The Girdle That Kept Old Man Ulysses Afloat

Why she did it I couldn’t say but anyway she threw herself into the river and opened her mouth underwater and drowned herself, and the baby inside her, too, and the undines came and looked at her corpse, and put their hands out for the heat in her belly and wondered why she’d done it. And they were there pretty fast for undines are curious sorts of creatures and the baby hadn’t died yet when they got there and I guess they felt sorry for it but they reached into her belly and pulled the baby out and gave him the kiss of life or death and after that he was something of a mongrel, half-man and half-monster and as likely to breathe air as water. Something of that kiss went back up the birth-cord and infected what was left of his mother and gave her the same sort of half-life.

Afterwards the men called her Leukothea and him Palaemon but the undines always thought of him as their own and didn’t give him a name so he didn’t think of himself anyway in particular. She’d lost her voice when she died but she was kindly-meant for all of that and always tried to help out drowning sailors where she could, which wasn’t often, but anyway she tried.

He got to be an adult and the undines were thrilled at that and more curious than ever and sometimes even though he loved them it got to be too much and he had to get away so he’d go as far north as he could — undines don’t much care for the cold — and climb out onto the pebbly beaches and walk around mother-naked. He met a bonnie wee lass that way and wooed her in his rough way and she gave birth to a child that was more monster than man and would have been killed for it but he took her back to sea with him and the child too and that, more or less, was how the niskies came to be. Or at least that’s one story.