the Bermuda Triangle.
Marine biologist, she thought. It’s basically just a sailor with an IQ of two hundred.
She smiled then, and nodded.
“Arrr, Jim lad, “she said.