Merrow Part 2
By: Clark Zlotchew

Saturday evening arrived, after what felt to Jeff like a month. He showered, shaved his cheeks, leaving his reddish mustache and chin beard intact, and wore his grey tweed sports jacket and good black wool trousers in place of his usual sweater and jeans. He carried his raincoat over his arm. It was chilly, and the leaden sky glowered at him. A strong wind blew off the Atlantic, and the wild surf boomed and hissed as it lashed the shore. His breathing became more rapid as he made his way toward the Mermaid Inn. He felt as though he might explode into a thousand pieces.

He opened the familiar red door and was greeted by the same comforting warmth and aromas as always, though attenuated by the early hour. The sound of human voices had not yet reached the usual decibel levels, and only two musicians had arrived. The fiddler and the spoons player chatted and drank while apparently awaiting the arrival of at least one more musician. The American hung his raincoat on a peg and glanced at his watch. Of course, it was only a little after seven o'clock, too early for the place to be crowded. There were only four other patrons seated at the bar, and five at one of the tables. He was going to order his usual Murphy's Stout but felt the need for something stronger first.

The ruddy-faced bartender ambled over to him and said, "Evening, Jeff. I'll draw you your usual," and placed his large hands on the tap lever.

Jeff said, "Hold it, Mike. Make it a shot of Jameson."

The bartender nodded and said, "Jameson it is. On the rocks?"

"No, no rocks!" He realized he almost shouted it. The bartender narrowed his eyes. Jeff cleared his throat and more calmly said, "No, Mike, no rocks. Just straight up." As the bartender turned to grab a bottle and shot glass, Jeff added, "Make it a double."

"Right." The bartender, one eyebrow raised, grabbed the whiskey bottle and tossed two jiggers into his customer's empty glass. He moved away from Jeff and took the orders of other patrons. While the barman was engaged in lively conversation with a couple of old-timers in tweed flat caps, cable sweaters and baggy corduroy trousers, he noticed the American waving him over.

# # #

By nine-thirty, the pub had filled with regulars, the musicians were in full swing, the hubbub of voices had increased appreciably, and the smell of beer and fried fish had intensified. The bartender noticed that the American consulted his watch more frequently and looked increasingly morose.

"Expecting someone, are ya?"

"Huh?"

"I asked if you were expecting someone."

Jeff stared at the bartender for a moment, then, "Yeah, I think so." He sounded irritated. The young man's speech was slurred due to the double Jamesons followed by three pints. He stared at the bartender, then, "Mike, tell me: Bartenders are supposed to be amateur psychologists, right?"

The bartender thought for a moment, shrugged and said, "I guess so. But no extra charge for the head shrinking." He chuckled. "So, what's the story, then, Yank?"

Jeff took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and exhaled in a long sigh. He looked at Mike and said, "There was a girl here last Saturday night, you know?"

"There were tons of girls here, as usual."

"Okay, yeah. But this one was really pretty."

"There were quite a few good-lookers, as always. What was so different about this one, then?"

Jeff closed his eyes, picturing Merrow. He said, "She wasn't wearing jeans, and…"

The bartender cocked his head, a quizzical look on his face. "No jeans, was it?"

Jeff continued, "Well, just about every girl comes in here wearing jeans or tights, right?"

The bartender nodded.

"Well, this one was wearing a skirt. An actual skirt! A kind of long skirt."

Mike narrowed his eyes. "Wearing a long skirt, was she? Wait a minute, Yank! Did you catch her name?"

"Yeah. Merrow." He nodded." Yes, it was Merrow."

"Jesus, Joseph and Mary! Herself was it?" The bartender stared at Jeff for five seconds.

Jeff said, "What?!"

Mike wiped the bar down mechanically while in deep thought. Finally, he looked straight at Jeff, tugged at the collar of his turtleneck, and said, "Look, Jeff, you'd be best off forgetting about that one and finding some other girl. There are plenty of them around."

Jeff wrinkled his brow, and demanded, "Why are you telling me to forget her?"

Mike muttered, "I have my reasons."

Jeff squinted at the bartender. "Why? You interested in her?"

Mike frowned. "Is it a joke you're after makin'? I'm a married, middle-aged man."

"Well, why, then?"

Some customers at the other end of the bar were calling for service. Mike said, "Hold on for a minute. I work here, you know. Be back in a jiff."

Jeff stared at the bartender's retreating figure, and nervously drummed his fingers on the bar. He watched Mike serve some other patrons and experienced a growing tension. He gazed at his half-empty glass of the deep blackish brown beer topped by a now-thinning white foam. It brought to mind the breakers that foamed as they crashed against the stony beach just feet from where he stood. In his present hyper-sensitive condition, the fragrance of bitter hops seemed to intensify, as did the odor of fish. His stomach felt queasy.

Mike returned to face Jeff, wiped his weather-reddened hands on his apron, and silently stared at him for a long moment. Then, "Would ya tell me somethin', Jeff."

"Sure. What?"

Did you notice what brand of beer she was drinking?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

"Humor me, would ya."

Jeff thought for a moment, "Yeah, she was drinking a beer I never heard of."

"What brand?"

"Wait, let me think. Umm…, Beamish. Yes, definitely Beamish Stout."

The bartender's ruddy face turned pale, and then flushed. He stared at Jeff.

Jeff demanded, "What!"

Mike inhaled deeply, looked down at the bar and sighed. Finally, he raised his eyes and said, "Well, you see, Beamish Stout is a very fine beer, and no mistake. Beamish started brewing it way back in the 18th-Century, I believe. 'Tis just that we haven't carried that brand for a very long time, probably since the 1950s. Simply because we can't carry every single beer brewed in Ireland. Plus the popular foreign beers. We have a limited clientele."

Jeff cocked his head, a puzzled expression on his face.

The bartender asked, "When you first spotted her, was she talkin' to anyone?"

"Well, no, she wasn't."

"She didn't have any girl friends with her?"

"No, she didn't."

"Now, she's quite a beauty, you say. Yet none of the lads made any conversation with her?"

"Well, I did."

"Aye, I know. I mean besides you, like before you sat down."

Jeff thought for a moment. "No. She just sat there, smoking a cigarette."

Mike's eyes widened. "Smokin' a cigarette, you're sayin'?!"

Jeff nodded.

"And have you not noticed 'tis illegal to smoke in public houses in Ireland? Has been for quite a while now. I stick strictly to the law, so you'll not see anyone smokin' in here, my boy. Now, I know the place was full of customers when you were here. And this Merrow had to have been sitting next to at least one person that night, and not far from the others at the same table. But there was no conversation she was involved in. Right?"

"Yeah, that's what I just said. So…?"

"And do you not think that's a bit strange?"

"What's so strange about that? Maybe she was just enjoying the music."

The bartender said, "Listen, my lad, I saw you sitting at that table, and you were sitting next to an empty chair on your left. The rest of the table was filled with young men."

Jeff stared at the bartender in silence.

Mike added, "And when I eyeballed you every now and again, it looked like you were talkin' to an empty chair."

Jeff turned pale. "What are you saying?"

"I'm just telling you what I saw, lad."

Jeff put his elbows on the bar and leaned his face on his open palms. He murmured, "I don't get it. I just don't understand."

"Jeff, when I bought this bar from old Sean Milligan, the previous owner, six years ago, he told me something weird."

"He told you…what?"

"I thought he was just telling a tall tale, Jeff, but now I don't know."

"Damn it, Mike, would you make some sense?"

Mike looked down at the bar, wiped away non-existent dirt with his towel. He looked at Jeff, then stared at the ceiling and said, "I thought it was just one of those idiotic urban legends, but Milligan said that back in 1958 something terrible happened in this place."

"Terrible? Like what?"

Mike stared at Jeff and said, "Like there was a girl named…" The bartender hesitated and looked directly at Jeff. "It was a girl named Merrow…"

"Okay, so what?" He shrugged. "So, her name was Merrow. Anyone can have the name."

"Oh? And have you ever met any other Merrow, then?"

Jeff wrinkled his brow in puzzlement and placed his hand on the nape of his neck but said nothing.

A very old man was inclined over the drink he was nursing a few feet down the bar. He had a long white beard, deep creases in his windburned face, and white hair peeking out from under his black watch cap. He muttered, "Tá sí ina maighdean mara."

Jeff stared at the old man.

The bartender explained, "He says she's a maiden of the sea. You know, a mermaid." He nodded at the old man, turned back to Jeff and continued, "Right. Now just listen, Jeff. You've listened this far, so keep listenin'." He wiped his hands on his apron and continued. "Right. First of all, Merrow is the name of a mermaid, as the old stories would have it, a beauty with a fine voice, who lured men to their deaths in the sea out there past the Aran Islands." He stretched his arm and pointed to the west.

"Okay. A mythical mermaid. So, what…"

The bartender interrupted to continue. "Now, mind you, this real flesh and blood Merrow had a boyfriend named Sean. Good looking lad, apparently. They were engaged. Had been for about seven months, according to the story. One night, there she was, waiting for Sean. He came in, sauntered over to where she was sitting, like he didn't have a care in the world —didn't sit down himself, mind you— and told her it just wasn't working." Mike gave a mirthless laugh. "Now there's one hell of a statement, just wasn't working." He shook his head. "Now get this, will ya: as he's standing over her, dumping her right there in public, smiling, no less, this fine-lookin' redhead parades her way over to him. He puts his arm around the redhead's waist and they kiss. And a real long kiss it was. Talk about insult to injury." He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

The music of the two fiddles, the deep-voiced accordion, the shrill pennywhistle and the clacking of the spoons grew louder, further agitating the American. The wild reel seemed to be saying something to Jeff. He felt it as a sort of warning, an alarm.

Jeff said nothing; he just gazed at the bartender, who continued, "So, Merrow jumps up, knocking her chair over, grabs a half-empty bottle —of Beamish Stout, by the way— that was on the table, and smashes it over his head! It killed him on the spot."

"My God! Right here in this pub?"

Mike nodded. "Aye, right here, at that same table you were sittin' at. Talkin' to yourself."

The music seemed even louder to Jeff, and wilder.

Jeff shivered, despite the warm indoor temperature. "So, what are you saying?"

"What am I sayin' is it?" The bartender sighed. "I'm just tellin' you what Milligan told me. Anyway, Milligan said that Merrow streaked out of here like a bat out of hell, screamin' like a banshee with a hot poker up her arse, and scampered across all those stones on the beach, then dashed head first into the breakers and disappeared. It was too dark for anyone to see more than that through the windows."

"Are you trying to tell me…"

The bartender held his hand up, palm outward, as a signal for the American to stop talking and to just listen. "Look, lad, I'm just telling you what Milligan told me."

"Okay, so what are you saying? That I was talking to a, a, a …?"

"I don't know, Yank. You tell me." He paused, then, "Something else: Milligan said that he was told that over the years there've been five other lads who claimed they were talking to a girl named Merrow, but no one else in the room saw the young woman he described, and people thought they had seen him talking to himself."

Jeff shivered again, even though the heat was building as the crowd increased. The music grew louder and the smell of frying cod and stale beer became unbearable.

"Oh," the bartender added, "Milligan told me that each of those five other lads died under mysterious circumstances. Crazy circumstances is what I'd say. One of them who'd been looking for this Merrow character, who no one else knew, got so drunk one night, because she didn't show up, that he went and bashed his head against that wall right over there, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Another one bought a gun and blew his brains out. This all happened several years apart." Mike scratched his head and added, "The others all simply flew out the door, ran into the ocean and vanished. Bodies were found washed up on the shore shortly after each incident.

Jeff remained silent for a couple of minutes, gazing blankly at the rows of liquor bottles behind the bartender. "Okay, okay, it's a fascinating legend." Jeff said this, but his face had turned pale.

"You don't believe it?" The bartender shrugged. "Well, what do I know? I'm just a barman. But it seems to me that just clapping your eyes on that one is fatal."

At that moment the door was flung open and two men boisterously entered the room. Jeff looked at the door and thought he glimpsed, just outside in the darkness, Merrow's face. The door closed.

Jeff stood, glanced around one last time to be certain Merrow was not inside. He took his wallet out of his back pocket, fished out a bunch of Euros and plunked them down on the bar, and without saying goodbye or even looking at Mike, staggered toward the door.

The bartender gaped at the money, then yelled, "Hey, Jeff, this is far too much! Wait for your change, will ya.!"

Without even grabbing his raincoat, Jeff opened the door and lurched out into the darkness. He didn't seem to notice —or care—that it had started to pour again, driven by a fierce wind. In the humming of the wind he heard a lovely voice, Merrow's voice, crooning mysterious words that he somehow understood to be urging him on, promising joy unending. He stumbled his way over the black and grey stones when an even stronger gust whipped the cap off his head. He stared after it for a moment, then walked out into the raging sea.

The End

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