By Judith Field


The December sky was an inverted bowl of unreleased snow. Joe crunched across the frost-covered sand towards the rocks where the eels swam. Fishing, all alone. Just how he liked it. Better than having to stand listening to Mike mouthing off about his latest ‘get rich quick’ scheme, while their lines drifted further apart down the beach. Mister Big, with his twopenny-ha’penny fishing rod.

Getting rich would be nice. But he’d settle for getting by. Retirement, no more work, it should have been great. Now his time was his own. But, he thought, they stick a pension book in your hand, and it’s counting the pennies for the rest of your days. You’ve still got to find the same money for the bills, though. And if you can’t keep up with the rent, it’s goodbye home.

Faded, flaking groynes stretched to the sea, along the empty shore. He looked up into the white sky. Weighed down by his rucksack, his shoulders complained with each jarring footfall. Joe turned his face away from the wind and tied his scarf tighter. Ice cream papers and supermarket bags whipped round his ankles. Idle sods on the council should clean this lot up.

“You there! Can you help me? The tide’s gone out and I must get off this beach!” A woman’s voice, in the tones of an actress from a 1950s British black-and-white film. Cracking through the freezing air behind him.

An old woman strained to peer over a groyne, her shriveled face a sun-deprived white. Seashells hung from her drooping earlobes. Joe had heard that ears never stop growing. His own should reach his shoulders, the age he felt these days. The woman’s few wisps of hair were white, streaked with apple green. Colour-blind hairdresser, Joe thought, remembering his wife Hazel’s fuss when she got the wrong shade of blue.

The woman pulled herself up higher behind the barnacle-encrusted wood. Joe realised that she was topless. Another triumph for care in the community. Bloody social workers.

“Too cold for sunbathing, love,” he said, rounding the groyne.

Joe jerked to a gasping halt. His fishing rod clattered down onto the pebbles as he stared at the place where the woman’s legs should have been.

“Shut your mouth before a fish swims in,” she said, lashing her tail against the wet sand as she tried to sit up. “And don’t look so bloody surprised, we get old, like you land people. It takes us a lot longer but it comes to us all in the end.”

Joe opened his mouth again. She raised the palm of one iridescent-scaled hand to command silence.

“And you’re no young fry yourself. Now are you going to help me back into the sea or just stand there flapping your mouth like a cod?” [...]



Judith Field lives in London, UK. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. She’s a pharmacist, medical writer, editor and indexer, and in 2009 she made a New Year resolution to start writing fiction and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realised how unrealistic that was but, in fact, it sort of worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper. She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson. Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications, mainly in the USA. When she’s not working or writing, she’s studying part-time for a degree in English. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. She blogs at www.millil.blogspot.com.

“Full Fathom Five” was inspired by a Charles Addams cartoon of two men finding a gorgeous young mermaid on a beach. Judith wondered what happens when mermaids get old.